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Thursday, 3 March 2016

Agent Carter S2

Agent Carter
Series 2

So, it's no secret that I really enjoyed the first series of Agent Carter, going so far as putting it amongst my top TV series of 2015, so I was excited as all get-out to watch the second series. I admit, it threw me off guard a little first, because I'm never entirely keen on a series suddenly up and changing settings - in this case from New York, which is iconic, to Florida, which nobody likes - and, in a way, that moment of 'I don't like this but I can't quite say why' would be a recurring theme in the series.

Which isn't to say that the series wasn't good, very good - it just had small, slightly niggling problems that the first one didn't.

Set shortly after the events of the first series, Agent Carter sees Peggy traveling to Florida, where old friend Sousa now leads an office of the SSR, in order to investigate a murder. Before long, however, she finds herself investigating Zero Matter, a mysterious substance from another universe with strange and baffling properties, and the focus of the life's work of Whitney Frost, a ruthless scientist and actor who will stop at nothing to acquire as much Zero Matter as she can.  

Oh, yes, the inexplicable musical scene.

Ill-considered move to Florida besides, the big problem with the second series is that it doesn't seem to have any clear focus. Series one was tightly focused, with a clear plot ("Peggy has to work against the SSR to clear Howard's name,") and a clear theme (World War II veterans trying to adjust to peacetime, with varying degrees of success). The second series, meanwhile, has a whole bunch of different plot threads going: We have Whitney Frost with her Zero Matter research, an incorporeal scientist to save in the form of Jason Wilkes, the continued machinations of Dottie Underwood, and Thompson being corrupted by a band of wealthy and influential men, and the show doesn't manage them all all that well, making the show seem a lot more rambly and poorly-paced than it really should be.

It's telling, in a way, that almost all of those plotlines just kind of fizzle out. Wilkes becomes corporeal again without any real action on Peggy's part; Dottie shows up for a few episodes only to escape and vanish; Thompson gets suspicious and decides to stop being corrupt only to then continue to be corrupt, just in a different way; and perhaps worst of all, Whitney Frost, the main antagonist, is dealt with in a scene that doesn't really have much in the way of conflict at all, and her looming plan of opening a rift to another world and sucking in all-consuming Zero Matter never really feels all that looming.

Thematically, too, the show makes the slightly odd decision to abandon the relatively fertile ground of 'adjusting after a world war' and instead go for 'the dawn of the nuclear age' as a theme. That's an odd turn to make, and it never quite feels like it has any weight behind it, if I'm being honest. In another show set in the same era, it could fit well - nuclear warfare and powers that the authorities don't truly understand are ripe material for noir stories, after all - but it just didn't gel well with Agent Carter.

Peggy and Jason.

(Which is also one of the other problems with this series: The first series felt very much like a noir story, and I loved that. This series, while it certainly still has elements of the noir genre, never quite manages to feel like a genre piece in the same way.)

It's a shame, because a lot of what I loved about the first series is still there: The dialogue is still sharp and snappy, the acting is still superb, the cinematography and setting design is still great, and there are a lot of moments of both genuine drama and humour. It's still a very solid, strong series, it just never manages to quite achieve the quality that the first series reached.

Another thing I did like as well was the running theme of Peggy inspiring people. She's never reduced to a figurehead or a passive icon or anything like that - indeed, she is not only always in the thick of the action but also usually taking a leadership role - but it's also made very clear that the people around her are inspired by her to be their best selves, which parallels Captain America, who we've been told also has that effect on people. That's a nice touch, and it ties into one of the recurring story ideas of the series: That Peggy inspires loyalty whereas Whitney, obsessed with power and being feared, only drives people away.

Whitney Frost, who has a great name.

All in all, while this was still a very good series, and I hope to see it renewed, I also very much hope that any third series of Agent Carter returns to its roots a little more. Also, maybe moves them back to New York. Sorry, Floridians, it's just - it's just that nobody likes you? Nobody at all likes you.

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