While watching the first season of Agent Carter, I couldn’t help but wonder why I enjoyed it so much more than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., its much maligned and mildly resurgent Marvel television counterpart. Although the two shows have different teams behind them, they are, nevertheless, small screen cousins, with Peggy Carter making more than a few flashback cameos on AoS. The two series would seem to have too much shared DNA for anyone to have such different reactions to them. But in investigating this mystery, I kept coming back to one, overwhelming factor – Hayley Atwell.
Atwell soars as the protagonist of Agent Carter and commands nearly every scene she’s in. She portrays the titular character as a woman of quiet strength, with a steadiness in everything she does despite the tumult that surrounds her. But Atwell’s take on the character transcends the trope of the typical “action girl”, instead making Peggy a fully realized, three-dimensional character. Atwell acquits herself well when Peggy is exhibiting a steely resolve in a tense situation, and can just as convincingly show the character’s vulnerability and empathy in a private moment, with each emotional state feeling genuine and inhabited. She brings an undeniable presence to the character, and her rising tide lifts all boats in the series.