Welcome back to our Agent Carter reviews!
Since we had a week of hiatus (boo) and also a special feature last Monday, this week we’ll be talking about the episode that aired two weeks ago, “Time and Tide”. (Spoilers for the episode below the cut!)
This week I’d like to examine a theme that occurred to me as I was writing my first draft of this piece. Originally, I planned to divide this review into two sections: one about Jarvis and his character revelations, and the other about Peggy and her battle with injustice. But as I was looking over my notes and thinking about the two, I realized that this episode isn’t just about Peggy’s battle with injustice. In fact, Jarvis’s story too, is a battle with injustice in a way, as are a myriad of other small moments in the episode. So today, we’re going to take a look at prejudice and injustice in the world of Agent Carter.
The most obvious example is clearly Peggy herself, but we’ll return to that in a moment. First, I want to identify a few scattered moments through the episode. The first occurs at the breakfast table, as Peggy’s neighbor, Molly, is ousted for her indiscretion. The ever-watchful eye of
Big Brother Ms. Fry catches her unladylike conduct and forces her out of her apartment, no questions asked. The second, a moment quickly snatched up and giffed mutliple times, occurs when Krzeminski calls out Sousa’s attraction to Carter, and then follows it up with what might be the worst (and most inaccurate) line of the episode: “No girl’s gonna trade in a red, white, and blue shield for an aluminum crutch.” The third occurs during Jarvis’s interrogation. The moment his dishonorable discharge is brought up, the entire atmosphere of the room changes.
In all of these scenes, we see explicit or implicit prejudice at work. For Molly, her freedom is inhibited by the strict social mores of the time, which condemn her for making her own decisions about her right to engage in a relationship. For Sousa, he becomes an object of ridicule and scorn for his disability, even one brought about in a manner that demonstrates his commitment to his country. For Jarvis, the prejudice is two-fold: Thompson degrades him because of his service record, the “dishonorable” on paper weighing more than Jarvis’s actual reasons for leaving the military; and naturally, there is also the anti-Semitic undertone of society’s prizing of a military record over Jarvis’s perfectly honorable and admirable decision to save his wife from a horrific situation.
All of these prejudices underlie the blatant issues of sexism that are directly combated in the show. The scene in which Peggy gets chewed out by her boss for her interference with the interrogation is thoroughly cringe-inducing to watch. As viewers, we have the advantage of knowing Dooley’s irrationality for what it is and of recognizing Agent Carter’s actions as heroic. But it can never be too far from our minds that these prejudices on screen are grounded in reality and in a system that perpetuates injustice. Late in the episode, when Carter and Jarvis have discovered the cache of Stark’s technology, Peggy firmly demands that she be the one to call it in, to validate her actions in the eyes of her co-workers and gain their respects. Which Jarvis swiftly counters with the voice of reality: that no matter what Peggy does, it won’t change anything. Her calling it in will only cast suspicion on her or somehow get twisted so that she gets none of the credit. Peggy Carter is a smart, capable, driven woman — and yet she has no ability to force her co-workers to recognize that under the stifling influence of societal norms.
It seems a bleak way to look at our hero, but I want to end on a note of hope. In the final scene, after Peggy has processed the news of Krzeminski’s death, she takes a moment to talk to Angie about how she feels about it. She admits that, though she didn’t like Krzeminski, he was good at his job. His death is still a loss. And this is what I like about Peggy. She doesn’t idealize him in death. Krzeminski doesn’t suddenly become a good person because of unfortunate circumstances. But she also allows herself to acknowledge what he did well and value him for it. In this final moment, Peggy refuses to conform to the black and white thinking that produces the prejudices that surround her.