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Exclusive: On set with 'Agent Carter' for the making of Madame Masque

Makeup artist Robin Beauchesne talks about combining traditional makeup effects and computer graphics to bring actress Wynn Everett’s Marvel supervillain, Madame Masque, to life.

The makeup trailer for "Marvel's Agent Carter" is unpleasantly warm as three beauty pros buzz around the tight space with a frenetic but precise energy.

In the eye of the storm sits Wynn Everett, looking like a life-sized porcelain doll, the type your grandmother let you admire but never play with. Her blond curls are immaculate, her lips scarlet and her eyes wide, the same clear blue as the afternoon's Southern California sky.

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Then the makeup artists descend. But instead of enhancing her perfect creamy complexion, their tools produce an unsettling fissure.

The crack is deep and dark, spider-webbing from just below Everett's hairline to her jaw, as though revealing a darkness that lurks deep.

All seems lost until the actress glances at a visitor in the mirror and cracks a wide, warm smile, saying, "When my daughters first saw me, they said, 'Mommy has a sticker!'"

That "sticker" is present because Everett's character, the villainous Whitney Frost, had come into contact early in the ABC show's second season with Zero Matter, an extra-dimensional energy that seems to corrupt her over time and grants her the ability to absorb any living thing she touches.

In the Marvel-created series, Frost is a physicist and actress — a strong and complicated composite of her time. Frost possesses beauty and a brilliant mind, but her value to society is measured by her looks, not her contributions to science.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Frost is the "Agent Carter" version of a Marvel character better known as Madame Masque, who made her debut in 1968 and pulls much of her back story from the biography of Hollywood beauty Hedy Lamarr. (With George Antheil, Lamarr invented a frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology that laid the groundwork for current Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.)

"The character description said she was based on Hedy Lamarr, so I did a lot of research," Everett says from her makeup chair where she logs a lot of time, thanks to her character's increasingly aggravated skin condition. "[Lamarr] was unbelievable. Coming from Austria, wanting to be known for her scientific mind but being an acclaimed actress."

This seeming contradiction of elements, the beautiful actress who wishes to spend her life in science, is a perfect fit for the world of "Agent Carter," which has always been fascinated with the push-pull of what it is to be a woman dealing with the expectations of a critical society.

And all of this makes her the perfect foil for Agent Peggy Carter, played by the effervescent Hayley Atwell.

As the show's second season comes to an end Tuesday night, Atwell's Carter has been fighting post-World War II threats — and Madame Masque — in Los Angeles after being uprooted from Season 1's New York location.

Much of the production's throwback charm is built into the 1940s setting of the show, which centers on Carter, whom audiences first met in "Captain America: The First Avenger," and a supporting cast of characters who share Carter's passion for protecting the world from danger.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Agent Carter" contains plots that tie directly into the larger narrative presented in Marvel's "Captain America: Winter Soldier," "The Avengers" as well as Marvel television shows, including "Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."

But for fans of the world of "Agent Carter," much of the fun has been in watching Carter and Frost, two strong female adversaries who sometimes meet resistance in the world they inhabit because of their gender or appearance. Both find ways to work within the system as best they can. For Frost, that means depending on her husband to further her scientific work; for Carter, it means barreling through the obstacles that try to contain her.

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"She's very stubborn," Atwell says, when asked what continues to surprise her about the Carter character. "But she is also tenacious. It's quite an extraordinary thing because her superpower is self-acceptance. She's not intimidated by people who seemingly have more than her."

Everett's Frost has a similar strength. "A lot of what Whitney goes through is very complex," Everett says. "She really does have a heart that wants justice, but she goes about it through very unjust means."

"Agent Carter" also has the distinction of being the first Marvel Cinematic Universe property to be led by a woman. And it's the only Marvel television series that also plays as a period piece.

Despite its uniqueness, "Agent Carter" struggles to find an audience. Marvel declines to comment on the show's future, but rumors of Atwell's joining an upcoming ABC drama pilot make it seem as though the series' days may be numbered.

If true, that would be a shame. There is something immediately timeless about "Agent Carter" and its transportation of characters from various eras into a single 1940s timeline, the way it spotlights the modern struggles of feminism within the confines of the past, and the way it blends the enduring craft of makeup with the evolving skill of visual effects into a product that best meets its needs.

Perhaps this isn't the end of days for "Agent Carter," but should the worst come to pass, Peggy Carter and Whitney Frost will remain as savvy, strong television, dames as immutable as any shining star of Hollywood's Golden Age.

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'Marvel's Agent Carter'

Where: ABC

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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