Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Lady in the Lake / A View in the Dark

This week brought us the return of Agent Carter (again filling the hiatus of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Much of the two-hour premiere I found fun and familiar, though I'm a bit hesitant about what seems to be this season's overall plot.

In the unreserved enthusiasm column, Hayley Atwell is still perfect as the title character; she makes the show. She can handle the action and fight choreography, she has great comic timing for the funnier moments, she nails the more dramatic sequences, and she's incredibly nimble when Carter has to adopt a different accent and demeanor in an undercover persona.

What's more, Atwell plays wonderfully off so many others in the cast. Carter and Jarvis remain the most fun pairing on the show, and they're potentially even more interesting now that Jarvis' wife Ana is in the mix. What a relief that we're not going to see any petty jealousy from Ana over this clearly platonic relationship. It paves the way for plenty of fun in contrasting Ana's outgoing cheerfulness with Jarvis' stuffy fastidiousness. The typical triangle is instead reserved for Carter and Sousa (another great pairing), and Sousa's new girlfriend Violet -- and even that may come in blessedly mild doses thanks to Atwell having still more chemistry with new actor Reggie Austin as the scientist Wilkes. (I don't buy that he's dead.)

Wilkes is an interesting new presence on the show (part of why I don't believe they've offed him already), allowing the writers to explore racism in the 1940s in the way the first season explored sexism. Not that the sexism angle is off the table; though Carter is now working with people who respect her and her skills, the new character of actress/villain Whitney Frost was used to continue portraying attitudes against women. Indeed, in this season's new Hollywood context, those attitudes (sadly) don't even come off very dated.

Where I'm not on board yet with the new season is the more supernaturally based story of "zero matter" and its weird properties to consume, flash-freeze, and what-not. The X-Files revival is just days away, and Supernatural is still part of my regular viewing (it still manages many good episodes, even in season 11). I'm just not sure if this shift in tone on Agent Carter is filling a void in my entertainment. And at the moment at least, I feel like it's asking my memory to be better than it is. When we saw the hovering, morphing blob of zero matter, I recalled seeing something like that way back in season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Where it last swallowed up a guy, I think? Never to be heard from again? Unless it was meant to be the same "monolith material" that transported Simmons to the alien planet in this season's story line? Am I supposed to already be clear on all these questions? I'm not.

Overall, I'd say that Agent Carter is once again poised to be a pleasant enough distraction until March. I'd give the two-hour premiere a B.

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