Sunday, February 14, 2016

Recap/Review: Marvel One-Shot: "Agent Carter"

The Marvel One-Shots never exactly got people clamoring for more.

And why would they? They were just cute little short films included on the Blu-Rays, meaning that if you only had the DVD, or only watched the movies in theatres, you were out of luck. And even if you had access to these funny little short films, you might not have watched them. And even then… they were nothing special.

“The Consultant” was just Jasper Sitwell and Phil Coulson talking in a diner, along with a reprise of the post-credits scene from The Incredible Hulk. Because they had used up most of the One-Shot budget on “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer.” Which was little more than a fight scene. “Item 47,” however, had a fairly large budget and told the tale of a post-Avengers S.H.I.E.L.D. adventure that helped sell the idea of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Marvel Entertainment’s higher-ups. And “Agent Carter” managed to top that by getting such a positive reaction that ABC essentially demanded a full series expansion.

So this Valentine’s Day, let’s take a look at the ongoing adventures of Captain America’s lost love with the One-Shot that made the impossible happen: A mainstream television network demanding a 1940’s-period-piece, comic book-based, action show with a female lead. Truly, Hell has frozen over and the world is approaching the End of Days. Oh, speaking of which....

Happy Apocalypse, everybody!
I was really hoping I could see the last episode of Gravity Falls before it all ended. Nope. The world's ending one lousy day early.

Ah, well. Let's get crackin' on the One-Shot, then.

C'est la vie.
The One-Shot opens up with Cap's finest hour from Captain America: The First Avenger. With little alternative, he puts the plane in the ocean to save America as he and Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) have a tearful farewell.

One year later, in New York City, a red light blares at the offices of the Scientific Strategic Reserve. As all the agents there stand at attention, ready for any assignment that comes their way, Agent Flynn, presumably the head honcho (Bradley Whitford), answers his phone and listens to the voice of Shane Black, director of Iron Man 3, give him instructions.

Phone: "Zodiac is on the move. Crossing the Whitestone Bridge in a green sedan. This enemy is considered armed and extremely dangerous. Two agents recommended. Please locate and pursue."

Flynn puts the phone down and walks out of his office to give the assignment to his three best men, Miller, Johnson, and Wilkes. As they grab their mission briefs, the best woman there, Peggy, looks a mite miffed that she wasn't chosen for yet another mission.

Agent Flynn: "How you holding up, sweetie?"
Agent Carter: "Quite bored, actually."
Agent Flynn: "Really? I thought we were keeping you pretty busy around here."
Agent Carter: "Well, while my expertise is in the field, code-breaking and data analysis have always come easy to me."

Well, at least they're not telling her to go get the coffee while the menfolk do all the work.  Her boss tells her that she's doing a great job and walks away. But Peggy presses the matter.

Agent Carter: "It's been three months now, and I've yet to be sent on my first assignment."
Agent Flynn: "Peggy. Relax. The war is over. We'll handle the rough stuff."

Ah, yes, the late 1940's.

The late 1940's were a difficult time for women in general.  A lot of people are quick to complain about modern-day problems women face, like the wage gap, glass ceiling, lack of medical research into "women's problems," and general sexism. While these issues and more are still present in society, I think it's still important to remember that we've come a long way since the early 20th century.

During World War II, a bunch of women ended up getting jobs in factories because all the young, healthy men were busy fighting overseas. And when the war was over, the menfolk said, "Well, you had your fun. Get back in the kitchens and mix us some martinis." Peggy Carter is facing that same specific problem. Sure, during wartime, they were happy to have her help. But now that all the men can come back and do her job, they want to discard her like a candy wrapper. The difference in Peggy's case is that her actual accomplishments while fighting HYDRA were enough for her to get a token desk job.

Later that night, as Peggy continues her work, the three agents from earlier return, talking excitedly about their cool mission. Another agent tells her that they need all her work done by tomorrow, but she provides it instantly, being the quick worker she is. With her desk drawer open, she takes a moment to look at her framed picture of Steve Rogers. Not the 300-pound Hercules, but the skinny kid from Brooklyn.

Her reminiscing is cut short when Agent Flynn tells her that he and the boys are heading out for a drink. And he invites her. To finish up the reports on his desk. They tell her to lock up when she's done and leave Peggy completely alone in the darkened office.

"I'd invite ya, toots, but you're a woman. This party's for dicks only."
"Yes, I'd say that's an apt description."
Peggy gets right to work, but the alarm blares. With no one else there, Peggy answers.

Phone: "We have a locked position on Zodiac. 40.6518 degrees North, 73.9522 degrees West. This enemy will not hesitate to use lethal force. Three to five agents recommended."

When Peggy arrives at the coordinates, she has no backup. No assistance. Just her.

She approaches the lonely building, and some goons come out to meet her.

"You shall be the one who eats his teeth first."
The goons spin a yarn about a gas leak, and she beats them up, even smashing one of them through the window. The one inside, who was eating a sandwich while all this happened, picks up a tommy gun, but is convinced to drop it when Peggy puts a gun to his forehead. With her gun persuading him, he leads her inside the storage facility to where Zodiac is holed up. After learning that there are three other men inside, she cuffs him, takes a bat out of her briefcase, and tells the man to scream for help. And she lifts her bat up, ready to persuade him some more.

Deeper inside the building, the other men hear some screams for help. Two of them go to investigate while the other one goes to guard the Zodiac. When the goons arrive, Peggy makes quick work of them and heads deeper inside. Once there, she uses her makeup compact to peek around a corner and find the last guy, peeking from behind a door. He quickly closes it, but she simply empties all her bullets into the door, making a hole large enough for her to drop a gas bomb into.

Let's see James Bond whip this gadget out.
Soon enough, the man falls unconscious while Peggy puts on a gas mask and heads inside. She opens up a container to find a vial of... something with a strange symbol on it.

Zodiac.

She turns around to leave, but the hulking goon in a gas mask behind her has other plans. Like strangling her to death. Luckily, Peggy has a knife that pops out the side of her briefcase, which she uses to great effect before she has a chance to lose consciousness.

And so, having done her worst, Peggy and the Zodiac vial leave the building, but not before she give some advice to the goon she tied up.

Agent Carter: "Learn to count."

The next day, Peggy returns to the SSR office, where her boss isn't too happy with her.

"How dare you go above and beyond the call of duty to do your job in a time of crisis!""
Agent Flynn: "You took a mission last night."
Agent Carter: "I completed a mission last night."
Agent Flynn: "Without even attempting to report in or get the proper authorization?"
Agent Carter: "The mission was time-sensitive."
Agent Flynn: "There are protocols in place. No one is above protocols. Not even Captain America's old flame."

Pictured: Captain America's old flame
Agent Flynn: "You were grieving, so they kept you on, so that you would feel useful. I call it 'pity.'"
Agent Carter: "If they wanted to make me feel useful, they wouldn't have made me work with you."

The alarm blares, so the only comeback he has time to give is "You're gonna answer for that." Which usually translates to "You raise a good point, so I'm going to punish you for speaking up."

Instead of the usual briefing voice, someone else is on the other end when Flynn picks up.

Wrong Voice: "Who am I speaking to?"
Agent Flynn: "This is Agent Flynn."
Wrong Voice: "This is Howard."

Well, now we know where Tony got that robe he wore in Iron Man 2.
Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), at his poolside, has called in to say that he has orders for Peggy Carter. He wants her to come to Washington.

Howard Stark: "Tell her she'll be running S.H.I.E.L.D. with me."
Agent Flynn: "Agent... Carter?"
Howard Stark: "And, Flynn..."
Agent Flynn: "Yes, sir?"
Howard Stark: "Let her know that you're honored to bring her the news."
Agent Flynn: "...You want me to say that verbatim?"

Howard hangs up, leaving Agent Flynn to grudgingly tell Peggy that he's honored to inform her that she'll be running S.H.I.E.L.D. He even offers to help carry her things to her car.

Agent Carter: "Thank you, Agent Flynn. But as has always been the case, I don't require your help."

She leaves for her new, shiny future, and the One-Shot ends.

Except, of course, for the customary Marvel post-credits scene.

Not since Thanos has a post-credits cameo sat in a chair like such a boss.
As Howard Stark reads a top secret file by his poolside, Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough), robe-clad with a drink in his hand, can't help but stare at something he's never seen before. Something wonderful. Something magical.

Howard Stark: "It's called a 'bikini.'"
Dum Dum: "The bikini... You invent it?"
Howard Stark: "No, the French."
Dum Dum: "...Bikini."

Whoa, this is like the 1940's equivalent of a thong and no top.
After the credits proper, the One-Shot informs us that Steve Rogers will return in "Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

Review
Hey, guess what, readers?

It’s time for a discussion regarding canon! Yay! I’ll do my best to keep it short and sweet.

Canonicity
According to Season One of Agent Carter, Peggy Carter worked on a field mission to save the day and ended up gaining the grudging respect of her colleagues for this achievement.

According to this One-Shot, Peggy Carter had no respect and no fieldwork until she disobeyed orders and completed the Zodiac field mission, leading to Howard Stark giving her a good job at the newly-formed S.H.I.E.L.D.

This is problematic.

The timeframe here doesn't allow for Peggy's adventures in New York and California (and who-knows-what-else if we get a third season). And as for the absence of Peggy's now-iconic hat and the absence of any regular characters from Agent Carter.... Well, you can't blame the One-Shot for not including things and characters they didn't create yet. But their absence is jarring and doesn't fit with what was established in the series proper. And depending on who you ask at Marvel, the One-Shot is or isn’t canon.

In the end, in the absence of anything concrete, I’m forced to conclude that this One-Shot is canon in spirit. Peggy Carter disobeyed the orders of her new boss who looked down on her, and Howard Stark ended up giving her a job at S.H.I.E.L.D. Those aspects of this One-Shot still seem to be canon. The smaller details, however? I think we can just ignore the contradictions and assume that the TV show’s version of events is canon. It’s less of a headache that way.

While we’re at it, let’s just assume that Coulson simply didn’t know about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s acronym in Iron Man, explaining why it’s in regular usage before he “revealed” the acronym at the end of Iron Man.

Characters
Hayley Atwell is wonderful to watch as she beats people up. She brings back all the no-nonsense qualities she possessed in Captain America, but tempers it with frustration at her current situation and sadness over the loss of Steve. It’s a good thing she happened to be free for filming; the One-Shot had been planned for a while, and when her schedule cleared up, she took the role.

The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford as Agent Flynn, however, is kind of just a one-note sexist jerk. Still, it works within the context of the short. Speaking of “within the context of the short”….

The Vial
Who knows what’s in that blue vial? Is it Zodiac? Or is it a serum developed by the evil organization from the comics called Zodiac? The latter would seem to be the case, since the symbol of the Zodiac Key is displayed prominently on the side.

All we know for certain: It's blue.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. The creators probably didn’t put more thought into it than “comic book reference,” and both the vial and the plot are just an excuse to see Peggy back in action.

Final Thoughts
In retrospect, this One-Shot doesn't hold up since the premise was expanded into an entire TV series. Much like how watching the unaired pilot for any given TV show is bound to look pretty bad when compared to what comes after. But for its time, it was a nice little reminder that just because Captain America got frozen for seventy years, interesting things were still happening to the characters left behind.

Would I recommend it? Yes.

Would I recommend the Agent Carter series over it? Yes.

Next time, I’ll be covering the final Marvel One-Shot; one that has the most difficult challenge yet: Pleasing the fans who hated Iron Man 3’s version of the Mandarin. See you then!

3 comments:

  1. Well, that apocalypse sure sucked. Better luck next time, everybody, in...let me check...2020? Ugh, this better be worth the wait...

    -Faceless Enigma

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  2. To the anonymous commenter who requested I not publish his comment: you're lucky you caught me when you did, I was about to respond. ;)

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    1. And now you're making me curious what would be the response... Maybe I chickened out, but I wasn't sure my post was appropriate and I didn't want to bother you when you're obviously busy.

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