RogerBW's Blog

Agent Carter, season 2 03 August 2016

2015-2016 superheroic fantasy, 10 episodes. In 1947, Peggy Carter, still working for a secret government agency, travels to Los Angeles to investigate strange goings-on there.

When the first season worked for me, which was most of the time, it was because it was telling stories grounded in the real world: there might be weird implausible super-tech to be stolen, but it was still Russian spies stealing it, using guns and knockout lipstick and things like that. The change that season 2 makes is to bring in a blatant gimmick, "zero matter", which immediately starts doing exactly what it needs to to further the plot (freezing people, turning them into ghosts, and so on), and the season's main villain becomes "infected" with the stuff and starts developing superpowers. In other words this is a much more "superhero"-feeling season than the first one, even if Carter is still a "normal", and that's where it loses my sympathy just as Agents of SHIELD did.

It doesn't help that it otherwise largely replays the tricks of the first season: everyone Carter works with, except for the one guy who's hopelessly in love with her, thinks she's completely useless (even though they all know she saved the day at the end of season 1) and she gets the most trivial assignments to keep her out from underfoot. All that momentum that was built up from the previous season, as Carter gradually won the respect of her male colleagues even if she didn't get formal recognition, is thrown away in favour of repeating the same old story. Ho hum, you did that, how about changing things around a bit?

There's a distressing tendency for things to happen at night, or in dimly-lit factories or offices. It's all terribly moody, no doubt, but it makes it difficult to see what's going on; this is particularly a shame because the visual design in general, and wardrobe in particular, continue to be excellent.

Except when there's some extremely obvious use of stock footage when establishing the LA setting in the first episode, and it's very clearly shot on old grainy film stock with no effort made to match the colour palette of the new material. The fact that it's at a 4:3 aspect ratio, and the black borders continue over the new material for a few seconds and then shrink away to end up with the full modern image shape, make me think this was probably deliberate, but it's a very strange and distancing choice by the episode's director (Lawrence Trilling, who's been at this game for a while).

The principal villain has a stock Troubled Past, and is casually driven insane at the end. Sure, it's meant to be a light side / dark side comparison between her and Carter meeting prejudice and dealing with it in different ways, but where I could have believed this if she'd become a master manipulator or something, I just can't take it seriously when she's throwing black CGI goop from her fingers. (And the final tug-of-war scene tries to be Desperately Symbolic but just comes over as bathetic.)

The series had poor and dropping ratings, and was cancelled at the end of the season – not, I suspect, because of the superheroey bits that put me off (people do still love Agents of SHIELD, after all), but because the rest of it was just dull.

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See also:
Agent Carter, season 1

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:21pm on 03 August 2016

    I enjoyed season 2, but nowhere near as much as season 1. I'm a bit less bothered than Roger about increasing the super hero side. What annoyed me was how much they kept the SSR out of things on Peggy's side so they could later bring other parts of them in to be awkward. As Roger says, Peggy won respect from most of the SSR in season 1, why get rid of that? Also a problem for me with season 2 is Peggy got less action time and won less of the fights herself, this for me had been a major draw of season 1. I think they were starting to get worried about having a female led series where the women could actually deal with stuff.

    I'm reminded of where I thought season 1 missed a trick. There's a conversation where one of the other agents says "Peggy, you just put five of our guys in hospital". To my mind his next sentence should have been "Can you give us some unarmed combat training?" but it was nothing of the sort.

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