A Marvel character with a minor, but important, role in the Captain America comics, Carter was first introduced to moviegoing masses as an operations supervisor in Captain America: The First Avenger. In her position she oversaw the transformation of the puny Steve Rogers into the hunky, '40s-equivalent-of-an-Abercrombie-model Chris Evans as Captain America. She was the female love interest who actually saved her hero boyfriend (from a soldier with flame-throwers).
But when we catch up with Carter at the beginning of the series, a year after Rogers crashed a plane and disappeared, she’s being treated like a career secretary. Still employed by the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), Carter’s humored because she's the Cap’s former girl. Early on, when she leans in to defend her old engineer buddy Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) from accusations that he sold weapons to the enemy, her boss dismisses her thusly: “I’m sure being Captain America’s liaison brought you into contact with all sorts of interesting people.” The bulk of her mental legwork at the office, then, consists of thinking of quips to insult these misogynists: When the worst of the lot, Thompson (Chad Michael Murray, playing the chauvinist asshole rather convincingly), asks her to file papers, she responds by wondering if he needs help figuring out the alphabet.
The story spins off of Captain America and a short film that accompanied the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray, but one doesn’t have to be familiar with Marvel’s tight-clad men to appreciate the poetic justice that unfolds here. Lo and behold, her old buddy Stark comes calling, asking her to help him clear his name and play traitor to her workplace, but not her professional instincts. The long-suffering superagent acquiesces. “I know they’re not using you right over there,” Stark says, as if he had to sell her on the idea.
Anchored by Hayley Atwell's deadpan performance, tinged with a bit of arrogance—she was trotted out but underused in both Captain America films and season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—the two-hour premiere sails along on Carter’s attempts to keep this double identity, as well as a few others, under wraps. Presumably the disguises will only multiply as the series fills out its eight episodes, and Carter chases down all of Stark’s stolen, weaponizable inventions (a favored, and usually rather boring, Marvel plot device).
The setup has more than a few shades of Alias, the double-agent early-aughts J.J. Abrams series, which also ran on ABC and featured an athletic actress performing her own stunts. And like Alias, the combat is served with a side of sarcastic social commentary. In one memorable scene in the premiere, one of Carter's brawls is juxtaposed with a Captain America radio story featuring a helpless triage nurse wailing, “If only Captain America were here to rescue me!”