Peggy Carter is the center of gravity that draws those around her into her orbit.
Agent CarterAirtime: Tuesdays, 8pm
Cast: Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Enver Gjokaj, Wynn Everett
Subtitle: Season 2, Episodes 5 to 9
Air dates: 2016-02-09, 2016-02-16, 2016-02-23
A love-interest PhD trapped in another dimension. A rouge butler. A nuclear bomb that opens a trans-dimensional rift and consumes some of those filled with accreted Zero Matter. Singing and dancing. A giant gamma cannon (read ray gun). A world-controlling cabal retooled by a possessed and self-possessed actress/mad scientist turned even madder by experimenting on herself. The ache of lost and wounded love. That catches up major plots and subplots, all of which lead to a Hollywood ending (more on that next week).
As much as Marvel's Agent Carter provides multiple plots that feed action and intrigue into one another like an loosely woven Gordian Knot, it’s Agent Carter's (Hayley Atwell) personal charm and joie de vivre that keeps viewers coming back week after week. There are plenty of action shows with beautiful women in odd relationships (like The Blacklist) but there's only one Peggy Carter. ABC has chosen to place Carter not in love triangle, but in a virtual love polygon. The curvaceous and smoldering Agent Carter proves a gravity well unto herself, enticing both men and women to fall into her event horizon.
Of course, Carter's great love has always been Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). In the depths of the singularity that lies in Carter’s heart, it will always be Steve Rogers, but she’s young and vivacious, and her burning life force cannot be contained. We already know from feature films how this relationship works out, and let's just say, that even Carter's future self is saved from the pain by memory loss.
Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) has pursued Carter for longer than any other admirer, although of all those still in revolution around her, he orbits at a snide distance, surrounded by so many in his own striking female planetoids he can only see, acknowledge, and be tempted by Carter when their orbits occasionally intersect. Stark lives in a own world of his own making, and he would have a difficult time making room enough for Carter.
With Mr. Edwin Jarvis (James D'Arcy), butler to Stark and confidant to Carter, we find a man who lives vicariously through the exploits of both. He finds in Carter adventure that has eluded him. His is a life centered on another man's home, another man's needs; a quiet life of service. But unlike other potential Carter paramours, Mr. Jarvis loves another, his wife Ana (Lotte Verbeek).
Jarvis's love for Carter is all in his head, part of the perhaps-someday-fantasy that keeps him connected to Stark. With Carter, he gets to live out some of his fantasies, even to confront some of his own demons. But Ana's loss of child and her eventual recovery have collapsed the uncertainty of Carter and Jarvis’s love into one more of father/brother and daughter/sister than lover.
Chief Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), however, is all boyish charm and endearing limp. He too has been entranced by Carter, and his affection manifests in both poetry and association; he's attached to her by a cosmic string. Even after leaving New York for Los Angeles, their connection prevails, entangled like two particles in a physics experiment.
Girlfriend Violet (Sarah Bolger) and Sousa are on the precipice of marriage when Carter arrives, but Violet senses the attraction immediately, feels the unfinished businesses and the messy silence of a hundred things left unsaid. For Carter and Sousa, their relationship remains unresolved. Violet has departed, leaving what appears to be a very complicated door left slightly ajar.
That brings us to Dr. Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin), Zero Matter researcher and now repository of it. He's the recipient of clear mutual attraction in mind and body. Wilkes is kissed and destroyed, saved and reconstituted; regret reshapes him, and poor choices made in the name of love transform him into a monster. He's the subject of watering eyes and extreme science aimed at bringing the good doctor back.
In the end, he's the hero, not Carter. He locks a door, and just before the credits roll, he explodes into a gusher of Zero Matter. Wilkes may or may not live to see the season finale, but after surviving a singularity, he can’t be counted out yet; while his number in line for Carter's affections is probably zero, that’s also about the amount of time his mortal coil has left as well.
There are other men, like Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) and Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith) who recognize her attraction, but are cautious about getting too close. They rev-up their repeller forces to remain at station keeping, which may keep love at bay, but does nothing to thwart Carter's right hook.
Carter, however, isn't the only force of nature this season. Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett) is as much an attractive force as Carter, with Zero Matter flowing through her both literally and figuratively. Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham) and Joesph Manfredi (Ken Marino) have fallen into Whitney’s Frost’s gravity well, which has already consumed Chadwick and from which Manfredi will never be able to generate enough delta-v to extricate himself. Beauty and power attract, and in the case of men like Manfredi, it's even more attractive if the beauty and the power are flawed.
Agent Carter, however, also explores other kinds of love. The most polarizing is that of Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan), who continues to represent Carter’s fictional reflection. Dottie's her equal in every way, but her skills and cunning were twisted early in life, and her allegiances were wrought in deviant kilns. While Underwood's allegiances prove just as unshakeable as Carter’s, they recognize in each other the love of estranged sisters, an "if it had only gone another way", sense of kinship. In some twisted quantum world, Carter is Underwood; the reverse is also true.
Atwell plays Carter’s acceptance of all this admiration with a kind of understated humility. She sees herself perhaps not as beautiful as do the men around her; she lives in her head, in her capabilities. She doubts not at all her ability to best most of the men around her, and because of that, she finds no equal save Stark, who sets her moral teeth on edge as much as he triggers her intellectual admiration.
If Stark's intellect was combined with Sousa's caring, the Marvel Cinematic Universe might well forge the right man for Peggy Carter. While that trick of biology is not beyond the capabilities of Marvel's writers, at this point, there's a simple truth: no man is good enough for Agent Carter, save the one that, in this timeline, is frozen and unconscious under the ice in Antarctica.