I came to the Marvel Cinematic Universe late: during a two-week stretch in the summer of 2014 I watched every available title, from Iron Man to Guardians of the Galaxy. I had resisted watching the films sooner because I was never any good at watching action-adventures, I always get lost in the plot. While I’m still a little fuzzy on the exact details of those movies, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the universe itself and the characters within it. Thor was the standout for me, I promise you it’s for more (and better) reasons than Chris Hemsworth alone, but ultimately my favorite character – a highly underrated one at that – was Agent Peggy Carter.
Peggy’s is a rather cliché tale, albeit true to life; she’s a woman trying to make it in a man’s world and she’s constantly underestimated by those men even though she’s proved herself to be more than qualified. Nor is she a unique character; the badass who can kick ass while also being beautiful and feminine. Nonetheless, through some combination of dialogue, the marvelous acting and comedic timing of Hayley Atwell, and the sheer fun of watching her move through this world while maintaining the confidence and determination that she has, Peggy ends up shining through the familiar narrative to be an engaging and enjoyable character.
I was thrilled to learn that Peggy was going to get her own show! My biggest problem with the MCU is the lack of female characters, and I feel lucky to have joined the fandom when awareness and change is on the rise. I can only imagine the excitement that some women must have had after following the movies and comic books for much, much longer than I have. I did have a few reservations though, in particular about how they would address the rampant sexism of the era in which Peggy’s story takes place.
With a few exceptions – like that of superheroes being a real deal – the Marvel Universe’s history looks a lot like that of our world. Unfortunately that means that sexism was (is) also a real deal, so it can’t be ignored. My only hope was that it didn’t eclipse the story itself, or worse, be played for laughs. My uncertainty grew when the first trailer for Agent Carter was released because it was accompanied with the tagline, “Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman.” Huh? What does that even mean? I assume it was meant to make us chuckle – exactly the type of thing I had feared – but it came off as lazy and in poor taste.
I’ve also been worried about the pressure being placed on the series itself. Being that it’s the first female-led installment in the MCU people have high hopes for it. I fear that if it’s not perfect or popular enough it will be deemed as a failure for women-centered stories and that it will set some weakened precedent for future female-led MCU endeavors. It’s unfortunate that we can’t just be excited and let it be what it will be, considering that this degree of pressure is rarely placed upon a male-centric story. That’s likely because stories featuring men are still very much the norm, and so while I do understand all the hype and expectations that Agent Carter is acquiring, I hope that this too does not eclipse the story itself.
On Tuesday night when Peggy made her debut, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The premiere was so much fun! In addition to Carter’s character being a treat to watch, the set pieces were stunning, the costumes were gorgeous, and the plot – while a little fast-paced for a relative newbie like me – was more than appealing! Peggy Carter as a double agent? Yes please! My one criticism would be that while Peggy is at the center of this story, the majority of the secondary cast is men. Hopefully Angie, the waitress at the local diner who I’m already in love with, and the all female apartment building where Peggy is about to reside will help to equalize the gender ratio.
I was hooked within the first ten minutes and there’s a particular scene that really did it for me. One of the bumbling male agents makes a misogynistic remark to Peggy and a fellow Agent, Daniel Sousa, defends her. Though she’s not ungrateful for his act of solidarity, she makes it clear to Sousa that she can handle herself. I love that Peggy recognizes that she has an ally in Sousa but that it doesn’t mean she has to sacrifice her own autonomy. I am pleased that the writers didn’t allow Peggy to be dismissive or callous about Sousa’s defense, nor did they allow her to be passive in that moment. It’s only a small beat but it makes a big impact and there are a few more subtleties similar to it – like when Jarvis opens Peggy’s car door only for Peggy to open another on her own – that allow her to assert her independence without it being a big deal.
Can’t wait to see what the series has in store for us!