The jaded Los Angeles of the 1940s may have seen its fair share of trouble, from police corruption to mobster wars, but the City of Angels is about to seriously rumble with the arrival of Peggy Carter. The Strategic Scientific Reserve agent relocates from New York City to LA for a brand new mission in season two of Marvel’s sparky, empowering period drama. Having spent most of season one battling against the suffocating gender bias of her male peers, Carter still managed to save the city from a potentially fatal gas attack and clear Howard Stark’s name. Now a grudgingly respected field agent, she’s ready to use her skills in a new town.
“At the end of last season Peggy put Steve Rogers [Captain America] to rest and part of the trope of coming to LA is reinventing yourself,” executive producer/co-showrunner Michele Fazekas tells SFX about their heroine’s motivations this season.
The show’s creative team thought Carter rooting out hidden evils among the glitter of Golden Age Hollywood would be a perfect fit. “The nice thing about LA, when you think about noir films of the ’40s, is that a lot of the famous ones feature the glamour of the city and the crime and grit and corruption of the city,” Fazekas explains. “It’s really impacted our story in a great way. It’s been a rich ground to tell stories here.”
The relocation has also given Atwell the chance to stretch herself. The writers say they aim to utilise their star’s versatility even more this season. “Hayley can almost do anything,” Fazekas enthuses. “She’s very funny. She can do physical comedy. She can do drama and anger.” Fellow executive producer/co-showrunner Chris Dingess is equally enthusiastic. “There’s a confidence she brought to the character. Peggy is such a strong, heroic character and so much of that has to do with Hayley. There’s a confidence to every move she’s making so even when she’s vulnerable, like when they pull the vial of [Steve’s] blood out, she’s just looking at it and it breaks your heart. But then she goes right back to being a soldier. I don’t know who else could pull that off.”
Joining Carter in Los Angeles is familiar face Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), the loyal butler of Howard Stark who gained Peggy’s trust as an ally by the end of season one. This year the pair will continue to strengthen their bond. “Obviously we wanted Jarvis to come back but the hard thing about him is that he’s not SSR,” Fazekas says. “[Series creators] Markus and McFeely did a really great job making the first season about Howard Stark and clearing his name, and that’s how they worked Jarvis into it. The question then was, ‘How do we do it this season?’ Well, we use Howard Stark, who has decided to move his base of operations to Los Angeles because there is this burgeoning scientific field out here, taking inspiration from General Atomic or Radiodyne. He’s decided to move out here, do some contract work and open a movie studio,” she laughs.
“When Peggy first gets here and Jarvis picks her up from the airport, you can see he has missed the adventure,” Fazekas continues. “It’s a big part of his arc, having a big adventure but what are the consequences to that? It’s easy to come in and out [of this life] but how does that really affect him? He really gets a taste of what it means to be living this life.”
Peggy will chase her assignments from the LA SSR office with Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) as her superior and Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) still causing Carter grief from the New York office. “As far as Peggy is concerned, she’s certainly earned the respect of her colleagues,” Fazekas says of the cooling gender divide this season. “It’s not like we say gender issues are great now but we are telling our story in a different way. It’s not a battle she’s having to fight within the SSR.”
Carter’s real challenge comes with the arrival of the season’s villain, Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett). Known as Madame Masque in the Marvel comic universe, Frost has undergone a transformation for her Agent Carter appearance. “At a certain point when we were discussing the main story and villains, we were circling female villains,” Dingess tells SFX. “Her name came up pretty quickly. She’s not about cosmic powers, but she’s a very strong personality and a powerful and smart villain. We started talking about different characters’ biographies and she is a genius, which is one of her ties to Tony Stark in Iron Man.”
Asked if they had carte blanche to choose from the entire Marvel catalogue, including the ’40s era of strong female creations like Sun Girl and the Blonde Phantom, Fazekas says yes – with a caveat. “Marvel is pretty generous about who we want to use. But some characters you just can’t use because there are rights issues. And then there are the other shows in the Marvel Universe and you don’t want to step on the stories they are telling. It’s finding the thing that’s not going to be telling a story that’s already been told.”
Dingess adds, “Oddly a lot of the characters from the ’40s – when the different comic book companies were acquiring one another – are the hardest ones to get the rights to, so that played a lot into choices for both seasons.” Returning to the villainous Frost, Fazekas continues, “From there, we added the Hedy Lamarr story. She was a very glamorous actress who was also an inventor. So we reinvented Frost from the comic books as this glamorous actress who is also a secret scientific genius.”
Given the first season of Agent Carter proved a shining example of how to showcase strong female characters on television, Fazekas admits it was crucial to give Frost a story that gave her resonance. “We did not want to tell the story of someone who is evil for the sake of being evil… Anytime you are playing a villain, there’s always the potential of being very arch, especially as this character is also an actress. We wanted to make sure you understand her motivations. So here are two very smart women, who took very different paths in their life, and episode four gets into that in a way where you see how it happened. So even if Whitney is the bad guy, she’s not just evil for the sake of being evil up until the very end. Part of you feels bad for her.”
The writers also admit that Russian agent Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) will be back to create more havoc for Carter. “She got away,” Dingess says of the character’s disappearing act in the season one finale. “So Dottie is in play and we asked, ‘What do we want to do with that?’ We figured out a way to make a splash with her and then to really use her at a pivotal point in the season.”
As to how, if at all, season two will tie into the big screen Marvel Cinematic Universe, given season two introduces the concept of Darkforce, a dark matter of negative energy also rumoured to factor into Doctor Strange, Fazekas only teases, “We don’t know what it is. They come upon this thing and they don’t even call it Darkforce.”
“Our time period allows us to come at it from a different angle,” adds Dingess. And what about rumours of a potential romance with scientist Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin)? Fazekas grows coy again and only teases, “Peggy meets new people and it starts to open up the idea of, ‘Maybe I can have that part of my life as well.’ And it’s been really nice to see Peggy in that light.” Los Angeles, Peggy Carter walks among you…