It’s 1947. The Third Reich has fallen, causing an uncertain future for Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and the organization she’s dedicated her life to. But on the West Coast, the scientific community is booming — as is the crime rate. After a string of chilling murders, the head of Los Angeles’ new SSR branch, Chief Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), calls on an old friend for help — and Agent Carter makes the big move to Hollywood.
But it’s not just the show that’s getting a lot sunnier, as Peggy’s outlook has taken a turn toward the lighter side. In the wake of saying farewell to the memory of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Peggy may be ready to open herself up to love. Enter potential love interest Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin), who works at the company owned by season 2’s big bad Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett). The Hollywood starlet and her hubby Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham) have been dipping their toes in the Darkforce waters — Doctor Strange alert — which sends Peggy off on an investigation that could ultimately have ties to the SSR.
How will Peggy handle the bright lights of Hollywood? EW turned to executive producers Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters for an in-depth interview about season 2:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What came with the decision to move Agent Carter to Hollywood?
MICHELE FAZEKAS: It was something that we started talking about a lot in the first season, in part because of our inspirations for doing a show that takes place in 1940s. We were watching and talking about a lot of film noir and even sort of modern film noir like L.A. Confidential and Chinatown, and it seemed to really lend itself to this type of storytelling. It’s an idea that we’ve been kicking around for a while. Because we shoot in L.A. and we were trying to turn L.A. into 1946 New York, it actually in some ways makes production easier because you can go to actual L.A. landmarks like the Griffith Observatory and other places that are still essentially the same.
Also, we really wanted to keep the Peggy-Jarvis (James D’Arcy) relationship going because that was the central relationship of the show. It was a very organic way to keep him involved in the show. Then what we set up is, it’s 1947, there’s a burgeoning scientific and technological industry starting in L.A. with places Radiodyne and General Atomic and the beginnings of JPL. We’re saying Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) has moved his base of operations to L.A., he’s doing some contract work for the government, and on the side he’s opened up a movie studio. So Jarvis is setting up his Beverly Hills estate. It works on a lot of levels and really infuses a nice new look into the show. It doesn’t feel like a different show, but it looks beautiful, even down to the wardrobe and hair and makeup. I love the look of it.
The first season really explored Peggy dealing with sexism in the workplace. What are some of the themes you’ll be exploring this season?
FAZEKAS: The nice thing about Peggy’s arc in the first season was she did gain the respect of her colleagues. It’s not like we’re telling a story where, “Hey, it’s 1947 and sexism no longer exists!” But we told that story for Peggy. We deal with it a little bit in different ways. Thematically there’s a couple of things:
TARA BUTTERS: Reinventing yourself.
FAZEKAS: Everybody comes to L.A., and one of the things that you hear about is you’re reinventing yourself. You’re starting again. Peggy, at the end of last season, said goodbye to Cap; she’s done her mourning. Part of it is, she’s ready to open up a new part of her life. It’s like, “Maybe I can actually have something beyond work.” We do have a little bit of romance for her, which is a new thing. It’s really interesting to see Peggy, who’s always so confident and sure of herself, put in positions where she’s somewhat awkward and somewhat unsure of herself when people are expressing interest in her.
The other theme of the season — again we took a page from a film noir storytelling — so if you think of a movie like Chinatown, and Jack Nicholson starts out very cynical and above it all. He’s a private investigator and not really getting involved in his cases. By the end of that movie he is so involved and so personally invested that he doesn’t care about himself, he doesn’t care about anything else, he just wants to do the right thing. We almost have a reverse story with Peggy, because Peggy’s always very idealistic and her perfect ideal is Captain America, where he was always doing the right thing, always a good person, and she expects that from herself and expects that from other people. As she goes through this season, she starts to uncover the corruption, even within her own organization. With cynicism, she can see that not everybody around me is a good person. It makes her make decisions that you don’t necessarily expect her to make. We send her on an interesting journey in that way.
What can say about the love interest and how the second season will be exploring race?
BUTTERS: He’s African-American. He is a scientist at Isodyne, which is the company that Whitney Frost and Calvin Chadwick own. He gets swept up into Peggy’s investigation, and through the process of that, we see what it’s like if two people — one being white, one being African-American in 1947 — were to be seen together. We portray a real place, which is the Dunbar Hotel, which was a very famous jazz club, a place where both African-Americans and Caucasians would come listen to jazz. We address these issues and explain it along the way. We do encounter racism in the show. We also encounter why Jason, who has so little opportunity at this time, may be picked for his job by this company. It was an interesting thing to explore. Peggy, of all people, could understand his predicament.
Who is this season’s big bad?
FAZEKAS: The big bad is Whitney Frost, who’s played by Wynn Everett. What I like about how we told the story this season is that we see her from the beginning. We see her go from just a person who’s manipulative. The relationship she has with her husband is more of a Lady Macbeth, where she’s manipulative a genius who operates from behind the scenes. You see her become a villain. We also tell some of her backstory in episode 4. We actually compare and contrast her and Peggy, like how do these two women, who are similar in many ways — they’re both very smart, strong women — end up in very different places in their life. We see her become our version of Madame Masque. We somewhat based her on the actress Hedy Lamarr, who in addition to being this very glamorous actress was also an inventor. We took a page from that and put that into our Madame Masque character.
How much is she similar to what we know in the comics?
FAZEKAS: It is our version of it. She never wears a gold mask, but you’ll see a nod to that.
BUTTERS: It is definitely our version. We took ownership of this character. As Michelle just said, you will see into our interpretation in a way that it’s not like we just took the name and that was it. We definitely do our interpretation of the character.
What’s the dynamic like between Whitney and Peggy?
FAZEKAS: They’re a very good match for each other, because Whitney is smart, and Peggy can see through Whitney’s facade of being a glamorous actress. Whitney’s very used to people treating her with a certain amount of deference, because she’s a famous actress, and she’s met her match in Peggy.
BUTTERS: But I also just really love seeing Peggy go up against another woman. It’s different. You have to take a different approach than if you’re going up into the male villain that she would kick, punch, and subdue. I mean this is cat-and-mouse game play going on.
FAZEKAS: Because we never portray Whitney Frost as somebody who is physical. She’s not going to get into big fights. She does become formidable. One of the things that happens in this season is we definitely have a little bit more Marvel in this season, a little bit more getting into almost saying a super power, but there’s a scientific basis for it. It’s connected to Doctor Strange world. It’s called, in the comics, Darkforce, but because we take place before anybody knows what that is, our people just name it Zero Matter. But it’s Darkforce. It’s from the Doctor Strange universe. It’s fun. We’ve actually been able to go much more into the Marvel Universe and how that is interpreted in 1947.
And Darkforce is something that we saw on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
FAZEKAS: Exactly, yeah.
BUTTERS: The interesting thing about Darkforce is that it affects everybody differently who comes in contact with it. That also gave us a certain license, which was fun for us, because we were able to decide — any of our characters who come into contact — how would it affect them?
How has Peggy changed since we’ve seen her last?
BUTTERS: She has moved on, in a sense. Steve’s moral compass is with her always, but she is lighter, she’s funnier, she is enjoying herself more.
FAZEKAS: She has opened up to the possibility of having a personal life. It’s not just Wilkes, the other side of the romantic triangle is Sousa. At the end of the last season Sousa gets up the nerve to ask her our and she says, “Oh, let me take a rain check. I have something to do.” They both walked away from that interaction with very different impressions. You saw it on his face, he was like kicking himself like he felt like he missed an opportunity there. She has this little smile on her face like, “Oh, maybe that’s something I might consider.” We’ve cut down to six months to a year later, and Sousa moves to L.A. to open up the SSR offices in part because it’s like, “I can’t work with her anymore.” They haven’t spoken since he left. There’s that interesting awkward when they start working together again. But now Sousa has got a girlfriend and it’s very serious, so that’s a new thing for Peggy to deal with. “Oh, did I just miss an opportunity here?”
What does their working dynamic look like?
BUTTERS: It’s interesting. It’s fun because it puts a personal level of awkwardness at times in their relationship, because obviously there is a certain amount of feelings for multiple people. When one person sees one thing and the other person doesn’t, it allows you to play with a lot of things.
Are you going to get into Peggy’s history and how she joined the SSR?
BUTTERS: Yes, we will. There’s a really nice episode that you see her backstory along with Whitney’s, and it really nicely touches on what it’s like to be a woman at that time period.
Peggy no longer has to hide who she is and she can live up to her potential. What are the challenges in Peggy discovering herself?
FAZEKAS: What you start to see with Wilkes is she has a dangerous job. Part of why she shut herself down to any sort of personal life, as you saw in the first season, her roommate gets killed. Part of it is, “I don’t want to put anybody else in danger.” She has to decide, “Do I want to keep myself closed off to that forever just because I don’t want them to get hurt? Or, do I take that risk?” It’s a risk that other people have to take too. It’s a bit of a struggle for her. In the second episode that struggle becomes really apparent. It even falls into her relationship with Jarvis as well, because in the first episode Jarvis is like, “I’m so glad you’re back. Please let me drive you around, because I’ve been so bored.” But even his arc, he has to decide, “Oh, do I want to just be a butler? Or do I want to take on this adventure, but there is a cost to the adventure?”
What are we seeing for the Peggy and Jarvis duo this season?
FAZEKAS: We put them a little bit through the wringer this season. Because we do meet Jarvis’s wife (Lotte Verbeek), who Peggy loves and is great, but these are more people who could potentially get caught up into the danger that Peggy is in. By the end of the season, there’s a great scene that we just shot for episode 9 where they really hash things out in a way that you can only hash things out with somebody who you love. We always say the worst things to the people that you love, so they have a great scene where their relationship is really put to the test.
What role is Jarvis playing for her this year?
FAZEKAS: He wants to be involved and he really wants to get in there, but it’s not without consequences.
Talk about the dynamic his wife Ana (Lotte Verbeek) has with Jarvis and Peggy.
BUTTERS: When we designed this character, one of the things we wanted to make sure was that she surprised you. The fact that Jarvis is head over heels with this woman, who is vivacious and outgoing and creative — she’s a force — she’s sweeps him up, and when you see them together, you get it.
FAZEKAS: We also wanted to avoid the trap of two women who don’t like each other or who are competitive with each other, because when you meet Ana, you’re initially surprised because she’s so different than Jarvis. But then you’re like, “Well, of course this is who he loves, because we see how much he loves working with Peggy.” He’s never going to be married to some buttoned-up, prim person.
BUTTERS: He works for Howard Stark, for God’s sake.
FAZEKAS: She and Peggy have like this instant rapport. But even Ana, at a certain point, can see all the danger that these people are in and is worried about it. She’s worried about Peggy, and she’s worried about her husband. She’s game for it, but…
BUTTERS: She never goes to the point of being — prudish isn’t the right word but — but she has genuine concern without it ever tipping to the point of saying, “I don’t want you guys doing this.” It’s what I like about her.
Now that the war is over, what does this mean for the future of the SSR?
FAZEKAS: It’s interesting because we did a lot of historical research on it. The SSR is somewhat based historically on the OSS. The OSS was a wartime agency. Once the war was over, the U.S. government divided up the OSS, and part of it became the CIA. We’re following that historical template where we introduce Jack Thompson’s (Chad Michael Murray) mentor/boss in the war department, who’s played by Kurtwood Smith, who we adore and we worked with him on Resurrection. He comes to Thompson in the first episode and is like, “Listen, the war’s over and the SSR’s going to be over and you need to be prepared for that and play the political game here. Do you want to be involved in this thing that’s going to go away, or do you want to get into the new thing?” As far as do we want to see the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D. within Agent Carter, I personally don’t because there’s already a show called S.H.I.E.L.D. So I don’t necessarily think we need to be telling the same story, but things are certainly changing.
Talk about some of the new characters that will be joining the show this year.
FAZEKAS: Ken Marino, who we worked with a bunch of times — he played a demon for us on Reaper and did a pilot for us just as a favor — what I love about him is so versatile. He’s obviously very funny, but he also is a great dramatic actor. We had talked about him for a different role, but it was too small of a role. Then we knew we wanted him in Manfredi role. So that role became so much bigger because it was Ken. Within the show, he has a past with Whitney Frost, where like before Whitney Frost became a real famous actor, she was dating a mobster. Now he’s back, and they go to him for a favor. He’s coming back into the picture. What I love about Manfredi is he’s funny, he can flip on a dime and be a total psycho, and he is madly in love with Whitney and genuinely so — even when she’s cuckoo. Their scenes together, there’s such a tenderness to them, even though he’s also really funny. I would write the Joe Manfredi character with Ken Marino all day long. He’s fantastic.
Will we see other familiar faces?
FAZEKAS: Howard Stark comes back. Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) comes back. Of course, you know that Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca) is back.
BUTTERS: Dottie we’ll see in the first episode. She is always there to be a thorn in the side of Peggy.
FAZEKAS: But she’s a lone wolf right now. She’s a woman without a country right now, but she is more involved in the [overarching] case than I think we will originally think.
BUTTERS: Peggy and her end up having an interesting relationship this year, which will be very fun for the audience. What I love about the way Bridget plays Dottie is that she needs Peggy in a way.
FAZEKAS: She has this love-hate relationship with Peggy—
BUTTERS: In a very Single White Female kind of way.
FAZEKAS: Howard comes back, and the great thing about Howard is we need somebody super smart to invent a thing that we need, and Howard already did it. He’s just fun to have. The nice thing about him, too, is he can get Peggy into places in the Hollywood society that maybe Peggy couldn’t get into by herself, because he’s got connections everywhere. Because Whitney Frost is in this Hollywood upper echelon, Howard is a great entrée into all that, and Jarvis is as well.
BUTTERS: And we have two other recurring that I think are fantastic additions to our cast. Lesley Boone, who plays Rose, was in season 1.
FAZEKAS: Lesley, who we knew from Ed, did the pilot again as a favor to us. She was a girl in the pilot who was working at the phone board and was like, “Love the hat.” We really expanded her role. She’s come out to L.A. with Sousa to help them open up the L.A. office.
BUTTERS: And then Matt Braunger plays one of the SSR lab techs, and he was such a great comic addition to our cast.
FAZEKAS: He’s a comedy guy, who plays the lab tech who is kind of disgruntled. He feels like, “You agents, you just look down your nose at the lab techs,” and he’s a thorn in Sousa’s side. He’s so funny because everything he says is completely earnest, but hilarious. He just annoys everyone. But he’s great. He also has his little hero moments as well.
Marvel’s Agent Carter debuts Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.