[This is a review of the Agent Carter season 2 premiere. There will be SPOILERS]
In its first season, Agent Carter revisited Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) from Captain America: The First Avenger as she worked for the Strategic Scientific Reserve in New York City, while also secretly helping Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper). Along with Stark's butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D'Arcy), she saved New York City from a plot against its citizens. Now in its season 2 premiere, Agent Carter features many returning characters - most in a new location on the West Coast - back for a new case.
The Agent Carter two-hour premiere consists of 'The Lady in the Lake', written by Brant Englestein, and 'A View in the Dark', written by Eric Pearson and Lindsey Allen, with Lawrence Trilling as the director for both hours. The first episode sees Peggy heading to L.A. to assist West Coast SSR Chief Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) in the case of a woman who was found dead in the middle of a frozen lake. While investigating Isodyne Energy owner Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham) for the murder, Peggy crosses paths with his wife, actress Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett), and Isodyne scientist Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin). In the second hour, Peggy must get closer to Jason in order to learn what she can about Isodyne. He reveals the company has been experimenting with Zero Matter - the result of an atomic bomb test that went wrong - but an explosion leaves Jason missing and Whitney having absorbed Zero Matter.
The two-hour premiere of Agent Carter features plenty of what fans learned to expect from the show and the character in season 1. In fact, the opening sequence is a direct homage to its first season: viewers see a red hat - seemingly identical to the one Peggy often sported in New York - and a blue suit, but when the woman raises her head, it turns out to be Black Widow operative Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan). The ensuing fight is both action-packed and vicious in a way that elevates Agent Carter even past the bar set by the show in season 1. Then, with Dottie captured, Peggy is tasked with interrogating the operative on behalf of the SSR, showing how far she has come in proving herself to be a useful agent.
As a result, the opening of the season premiere helps viewers dive back into the world of 1940s covert operations, especially with Peggy leading the way. The scenes between Atwell and Regan as Peggy and Dottie are some of the most tense in the premiere, with the show quickly establishing the characters as nearly evenly matched. However, Peggy is called away by Chief Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), who sends his agent to L.A., where Sousa has been working to establish the West Coast branch of the SSR. Though, back in New York, Jack is undermined in the interrogation of Dottie by the FBI, and he’s told by an old mentor that the SSR is going the way of the dinosaur.
The case of Jane Scott, an Isodyne physicist who was murdered, at first seems to lend Agent Carter a procedural one-off case in order to allow the premiere more time to devote to its new setting. 'The Lady of the Lake' does this through Jarvis, as well as his wife Ana (Lotte Verbeek), who have been in L.A. maintaining Stark's menagerie - including Bernard the "devil in pink" flamingo - as the couple teach Peggy about the city. However, the Jane Scott case is simply the tip of the iceberg. The show begins to delve into Isodyne's research in the second hour of the premiere, revealing a much more complex conspiracy that includes a mysterious Council, of which Chadwick is a member. When it seems Isodyne is being shut down, Jason explains to Peggy the work he's been doing on Zero Matter.
The shift from a simple case (or, as simple as any case can be in a world of frozen lakes) to something more complex is pulled off well by Agent Carter. Plus, the introduction of Zero Matter gives the show more connection to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was featured in a season 1 episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - called Darkmatter - and Jason refers to it as potentially being extraterrestrial or extradimensional, an allusion to the upcoming Marvel Studios film Doctor Strange. As a result, this season of Agent Carter has established a storyline that could stand on its own with viewers who aren't aware of other MCU media, but also works to connect the show better than season 1.
The Agent Carter premiere wastes no time in reminding viewers of the show's cast of fan-favorite characters, beginning with Peggy herself, and one highlight of the two-hour premiere is her reunion with Jarvis. The two acted as a sort of odd couple crime-fighting duo in season 1, but they find more common ground in season 2, falling into a practiced partnership. Throwing an unpredictable element into their friendship is the introduction of Jarvis's wife, Ana, who brings even more fun and joy to the dynamic as an effervescent and giggly - but capable - ally. Additionally, Ana sheds new light on Jarvis both for Peggy and the viewer, adding more depth to his character through their interactions.
Another fan-favorite character brought back in a new light is Sousa, who last we saw was finally acting on his feelings for Peggy and asking her on a date, which she turned down. Now, he has returned as the Chief of the L.A. SSR office and with a girlfriend, Violet (Sarah Bolger), to whom he plans to propose. The awkward and complicated relationship between Peggy and Sousa is pulled off well by Atwell and Gjokaj, even if it suffers through some romance cliches. Still, with fans continuing to wonder who becomes Peggy's husband, the relationship between Peggy and Sousa offers some added mystery.
However, Agent Carter is sure to introduce Jason as a likable character, and a new love interest for Peggy. Additionally, the show uses Jason as a means to tackle racism in the 1940s - responding to criticism that this discussion was left out of season 1 - as he explains his loyalty to Isodyne is the result of the company being the only one willing to hire him despite his skin color. Although racism is a reality of living in 1940s America, Agent Carter's handling of the subject was as subtle as it was of sexism in season 1 - which is to say, it was a cartoonishly simple take on an exceptionally complex subject. That's not to say Agent Carter shouldn't deal with racism or sexism, but the show tends to bring up these issues, establish them as "bad", and move on to some more light-hearted, witty banter.
All in all, the Agent Carter two-hour season premiere is a fun, fast-paced, action-packed reentry to the world of Peggy Carter and those that inhabit it. Both 'The Lady in the Lake' and 'A View in the Dark' remind fans of what made season 1 so entertaining, while also elevating the show to a new level in terms of action sequences and connection to the larger MCU. Though there are certain aspects of the character relationships and development in which Agent Carter could work to improve, they likely didn't take too much away from the episodes in terms of fan enjoyment.
Still, this Agent Carter premiere set up a new adventure, on a new coast, with a slightly rearranged cast of characters, and a range of new and varying villains. All this is to say, Agent Carter has set up a second season that could prove to be even better than its first - which was solid in its own right.
Agent Carter continues with 'Better Angels' on January 26th at 9pm on ABC. Check out a preview below: