When Captain America and Black Widow discover a secret SHIELD base in New Jersey in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she sees a picture of a woman, and asks, “Who’s the girl?”
That girl is Peggy Carter, and it was a question she also heard when she worked for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) in 1946. After this week’s two-hour premiere, everyone will know who this girl is.
The episodes show Hayley Atwell at her best as Peggy Carter. Even though her skills that were put to good use in World War II have been totally ignored by the peacetime SSR, she is still determined to show her true worth. The scene where she parts a sea of men, especially with that red hat, is proof of that.
Yet, in the pilot, she is still haunted by the past , especially losing Captain America back in 1945. The episode uses much of Steve Rogers’ fatal flight in the first movie. In 1946, she has a job as an operator for New York Bell, At least that’s what she tells her roommate, Colleen (Ashley Hinshaw). Actually, NY Bell is the cover for the SSR headquarters. An emergency has come up, and the agents get ready for action. Peggy is told to cover the phones, and she does..by having all calls transferred to the briefing room.
The agents are told Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) allegedly sold some of his weapons to enemy nations. He acts a bit too flippant towards Congress, and it doesn’t help when he decides to run away.
He says he’s innocent, and that someone broke into his vault where he keeps his “bad babies”, or really dangerous weapons. He can only turn to Carter because he can’t trust anyone else. She gets help from his butler, Jarvis (James D’Arcy), who apparently is also living a double life. He doesn’t want his wife to know what he’s doing. The relationship between Carter and Jarvis is the best thing about this show, especially in how they banter. It’s a shame he’s married, because he seems to be right for her.
Both episodes center on the destructive power of nitramene, which causes a big explosion before it implodes everything in its path. Carter uses her feminine wiles, and a blonde wig, to get close to a fence named Spider Raymond (Andre Royo). He even gives him a kiss, which knocks him out. That’s because her lipstick is drugged. She finds the nitramene in a safe, which she opens with help from her watch, and it glows brighter than an Infinity Stone. It’s enough for one to say “Crickey O’Reilly.” She finds out from Jarvis, it’s also ready to blow. She gets it back to her flat, where she uses vinegar, bicarbonate and whiskey to neutralize it. However, she was followed by an assassin in a green suit (James Hebert) who also communicates with a typewriter with an antennae that types orders right back. The assassin kills Colleen, while Carter clobbers him with the help of a stove and a refrigerator. Although she tosses him out the window, he escapes. Afterwards, she weeps over the body of her dead roommate, She says that people close to her wind up dying, and it’s her fault. Jarvis tries to assure her that she has skills her colleagues are too stupid to appreciate, but it doesn’t help.
She traces the nitramene to a Roxxon oil refinery, and finds the enemy has made a lot of bombs, packed in a milk truck. She finds Brannis (James Frain), who has had his vocal chords cut, but still gives her a warning, “Leviathan is coming.” He cracks one of the nitramene bombs, and Carter and Jarvis just barely escape.
The show also points out that Carter does what she can to prove herself in a man’s world. The SSR crew, from Chief Dooley (Shea Whigham) and Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), are very patronizing towards her, even if she makes it clear she doesn’t like their attitude. That also includes very rude customers at the automat. Still, fans have to remember, that was how people treated each other 70 years ago. Another agent, Daniel Souza (Enver Gjokaj), treats her with more respect. His leg was severely injured in the war, and mostly does filing. He can relate to her situation.
Then there’s that radio show about Captain America, which includes a helpless nurse named Betty Carver who wonders when Cap will save her from Nazis. Peggy wonders who writes this stuff, although Jarvis says he likes it. They don’t know some of the real story will be revealed someday.
Peggy is also determined to go it alone. She does befriend a waitress named Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca), who dreams of making it big on Broadway, and also wants to help Peggy find a new place to live.
The second half shows Peggy posing as a health inspector to find the missing milk truck with the nitramene. While posing as a health inspector, she finds out it’s been borrowed by one of the drivers because he uses it to commute. The SSR, meanwhile, talk to Hugh Jones (Ray Wise), who owns Roxxon Oil and talks about Stark as a rival in more ways than one. He also tells Dooley and Thompson about nitramene, and what it can do. Actually, they already have proof with what’s left of the refinery in a big ball.
Peggy is called to Roxxon to examine the employees (female, of course) for Vita-Radiation, which would be on them if they were at the explosion. Since Peggy was there, she had to give up her watch, which is loaded with Vita-Radiation. She recognizes one of the employees, Van Ert (James Urbaniak), from the blast, and calmly stops him with the help of a briefcase.
Carter then tracks down the driver, Sheldon McFee (Devin Ratray), and finds the truck. She also finds Brannis, who wants protection to get what he knows. As they’re about to head back to New York, Green Suit is back, and squares off with Peggy on top of the moving milk truck. It also causes one of the nitramene bombs to be activated. That means the truck has to go, and it falls into a nearby river. Brannis dies, but he draws a heart with a curved line through it before he dies. Green Suit is also missing.
Thompson, Dooley and Souza arrive on the scene, too late. They do notice Peggy’s footprints, and think it may have been the mysterious blonde from Spider Raymond’s club. They have no idea.
Jarvis tells Peggy, as he’s stitching her wounds, that she can’t do this alone. She’ll need help, and that means him. She also needs friends, and some type of normal life. That’s where Angie comes in, as she moves in to the Griffith Hotel with her help.
So, Peggy Carter is safe…until one of the agents finds the license plate of Howard Stark’s car, which was at the Roxxon explosion.
What happens next? She has to hide her attempts to clear Howard Stark’s name from the SSR, while discovering more and more dangers. She’ll get some help from the Howling Commandos, but also discover Stark and Jarvis have not been completely honest with her. The pilot does show Jarvis talking to Stark over the phone, saying that Peggy is an excellent choice for something, and that she won’t suspect a thing.
Marvel’s Agent Carter airs Tuesdays at 9 PM Eastern and Pacific on ABC. The pilot will be repeated on January 10th at 10 PM, while “Bridge and Tunnel” will be shown again on January 13th at 8 PM.
E! Online has an interview with Atwell on what will be coming in the next couple of months, and how long it’ll take the SSR to accept her true worth. It should be interesting how the story will lead to the Marvel One-Shot, when she finally gets chosen to help create SHIELD.