Agent Carter Rises Above Her Dreary Beginning in The First Avenger

Agent Carter

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Genre: Sci-fi/Superhero/Historical

Synopsis: After the war and the loss of Captain America, Peggy Carter comes home to a job at the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) where her co-workers treat her like a secretary. Then her former colleague Howard Stark is framed for selling the weapons he invented to enemies of the United States. With the SSR determined to catch him, Peggy has to tackle the case on her off-hours to clear Stark’s name and find those weapons before they fall into the wrong hands.

Series: Season 1

I’ve Watched: Episodes 1-3

Verdict: Good.

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During WWII, to help with the war effort, many women took on roles not normally available to them–though Peggy Carter certainly took it further than most. However, now that the war is over, the women are expected to step back into the role they’d played beforehand. This is the world in which Peggy lives. She may have been good at her job, but her actual competency doesn’t matter as much as the lack of belief of the people around her in her abilities. It may not be malicious, but it’s there, and it hurts. The show is comfortable with this.

There’s this radio program about Captain America and his girlfriend “Betty Carver”, a perpetual damsel in distress always asking to be rescued. Poor Peggy is forced to listen this fake retelling of her past far too often. But the program brings up an interesting idea. The contrast between Peggy’s actual life and the perception of it on the radio makes a wonderful point for how history is rewritten to fit the narrative we’re all supposed to believe. And for how easy it is to rewrite that history.

Peggy herself is struggling with a loss of purpose now that she’s surrounded by people who refuse to recognize her abilities and know nothing about her accomplishments. She’s lost any support she might have had from her colleagues, thrust into a job with strangers who look down on her because they believe what they’ve been told to believe. And the people she could count on are all gone.

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When Stark approaches her with his problem, the first issue she brings up is whether going behind the backs of her colleagues is right or wrong. But what she doesn’t bring up (though Stark does) is how it would feel to actually get to use her skills, to get a chance to do what she’s good at. This could quite possibly have been the factor that tipped the scales towards her saying yes.

That’s interesting, because a one line from Jarvis implies that Stark may be playing her. So theoretically, she might be doing all this borderline-sketchy work out of the impulse to feel useful–and it might not even be the right thing to do. Stark might be using her desire to have someone believe in her towards his own ends. Wouldn’t that be a way to beat down our protagonist?

So Peggy ends up secretly working in parallel and even against her colleagues, making it necessary for her to get information from them or to go so far as to sabotage their efforts.

I really like that the show demonstrates that Peggy would rather have been taken seriously, would rather have the respect of her co-workers. But if they’re going to treat her as incapable, and if she can’t convince them otherwise…then when the necessity arises, she chooses to use it. And the truth is, she couldn’t have tricked them if they didn’t let her.

She started acting like the secretary she wasn’t, and if any of them had been paying attention to reality instead of their expectations (or if any of them had been taught how to), they might have been suspicious. Same with the man Peggy pulls a seduction scheme on in the club. It wouldn’t have worked if he hadn’t allowed it to. It’s not their fault–we all interpret our reality through the lens of our expectations. But it’s interesting to see how people get shoved into certain roles.

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Despite the way Peggy’s character was mishandled in the first Captain America movie (and to be fair, what wasn’t mishandled in the first Captain America movie?), I had high hopes for Agent Carter. And the show is mostly delivering, albeit with a rather white cast. And even a rather male cast–I was very grateful that there would be at least one other significant female character besides Peggy, but I will be disappointed if she isn’t utilized.

Maybe the show will find a way to diversify. It wouldn’t even be much of a stretch–she was seen with the Howling Commandos in a flashback in Agents of SHIELD, and they aren’t all white. It might not even be too unrealistic if her friends in her all-female boarding house started acting as a cover at times. Maybe nothing as dangerous as what Jarvis does, but something useful.

Overall, however, I’m really enjoying the show, and can’t wait to see where it goes.

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