This article contains spoilers for the Agent Carter season 2 premiere, so if you haven’t seen it yet, beware.
The amazing two-part of an Agent Carter season 2 premiere ended with a bang, literally. While trying to solve a supernatural murder in ‘40s era Los Angeles, Peggy Carter’s investigation led her to Isodyne Labs, where an explosion caused by the mysterious “zero matter” substance ended up disfiguring the season’s Big Bad, Whitney Frost — and seemingly killing Peggy’s brand new love interest, scientist Jason Wilkes.
It might seem like a bold choice to begin the series with such harrowing stakes, but as the Agent Carter showrunners told me, it was a completely necessary one.
“In the first season we had to spend so much time setting up the world, and the story moved a little bit slower for the first couple of episodes,” Tara Butters said. “This year we really wanted to keep people on their toes… our hope is that people really want to see what happens and tune back in for the third episode.”
“We had two episodes to make you fall in love with Jason Wilkes and to make Peggy really care about him,” Michele Fazekas added. “That was a challenge — how do you get people invested in this character really quickly, so then you’re really bummed when you think he’s been blown up!”
It definitely worked. From the moment he first bumped into the SSR agent snooping around where she shouldn’t be, Wilkes (played by the incomparable Reggie Austin) completely charmed the pants off of everybody — Peggy most of all. Only a single episode later, he had already swept her off her feet at the Dunbar hotel, an iconic LA landmark where black and white patrons often mixed during the era.
But it wasn’t all fun and games, of course. Over the course of the second episode Wilkes was also given the opportunity to present his experiences with racism and prejudice as a black man in the 1940s — a first for the Marvel series, which didn’t prominently feature any people of color in its first season. While critically acclaimed and adored by passionate fans, Agent Carter still garnered criticism for that lack of diversity, and addressing those concerns was a very active decision for the showrunners this time around.
“You have to deal with the issues of the time, and in the first season we just didn’t have the space for all of that,” Butters admitted. “This season, it made more sense. You just don’t want to have an African-American character to have an African-American character, you want to make sure that you’re being true to their placement.”
“We went into this season really saying, Jason Wilkes is going to be a diverse actor,” Fazekas said. “We went into it saying, that is going to be the priority for casting. And we were lucky that we found someone as great as Reggie Austen.”
Well, part of it was luck — part of it was Agent Carter star Hayley Atwell, who insisted on a hands-on approach with her would-be Jasons. “Hayley came in and did auditions with actors in front of all of us,” Fazekas said. “I think we brought in maybe four different guys to do the scene where he kisses her. And she came in and said, ‘Well, I think I should really kiss them.’ And we’re like, ‘Alright, that’s a great idea!’”
“That’s so her. She was really like, ‘I think that’s important, I really want to see if there’s chemistry.’ So she had a lot of fun doing it, and it was actually fun to see them — she and [Reggie] instantly had chemistry together.”
But the connection between Jason and Peggy runs much deeper than physical intimacy, as Fazekas noted. “They’re both people who are anomalies within their field. Peggy is the only woman in the SRR office; Jason is one of the few African-American people in his office. And they have that shared experience where people look at you and they make a decision about who you are, and you’re spending a lot of your time trying to disabuse them of what that is. That’s a connection they both have.“
And for those who are bummed that their newfound Peggy/Jason ship appears to have already sunk, think again — these are comic book characters, after all, and comic book characters don’t die so easily. Not for good, at least.
“I think if anybody’s worried about that, their fears will be allayed very quickly,” Fazekas said. “It is the Marvel Universe, so things are not always what they appear. And as has been established over and over again in the Marvel Universe, when you’re dead you’re not necessarily dead.”
If that’s not enough to soothe your anxiety, remember: Reggie Austin is billed as a cast member for the entire season, not just the first few episodes. Odds are we’ll be encountering him again soon, although how is anybody’s guess. And guess the fans certainly will — not that the Agent Carter showrunners will confirm anything.
“It’s very interesting when someone has clued into it but no one else agrees with them! I think that’s funny,” said Butters. “But that’s the positive side of social media, that it allows you to have these conversations with other fans. I enjoy that part of it. I enjoy that they have this outlet to talk. But we can’t write to what their want is. We have to write to what the story dictates.“
At the very least, let’s hope that story includes many more opportunities for the show to explore the racial inequality of the 1940s. And plenty of Jason and Peggy smooches, too. All the practice in the audition room certainly paid off there, didn’t it?