Last week saw the premiere of the much-anticipated Agent Carter mini-series, which Marvel is using to placate us in the hopes that we will forget about that little chunk of our collective heart that was ripped out by the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. mid-season finale. *sob*
But what a placation it is! This Monday treated us with not one, but two episodes to reacquaint ourselves with Peggy Carter in all her glory. I could probably write a full thesis on the things that were done right in these first two episodes, but to spare you all the labor of reading it and my hands the labor of typing all that, I’ve cut it down to five elements of Agent Carter that I thought were done well.
- Peggy has female friends. And not just cookie cutter, trope-laden female friends either. It’s not insignificant that the first interaction Peggy has, outside of a flashback, is with her roommate, Colleen. Right off the bat, we’ve established something very important about Peggy Carter (something which we probably knew already, but didn’t get a chance to explore fully in CA): Peggy, while clearly isolated professionally and romantically, is not the lone sufferer in a world full of men who don’t acknowledge her. Peggy is the symptom of a larger problem that we see played out across several different venues. GIs replace women in the factories, her friend Angie gets foul treatment by an entitled and boorish customer, and Peggy herself is dismissed as no more than a secretary despite her capabilities. By highlighting both significant and casual interaction between Peggy and her peers, the writers have not put her on a pedestal, created her as the stereotypical “Strong Female Character” who derides the silliness or weakness of other women. It is made clear that she cares about these other women’s struggles as much as her own, and that these women are dynamic, multi-faceted people just as much as Peggy herself.
- The show retains Marvel’s sly — and sometimes a bit dark — humor. I will admit that there were many, many moments between the two episodes that made me giggle, chortle, snort, and snicker, from Peggy’s decisive “Where do those stairs lead?”, briefcase-to-the-knees moment to the entirety of the milk truck inspection. This show really plays on Hayley Atwell’s full range of acting talents, and she slides splendidly into every role they give her. Not only does Atwell deliver Carter’s lines with the perfect amount of snark and briskness, she excels at the kind of physical comedy that made the scene where Peggy attempts to steal the photos off of Sousa’s desk one of the best — if not the best — of the entire episode. Atwell and Enver Gjokaj play off one another extremely well. (Is it too early to jump on the Carter-Sousa ship? Because I’m afraid I’ve already set sail.) And Gjokaj has his own share of comedic moments, “Still can’t find my leg” being my personal favorite. (
On that front, he might need to check with Rocket…) But as usual, Marvel manages to balance the serious with the funny in a manner that endears the characters to the audience.
- Peggy refuses to accept blatant misogyny. I was excited about this show before I even watched it, Peggy Carter being one of my favorite Marvel heroines and all, but there was a moment early in the show when I was officially sold. After Krzeminski makes a thoroughly crass comment about Peggy’s involvement in the war, Sousa demands he apologize. While said apology is never delivered, afterwards Peggy approaches Sousa, in what you expect to be a moment of “thanks for being a decent human being”. Instead, we get a staunch refutation of his defense. Peggy makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she can — and will — handle any rudeness thrown her way. And Sousa, instead of going the “I-was-just-trying-to-help” route, acknowledges her right to do so and backs off. While still acknowledging that he doesn’t like the fact that she’s treated that way. So. Much. Good. (And have I mentioned how much I like Sousa? Because I like Sousa.) But I digress. Point being, Peggy is not an idle participant in her own life, by any means, and that extends to her treatment at work.
4. …and in the face of that misogyny, uses it to her advantage. The number of times in which blatant misogyny was turned back on its perpetrator (case in point: Chad Michael Murray’s inability to learn the alphabet — and yes he will always be CMM in my growing-up-in-the-2000’s mind, never mind what his character’s name was) never ceased to make me smile. If the world is going to underestimate Peggy Carter, she will play into their mistakes when it is to her advantage to do so. Guy buying the nitramene has a thing for blondes? No problem. Claiming a day off because of “female problems”? Piece of cake. It’s sad to say that, while it might not elicit the same degree of reaction in today’s society, even mention of periods is often still enough to draw a disgusted response. Peggy’s awareness of this, much though it irks her, doesn’t stop her from using the knee-jerk reaction to stay two steps ahead of her colleagues.
5. Peggy is both fallible and (eventually) willing to acknowledge her shortcomings. Edwin Jarvis is a very important character in terms of the narrative, and not just through his connection to Tony Stark’s computer program. Edwin Jarvis acts a foil to Peggy, and facilitates the viewers’ (and her own) perception of her flaws. Peggy is used to doing things on her own, and to a certain extent, she has a point. Her line of work can and does get people killed. She’s right to be cautious. But by refusing to share in the danger, she’s being incautious about her own life. Heroine though Peggy may be, she can’t do everything. And it takes some persuasion for her to see this, but that’s important. Her growth is begrudging, and as Jarvis is patching her up near the end of the episode, her acknowledgment of his point still isn’t done without a little eye-rolling. It’s authentic, it’s organic, and it makes Peggy all the more relatable. Not to mention it gives us some fun moments between the “work-on-the-fly” Peggy and the obvious SJ Jarvis, which, as the daughter of a staunch SJ, just warms my heart and makes me giggle. (Go Google “Myers-Briggs typology” or “Keirsey temperament sorter” if the above sentence appears to be gibberish.)
In my initial approach to these reviews, I considered looking for tests to subject the episodes to, a la the Bechdel test. However, tumblr user xmenthefanficseries has kindly already put the show through ten common tests, which you can read more about here. A lot of them play into what I liked about the show: that it’s smart, that it doesn’t rely on stereotype, and that it presents us with real, rounded characters that we want to support. Peggy Carter is not only the hero we want, she’s the hero we deserve.
Stay tuned next Marvel Monday for Episode 3: Time & Tide.