And so ends another season of Agent Carter. As promised, we got our Hollywood Ending complete with chiaroscuro lighting and uplifting romantic plot. It’s a stark contrast from last season, when we watched Peggy’s journey to discovering her own self-worth and overcoming the loss of Steve Rogers. In fact, the season itself stands almost completely opposite in tone and plot arch from its predecessor. So, why is that exactly? When Daniel yells, “Just pick a direction and run” tonight, he’s not just talking about escaping a zero matter enraged Whitney. He’s rather unintentionally summing up what must be the creative approach of this year’s production team. Pick a direction, in this case Golden Age Hollywood, and run straight ahead—which can be kind of a damning approach when you forget to glance to the side from time to time.
Much of this season rested on homage to the Hollywood system. At the best of times this approach helped add some much needed levity to the series, and also gave season two a distinct look from its predecessor. Mixing the exterior California sunshine with interior film noir gave this season a warmer feel than last season’s New York daytime shadow and nighttime neon glow.
At the worst of times, this focus on celebrating old Hollywood leads to some unnecessary and culturally problematic plot detours. Yes, I’m talking about the dance number from the last episode, but there are also some troubling cultural stereotypes—Joseph Manfredi—and moments where other choices cross the line from charmingly referential to ham-fisted and overplayed. Take, for example, Howard Stark’s entire persona. Dominic Cooper’s Stark has always leaned towards the comical. He’s a 1930s gangster movie version of his son: fast talking, charming, completely unable to be intimidated or take anything beyond his own ego seriously. It’s a tough line to walk between evoking a man of his era, and playing a cartoon version of that man. This season those lines were blurred, often with less than stellar results. While Howard’s womanizing and egotistical behavior have always been over the top, he seems to lack the depth, good intentions, and pathos that have balanced him in past performances. Instead of a narcissist who hides his loneliness and insecurity with drinking, partying, and his own genius—all the things that make Tony a complex, lovable character—we get a Stark who’s less concerned with science or even profit, and more focused on bossing around Jarvis and hitting on everything that moves. He’s had a few sweet moments, but for the most part this season’s Howard Stark reads more as bumbling pseudo villain than scientific innovator.
And we get more homage to the old Hollywood style every time science comes up. It’s actually quite a natural crossover between comic book movies and golden era Sci-Fi. In modern science fiction there is a need to legitimize the experiments and inventions we see on screen by building around scientific principles that are actively being studied. When it comes to Agent Carter we’re functioning in a world where throwing together the right collection of science words will do for an unquestionable scientific defense. Even if the result is an unexplained, working hover car, this reference to old Hollywood feels right at home in the Agent Carter universe. Sigh. Hover cars.
Well as Peggy would say, “Dwelling on what might have been, that’s no way to live.” So let’s try to forget the hover cars and character inconsistencies of this season. Instead, let’s focus on the awesomeness that is Jarvis and Peggy’s friendship. Let’s celebrate that this girl power show gave us two new, very different, and not at all traditional examples of what it means to fight like a girl. You could be crafty like Ana Jarvis, spending quiet evenings at home sewing garter holsters, or unexpectedly talented like Rosie, who quite frankly was this season’s shinning star in terms of character growth, actor portrayal, and plot development. There have still been some missteps and certainly this season lacks the gravitas and emotional intensity of season one. It’s a new direction for the show. A bit more goofy and shallow, but also a bit more fun.
The true test will be to see where Agent Carter goes from here. We don’t have confirmation for season three yet, though Hailey Atwell has been pretty vocal about wanting it, but if the show does come back I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a healthy mix of season one and season two. Give me back the emotional depth and complicated political intrigue of season one. While I will always route for Daniel and Peggy, their relationship fell a bit flat this season, and most of that is due to a lack of well-constructed emotional journey by the writing team. We don’t just want them to be together for the sake of it. Seeing them together should represent something—the end of an emotional journey, a sign that these two damaged people have had the chance to heal. Instead, we get exactly what this episode promised us: a Hollywood Ending, complete with the lack of emotional depth and plot consequence that such an ending, in the worst circumstances, can sometimes imply. It’s great that this season has been funnier and that we’ve broadened the definition of strong female character, but Agent Carter seems to have lost much of what made last season so powerful. And unfortunately, there’s no amount of song and dance numbers that can make up for that.
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.