Agent Carter is a show you should be watching. Mark will be reviewing the entire second season week to week. Follow along with him as he explores one of Marvel’s best shows.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the state of sexism in our culture right now, but when you look back at the past year in entertainment, it sure looks like we took a positive step forward. Thankfully. I mean, what took so long? These characters are awesome. In film we had Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road and Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In television we had Jessica Jones, and the one I think tops them all: Agent Peggy Carter.
Some Guy: “What’s your name, darling?”
Agent Carter: “Agent.”
The aforementioned female characters are simply just great characters regardless of their gender. You could probably argue over which is more complex and maybe Peggy Carter wouldn’t win, but something grabbed me about her more than the others. She is flawlessly brought to life by Haley Atwell, and on the page she’s fully conceived and punchy- literally. But it’s her journey that I think made her and the show the best of the year for me.
The first season is really about identity and how we deal with our pain. It is set in the post war 1940s, a time when many people were trying to figure out their identities while being forced into culturally accepted roles. Carter, like so many women of the time, was in the shadow of perceived male dominance. Yet she clearly understands that she casts her own (very large) shadow, and we the audience get to root gleefully for her as she refuses to accept a chauvinistic idea of herself.
Surrounding her, at first, seems to be a cast of typical character archetypes- the bad boy detectives, the hot headed captain, etc. Over time, however, the hardened shells of machismo begin to crack, and Carter’s hard work to defy gender roles helps her become the leader they needed. This all happens of course, in the midst of murder mysteries, gun fights, fist fights, and intriguing twists and turns.
See, all of this great stuff I’ve mentioned so far and I haven’t even begun to talk about the story. It’s good, if not a little typical Marvel. Despite the Marvel track record of throw away villains, we do get a baddie with substance and threat. The show is not afraid of consequences. People die, important people, and each time our characters take it personally. The echoes of war are ever close to them and each trial picks at old wounds.
No pain is perhaps more present than Carter’s. She is constantly bombarded with the Captain America zeitgeist of her era. It plays off a man she knew and loved, a friend just as much as a would-be husband. Playing this so pointedly was a necessary move for a show spun off from a movie about the guy. It isn’t just taken cheekily, either. They make it hurt for Carter, and make it count for her character.
I could quote a bunch of different theologians and philosophers on the subject of pain and how it molds us. Suffice to say, pain is a difficult process that ultimately can help us grow. It is not evil unless is conquers us. Evil is on display in Agent Carter, and it manifests in the form of people conquered by their pain. Our heroes are left to conquer their own pain or be defeated.
It’s quite a thrilling journey to watch, and it’s a lot of fun along the way. Peggy Carter represents women as they should be viewed today, yet does it in a time where it wasn’t accepted. She does it boldly, proudly, and most importantly, authentically. She isn’t prim and proper and the face of perfection, because none of us are. It makes her a hero we are eager to stand with. Plus, she beats a guy up with a stapler. What’s not to like?