The biggest complaint about the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains that its interconnectivity is constraining. Agent Carter had seemed like an outlier in the franchise, despite the direct link to the Captain America series and obvious other intersections of the world building. Set in another time period from the majority of the MCU, the show could just be about a kick-ass heroine investigating some insignificant yet still compelling case, allowing her character to drive as much of the storytelling as any MacGuffin. The first season stands on its own well enough, in that regard. The first two episodes of Season 2, however, feel more like pieces of the larger mega-franchise puzzle, and that’s not its only problem right off the bat.
Hayley Atwell is back as Peggy Carter, immediately transferred to Los Angeles to help with a seemingly supernatural mystery involving a frozen body in a lake – the first episode’s title, “The Lady in the Lake,” would be a nice nod to Raymond Chandler if the show actually took on any of the style of pulp literature or noir films in addition to their most standard elements. By the end of the second episode of the night, “A View in the Dark,” the story involves political corruption and a murder cover-up and a villainous Hollywood star (Wynn Everett, playing comics-based character Whitney Frost/Madame Masque) whom one might consider a femme fatale if she wasn’t so bland and harmless (not to mention totally lacking in the Hedy Lamarr-inspired tinseltown glamour we’d been promised). Also a familiar-looking cosmic glob called “Zero Matter.”
Marvel Comics fans know that thing as the Darkforce, and if it were just a matter of adapting a common substance from page to series than that’d be fine. But the stuff has already been reported as a lead-in tie-in to this fall’s Doctor Strange and also makes another connection to Agents of SHIELD (The Darkforce is seen in another manner in the first season, though it also just looks too reminiscent of the Kree Monolith from season 3, in its liquid-like form). Seeing it so soon is a turn off and a distraction from the more enjoyable character-driven side, especially when there are so many new characters added immediately, most notably a black love interest (Reggie Austin) that allows for a partial substitution of the first season’s chauvinism for racial topicality.
Meanwhile, I admit I have no interest in the introduction of Jarvis’s wife (Lotte Verbeek), much as it adds to the show’s commitment to having strong women characters, nor whatever storyline is so loosely going on back in New York with Chad Michael Murray, the FBI and the sidelining of the more exciting femme fatale from last season, Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan). Then there’s the romantic tension between Carter and now-West Coast Chief Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) – whose soon to be fiancee I’m certain is another bad guy – that could be subtler amidst everything else going on. There’s a lot of clutter at this point, and I can only hope it’s cleaned up as the season continues.
Maybe it was just a mistake for ABC to show two episodes back to back for the season premiere, but I feel overwhelmed by everything packed into these first two parts, as well as by the whole of the MCU looming above. The only thing I am left holding onto as far as reason to return next week is a desire to see the evaporated love interest, Dr. Wilkes, somehow still be alive. And I don’t even really want Peggy to have a love interest, because it’s not necessary, but the poor girl keeps falling for men who disappear. Sadly, I’m another man who could disappear if things don’t improve with the series.