S01xE01: “Pilot” & S01xE02: “Bridge and Tunnel”
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven expansive both on the big screen and small, with no signs of stopping (until 2019, at least). With Phase 2 in progress and audiences eagerly awaiting Phase 3, Agent Carter comes to the small screen as an 8-part mini-series to help unify the stories of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, with Peggy Carter, Howard Stark, the Howling Commandos and other familiar faces (I hope) to bring the narrative to life. In terms of discussion, I’ve decided to go meta and look at what this show brings to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and the importance of Peggy Carter. I am going to start with Peggy’s place in the MCU as a female hero, and move out from there as the show continues. I don’t claim to be a Marvel expert or the end-all-be-all of MCU knowledge, so please, cut me some slack. The Universe is so large and covers so much information, there are bound to be readers who know much, MUCH more about it than I do. I’m just a fan, writing about something I love, trying to wrap my head around this amazing franchise.
Spoilers Ahead, Sweetie…
Marvel’s Female Hero Defined
There is no doubt that females heroes have a strong presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For instance, Natasha Romanoff, Peggy Carter, and Jane Foster are all “normal” human beings without any superpowers, super suits, or super strength, yet all three have effectively had a hand in saving the world and defeating immeasurable odds placed against them and their superfriends. All three of these women work in male dominated professions and yet are able to infiltrate their trades because of a superb skill set, above average intelligence, a strong sense of purpose and duty and a loyalty to good above evil, regardless of the cost. For Peggy, this means working for the SSR, albeit underutilized, taken for granted and, at times, going up against authorities, all for a greater cause.
Peggy Carter’s Femaleness
Set in the 1950s, the obvious emphasis placed on femaleness by males in Agent Carter is reflective of accepted societal stereotypes of the time, and on the surface, Peggy conforms to these standards, regardless of past accomplishments. In fact, because of a false media image portraying her as Captain America’s liaison, the boys club that is the post-WWI Strategic Scientific Reserve shuns Peggy Carter. She is asked to do menial tasks, such as filing and answering phones, but, instead of silently taking on these duties, Peggy continuously questions the males in her division, even calling out Daniel, a wounded vet who defends Peggy to their male coworkers. She reminds him that she can fight her own battles and asks that he not speak for her or turn her into a gendered victim. The moment is reminiscent of the conversation she holds with Steve Rogers before he bulks up for “Project Rebirth”, when he tells her that he got into fights because if he ran away from them, he might be running for the rest of his life. Peggy cannot escape her femaleness, and so she accepts it and usesit to her advantage. She is not afraid of her sexuality or the stereotypes that surround her sex, instead using both to work toward the greater good and further her mission to help others. Peggy gleans information from a meeting above her clearance level on the pretense of bringing the “boys” fresh coffee. She uses the information to infiltrate the seller of Howard Stark’s stolen super-weapon, moments ahead of her SSR coworkers, using her femaleness to confuse and manipulate the males around her, who continue to underestimate her ability as a spy. To emphasize these warring images of Peggy Carter, the Captain America radio show is dubbed over Peggy’s fight scenes, contrasting her excellent espionage skills against her radio character “Betty Carter’s” need to continuously be saved by Captain America and reminding audiences that Marvel has no problem challenging stereotypes, even within their own universe.
In terms of Joseph’s Campbell’s monomyth, Peggy Carter’s heroic journey includes not only a call to adventure, but also a desire to eventually develop meaningful relationships with other women, during the final stage of peace and contemplation. While this may mean marriage and a family for Peggy eventually, it should also include her developing friendship with other women, including her murdered roommate Colleen and Angie, the waitress. The significance of these relationships are emphasized in easy conversations she holds with both, and the honest fondness Peggy has for them. When Colleen is murdered by the nameless fellow working for Leviathan, Peggy retreats from female friendships, refusing Angie’s offer to help her find an apartment, causing Angie to question if Peggy dislikes her. In reality, Peggy is unwilling to develop relationships with other females in order to protect those she cares about, as Jarvis puts it, to hide away from the exact people she is trying to help. It is only after a long-term plot by the Leviathan is discovered and a plan to fight this mysterious entity is laid out, that Peggy allows herself to indulge in the necessity of female friendship. It is interesting to note that a prerequisite to this friendship comes in the form of the women-only apartment complex interview Peggy must perform in order to move into Angie’s building. An older, more conservative female interrogates Peggy about her future intentions and lays out the laws of the building, which houses only the most respectable ladies in all of New York City. In order to present a desirable image, Peggy spouts the expected societal blather regarding her plans to stay at the Phone Company (her cover story) only until she finds herself a husband, earning her an approving nod and acceptance into the company of “respectable women”. The interaction reminds audiences that, while she presents an suitable mask to the outside world, in order for Peggy to develop lasting relationships, she must be her true self. While Colleen died ignorant of Peggy’s true identity, Angie and Peggy bonded over an honest and mutual need to “pay their dues” within a male dominated society, which may lend toward a more lasting and meaningful friendship, but only if Angie is privy to Peggy’s true nature.
Peggy and the MCU
So far, we know Peggy Carter is using her skills to help clear Howard Stark’s name with the Senate involving superweapons he may have created during the war. The plot point seems purposefully reminiscent of Tony Stark’s similar dealings with the senate regarding Stark Industries weaponry, down to Howard’s snarky comments at the hearing. While the Leviathan organization is not mentioned as Hydra, we know post CA:TWS that Hydra was absorbed into SSR and S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as other organizations (KGB), and so my gut reaction is that all the bad guys are somehow connected to Hydra. These episodes gave a good amount of story time to the friendship between Peggy and Captain America, and I was pleased to see Peggy showing some love to her pre-serum Steve memories. The music, cinematography and comic book aesthetic make Agent Carter an exciting and fun addition to the MCU, while a female lead in this very popular genre of television makes the show unique and groundbreaking.
Agent Carter is on ABC, Tuesdays at 8pm.