… or something like that. This is what I’ve come to think of as the “Agent Carter problem”, as our fabulous heroine is the most recent in a long line of heroines to be drawn into this argument.
The participants? On one side, we have those already engaged in speculation about who could be the “man saved by Captain America” with whom Peggy Carter has her future son and daughter. See the article that has caused the most uproar here. On the other side, an outraged Peggy fanbase who derides the former group for reducing a powerful, dynamic woman to a romantic interest. Seems like a simple enough binary, right?
But I would beg to differ. Here we have Peggy Carter. Insatiable, opinionated, take-no-nonsense woman who loves and recognizes the importance of the work she does, even if she doesn’t always like the people she has to work with in order to get it done. A person who cares for others, who faces danger without flinching, who cries at the loss of a dear friend. As so many others have pointed out, this is the woman who eventually founds SHIELD, the woman who inspired Captain America to be the hero he was. Trying to reduce her to one half of a romantic equation is denying vital aspects of her character, because her love interests are certainly not the most important thing about her.
However, I will also argue that speculation about the man Peggy marries is not — for the most part — motivated by a desire to demean her character. Rather, I think that it stems out of a natural imperative to see characters we love struggling through the everyday problems of love and relationships, and perhaps eventually to see them happily involved. Part of it also stems out of pure curiosity. There is a firm preoccupation in media viewership with all things romantic – just look at the prevalence of romantic fanfiction and shipping, a term coined to describe the relationship that a viewer sees (and supports) developing between characters. There is little doubt in my mind that the trope “Pair the Spares” emerges from those same desires. Not satisfied with just having the leads paired off, we also feel the need to make sure that everyone else has been neatly tied up with a bow.
Consequently, I won’t deny that I have also engaged in that kind of speculation. After the premiere, my oldest sister (not-Laney) and I had a short discussion about the possibilities. For us, it was almost like a puzzle, figuring out who fit the bill for what little we know about Mr. Peggy Carter:
(transcript edited for clarity)
Sister: Bets on how long it takes Carter-Stark and Carter-Sousa ‘ship wars to start?
Leah: We KNOW Peggy Carter is not Tony Stark’s mother.
S: All we know about Mr. Peggy Carter is that he’s someone Cap saved in the war.
L: That’s true. She’s just definitely not the woman he eventually marries. Plus, I can’t really see Peggy dating Howard. She knows him too well.
S: Yeah, I think the show would do well to show several healthy, non-romantic male-female relationships.
Carter and Stark, Carter and Jarvis is a solid platform.
S: I could however, see Carter pushing Stark toward settling down with someone who can keep up with him.
L: Now that I can definitely see.
S: Also, I’ve decided that there will be some fringe Carter-Thompson shippers.
L: Oh, inevitably.
Also, he DEFINITELY can’t be her husband. Wrong theater. [Author’s note: Of the war. They’ve stated several times that Thompson was in Iwo Jima. And we know Cap was in Europe.]
S: Oh good point!!
(As a side note, while readers will note from my previous review that I really like Sousa, I also have been playing around with the theory that, a la the Marvel comics, Peggy Carter could end up in a relationship with Gabe Jones, one of the Howling Commandos, and the (fan-speculated) grandfather of one Antoine Triplett. [That relation being further suggested by his alias “General Jones” from an episode this season. How did I not catch that until now?!] Now how would that be for interesting?)
But that discussion emerged amongst other things. We also spent considerable time talking about the style of the show, the storyline itself, the character interaction, sidetracks about vague character references in MCU movies, and, most importantly, all the things we liked about the show’s portrayal of Peggy. Peggy’s future spouse certainly wasn’t the sole focus of our conversation.
Here is where the practice becomes a problem: if speculation about the future Mr. Peggy Carter overshadows Peggy’s narrative development, her emotional growth, and the bright, bold character that she is, then we are guilty of cheapening her in favor of a romance. But is it too much to wonder about the man with whom this extraordinary woman chooses to share her life? Not in this writer’s humble opinion. And whether or not we ever ascertain the identity of the future Mr. Peggy Carter, it will in no way diminish our enjoyment of watching her kick butt and take names for the next few weeks.