Agent Carter: Awesome, but Rushed
For the last eight Tuesday nights, my world has been rocked by Agent Carter and her impressive, strong, womanly ways. At first, having only heard it by name, I wrote the show off as yet another mysterious-handsome-detective-man story. I rolled my eyes and thought “Great. Another show about some guy with a team that has guns.” But when I glimpsed Agent Peggy Carter in the previews, a refreshing wave of perspective washed over me. I was super excited to watch this series, and it does not disappoint. Agent Carter is more than just a fresh take on the secret agent team genre. Its success will hopefully prompt studios to fund many more shows featuring women as main characters who are capable, intelligent, and surprising.
The show starts off strong, showing us very clearly what kind of woman Peggy Carter is and the kinds of things she will be facing: disarming explosives, maintaining a fake identity, dealing with sexism at work, keeping secrets from her friends, and keeping her friends alive. The overarching theme is how Agent Carter handles the death of Steve Rogers (Captain America). I twinged a little when it began to look like the whole season might be about how this incredibly strong woman couldn’t let go of a guy, but the way it’s done is very pleasing. Agent Carter is a woman who is hurting, despite her awesomeness, and that has helped me see her as a real woman instead of some new ideal to live up to and hate for being so perfect.
Another surprise is the lengths to which the show goes to pass the Bechdel Test. I was ready to accept that Peggy’s work, in an office with all men, would leave no room for conversation with other women. Don’t get me wrong, they do a fantastic job with a lot of the characters regardless of gender, but there are some pretty awesome side women characters, too. With names. Even a villain whom I felt both sorry for and hated. They didn’t have to show us Peggy’s roommates, or have Jarvis talk about his wife so much, or even include any scene with the landlady of Peggy’s apartment. But they did. The landlady’s attitude especially made me smile, even as she tried to stand up to several SSR agents storming the place. There are even other women characters without names who had brief one-liners — and I don’t recall a single male character who had one.
Then there’s the fact that even though Howard Stark is heavily involved in the plot, he is absent for most of the season. I expected to see him a lot more, but was pleased when the focus was all on Peggy instead.
Despite starting out strong, however, I feel like the luster of the writing started to die out during the latest two episodes. Something is missing and it feel like they are trying to wrap it up too quickly.
**Spoiler alert starts here**
Huge dramatic build-ups were suddenly being sacrificed much sooner than I expected, and even a character was killed off, which to me signifies the end. Still, Agent Carter had already won me over and I was willing to forgive a few unpolished sequences. I waited with bated breath to see how a strong woman would act under interrogation and how her job might change once her male co-workers discovered how awesome she is.
Because I have felt that way sometimes. Felt like no one believed me or looked at me when I was doing good things, and like I only got attention when it seemed like I had messed up. I feel for Peggy, and feel strengthened by how she handles herself in the interrogation room.
The only thing that gave me pause during the finale was this: after all the work she’s done, someone walks into the office and starts giving her new boss, Jack Thompson, all the credit. And he doesn’t so much as even give her a look or an apologetic shrug. One of Peggy’s male co-workers gets upset by this and announces his intent to tell them who really should be praised. It’s touching that he believes Peggy deserves some credit, but before he can give her that, she stops him.
“I know where my value lies,” she says, explaining that she doesn’t need fame or recognition.
First of all, this made me seem like I had just gotten slapped in the face with a didactic moral. Sure, I learned a lot from watching Agent Carter, but I never thought it was trying to teach me anything. I don’t like the Aesop’s-fable-feeling that line gave to the entire season.
Second, though it was realistic because Peggy still lives in a man’s world, and we know Jack Thompson is prone to taking credit for things he should not, I felt like he should have shot her a look as he walked back to his office, even if he only accidentally catches her eye and looks guilty. Because we were shown that he is not just a sexist jerk; there is more to him than that and I wanted some acknowledgement from him that he didn’t honestly believe he deserved the credit he was getting.
Third, earlier in the season Peggy almost blew her own cover out of a desire to take the credit for cracking the case. Instead Jarvis talks her into calling it in anonymously. She clearly does care (or at least did at that point) about being acknowledged. It would have been nice to see the exact moment when she changed her mind about needing to get the credit for the things she does.
The finale made me question my own stance on acknowledgement vs. knowing my own value. A different woman might have raised a ruckus aimed at Jack Thompson and gotten her credit to feel good about herself. A different woman might have done exactly what Peggy did. But I think, perhaps, a stronger and wiser woman might have tried to secure her fame after all — not for her own sake, and not because she needed accolades, but because there are other girls watching. How many impressionable young girl’s egos would have been boosted by hearing about the valiant Agent Carter who saved the city from terrorists? Especially in the time period the show is set in. Would it have been better to poke the ego of her boss just to get the word out to them that women can be awesome too, thereby risking the respect she just earned from her male co-workers? I am not sure, and I do not know what I would have done in her place.
**End of Spoilers**
Agent Carter is a fantastic display of what real women can achieve and is extremely entertaining. However, the season suffered from premature denouement, leaving me not exactly wanting more of the show, but wanting more of similar shows. Having recently gotten into watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and loving it!) I am looking forward to its return in place of Agent Carter. But I do hope that the people behind Agent Carter take note of how to produce similar shows, and how to make them better.
Until then, Agent Carter will remain proudly displayed as a decal on my laptop. I just had to include her with the Avengers because she’s just that awesome. She reminds me every day that women are capable of so much more than we are given credit for. To paraphrase Her Story Arc contributor Devan, I hope that someday we can gush about which of our shows with a main female lead is our favorite, instead of just being excited about one.
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