This week on Marvel’s Agent Carter, we got our first glimpse of the baby Black Widow spiderlings in the midst of their daily routine. Wake up, share stolen bread, learn English from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, (isn’t Marvel lucky it’s a Disney property) and then engage in combat to the death. Just your everyday, average little girl stuff. And with that opening sequence, we plunge into this week’s episode.
“The Iron Ceiling” was all kinds of good fun, between the re-introduction of Dum Dum Dugan and the Howling Commandos, finally learning Agent Chad Michael Murray’s tragic backstory, and Sousa discovering that “hey, those bullet wounds look surprisingly familiar…”. Not to mention that, for the first time, we see Peggy get the respect she deserves from one of the colleagues who has demeaned her efforts the most. But for today, I’d like to focus on Peggy and Dottie, and the interesting contrast between them. To do so, I want to talk a little about the motifs suggested by the inclusion of Snow White.
Snow White, as Disney’s first full length animated feature, holds a significant place in the company’s history and in the historical context of the war and postwar era, hence its use as a training tool for the young assassins. But as I did my second watch-through, I began to consider the significance of Snow White as a narrative, especially embedded in a female-centric work like Agent Carter. Snow White becomes a lens through which we can view Agent Carter’s journey, and perhaps see a nuanced feminist narrative taking shape.
Let’s start with the obvious parallels. Snow White, aside from her evil stepmother and her poor dead mother, who makes only a brief appearance, is a woman in a world full of men. Her own actions get curtailed by domestic deals with dwarves and an unfortunate choice in produce that renders her inactive for the really exciting part of the story. See where I’m going with this?
This is by no means to say that Peggy is Snow White. Though she is similarly limited, Peggy is far more autonomous, far more capable of speaking up for herself, and by no means going to allow herself to be outdone by the men in her life. Peggy is the woman we want Snow White to be: the warrior, the quick thinker. Who, then, you may ask, is the Queen in this adapted tale? That role, I would argue, is occupied by Dottie.
Dottie is almost the Peggy-gone-wrong. Where Peggy’s strength is aimed at fighting the good fight, Dottie’s strength is aimed at… well, we don’t quite know yet. For me, the most interesting scene in the episode is the one where Dottie sneaks around Peggy’s room, ostensibly looking for what she knows about Howard Stark and his technologies. But then, we get a moment where Dottie, standing in front of a mirror (symbolism, anyone?), does a spot-on and altogether quite creepy imitation of Peggy as she looks into the glass. Dottie has grown up in an environment that literally pits her against other women, eliminating the weak so that the strong can emerge. And, as her survival demonstrates, she is the metaphorical “fairest of them all”. So what does Peggy Carter represent to her? A rival, certainly, but also, perhaps, the untainted version of herself. In one of the opening scenes, Peggy sits across from Dottie and describes to her the real New York. Obviously, while Peggy doesn’t yet know the full extent of just how far from home Dottie is, she speaks as one non-New-Yorker to another. New York, she advises her, is not in the tourist traps, but in the people. Peggy has adapted where Dottie, at best, has blended.
Both women are strong because they have to be, but where Dottie has had to suppress the parts of herself that make her weak, Peggy has been allowed to flourish in her own way, flaws and all. The show is setting us up for a showdown between these two formidable women, but in the meantime, I’ll be interested to see the continued interactions between these two and how we see their parallel narratives align.