"Agent Carter" Showrunners Talk Season Two's Hollywood Move, Whitney Frost & the Darkforce

Strategic Scientific Reserve Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is heading west, calling Los Angeles her new home in the second season of "Marvel's Agent Carter" on ABC. Between Hollywood glitz and glamour, shadowy film noir schemes, new femme fatales and something science can't quite explain, Peggy is going to have her hands full the moment she touches down in the city of Angels.

Executive Producers Tara Butters, Michele Fazekas and Chris Dingess have dropped their hero directly into Hollywood's Golden Age during 1947 along with several familiar SSR faces and Howard Stark's butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D'Arcy). They'll have to navigate a sun-soaked but still treacherous landscape that places Tinseltown trappings and the then-burgeoning Space Age scene against the pitch black potboilers of the great age of noir. The showrunners recently assembled on the set of the newly established Los Angeles outpost of the SSR to declassify some of the secrets of Peggy's West Coast adventures.

How was the arc of the season decided upon? Was it always going to be in L.A?

Michele Fazekas: We talked about L.A. a lot in the first season. I think because when you're talking about telling stories in the '40s, and a lot of the film noir of the '40s takes place in L.A. And obviously, we shoot in L.A., so it had been something that we talked about a lot, and we started to build a story around that because what's great about that is you have the glamour and the glitz of Hollywood, and you have crime and corruption right next to each other.

And so we just started to say, "Well, how would we get Peggy to L.A.?" Obviously, this is the first question, and how much time has passed between the first season and the second season? And because there's been a lot of time between the first and the second season airdates, we wanted to sort of show, okay, time has passed. People are in a little bit of different positions. And things have happened between the seasons that we maybe don't know about.

And it was a very organic way to have Jarvis back because having Jarvis in the show was super-important. That was sort of the central relationship of the show. And the way we did it was through Howard because we didn't know if Dominic Cooper was going to come back. So we said, well, he works for Howard. Howard decided to move his base of operations to L.A. because you have this sort of burgeoning tech field out here of Radiodyne and General Atomics and JPL.

So Howard's out here doing government contract work, and in his spare time, he's decided to open up a movie studio -- just as a hobby! So Jarvis has come out with him to set up his sort of Beverly Hills estate, which was a really organic, fun way to is explain why is Jarvis in L.A.

You talked previously about introducing Darkforce into the series. Is this season opening that door maybe a little bit more?

Chris Dingess: Yeah, a crack.

Tara Butters: It's still very much our show. I mean, you're definitely seeing more Marvel in this season with -- we call it Zero Matter.

Fazekas: Because the nice thing about it is, they don't know what it is. It's 1947. They don't call it Darkforce. They don't know where it comes from. And we really do try and ground it in science, because you've got Howard Stark, you've got this trategic scientific initiative, so they're trying to explain it from a scientific point of view. We actually got a physicist, a real-life physicist to come in and try give us a, "So if Darkforce was a real thing, how would that happen?"

Dingess: If you ever want to feel dumb, talk about your TV show to an actual physicist. He was amazing.

Fazekas: He really laid it down for us.

Dingess: We made him draw pictures on a board so we could understand.

Did you always plan to include Ana Jarvis?

Butters: It's something we went back and forth on, in the first season of whether or not to show her, before moving to L.A. and Peggy's going to be staying with them -- you can't not show her. And it gave us a great opportunity to kind of [explore] who does Jarvis marry? Who is that person? And it was really fun to kind of develop that relationship more.

Moving to L.A. is a great switch. Is there talk of moving every season?

Fazekas: Not necessarily. I think you could do that, but my personal preference is I kind of like L.A. I think there's still more stories to tell, but we always sort of go, where's the story taking us? What's the best story we can tell? And then, the location can sort of come more organically out of that.

One of the major first season themes was Peggy reacting to the patriarchal establishment. How much of that remains?

Fazekas: I think Peggy has sort of gotten the respect of her colleagues -- even of [Jack] Thompson -- so some of that story has already been resolved in that. In the end of the last season, they were applauding her, so they respect her. They know what she can do. Which isn't to say that everything's great in 1947, but we sort of tell that story in a different way, in large part through Whitney Frost, so you've got these two smart, powerful women.

The way we're designing Whitney Frost is somewhat based on the real-life actress Hedy Lamarr, who was also sort of this secret scientific genius. And so we sort of fashioned Whitney Frost after that. And so we have these two women who are smart and strong and ended up in very different places in their life. So [there's] a lot of what Whitney Frost goes through as an actress and as somebody who's sort of hiding her genius, in part because society says, "Well, no one cares about how smart you are. They care about this." So that's sort of how we explore that. But I think for Peggy's sort of journey, she has a different journey in the second season.

Dingess: But there are still tons of creepy white dudes, grasping onto power as tight as they can.

Was there an intentional move to create more diversity in the cast?

Butters: We explore that too. We explore the idea of, as she meets Dr. Wilkes' character, and there's an obvious spark there, that that, in itself, has an issue of that time.

Fazekas: How does Peggy react when she sees blatant racism? Spoiler: Not well. Doesn't like it. [Laughs] But yeah, I think we wanted to have like a rich story around that and not feel like you're preaching about it. Racism is not good! Yes. But I really love the character of Wilkes, and I love Reggie [Austin], and I'm very excited for that relationship.

As far as we know Lyndsy Fonseca's not in this season. Is that discussed?

Fazekas: We will not answer that, for the moment.

Were there any particular film noirs that you referenced for the visuals?

Fazekas: "The Big Heat."

Dingess: Anything with shutters.

Fazekas: Like, you see the Venetian blinds, and just like that shot of the slats of light on somebody's face -- awesome.

Dingess: Some "Chinatown."

Fazekas: We talked about "L.A. Confidential," which is more modern noir, but "L.A. Confidential" was a big touchstone for us, even in the last season.

Butters: But like in "Chinatown" you know how it has a little bit of that kind of whites take on a real glow? I think that's something we kind of co-opted into our season that I really am responding to visually. "Lady from Shanghai" -- mirrors become a little bit of a thing we play with. But it's such a rich kind of genre.

Dingess: Right when we started writing this season, Turner Classic Movies gave like some sort of class that you could watch. They had a film noir series and you could take the class online. I was a very bad student, and I was too busy to do it a lot too. But it was so much fun because it was like serendipity that they were showing all these movies right when we just started to kind of get some visual inspiration.

Fazekas: I read all the James Elroy [novels], the new book, and I went back and read all those -- just because to hear all the voices in my head, it was really nice how he captures L.A. The nice thing is because we knew we wanted to do this so early, we were able to sit down with the cinematographer and talk about that. And say, we're not going to copy a film noir because... why? But let's sort of use elements of that when it works. So he was able to go do a bunch of research and just show us like frames. Like look at this amazing frame. Look at this amazing frame. And so we were able to sort of pull elements from it.

Dingess: And maintain our look, too.

Fazekas: And it looks spectacular. It doesn't feel like a different show. It just feels like an evolution of the show.

How do you mine all the rich comic book material and zero in on things you want to use that feel right for the show?

Dingess: Well, when we were talking about Los Angeles, we started talking about the city, then we started talking about the desert and what was going on in the desert. It was all the scientific exploration that was starting to take place in Los Angeles with JPL. And just different types of testing that was going on in the desert and how that like led us to talk about Area 51 and the sci-fi of it all and the movies that were born from the '40s into the '50s and stuff like that. And so we started talking about sci-fi elements, and that led us towards Darkforce.

Can you expand on the dynamic between Enver Gjokaj's Daniel Sousa and Chad Michael Murray's Jack Thompson?

Butters: Daniel's out here running a very green crew where Thompson seems to still have a little bit of a hierarchy since he's been doing it a little bit longer. But I just think there's nice tension between the two of them, of sort of two people who are trying to mark their territory a bit.

Fazekas: I think they genuinely like each other. I think the problem with Thompson is he's such an opportunist, and he so wants to succeed above all other things that he sometimes makes bad choices. I think he's not a bad guy. He just gets blinded by ambition, and it's going to trip him up and put him actually at odds with Peggy and Sousa for a lot of the season. And I think he's going to have to make some choices where it's like, are you going to be this person, or are you actually going to be true to who you really are which is you're not a bad person? And so he has a really interesting arc.

When you have somebody like Whitney Frost, who is Madame Masque in the Marvel source material, you the comics-savvy audience is thinking, "When is she going to put on the mask? Is that part of the fun of it playing that with and expectations of figuring out your version of the character?

Butters: Yeah, it's one of those things where as much as we're based on characters that come from the comic books, we're not a comic book show. So we always try to find our version of a character.

Fazekas: You're not going to see her in a gold mask, but it's not like you're not not going to not see something.

Butters: We play with those concepts, sort of like, "How do we allude to something? And so you feel it without it being so blatant.

How does the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe affect the show and the kinds of stories you tell?

Butters: I mean, we always want to be true to it. We always want to feel like you see us as a piece of it. But because of our time period, we kind of are on our own a little bit.

Dingess: There's definitely some Easter eggs and some tie-ins throughout.

Fazekas: Certainly with Darkforce. It touches on Dr. Strange. And all we know is, we'll write something and just hear that it doesn't conflict with "Dr. Strange" script, we're like "Score!" We had a really funny conversation today with Eric Carroll, who's over at Marvel Films, who is great because we were asking for something for the season finale. We asked, "Can we have this thing and destroy it?" And he said, "Well, you know, you guys are sort of the custodians of this particular character." And we're like, "Thanks!"

Dingess: "Let's break it!" Like any good custodian.

Fazekas: They're very supportive. And as long as we don't contradict what they're doing, we're good.

From the films, we know that Peggy has a big destiny ahead of her. Does that inspire you, and are there limitations because of that?

Fazekas: Not yet. We don't need much to be inspired to write Peggy Carter. She's real easy to write for because we just love her. We love Hayley, and I feel like there's a myriad of stories we could tell. And so far, nothing has come down that "You can't tell the story about Peggy. You can't say this about Peggy."

Are the characters like Reggie or Whitney Frost, who are outsiders, how do you distinguish their arcs from Peggy's?

Dingess: I think everyone to get to that place of getting respect, everyone has a different road to get there. Everyone makes different choices along the way that define that road. And I think with these three characters, everyone kind of has a distinct, separate path.

Fazekas: We sort of try to make a virtue in that, that we actually really contrast Whitney and Hayley in one particular episode where you sort of see how they became who they are. They all feel quite distinct, but related, purposely related. And Whitney and Wilkes, who's Reggie, have an unexpected connection.

Does female friendship continue to have a central role in the show?

Butters: I think with Peggy, you always want to see a female friendship. We explore that with Ana. Also, Rose, who is a character we established in the first season. She comes back.

Fazekas: Rose has a little bit bigger role this season. She's come out with Sousa because she was sick of New York and took up surfing. We're always very careful to not have it just be, "Oh, girls don't like each other," or are always thinking about who their boyfriend is. She takes a lot of comfort and solace in her friends.

Marvel's "Agent Carter" Season 2 premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

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