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Before SHIELD: “Marvel’s Agent Carter” – Episode 1 & 2 “Now Is Not The End”/”Bridge and Tunnel”

Inspired by the films “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, “Marvel’s Agent Carter” is a series created for ABC based on beloved Agent Peggy Carter. Our writer, DeShawn Blankenship recaps the mini-series each week, updating you with the very latest in his series, Before SHIELD.

Picture Credit: Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures

Captain America: The First Avenger premiered July 22, 2011 to positive reviews. Comic fans were glad to see Marvel bringing more of their favorite heroes to the big screen. The majority of the movie focused on Chris Evans as the star-spangled Avenger and Hugo Weaving’s portrayal of Red Skull. With all the attention on the male–dominated cast, Hayley Atwell’s performance as Peggy Carter, Captain America’s partner, seemed lost in the shuffle. Atwell imbued the British agent with presence and showed that Peggy wasn’t just as competent as Captain America, but that she could outpace him if he didn’t stay on top of his game. In the end, she and Steve fell for each other but were separated by his heroic sacrifice to stop Red Skull’s plans.

The pilot of Marvel’s Agent Carter titled “Now is Not the End” opens one year after the end of the movie with clips of Captain America’s final words to Peggy cut between scenes of Peggy’s adventures after he vanished. Rather than mourn and retire, Peggy is still fighting to honor his memory. Peggy’s roommate, Colleen, is introduced along with her cover job of working for the telephone company. Peggy slips her gun into her purse while having a talk with her roommate about women being let go from their jobs as soldiers return home from war. Great way to introduce the time and tone of the story.

Howard Stark (reprised by Dominic Cooper) is accused of selling weapons to America’s enemies. He gets dragged up to Capitol Hill to defend himself (like father, like son), but his attitude rubs the politicians the wrong way. Howard goes on the run when he can’t convince them of his innocence. The Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R) is tasked with capturing Stark and securing his technology. Rather than bring in Peggy who knows Stark, the professionals (read: Men) of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, led by Chief Dooley (Shea Whigham), dismiss Peggy as Captain America’s “liaison”. The trend continues with Agent Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) handing Peggy some papers to file and dismissing her value to the group. Agent Daniel Souza (Enver Gjokaj) stands up for her, but is mocked due to his injured leg. Peggy appreciates the gesture but makes it clear that she can stand up for herself. Peggy could have come across as bitter or rude but she’s written better than that. She’s just trying to do her job and move on. Still, she’s kind to Souza, who also understands being an outcast.

After meeting with her friend Angie, Peggy is accosted by a dapper Englishman revealed as Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), Howard Stark’s butler. Howard meets with Peggy and tells her that he’s being framed and needs her to clear his name while he goes to Europe to find the people who stole his “bad baby” inventions. Naturally, Peggy asks Howard why he creates dangerous weapons but Howard gives a typical Stark response about not being able to control his genius. If you ever wanted to know where Tony got his narcissism, look no further than his old man. For a smart guy, Howard Stark doesn’t take a lot of precautions with his personal effects, a second recurring theme in the Stark family.

Howard leaves Jarvis in Peggy’s care as a liaison to keep him in the loop and warns Peggy of a formula for a substance called nitromene that could destroy city blocks (and cities) if it falls into the wrong hands. In addition, Howard informs her of Spider Raymond, a broker who deals in black-market arms. Peggy tricks her way into Agent Thompson’s meeting and learns where she can find Raymond. Donning a blonde wig, Peggy gets the drop on Raymond and finds the formula. Jarvis advises her that it’s highly volatile and not to touch it—which she already has. Luckily, it can be stopped from detonating with a little work. Peggy escapes before Thompson can see her but she’s spotted by an assassin who owns a really cool, yet creepy typewriter. He types a message to his boss and waits. The typewriter answers him. Text messaging is alive and well in the Marvel Universe, even in the 1940’s!

Peggy manages to defuse the formula but the assassin follows her home and kills her roommate. A fight ensues and Peggy proves that she is just as tough as any man. She throws the attacker out of a window and he escapes, leaving her to mourn the death of her friend, Colleen. Uh oh, ‘Assassin Guy’, you just made the second Avenger mad. You shouldn’t have done what you did.

Jarvis and Peggy visit Dr. Vanko, the man who eventually helps him create the arc reactor and the events that lead to Iron Man 2. Dr. Vanko tells them that the compound contains Vita-Rays, which were used in Project: Rebirth, the program that created Captain America. Peggy has a moment while she’s looking at pictures of Steve. Souza tries to console her a bit but Peggy toughs it out and gets back to work.

The banter between the two Brits is witty and crisp from the start. James D’Arcy and Hayley Atwell have great chemistry and you get the feeling that the real Jarvis is just as used to working for crazy people as the computer J.A.R.V.I.S. is used to tending to every one of Tony Stark’s whims. Jarvis has to balance helping Peggy, while making sure his wife gets her soufflé and taking care of the laundry. He pulls that off with little issue, while keeping Howard informed. It makes me like the character even more. It’s about priorities, my friends.

Peggy tracks down the buyer of the formula to the Roxxon plant and takes out the guards only to discover that the nitromene is being mass-produced for sale. She encounters Leet Brannis (James Frain), the man who stole the formula who mentions that Leviathan is coming and that the future they have planned is “very bad”. ‘Assassin Guy’ works for them and if he’s in the picture, then both of them are already dead. Brannis throws a globe of the formula on the ground, gets in his Daisy Clover milk truck and leaves. Peggy has Jarvis bring the car around and the pair narrowly escape being sucked into the explosion of Roxxon Oil, but not before losing the bumper and the license plate of their car.

The boys at S.S.R. are still struck at square one when the call comes in about Roxxon Oil. The only thing they’ve managed to figure out is that blonde woman was the last person to see Raymond alive at the club. Peggy mentions Leviathan to Jarvis and he seems to know more about the matter than he’s saying. This is confirmed when he watches Peggy leave the diner (after threatening a jerky customer harassing Angie) and tells Stark that Peggy is the perfect choice and that she has no clue what’s going on.

Hour two. “Bridge and Tunnel” finds Peggy listening to and hating the “Captain America” radio show. “Betty Carver”, Cap’s love interest is portrayed as a helpless damsel. Angie suggests that Peggy move into her apartment building now that she has no place to go. Peggy, still hurting from the loss of Colleen, gently turns her down. Jarvis then tries to give her one of Howard’s penthouses and Peggy accepts for the time being.

Jarvis advises her that Stark’s files have nothing on Leviathan and Peggy can’t find anything on either of the men she’s encountered. She goes to Daisy Clover Dairy and impersonates a health inspector to find out who gave Brannis the milk truck. She gets the name of Sheldon Lee, an employee of the company and finds an address. Meanwhile, ‘Assassin Guy’ is killing anyone he comes across in order to find Brannis and the explosives. He learns of Sheldon Lee and kills the man who gave him the information. His methods, unlike Peggy’s, leave no witnesses to tell of his passing. Peggy is great with fake accents’, though, and listening to her talk is superior to watching ‘Assassin Guy’ glare his way through every scene.

The S.S.R. boys have pictures of the blonde woman, causing Peggy to worry. If she gets caught working on the case, they’ll suspect of her helping Howard Stark and therefore, treason. Souza’s in charge of the pictures and puts them under lock and key. Peggy tries to get the pictures but is thwarted by, of all things, the office telephone. Peggy is then summoned by Chief Dooley to aid with their sweep of Roxxon Oil. Turns out she was only summoned because someone felt it would be inappropriate to let Thompson scan the women with the vita-ray scanner. The sadness is etched in Thompson’s expression.

When Peggy recognizes Miles Van Ert, the other scientist helping Brannis, she manages to bring him down before Thompson. In interrogation, Dooley tries to intimidate Van Ert, but he doesn’t budge. Thompson then throttles the man until he won’t speak any further. They send Peggy home to “spare” her watching them beat him senseless. Peggy calls Jarvis and they head out to Cedar Grove to find Sheldon Lee. Peggy knocks him out and captures Brannis as he tries to escape—thanks to Jarvis sabotaging his truck. She makes Jarvis fix the milk truck and wants to take both suspects in for questioning but Lee has escaped. Peggy and Jarvis take Brannis and go.

‘Assassin Guy’ somehow finds the trio and lands on the milk truck, shooting at them. Peggy engages him in combat once more. She gets the upper hand and then bails out with Jarvis and Brannis, leaving ‘Assassin Guy’ to fall to his death as the truck full of nitromene explodes and turns a local lake into a valley. Brannis dies, but not before sketching out a strange symbol in the dirt. Thompson and Dooley find Lee just before the blast and arrive after Peggy and Jarvis leave. They know that a woman left the scene and Souza finds a room key on the ground. Unfortunately, Peggy isn’t good with keeping her own possessions out of the hands of others.

Jarvis explains to Peggy that she can’t live her life alone and without allies. Peggy retorts that Captain America did and Jarvis reminds her that Steve relied on her. While Peggy doesn’t immediately accept it, she does reconsider moving into Angie’s boarding house and meets Miriam Fry, who lays out a set of rules that we all know will get broken in the course of this season. Peggy is glad to be among friends, even though she still hates the “Captain America” radio show.

Hayley Atwell gives Peggy a serious dose of strength and emotion that’s usually missing from female leads in most television shows. She’s smart, she can fight and she’s tough enough to go toe-to-toe with the men around her who write her off because she’s a woman. Peggy doesn’t suffer fools and she goes to bat for her friends. If these first two episodes in the mini-series are any indication, Marvel’s streak of making great shows and movies continues. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has to deal with repercussion of movies, which limits what can be done during a given season. Agent Carter avoids this problem as it is set in the 1940’s and can simply explore canon or set down plot threads that can be picked up in later movies.

The supporting cast is also a huge boon to the show. Jarvis is funny on his own, but the banter between him and Peggy is golden. I’d watch an hour of these two going back and forth without any action sequences or any other cast members. You almost forget Jarvis is only there because of Howard Stark, who comes across very shady. I’m sure that Howard isn’t telling the whole story behind the loss of his inventions, but I’m willing to wait and see how it plays out.

If you didn’t watch the premiere of Marvel’s Agent Carter, then do so. If you did, watch it again! Either way, join me next week as we learn more about Peggy Carter’s fight to save the world…before S.H.I.E.L.D.

What did you think of the premiere? What do you think the message in the sand meant? Let us know in the comments below.

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