Agent CarterThis weekend, I got caught up with Agent Carter. Aside from — actually, in spite of — the occasionally overbearing exploration of sexism, this is truly an excellent series, and a great example of how to use mild alternate history, superhero, and spy thriller tropes.

Spoilers after the break.

Yes, the sexism continued, though it got helped a lot by a visit from the Howling Commandos (who treated Carter like she was truly one of them without ever dipping into checkbox territory), as well as from the SSR characters as they slowly grew to recognize her talents and value.

Dottie, the Leviathan agent, served as a bit of a dark mirror for Carter, exulting in being underestimated while Peggy chaffed at it. Of course, it went both ways: the aptly-named Dottie (Bridget Regan does crazy-dangerous very well) is a product of a program that treats girls and women as objects, less than slaves, so controlled by her programming that she can’t be anything else. Even as she monologues over Peggy in the finale’s fight that she can be anyone she chooses, she lacks the freedom of choice that Peggy herself has. Dottie is a living weapon, a product of the same program that would go on to give us Black Widow herself; no matter her disguise, she can never be anything but a weapon.

Peggy Carter, on the other hand, can be whatever she wants to be. Her freedom is underscored in the denouement, as she is uncertain whether to come back to the SSR, and her calm statement that she doesn’t need anyone’s approval. It might seem to contradict her desires in previous episodes, but remember that all she wanted was the ability to carry out what she had already chosen to do: to use her talents, to protect others, and be useful. She could have done anything she wanted after the war. One might imagine she could have found others who respected her. Yet, as she told Dum-Dum Dugan, there’s work to be done in the States.

As a true period drama, Agent Carter doesn’t quite work out. As a spy thriller, it’s over-the-top. As superhero fiction, it’s too understated. Combining the three, however, it’s quite excellent. The historical accuracy is there (it’s just not the true emphasis, as it is on other shows), and it’s quite fun to watch. The superhero/spy combination balances out in a truly clever way; having grown up on both, I’m impressed with how the writers and actors have combined elements of each genre into a near-seamless whole.

Agent CarterBy the end, save for one notable incident, the issues I talked about last time have been resolved satisfactorily. I still think those issues could have been avoided entirely without sacrificing the look at women-in-the-workplace they were going for, but there was a conspicuous lack of phone calls from Marvel consulting me on the subject, and things tied up rather well. We have hints of danger and returning characters to come, Carter has a new place to stay, the SSR moves on, and Howard Stark even grows up. ( . . . a little. It’s a start.) We all know Agent Peggy Carter will return, but we have no doubt that it will be on her own terms, and not to file paperwork or fetch coffee.

The best thing about this series, at least from my history-geek perspective, is how it stands on the cusp of the Cold War. This season took place in 1946, and while the Cold War is widely dated as starting in 1947, the United States was taking an increasingly firm stance against the Soviet Union in ’46. American forces were preparing for a new war, even though the ashes were barely cold from the last one. In Agent Carter, we get to see some of this with the episode “The iron Ceiling,” as the SSR agents and the Howling Commandos have to sneak through Russian-held territory to locate Leviathan. I wish it had been explained better for the non-history geeks in the audience, but I can only assume — and greatly anticipate — that it will be a major part of the second season.

This season was only eight episodes long, which puts it in British drama territory. It shows a bit, especially next to its sister-series Agents of SHIELD, which is noted for its distinct lack of tight writing; Agent Carter‘s shorter span meant that there were no filler-episodes and no wasted scenes. Things could have been tighter; but everything was relevant, and that was refreshing all on its own.

I’m not the type to rate things by stars (though it would be thematically-appropriate considering the name of the blog). Rather, I rate them by, in increasing enjoyment, if I liked it, if I would recommend it, and if I would watch/read it again. Agents of SHIELD doesn’t get a “liked it.” Agent Carter, on the other hand, will be watched again.