Peggy Carter apparently works for the New York Bell Co telephone exchange, but is in fact an Agent with the Strategic Scientific Reserve.
And although she is an agent with the SSR, she’s also working secretly on behalf of Howard Stark, wanted fugitive (to the SSR) and former wartime colleague (to Agent Carter).
Just like its title character, Agent Carter appears to be one thing but underneath it all is something rather different. On the one hand it’s a broad-brush, action-adventure show, ‘comic-book’ action on the small screen. Last week’s episode ended with that old cliché of the cryptic message from a dying man, which in this third episode leads Peggy and her… accomplice? Her assistant? Her driver? Well anyway, it leads Peggy and her Mr Jarvis to a boat on which they find the stash of weapons stolen from Stark’s vault at the beginning of the series.
Rummaging through the crates Jarvis lifts out one typical example: “The constrictor” he says, “Causes involuntary catastrophic muscle contraction, bones break.”
He might as well have said, “This will come in handy if we get attacked” for all the subtlety the scene offers – because blow me down if within two minutes they aren’t attacked, only for Peggy to fend off their assailant with that very weapon.
The weapons, and their vanquished guardian, are soon recovered by the SSR. So far so good, and as the prisoner starts to describe “the English broad” who beat him up it seems inevitable that by the end of the episode Peggy’s presence and cover will be blown…
…Until en route to SSR HQ the prisoner is shot dead by an unknown assailant. So too, in a twist that comes right out of nowhere, is his escort Agent Krzeminski.
It’s a brilliantly unexpected moment as lazy, sexist, comic-relief, second-tier character Krzeminski is shot dead for nothing more than being unhappily in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like the audience, his fellow agents are suitably shocked.
Ah yes – his fellow agents. There’s another good example of where Agent Carter is sneakily wrong-footing us, even within the space of just a few episodes. In episode one they were there almost exclusively as a guy’s club, pompous, rude, unable to consider a woman’s intelligence or superiority in any field, unable or unwilling to think outside the box, and with a clear view of Agent Carter’s responsibilities as starting at answering the phone and ending at fetching the coffee.
But they’re gradually becoming ‘real’ people not just sexist 1940s knuckleheads, and there’s a nicely understated sense of real emotion as they learn of Krzeminski’s murder: “Now I gotta go call Krzeminski’s wife,” says the Chief; “I’ll call his girlfriend” adds Agent Thompson grimly – neatly turning what had been a running gag into something rather poignant.
That’s not to mention Mr Jarvis, played with surprising elegance by James D’Arcy. (I mean “surprising” as a compliment by the way. Can this really be the same actor who only a few months ago was Lee Ashworth in Broadchurch?) He appears to be simply a softly-spoken stereotypical English manservant, until the SSR reveals his past arrest for treason…
…Which we in turn discover was for an act of forgery to ensure the safe passage of his Jewish sweetheart (now wife) in the Europe of the late 30s. It’s a touching tale and shoots dead (sorry Krzeminski) my theory that there isn’t actually a Mrs Jarvis at all.
Both her story and her voice this week confirm her existence, but it seems she may well be another in that long line of memorably unseen fictional characters, like Mrs Wolowitz, Elisabeth Mainwaring, or Rhoda’s Doorman.
But then, as Agent Carter demonstrates each week, things aren’t always what they seem.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 26 July 2015 on Fox.
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