‘Tis Midwinter, and that means network television is either showing reruns or airing new miniseries to fill time until the regular shows return from their mid-season breaks. In the case of Agents of SHIELD, the television arm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the angst of waiting to find out just what the heck is going on with Skye and Raina is lessened by a new spin-off prequel series all about one of the founding members of the organization, Agent Peggy Carter.

The MCU excels at giving characters the kinds of stories they need to be in, and so far Marvel’s Agent Carter is much more of a postwar spy story than a superhero one, a period piece set in the aftermath of World War II. Unlike Agents of SHIELD, this is a firmly pre-Avengers world, and the only superhero it has known is the now-MIA Captain America. There are no Asgardians or Inhumans here. But there is a Stark: Howard, Iron Man Tony Stark’s father, who is every bit as brilliant and badly behaved as his son. The “super” element here isn’t aliens or magic but good old super-science.

It’s 1946, and like so many women who were called upon to serve their country during WWII, Carter finds herself shoved back into the metaphorical kitchen as the men return from the front. It’s made clear that this was a problem for lots of women at the time — her roommate Colleen complains about having to teach a man to use a rivet gun as the women who ran the factory during the war are let go in favor of returning men. Carter is still an agent with the Strategic Scientific Reserve, SHIELD’s predecessor, but despite all she did alongside Captain America she’s now expected to only fetch coffee and file paperwork.

When Howard Stark shows up asking Carter to help clear his name, she’s ready to jump at the chance to do some real work, even if it means doing it behind the backs of and even in opposition to the men at the SSR. The vault where Stark kept his most dangerous inventions — his “bad babies” — was broken into, and now horrible weapons with his name on them are showing up on black markets and in the hands of America’s enemies. No one will believe he didn’t fake the break-in to hide his own sale of the weapons, so he’s come to Agent Carter for help.

The frustrating sexism of the era is lampshaded nicely in the second episode when we’re introduced to the Captain America Adventure Hour, a popular radio show in which our intrepid hero regularly saves his helpless Army nurse girlfriend “Betty Carver” from being tied up by Nazis. Carter naturally hates the show. That sort of writing-out of women’s roles in history happened all the time, and the scene where Carter beats a suspect senseless as the radio show portrays Captain America committing the same kind of violence to save his helpless girlfriend is brilliant.

Hayley Atwell reprises her role as Agent Carter from Captain America: The First Avenger for the eponymous miniseries, and it’s great to have her back. She has a physical presence and energy that would be fitting for an actual superhero, and she’s completely believable as someone who can dish out beatings with staplers, fists and high-heeled kicks to the balls and then cry over dead friends. She’s joined by Stark’s butler Edwin Jarvis — the basis, one can assume, for Iron Man’s Jarvis AI — played by the equally English James D'Arcy. Jarvis is an adorable counterpoint to Carter, a man who declares that he can’t take calls after 9pm because that’s when he and his wife go to bed. He earnestly wants to help, and one can’t help but feel bad for him when Carter berates his attempts. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops over the course of the series.

Marvel’s Agent Carter is yet another dead-perfect addition to the MCU, and as the first entry to focus on a woman it shows a lot of promise for upcoming projects like Captain Marvel. It can be almost as frustrating for the viewer as it is for Peggy Carter to watch her endure what women had to deal with at the time. Fortunately, she delivers plenty of cathartic gunshots, punches and kicks. But will it be popular enough to continue as its own show or at least get a sequel? Find out on the next episode of the Captain America Adventure Hour!

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