S01xE05: The Iron Ceiling
This week, Agent Carter addresses the value of women and the power they wield, even in a society which doesn’t fully acknowledge that they possess it. While sneaking across the “Iron Curtain” is easy for Peggy, breaking the “glass ceiling” at the SSR isn’t as simple. Gender limits Peggy to “suitable” office work and is a means of discrimination and abuse at the whims of her coworkers. For Peggy to succeed at the SSR, she must not only excel at her job, but also gain the support and acceptance of her male coworkers.
Spoilers Ahead, Sweetie…
Peggy and the “Boys’ Club”
Even though she can translate code better than the resident SSR codebreaker, the team traveling to Russia initially don’t want Peggy to accompany them. Thompson flings sexist slurs at her, stating, “This isn’t a knitting circle” and he doesn’t want to have to “babysit her”. He also engages in a continuous barrage of sexual innuendo that ends with Thompson identifying Peggy as a mother figure he doesn’t want or need, inflicting extreme female stereotypes suit his purposes at the moment. The discrimination is hyperbolic and somewhat illogical until Dooley calls Thompson on the “crush” he harbours for Peggy. If Thompson indeed does hold sexualized feelings toward Peggy, this adds another layer of inappropriateness to their working relationship, as his hostility to her is uncomfortable and unnecessary. While Peggy may have the skill set necessary to perform on the battlefield, the sexist attitudes within the SSR cause her to “hit the glass ceiling”, a term understood to identify the invisible barrier that prevents women from moving up the corporate hierarchy.
In other words, Peggy isn’t discouraged from going to Russia with the tactical team because she doesn’t have the skills, she is discouraged to go because she is a woman.
Agent Dooley is only convinced to allow Peggy to go on the mission with Thompson after she is able to guarantee the Howling Commandos will meet them in Russia to assist. She utilizes her connections and the respected voices of the 107th to get on the tactical team and accomplish her goals. While the Howling Commandos are considered superheroes, to Peggy, they are comrades and friends. She has fought beside them and they value not only her tactical skills but her bravery and loyalty. In fact, when Thompson and the SSR agents arrive in Russia to meet the 107th, the friendship and respect the Commandoes have for Peggy is evident and probably unnerving for Thompson. He seems to have spent much of his time with Peggy belittling her, berating her and doubting her. To have Dum Dum Doogan, a man Thompson respects, give such great respect to Peggy Carter must be confusing and strange. The 107th defers to Peggy, even though Thompson is supposed to be in charge, because the relationship between Peggy and Doogan is based in mutual trust and they have no doubt of her capabilities.
It is only after a life-or-death firefight, during which Peggy helps Thompson escape, that the other SSR agent begins to recognize Peggy’s value in spite of her female-ness. He shares with her his darkest secret–that he killed surrendering soldiers during the war and earned a medal for it– and allows Peggy some of the glory of a win in the field when they arrive home. With a new appreciation for her abilities and the capability to view her as an equal, Thompson goes back to the SSR office with the intention of integrating Peggy into the “boys’ club”. By adding Thompson’s voice of support instead of abuse to those of the 107th, Peggy may just be able to shatter the glass ceiling of this American secret agency.
Child Villains and the Black Widow Program
For the girls in the Black Widow Program, female-ness is not a hindrance but a requirement that is exploited and manipulated. This episode opens on dozens of girls training to fight and kill. They watch and recite Disney movies in a school-like setting, prisoners of the Russian government. These girls are handcuffed to their beds at night and brainwashed to be deep cover spies. There are no boys in this facility, only pretty little blondes, such as Dottie, who look sweet but are, in fact, deadly assassins. There is no “glass ceiling” for these young women because, in reality, the are not even considered “other” by society, they are considered to be weapons.
In social psychology and archetypal studies, the female child is malleable, representing renewal and rebirth or, inversely, destruction and vengeance. The exploration of the child assassins in the Black Widow Program is both exciting and terrifying. It seems Leviathan has created this black op specifically to infiltrate American soil. Dottie is the shadow force opposite of Peggy, capable, skilled and violent, brainwashed and trained to murder indiscriminately. Peggy, on the other hand, continues to shift in characterization, learning from her mistakes and adjusting loyalties according to her own moral code (pretty much the same as Captain America’s).
Peggy and the MCU
We know the Leviathan are a Russian anti-ally force, that they are killing people for Stark’s weapons. Peggy is pissed at Stark and Jarvis, and it seems she might be finished with them for good (I hope not). Daniel Sousa has discovered the identity of the blonde in the photograph and previews for the next episode indicate Peggy will soon be on the run. Luckily, Dooley is beginning to doubt Howard Stark’s guilt and is turning out to be the type of man who is willing to admit his misgivings in order to get to the truth. Peggy and Thompson brought back a Russian scientist from the Leviathan prison, which may lead to the government creating really shitty weapons out of Stark’s inventions.
There are only two episodes left! We want to make sure this show gets renewed for a second season, so tune in and live tweet #AgentCarter with me @nerdwrldprblms Tuesdays at 8pm West Coast time.
Agent Carter is on ABC, Tuesdays at 8pm.