Warning: This recap contains storyline and character spoilers for the first two episodes of Marvel's Agent Carter.
After Tuesday's two-hour premiere of Marvel's Agent Carter, we sat down with showrunner Tara Butters, who, along with Michele Fazekas, executive produces the show while also showrunning ABC's Resurrection. Butters talks about the concerns and triumphs of the show, hints at appearances by other Marvel characters, and explains just how you turn a modern-day Los Angeles lot into the bustling metropolis of 1940s New York.
So are we done with nitramine? Will the show follow a kind of “monster of the week” formula?
We are done with nitramine. Nitramine, hopefully, was a fun way to get us into the world of Stark's many inventions; you'll see a couple more show up. But at the end of the day, the back half of the season is less about the gadget of the week and far more about the personal relationships Peggy has being a double agent.
Was the plan always to be one overarching storyline, or did you talk about making it more episodic?
We always approached it as one comprehensive storyline. When we went in with [creators Christopher] Markus and [Stephen] McFeely, they had a pitch for what the setup was. And to me, when you look at what TV is working overall out there, I think that people are binge-watching. And when you're binge-watching, it's much more exciting to watch things like Fargo and How to Get Away with Murder. It's these serialized storylines. And that's kind of how we approached the episodes. I really look at it as eight parts of a movie.
Most heroes have some sort of sanctuary, a Batcave of some kind. Why did you take away Peggy's and put her in that hotel?
Well, the first roommate obviously gives her an emotional drive. Having her killed in the pilot — she obviously has the drive to help Howard Stark clear his name — but then, personally, she actually suffered. She feels she's to blame for her roommate's life being taken because the person thought it was her. So it does serve a purpose to the greater storyline for Peggy Carter.
And then, one of the reasons why we chose the Griffith — an all-women's hotel — is that it's based on actual hotels in New York, the most famous one being the Barbizon, in which many, many famous actresses and young women stayed and lived in at the time. We thought it was an interesting nod to the history: The young woman who was setting out to make a name for herself — whether it was being an actor or going to secretarial school — these were considered safe places for women to live in the big city. So it actually has a historical context.
And I also think that because she lives in an all-male world at work, it was nice to give her these moments with her female counterparts, even though they didn't necessarily know what she was doing. They believe she just works at the phone company. It kind of gave her an insight into what normal people's lives were like.
We've seen her as a blonde bombshell and we've seen her as Ruth Barton from the Health Department. What's your favorite Peggy Carter disguise?
[Laughs.] I have to say, I love her as Ruth Barton from the Health Department. We don’t get as many of the different disguises. She wears many different outfits, but it's not Alias, where every week she dons a different wig and a different identity. But I have to say that I love that little sequence, looking through the milk trucks. That was very fun.
Who's your favorite guest on the show? James Urbaniak is great.
We're huge fans of his, and his voice work. We, of course, love Ray Wise. He played The Devil for us on Reaper and we were really, really happy to bring him on the show. And it's a character that’s connected to Roxxon, which is a big Marvel baddie; they're a bad corporation in that universe. So it was nice to connect him in that way.
Also, there are some surprise people in the Marvel Universe that show up that I'm really happy to see. I have to say, our current cast... obviously, Hayley [Atwell] and James and Jay and Enver and Chad and Lyndsy are so wonderful, and they have great chemistry, and I think that chemistry keeps getting stronger and stronger with each episode.
A lot of people are hoping to see Howling Commandos...
I think you'll be very happy.
Are you hoping any of the characters you've created pop up in another Marvel property? Like a 90-year-old Jarvis on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or something?
It's so hard. We’ve lived in a nice little bubble on our show because we're in an area of the Marvel Universe that is not as well-defined, which has allowed us a lot of freedom. Because obviously, you have Cap 1 and then a lot of the Universe doesn't pick up until Iron Man and Cap 2 and The Avengers and all that later. So it's been a lot of fun to play with that world, and we've been able to work closely with Marvel TV and Marvel Films about tying in the show to the Marvel Universe.
At the same time, you do not have to be someone who watches all of the Marvel films to enjoy the show. I believe that Hayley and her chemistry with the other actors, and the spy and thriller action storyline is universal, and you can enjoy it without having all the background.
Was there a negative impression you were concerned people would have of the show? Like, “That's just Captain America for girls.” And what did you do to deal with it?
I think the period aspect... look, there's not that many period television shows on network TV. And I do think Marvel — which tends to skew younger — there was a bit of a concern of whether or not they were going to watch something taking place in the 1940s.
But I have to say, the more I work on the show and the more I see Hayley on the screen, I really don’t think it matters. She is just so charming and funny, and there are amazing emotional sequences. I feel like it really appeals to a broad group of people.
I mean, my 9-year-old — and the funny thing is, I wasn’t showing her stuff; Disney XD did a 3-minute preview. She saw it, and she's over the moon about watching it. Friends of mine who are in their mid-40s are excited about watching it.
So I hope that we do Marvel justice. I know there are a lot of people looking for the female superhero, and what I love about the character of Peggy Carter is she actually doesn't have powers, but that doesn't make her any less of a hero.
How has your conception of Peggy Carter changed while collaborating with Hayley? It sounds like she was really pushing to see the lighter side of the character.
You know, she can do anything and absolutely that affects how we write her. She is truly wonderful at light comedy. At the same time, there are emotional scenes; there's a scene in [Episode 4] between her and Howard Stark that probably... I love the scene so much. It's just so raw and full of emotion, and it's fantastic. But then again, [Episode 4] has a lot of humor in it, too.
Will we ever see Mrs. Jarvis?
At this point, no... but I would never say never!
What's the best day you've had on set so far? Is there something you were particularly looking forward to seeing go from the page to the screen?
Each episode has moments in it that you're incredibly excited to see go from page to being shot and then edited together. In [Episode 5], she is probably at her most kick-ass, which is always really fun to see. Then in [Episode 4], her relationship with Jarvis really deepens. There’s all these little moments that add up to where we end in the final episode.
I'd never done a period piece before, and I have to say, it's been an incredible challenge. Obviously, we shoot in Los Angeles, but the fact is, even if we shot in New York City, 1940s New York does not exist. So we've been incredibly lucky, and Marvel has given us so many wonderful contacts to help make the show look great.
What's your favorite shot from the first two episodes?
There's a simple shot of her walking across the street in the pilot which is just beautiful. If you look down the corridor, all of that is visual effects. You have flags waving and you have billboards and our visual effects supervisor worked diligently to make that shot amazing.
And then also, I have to say that I just love the whole sequence in Episode 2: the fight scene cut in with the Captain America Radio Hour. They were a labor of love on our part.
In the Captain America Radio Hour, the announcer is Ralph Garman, who is a radio personality and is huge into comic books and actually has a podcast with Kevin Smith. So we asked him if he would be the announcer for the Captain America Radio Hour. I really hope that comes back; I would love to see that as a podcast. It's just such a fun thing with the foley artist and the breaking of the lobster.
Marvel's Agent Carter airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.