“Learn to count”
If Item 47 supplying us an expanded look at alien tech from The Avengers was the first step in making Marvel’s One-Shots a legitimate canonical extension, Agent Carter cements them as requisite viewing. There was no guarantee the short would lead to an eight-episode pick-up on ABC—heck, there wasn’t even a guarantee “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” would earn a second season—when it was created, but we all know now that it has. Not only is the titular character (played by Hayley Atwell) a bad ass excelling beyond simply being Captain America’s “old flame”, she is also the perfect conduit to show what happened in the sixty years we’ve lost courtesy of Steve Rogers’ freezing. Carter is integral to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s origins and a welcome addition to the proto-Avengers team.
Director Louis D’Esposito and writer Eric Pearson return for what’s their most efficient short yet. It grounds us in time by replaying Rogers’ decent into assumed death so we can remember where Peggy was and understand the uphill climb set before her. With World War II over and a woman of her skillset unable to be understood in a male-dominated environment, Carter is re-introduced to us a year later riding a desk for Agent Flynn (Bradley Whitford) in the New York office. Refusing to put her out in the field despite that being her expertise, Flynn turns her into a glorified secretary to do his paperwork so he may go drinking with the boys. Miles ahead of him in intelligence, though, Carter could sleepwalk through her day and still have everything done before anyone even asks.
Frustrated, however, a late-night call about the Zodiac puts her in action on an unauthorized solo mission the voice on Flynn’s phone said would take 3-5 agents to stifle. Armed with a suitcase of toys similar to the one Trip (B.J. Britt) introduces in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” as being his Howling Commando father’s, Carter commences a butt-kicking anyone else in the office could only dream of orchestrating. D’Esposito and Pearson ensure it’s a fun and action-packed sequence coolly written with expert gunplay, smoke bombs, bone-crushing attacks, and a couple nice oneliners for extra effect. Atwell excels in every aspect of the role whether it be free in the field or psychologically chained in the office, providing a glimpse of what to expect in her new show above her brief inclusion in Captain America: The First Avenger.
We also get a cameo from Dominic Cooper‘s Howard Stark—piquing our interest in guessing whether he’ll play a role in the television show—as well as a hilarious mid-credit joke with Neal McDonough‘s Dum Dum Dugan. I hope this means he, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, and whomever ends up being her future husband make appearances too, although it wouldn’t really matter as long as Carter earns a writer willing to subvert femme fatale cliché and to let her be the warrior she is. Agent Carter therefore serves as an omen for the future and a wonderfully constructed aside expanding on a character Marvel was handcuffed from fleshing out beyond a proximity to Cap. There’s humor, action, and more humor—things this franchise has built itself upon and continues to consistently honor no matter how long the movie.