Agent Carter preview: “You don’t need superpowers to be a superwoman”

Atwell's Agent Carter brings gutsy 1940s super sleuthing action back to the small screen

To fans of the Marvel Universe, Peggy Carter is no stranger but Captain America’s love-interest from the First Avenger has evolved into a more powerful woman than many could have imagined.

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Several cameos in Marvel movies including Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant Man and the supporting character who founded SHIELD in Iron Man 3’s direct-to-video short film One Shot is finally the leading lady.

And what a leading lady she’s turned out to be, securing critical acclaim and a second series in the USA, before finally making her UK TV debut on Fox with the first series. Episode one catches up with Peggy pretty much where Captain America left her, working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) in New York, but struggling to climb the ladder in a sexist 1940s world.

It’s a long way from the Second World War battlefields where her wit and wisdom were revered, and Peggy’s beginning to feel the pinch when she finds out Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) – her old pal and Iron Man’s dad – is under investigation for allegedly supplying deadly weapons to enemy forces.

Stark says he’s an innocent man though, and sets Peggy the task of finding out who really stole his weapons while sauntering off into the sunset on the run from the law. Agent Carter doesn’t get to give up the day job though, having to juggle her desk job with a personal covert operation that puts both her and her colleagues’ lives on the line.

From the offing it’s clear that Atwell’s got the guts to take on the challenge and prove you don’t need superpowers to be a superwoman. She may still bear the scars of losing her beloved Steve Rogers (Captain America) but Peggy Carter certainly won’t let a difficult mission or a man get her down.

From her sexist and oafish co-workers – who occasionally come across more like caricatures thanks to the script – to her carefree old pal Stark and loyal unwanted guardian-cum-sidekick Edwin Jarvis (James D’arcy), Peggy’s got a wide variety of male counterparts to deal with, and she does so, if not always with ease.

Some treat her with the utmost respect, while others – in particular Agent Jack Thompson, played by One Tree Hill star Chad Michael Murray – dismiss her as the girl who gets the lunch orders. Smack bang in the middle of the pack there’s Enver Gjokaj’s Daniel Sousa, a war veteran with a penchant for sticking up for Peggy whether she likes it or not.

And then there’s the mysterious larynx-less man who seems to spell trouble for our leading lady, thanks to the curious ‘Leviathan’: this ‘Big Bad’ gives each episode a delightfully menacing tone, making sure the show doesn’t fall back towards that tired villain-of-the-week format of the 90s and 00s.

There’s warmth and humour by the bucketload too, though: cautious Peggy is complimented wonderfully by her devilish diner gal pal Lyndsy Fonseca, aka Ted’s daughter from How I Met Your Mother, and a Captain America radio show-within-the-show inspires an eye-rolling chuckle.

It’s just a pity Atwell’s powerful on-screen presence and mystery-solving prowess didn’t inspire TV bosses on this side of the Atlantic to pick up the series sooner.

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Agent Carter airs on Fox on Sunday nights at 9pm