February 25, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Agent Carter”


It remains a pop culture puzzle that Marvel can have such uninterrupted, unprecedented success as a producer of blockbuster movies, yet still not have cracked the code of TV, while DC, which is hurrying (perhaps too fast) to play catch-up on the big screen, is routinely turning out hit series for the small one.  (Well, all but Constantine.)  After a season and a half on the air, Agents of SHIELD has improved quite a bit, but it still exerts visible effort to tell a story, and while some of its characters are compelling, even now they have yet to mesh as an ensemble.

The idea of AGENT CARTER sounded like a very smart exercise for Marvel:  a limited series of 8 episodes to air during SHIELD‘s post-holidays hiatus, with enough time to tell a compact, coherent story that didn’t have to fit very far into the majesty of the Marvel Gargantuan Universe.  Making things even easier would be the heroine, Peggy Carter, already successfully created and ably embodied by Hayley Atwell in the first Captain America movie.  Add a few tasty co-stars (Shea Whigham, James D’Arcy, Enver Gjokaj, Chad Michael Murray), recurring visits from another movie figure, Iron Man’s dad Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), some spunky 1940s feminism and a picturesque post-WWII New York setting, and  it seemed as easy as this sort of thing could ever be.

Yet Agent Carter never really came together.  Showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas (working from the characters and pilot script created by Captain America writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) didn’t settle on a tone that was consistent or felt right.  The TV show lacked heart and characterization, and it stumbled between old-fashioned adventure and near-parody.  The latter half of the show’s run revolved heavily around the silliness of evil Dr. Ivchenko (Ralph Brown) who could instantaneously hypnotize people by speaking sonorously while twirling the ring on his finger, which was as dumb as the similar plotline on this season’s Glee (where Sue Sylvester was the evil hypnotist) but without the comedy.  Peggy herself didn’t develop a compelling relationship with any other character, from her fellow respectively enlightened and chauvinistic Strategic Scientific Reserve agents played by Gjokaj and Murray to Jarvis, Howard Stark’s butler (and the precursor of Iron Man’s fussy computer) played by D’Arcy.  There appeared to be a hint early on that Jarvis was just pretending to have a wife who never appeared on screen, but that went nowhere, and Peggy’s supposed friendship with a naive waitress and aspiring actress played by Lyndsy Fonseca was so thin that one wondered why on earth Fonseca, a veteran of Nikita‘s brand of ass-kicking female empowerment, had taken the part.

It was understandable that the plot lacked the spectacle of Marvel’s hugely expensive movies, but there was no justification for it to be as threadbare as it was, with the Big Bads being a gaggle of Russkies who were anonymous but for that hypnotist and a fresh-faced assassin played by Bridget Regan (who’s specializing these days in playing seeming innocents who are actually murderous, after similar roles on White Collar and Jane the Virgin).  Last week’s episode had established the baddies’ plot to use a Stark-created (by accident) gas that turned people immediately homicidal–clearly the idea of the moment, since something very similar factored into a recent Sleepy Hollow episode and the movie Kingsman–and tonight’s finale, written by Butters and Fazekas and directed by Christopher Misiano, had Stark hypnotized by Ivchenko into flying a cargo of the gas to Times Square on V-E Day, until Peggy talked him back to his humanity in an extremely anticlimactic ending.

Ideally, Agent Carter could have been a placeholder for ABC on a regular yearly basis, plugging in midwinter or summer gaps of other Marvel shows, but the ratings have been no better than blah, and both Marvel and ABC already have enough of that with Agents of SHIELD itself.  As accomplished as Hayley Atwell may be, it would seem likely that next time around, the Marvel braintrust will try, try again with another off-shoot of their empire.  Eventually, they might even get it right.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."