Peggy Carter's Back (And Throwing Punches) in Agent Carter

Bob Chipman | 7 Jan 2015 12:45
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After stealing the show in Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter is back.

Probably the most surprising thing about Agent Carter is how insistently - almost defiantly it plants its feet and announces its intentions to be About Something right off the bat. While some other superhero/comic-book franchises are eager to be seen as costumed treatises on class warfare or geopolitics, the Marvel Cinematic Universe prefers to keep its heroes loosely but firmly on the side of comic-book escapism. Sure, Captain America may have spent his second movie bracing against government overreach and bringing down the surveillance state, but it wasn't as though "the problem" turned out to be some politically-specific rot in the machinery of Western capitalist-democracy. Instead, it was an Evil Computer powered by the immortal brain of a Nazi mad-scientist.

That Carter's "something" turns out to be throwing cold water into the myth of the U.S. as a bastion of joy and optimism in the immediate aftermath of World War II, specifically as it pertains to sexism and the overall experience of American women of the era? That would be unusual for any TV series, superhero-adjacent or otherwise. Period adventure yarns grounded in postwar "pulp" action-kitsch tend to be more interested in polishing the era's glossy self-image, not tearing it down.

For reference: During the war, with so much of the male population called away to fight, American women were granted previously unheard of mobility and prominence particularly in the workforce - a prominence they quickly saw yanked away from them as The Men returned from fighting and sought to reclaim not only their careers but the prewar status-quo of subservient, housebound female counterparts largely comfortable with de facto second-class citizenship. The resistance to this backwards momentum, both passive and more strident, by many women is widely recognized as the first spark of what would become the Women's Liberation and modern Feminist movements roughly a decade later.

Miss last night's two-hour premiere? It's definitely worth watching. You can catch it online on Hulu or buy it digitally on Amazon. Now, on with the review - spoilers below!

The series places Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) squarely in the midst of this milieu: A decorated soldier and respected agent fighting alongside Captain America and the Howling Commandos during WWII, she finds herself marginalized by her male colleagues at the new stateside incarnation of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, now a sort of "S.H.I.E.L.D.-beta" whose staff is mainly comprised of smug, reflexively-sexist brutes who're all too happy to treat Carter as a glorified secretary - or worse - as only even having her job because she was the (presumed dead) Captain America's "girlfriend."

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