based on Captain America: The First Avenger
2015 • 8 episodes • ABC
Do I really need to tell you Agent Carter is amazing?
I kind of feel weird reviewing it, to be honest. Part of it is its obvious awesomeness to everyone I come in contact with on a regular day. Part of it is that it feels so long ago. Okay, it’s only been a month, but that’s like a year in fandom time. (I mean, the first blush of Sherlock fandom feels like another decade entirely.) And part of that is because Agent Carter is the closest thing to an original television show I’ve decided to review for the blog, being based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe instead of a specific comic, and that makes me a little nervous. Like everything that makes me nervous, that’s preposterous—it’s not as if I’m reading the Sailor Moon manga to give the anime series greater context…yet.
One of the greatest things about Agent Carter that has gone mostly unremarked upon in favor of analyzing its intensely rich feminist content and its fumbled racial content is that it feels like a throwback to great eighties team-up television series like Remington Steele and The Scarecrow and Mrs. King. This is why I really wish I had more experience with television series in that vein to better ground Agent Carter in that tradition. It’s tempting to see the show as an outlier—after all, it’s a female-led show coming from a movie studio that won’t debut its first female-led film until 2018, a decade after its first feature was released—but I’m always more interested in finding unexpected contexts. Alas that I do not have that experience. Still, in a television landscape dominated by cable television, sitcoms, procedurals, and, of course, the cultural ascendency of Marvel that made this show even possible, it’s just honestly refreshing to see a show on a major American television network that values espionage, women, and banter in equal measure. Perhaps there’s something to be recommended about a limited run.
But Agent Carter’s most ferocious highs come from the show being determinedly and vocally feminist, using its period setting (so often used to reinforce the idea that sexism is a thing of the past) to explore the complexities of battling against, negotiating with, and just plain living in a sexist patriarchy. While Peggy is more than prepared to use the blind spots sexism provides to investigate Howard Stark’s missing inventions, it still cuts her to the bone. When she and Jarvis (Edwin Jarvis, that is, Howard’s butler and the forerunner of JARVIS the AI and, therefore, the Vision—oh, Paul Bettany, you thought you got out of going to the gym for the Marvel movies, eh?) discover a stockpile of Howard’s inventions, she’s forced to call it into the Strategic Scientific Reserve. Even as Peggy acknowledges the fact that it’s the only way to avoid questioning, her face just falls and then clenches shut.
What makes Agent Carter’s constant exploration and awareness of sexism work, however, is that Peggy is not a lone wolf against cartoonishly sexist buffoons. Peggy chooses to live an isolated lifestyle (after her roommate is murdered in the pilot episode), but she lands at the Griffith Hotel, an all-female boarding house, at the recommendation of her friend Angie Martinelli. Try as she might to minimize any fallout, Peggy is still part of a circle of women who keep an eye out for her. (A scene where the ladies of the Griffith all cop to stealing copious amounts of food with increasing ingenuity sent me right back to my days at Agnes.) Angie demands to be a part of Peggy’s life, and the rewards are palpable. The men she works alongside with in the Strategic Scientific Reserve are good, complicated men, who are, nonetheless, sexist. They get character arcs, solid, entertaining character beats, and stunning vintage ties. Even Daniel Souza (who I guess Peggy can marry if she won’t have me, fine), a kindhearted veteran whose missing leg means that he faces plenty of prejudice on his own, still puts Peggy up on a pedestal instead of seeing her as a well-rounded person.
And on top of all of that, there’s the pure joy of seeing the always astonishing Hayley Atwell simply slay as Peggy Carter, be it impeccably underselling witty banter or beating the everloving daylights out of grown men. (Atwell’s endearing Twitter feed often features her apologizing to stunt men and their bruised genitalia.) Atwell’s ownership over Peggy is almost as iconic as Robert Downey Jr.’s ownership over Tony Stark—if not more, as Atwell’s Peggy was largely invented for the screen. She’s engaging, sharp, fascinating, and, frankly, human in a way that recalls and builds on the remarkable humanity of Steve Rogers. She is simply a force of nature.
All of which is to say—ABC, renew this show. The DVD sales are going to be epic.
I watched this show on Hulu Plus.