Agent Carter Included Captain America In The Cleverest Way Possible

The new TV show Agent Carter sort of picks up where the first Captain America left off, with Peggy Carter mourning the presumed-dead Steve Rogers. We didn't get a Chris Evans cameo, outside of movie clips. But Captain America did show up, in the funniest, most subversive way possible.

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Spoilers ahead...

So yeah, Captain America is represented by a terrible radio program, the Captain America Adventure Hour, in which Cap's exploits against the Nazis are given a very Adventures of Superman-style campy spin. And instead of Peggy Carter, the tough-as-nails British agent who fought alongside Steve Rogers as an equal, we get Betty Carver, the beautiful triage nurse who's always getting captured and tied up.

During the second hour of the two-hour premiere, the Captain America radio program keeps sounding as a kind of Greek chorus to Peggy's exploits, reminding us why people constantly think of her as just a secretary, or a helper, or a potential damsel in distress. This not only shows how the real story has been covered up, but also underscores how gender roles were forceably returned to normal after the end of World War II, leaving Peggy in the lurch.

Here are some of the best bits of the Captain America radio show:

The basic plot of the two-hour opener is pretty simple: A bunch of playboy inventor Howard Stark's deadliest creations have been stolen from a vault under his house, and everybody thinks Howard turned traitor and let those inventions loose himself. Howard asks Peggy Carter to help clear his name with the help of Howard's butler, Edwin Jarvis — then Howard gets on a boat and disappears.

Soon Peggy tracks down the first missing invention — a kind of implosive compound called nitramene — but it's already been weaponized. A man with no larynx, Leet Brannis, is trying to sell this WMD to the highest bidder, but another man with no larynx is tracking Leet down on behalf of the organization that Leet double-crossed. Because Leet used to work for the organization that the other man still works for, a group called Leviathan.

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(And along the way, we meet Anton Vanko, Howard's buddy and the father of Mickey Rourke's character in Iron Man 2.)

In the end, Peggy neutralizes the implosion bombs, but Leet is killed and her only lead to Leviathan is a mysterious symbol. And instead of clearing Howard Stark's name, she's left a key piece of evidence incriminating him at the scene of one of the incidents: a license plate from Stark's car. And her colleagues from the Strategic Scientific Reserve are on to her.

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More subtle than the short film

This is the follow-up to a short film, also called Agent Carter, that appeared on the Iron Man 3 DVD. There are some inconsistencies between the two stories, and it's not entirely clear how they can both be true — but the Agent Carter TV show is a lot more layered and nuanced in its exploration of the same issues the "one shot" film delved into.

In the 15-minute version of Agent Carter, it's a year after the end of World War II, and Peggy Carter is frustrated and bored, because her sexist male colleagues at the S.S.R. keep her from field work and force her to do all the filing. When all the men go out drinking and leave her at the office, she gets a call about an emergency situation, and decides to deal with it on her own. This gets her into hot water with her idiotic boss — until Howard Stark calls up, saying he wants her to come run SHIELD. She leaves the office full of knuckle-dragging poltroons in triumph, and never looks back.

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It's a pretty simple, but incredibly satisfying, story in which Peggy Carter is first kept down by idiotic sexism, and then has her greatness recognized.

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But in the full-length TV version, the invitation to come and "run SHIELD" appears to have gotten lost in the mail. And the sexism that keeps Peggy in her place is a mite more subtle. There are still lots of guys telling her to do the filing, and she's still not considered a field agent. There's still the suggestion that Peggy only got ahead because she knew Captain America and other fancy people. Guys keep making dumb jokes about going home with Rita Hayworth.

But the guys keeping Peggy down feel a bit more like real people and less like one-dimensional jackasses. There are hints that all of these guys are suffering from PTSD after World War II — Chad Michael Murray's Jack Thompson gives lots of hints of being damaged. There's one agent who tries to defend Peggy, Daniel Souza (Enver Gjokaj), and he's also treated as a second-class agent because he lost a leg in the war. The worst of the bunch, Krzeminski, is also kind of a moron in general who gets openly mocked for his idiocy. Their boss, Dooley, occasionally shows flashes of respect for Carter in between belittling her.

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Illustration for article titled Agent Carter Included Captain America In The Cleverest Way Possible

But if the Agent Carter show doesn't offer us a set of cardboard cut-out sexists to hate, it also doesn't give us the easy closure the short-film version did, either. You come away from the opening two-parter with the sense that Peggy Carter is going to have to work hard to prove herself. And sneaking around behind her colleagues' backs, and doing favors for the man they're supposed to be investigating, won't necessarily win her any friends.

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What's especially good about this set-up is that it gives the show a strong emotional core — Peggy Carter's frustration at going from wartime hero to peacetime secretary is palpable, and it's the kind of injustice that automatically makes you want to root for someone. And Hayley Atwell really sells the frustration and wounded dignity of a great operative who's being sidelined for the most idiotic of reasons.

Ongoing mysteries

There are plenty of mysteries set up in the first two hours of Agent Carter that will play out between now and March.

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For one thing, it's strongly hinted that Howard Stark is playing Peggy — even if you don't watch the promo for the upcoming episodes, in which he pretty much says so. At one point, he tells Jarvis that Peggy will never suspect a thing.

The chemistry between Peggy and Jarvis the butler is a thing of great beauty, and James D'Arcy does a lot with the character of the prim married man who has to be in bed by 9 PM but is used to cleaning up Howard's messes. Late in the story, Jarvis tells Peggy that she can't set herself apart from the people she wants to protect, and she needs to have a personal life. Jarvis, at least, seems to care about her and not to be capable of huge amounts of guile — but I guess we'll see.

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Of course, Peggy is trying to stay apart from other people because of what happened to her roommate Colleen, who was a former factory worker made redundant after the boys came home from the war:

Colleen gets killed by the Leviathan assassin, and Peggy is afraid that the same fate will befall anyone she gets close to.

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But then Peggy gets a too-good-to-be-true offer of housing in a women-only complex full of brilliant achievers (and one slut). She'll be living next to her new friend Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca), the waiter at the diner where Peggy likes to go and assault the dickish male customers.

Angie is also an aspiring actor, and she bears a startling resemblance to the woman who's seen on a boat with Howard Stark in some photos that Souza has:

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Is that Angie boating around with Howard, and why is she so eager to have Peggy as her new neighbor?

Then there are all the various agents that Peggy works with. Souza, in particular, seems too nice to be for real, and he's probably going to turn out to be hiding something nasty. Meanwhile, Jack Thompson also seems to have a dark secret. And Krzeminski can't possibly be as dumb as he looks... can he?

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Oh, and what was Roxxon Oil, run by the never-trustworthy Ray Wise, doing with that implosive compound? Are they in league with Leviathan?

And finally, what exactly is Leviathan? Who's on the other end of the Fringe-style typewriter that the nameless assassin uses? And what do they want with all these weapons?

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DISCUSSION

Cool_Breeze
Cool_Breeze

She's a Secret Agent, Man!

I love this show, and I love this studio.

Look. This show is a big deal. Like, really big. Sure, we just saw a "2 hour premier" of the miniseries, but lets call it what it is: A movie. We just got a two hour (OK FINE 1 Hour 40 Minutes, THANKS commercials!) movie. And who is the lead? Peggy Carter. A woman. Marvel just gave us an espionage movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a female lead character. Sorry DC and Wonder Woman, but Marvel just one-upped you. AGAIN.

Peggy Carter is an awesome character. She's strong, independent, kickass, smart, and scrappy. She was strong in The First Avenger, an important emotional anchor in The Winter Soldier, and now she just carried her own movie. Bravo Agent Carter, and bravo Marvel. That took guts, and they pulled it off.

Also, lets get deep for a second: Agent Carter in the SSR offices is kind of a strong metaphor for the state of female led movies in Hollywood today. All the men are men because it's a man's world, and Agent Carter sticks out (colorful suit and red hat, anyone?) All the men look and act the same (save for Agent Sousa, trying to stick up for Carter...) and Agent Carter is treated like the C team. She is literally a secretary. These, uh, TPS reports aren't going to complete themselves...

The only way she can get ahead and respected is by going outside the norm and exceeding all exceptions spectacularly. ONE misstep and she's written off. Sound familiar? That's why it took so long to get Wonder Woman on the big screen, and Captain Marvel is still three full years out. Even a year ago, if either had a stand alone movie and it wasn't on par with Guardians of the Galaxy numbers, it would be considered a failure.

Not fair then. Not fair now.

Side note: according to Badass Digest, Kevin Feige helped edit this movie/show. He has no hands on Agents of SHIELD. Therefore, it is easy to assume that this miniseries will give context to the movies, instead of the other way around.

Now, my takes:

1. I was kind of thrown by the opening flashes while Carter was getting ready in the opening, because it flashed the scene from the One Shot where she kicked the baddie through the warehouse office window. In that One Shot, the NEXT DAY Stark called her office and gave her the news that she was going to help run SHIELD. However, when she gets to work, she's back in that (or a similar) office, with the same phone and alarm system. Maybe it was a typo. Maybe more time passed from her mission in the One Shot to Stark making the call. We shall see.

2. Dude. Now we know where Tony got his wit and heartwarming charm. Howard on the stand with the committee was like a vintage remake of the committee hearing from Iron Man 2. I loved it.

3. Jarvis cannot take a punch and is very jumpy. He has some wit and sarcasm, which he probably earned by working for Howard for so long. It sounds like Tony at least knew an older Jarvis, who was probably just a walking sarcasm wit by the time Tony met him. JARVIS the computer sounds tired of Tony's shit most of the time. If Tony modeled JARVIS after older Jarvis, that explains a lot.

4. Maybe Agent Carter goes on to set up training standards for SHIELD, which in turn taught Black Widow / May how to fight because DAMN SHE HAS MOVES. SHE. STAPLED. A. GUYS. FACE. Noice.

5. Trip's grandpa's gadgets :( Agent Carter has some cool stuff. That lipstick is lights out. That watch? AMAZEBALLS. HEERE COMES THE (WO)MEN IN BLACK!

6. Dr. Vanko.

Anton Vanko in the MCU helped Howard build/design the Arc Technology. When Howard found out he was in it for the cash and working with Russia, he had him deported back to Russia, where he had Ivan and Iron Man 2 happened.

In the comics, Anton Vanko is the first Crimson Dynamo, an enemy of Iron Man. Now, he can't be Iron Man's enemy, because of the years' difference between Tony and Anton, but he could be Howard's. Howard is accused of selling weapons, and Carter is working as a double/triple agent to clear his name. Maybe this is how he finds out Anton is working for Russia, deports him and saves his own name.

Could Vanko be....Crimson Dynamo? In the comics, he's the first Crimson Dynamo, and is Iron Man's nemesis. Because this is 1946 and a little early for Iron Man, maybe Vanko becomes Crimson Dynamo upon returning to Russia. Maybe he gets recruited by...

7. LEVIATHAN??? That crazy smoker-scientist said Leviathan was coming. Leviathan was a communist-ish version of HYDRA, that had 10K of Russia's best agents in its ranks. Coincidentally, some agents were cryogenically frozen, to be thawed later and used as needed.

Sound familiar? According to that wiki I linked to, Leviathan, HYDRA, and SHIELD all worked together at some point. Since HYDRA was "assimilated" after WWII in the Cinematic Universe, maybe the retcon is that some HYDRA agents went to Leviathan, and taught them to do what HYDRA did to Bucky? Or maybe, (remember, Bucky has a RED STAR on his shoulder, not an octopus…) Hydra and Leviathan were working together in WW2, and Zola created the Winter Soldier for Leviathan, not HYDRA.

Then, somewhere down the line, Leviathan went belly up, and Hydra got their hands on Winter Soldier, but didn't have the tech to upgrade the emblem on his arm. This is fun.

8. That Casper Typewriter reminded me a lot of the HYDRA/Deathlok eye implant deal. Pretty creeptastic. WHY CAN'T THEY TALK?

9. Agent Carter is an awesome spy. DUDETTE. Blonde lady. Inspector lady. WHAT CAN'T SHE DO?? (Side note: How cool was that when she was at the party, and turned her head juuuust as the photographer took a photo. Sorry SSR, that pool reporter camera isn't going to yield more than the back of a head, yo). Carter is one step ahead of the SSR. I love it.

10. Someone in Congress/SSR has a thing out for Stark, right? When they saw the results of the Roxxon explosion, the head agent immediately jumped to blame Stark. He's involved.

11. THE DEVIL IS LITERALLY IN CHARGE OF ROXXON OIL. What's your name? "Agent." ha. That was Coulson's first name.

12. Agent Carter is CLEVER. The "check their clothes in the morning" bit to catch the dude she SAW at the facility was top notch.

13. "I don't believe you." "Well you should, I'm law enforcement." *SMILE*. Man, this show is freaking current even if it takes place in 1946. AM I BEING DETAINNNED??

14. Ralph Garmin. That's a fun cameo. I love Kevin & Bean, and he does the Showbiz Beat every morning. It's cool to see such a comic nerd get a chance to be part of the MCU.

15. Interesting thought: Jarvis tried to get Carter to stay in a pretty sweet mansion. Could that be...Avengers Mansion??

16. This is going to be a good show. I hope it gets a second season. It had action, suspense, subtle and awesome humor. Agent Carter's disdain for that radio show was amazing, and I love how they over laid the fake fight with Carter's actual fight.

17. DUM DUM!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

18. ANT MAN! TOO LATE, CAN'T CHANGE THE NAME!!!! That trailer was BONKERS! This movie is going to get Winter Soldier / Guardians money, you watch. Marvel has another sleeper on its hands.

What was the symbol in the sand? HMMMMM.

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