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Marvel’s Agent Carter is a fine little gem, born entirely from the passion of both the audience of Captain America: The First Avenger and Hayley Atwell, the woman that portrays the badass lead character. It was pitched as a pseudo-origin story for Marvel’s premiere intelligence agency SHIELD but swerved early on for a rich character study. The first season was about Agent Carter’s post-war story, including coming to terms with the loss of the love of her life. It was a slow burn with a beautiful payoff and was structurally more akin to an eight hour feature than a limited series. It feels as though the first verse of a hit song has been completed and now, with season two returning to our screens, the show is free to break into the chorus.

There’s very little moving of chess pieces, and at the same time, an awful lot happens within the first episode. Carter captures escaped season one antagonist Dottie Underwood and is transferred to Los Angeles to work another case before we can even begin to dissect her intentions. After a moment with the New York Chief she is taken into custody by an FBI agent with his own set of intentions.

In Los Angeles Agent Carter reunites with Daniel Sousa, last season’s semi-love interest and this season’s SSR LA Chief. They collaborate on a case and the sparks are there, finally respectfully moving on Captain America, but the showrunners aren’t ready to commit. Sousa has a girlfriend.

Dual plots in two cities gives Agent Carter some fantastic scope. The New York/Los Angeles comparisons are so present that the show barely has to do anything to incite all these feelings. One of the best features of the Marvel universe is that it is so layered and lived-in. The choice to shift Agent Carter to Los Angeles was fantastic and also makes everything feel fresh and different again.

Old faces are still aplenty, with the magnificent Mr Jarvis returning to accompany Agent Carter. The namesake for Iron Man’s artificial intelligence was a vital role in the first series and the way he slips into the second mystery makes perfect sense: the poor man is bored.

After the pseudo-SHIELD angle in development the press began to theorise that the show would be an Agent Carter/Howard Stark teamup to capitalise on the Iron Man brand. No such luck, for a whole variety of real-life and narrative reasons, though a guest star spot was arranged and Dominic Cooper appeared sporadically throughout the first series to much fanfare. He didn’t appear in the pilot but he’s still a driving force behind the scenes – expect the delightful premise of Stark Pictures to be extrapolated further.

The threat of HYDRA is still lingering around and Dottie’s Black Widow-esque history is a storytelling gold mine but the series would also like to present some new threats at you: the War Department’s dubious Kurtwood Smith (without a whiff of his That 70s Show persona) and the scientist trying to cuddle up to Peggy while experimenting with… a mystery.

Agent Carter is higher quality that Agents of SHIELD and spends more time to tell the story right. This season’s is quick and sharp, outwardly confident of the material that preceded it. It’s a fine compliment to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe and has a place beside Avengers, Jessica Jones and all the new films to follow despite being set seventy years ago.

 

 

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Mark Halyday

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