NOTE: The following review contains SPOILERS for the Agent Carter season 1 finale.
In the wispy, snow-covered dreamscape that is the Agent Carter season – series? – finale, our heroine saves the day by once again manning the radio and guiding our hero home. Hypnotism be damned with the dulcet tones of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) at the ready. So Marvel failed this time. There’s nothing wrong with falling short, now and again.
“Valediction,” written by showrunners Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, is a surprisingly generic final chapter to an already confusing adventure. The episode begins with a radio play, which only serves to highlight the convenient, over-the-top plot points which lead to the “big moment” when Carter fights Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan); or when Peg saves Stark (Dominic Copper) from Ivchenko (Ralph Brown); or when Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) acts like a gentleman towards Carter. How about – surprise – Armin Zola (Toby Jones) from Captain America: The Winter Solider? Any could be “the” moment, and all are equally uninteresting, sadly.
The lack of any real purpose in the Agent Carter finale – other than to simply end it, that is – reveals the real challenges that Marvel faces when they try to force a TV movie into the ever-demanding landscape of the small screen. There are no real story-arcs which are being developed over the many hours and weeks the series has on air; instead it’s always been a single path to tell a single story which, ultimately (and unfortunately), falls short of servicing any of its characters – especially Carter. Howard Stark’s character is now arguably cheapened because of it, if anything. If you want to see the best of Carter, watch her in the films.
There are connections to be made with many elements of Agent Carter which will help fans feel more connected to Marvel’s ever-growing world, sure. But Dooley (Shea Whigham) – arguably the most entertaining character in all this – was “hot vested” the previous week. Even the writers had to realize they were down one strong character going in. Placing the largely ignored Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca) in the background of the closing moments is only good for keeping up appearances. The problem: it only works if audiences care.
In its 8 episodes, Agent Carter rarely took the time to care about the character the way they expect us to. Lens blur on high, Marvel references… somewhere, and a cheap spy story that leads nowhere. It’s as if no one from Marvel watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 while developing Carter. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was forced to refocus itself and work hard to successfully reinvigorate before make an exciting push during season 2. At least Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was creating something from nothing.
Even so, not everything about Agent Carter was a failure. The series premiere served as a somewhat enjoyable introduction to a sci-fi comic book weapons story that slightly mirrors the spirit of Fox’s cult series Fringe. The Howling Commandos still represent the most successful attempt at building a world which delivers on the hype – and it’s through them that we witness Black Widow’s origins. Except Agent Carter isn’t Fringe, and Underwood isn’t Black Widow. Therein lies the problem.
Whatever goals Agent Carter had when it first premiered quickly gave way to the requirements of midseason television. Instead of a focused story told over many weeks, it’s a series of half-hearted namechecks that are only as strong as one’s ability harness their own Marvel-branded enthusiasm. Perhaps an 8-episode arc was always a bit too much for a period adventure on a television budget.
Either way, the end result is a product some fans fully support, while others continue to champion its downfall. Ultimately, that means Marvel failed – but there’s always hope that they will return again with a new direction. Agent Carter season 1 isn’t perfect – and it never was going to be, either. It’s also not a triumph for feminism. It’s simply a TV show which failed, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Agent Carter may return for season 2 in 2016.