This post contains spoilers for the season finale of Agent Carter.
Agent Carter‘s first season was short and sweet, racing toward this week’s tightly written conclusion. Peggy Carter was finally recognized as a hero, all the main plotlines were resolved, and even the Peggy/Angie shippers got their happy ending as the two women moved into Howard Stark’s palatial bachelor pad.
It’s difficult to resolve this many story arcs without sinking into sentimentality or unrealistic neatness, but they managed it by borrowing some of Captain America‘s melancholy tone. Although Carter got to defeat the bad guys, the penultimate scene saw her turn down a date with Agent Sousa so she could pour a vial of Steve Rogers’ blood (his only remains) into the East River to the strains of “The Way You Look Tonight.” It’s this kind of serious, well-timed moment that elevates Agent Carter beyond its gleefully silly sci-fi elements like Howard Stark’s inventions and the Russian hypnotist supervillain.
Without hammering the point home, Agent Carter has always been good at showing how everyone in this story has just lived through a war. While Carter, Stark, and Jarvis are effectively bulletproof due to their future in the Marvel universe, the side characters aren’t treated like Star Trek‘s redshirts. There’s no better example of this than Agent Krzeminski, an unlikable buffoon whose death is still keenly felt several episodes later. None of the good guys want to see any more death, which is why the poisoning of 47 civilians is so disturbing—and possibly why Carter and Sousa fail to shoot their enemies when they should.
The finale had the S.S.R. fighting to stop a hypnotized Howard Stark from flooding New York with poison gas (yes, this is still a comic book show at heart), but the emotional focus was on Carter and Stark letting go of their grief for Captain America. Their radio conversation was a great callback to Captain America: The First Avenger, as Carter is almost forced to listen as another friend crashes his plane. She’s such a dynamic character that it’s painful to see her this powerless, unable to do anything but talk Stark down from his brainwashed state.
— Agent Carter (@AgentCarterTV) February 25, 2015
Over the course of eight episodes, Carter has gone from being ignored and belittled to being applauded for her achievements. Still, the show didn’t go overboard with the S.S.R.’s comeuppance. Agent Thompson has matured beyond the misogynist blowhard we met in earlier episodes, but he was happy enough to take credit for Peggy’s success.
Instead of an unrealistic “sexism is over!” solution, we got something that fit better with the tone of Peggy’s character arc so far: the realization that her strength comes from within, not from the recognition of her peers. (Although let’s be real here: It was very satisfying to see her get that round of applause from the other agents.)
We’ve said before that Agent Carter is better at Marvel crossovers than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which had a rocky start to its first season. This strength was out in full force this week, in the form of Stark and Carter’s grief for Steve Rogers, plus the surprise cameo from Arnim Zola.
That cameo, incidentally, proved that HYDRA is already alive and well within the S.S.R. No one in their right mind would allow hypnotist Ivchenko (aka Johann Fenhoff, Marvel’s Doctor Faustus) to share a cell, so we can assume Zola already has some influence inside the prison. After that ominous meeting between the two villains, it’s pretty clear that Ivchenko will have a role in strengthening HYDRA’s influence while Carter and Stark work on the foundation of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The finale emphasized how much sharper Agent Carter is compared to shows like Gotham, Constantine, and The Flash, which simply embraced the formulas of episodic crime drama. The miniseries format meant we got to explore a single story in depth, tearing through subplots before they got boring. More importantly, the writers succeeded in combining the disparate themes of historical espionage drama, feminist commentary, and pulpy comic book worldbuilding.
Our only real criticism is one that’s already been discussed at length by Agent Carter fans: the lack of racial diversity in the cast. For a show that overtly tackles sexism and prejudice in every episode, it was a serious mistake to erase people of color from the narrative. Frustratingly, this could have been solved by casting more non-white actors among the S.S.R. agents and Peggy’s neighbors. There’s no reason why a character like Angie the automat waitress has to be white, for example.
Hopefully this issue will be dealt with in the show’s second season, if it gets one. The survival of Russian spy Dottie Underwood gave us a nice “she’ll be back!” cliffhanger, and now that Howard’s name has been cleared, we’re a step closer to the birth of S.H.I.E.L.D. We just hope the #RenewAgentCarter campaign is a success. According to the showrunners, ABC has yet to announce Agent Carter‘s renewal or cancellation, so there’s still time for you to rewatch on iTunes or ABC Go and bolster its unimpressive ratings.
Photo via Agent Carter/Marvel.com