11 February 2016

Agent Carter S2E3 "Better Angels" review

The return of Howard Stark to Agent Carter is hardly a surprise given his role in the first season, but one that I've been interested in seeing nevertheless. He's a very important character really, in many ways the "ground zero" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. This is the man who fathered Tony Stark, helped create Captain America (and in turn, also helped create The Hulk, although only through the use of his research), retrieved the Tesseract after it was lost at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, and helped set-up SHIELD, an organisation he would work with for the rest of his life.

My point is that with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy (so far, at least), Howard Stark has had an impact on every corner of this universe, and it's nice to see a character with that legacy get his time in the spotlight. And he has that chance that in "Better Angels", an episode that reintroduces Howard (who is now directing the first ever comic book movie) when Peggy needs help infiltrating the secret organisation behind Isodyne Energy, and then again when researching the effects of the still mysterious Zero Matter liquid.

"Better Angels" uses Howard well, allowing him to be involved in the main plot of the episode while ensuring that he doesn't end up running things and taking the reigns away from Peggy. When they work together, it is her plan they follow - when they talk, it's for Peggy's benefit. It may seem like a small thing, but unlike the first season (in which Peggy spent the whole time cleaning up after Howard), their relationship seems much more equal, more mutually beneficial this time around.

But the return of Howard Stark isn't the only good thing about "Better Angels", which like last weeks "A View in the Dark" moves things along quickly while at the same time heightening the science-fiction aspects of the show. We get to spend more time with Whitney Frost, who is barely coping with her near-death experience at the Isodyne Energy laboratories, and is slowly becoming more villainous each time we see her. Between her links to the shady organisation that I'm sure is related to Agents of SHIELD and the black crack on her forehead, I'm pretty excited to see where we go with a character that has my full attention moving forwards.

Additionally, "Better Angels" has the best fight scene that Agent Carter had ever created, a sudden sequence which sees Peggy fighting off a would-be assassin from a disadvantaged position. It builds tension well, doesn't last too long and rewards people who have been paying attention in a fun, subtle way - the kind of fan service that I actually don't mind. The same is true of much of the humour in "Better Angels" - jokes relying on knowledge of either the show or the larger universe are there, but they aren't the only jokes, and I don't think that non-fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would feel as if they are missing out.

My only real complaint is a small one, and it comes from the aforementioned increase on the science-fiction aspects of the show. As far as I'm concerned, any effort to introduce the weirder aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is commendable, and we're already hearing rumours that this season of Agent Carter will have links to the upcoming Doctor Strange, but the faux-scientific explanation given for this episodes more outlandish moment is, quite frankly, nonsense. Not that explanations for weird things in science-fiction are often any better in films and TV shows, but what is happening on-screen comes out of nowhere, and the explanation given doesn't make it any easier to swallow as a concept, and the result is a development in the show that I had to force myself to get past rather than one that worked as a natural part of the story.

Overall, "Better Angels" has continued the increase in quality that the second season of Agent Carter has seen since the first season, and I'm pretty happy (at least at the moment) to class the somewhat flawed "The Lady in the Lake" as necessary set up rather than as a good indicator of what the rest of the season will be like. If Agent Carter can keep delivering episodes of this quality, there is no doubt in my mind that it will end up being just as good as the third season of Agents of SHIELD has been so far - and if it can keep getting better? Then who knows - it might even be able to rival the (pretty outstanding so far) Netflix shows. Either way, Agent Carter is certainly a show worth watching, and "Better Angels" makes me feel confident in saying that won't be changing any time soon.

This article was originally published on OutLoudCulture.

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