For the past seven years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been dominating popular culture. After ten films and one and a half seasons of a TV show, a few things have become apparent, but one in particular is that it’s a bit of a boy’s club.
As much as I enjoy the fun of Guardians of the Galaxy and the tight thriller that is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I–and many other superhero fans–have been waiting dutifully for a film starring one of the numerous and wonderful Marvel heroines. Unfortunately, Captain Marvel is still a distant dream and it seems that a Black Widow solo outing will never be part of the grand, intricate Marvel “plan” (and yet they can squeeze in a new Spider-Man film with no trouble?). And then along comes something nobody expected: a show spinning off the from the first Captain America movie that is A) a period piece focusing on action and drama, but without the Agents of Shield level of special effects and B) centred on a character that in lesser hands would have been a one-note love interest. Based on one of the Marvel One-Shot short films, Agent Carter follows the post-war adventures of Peggy Carter as she tries to prove herself in a male-dominated, close-minded world of espionage, while also dealing with the loss of the love of her life, Steve Rogers.
I really enjoyed the first Captain America movie, and, yes, I know I’m in a minority with that opinion. I thought it was a pulpy adventure with great action and fun characters, and had a style that suited the story it was telling. One of the highlights of the film was Hayley Atwell’s performance as Peggy Carter, with the actress bringing an air of effortless professionalism, skill and deadpan sass to the action (and also a machine gun). So, when I settled down to watch the first episode of Agent Carter, I knew I was in for a good time, but I was not quite prepared for how much.
I’m not mincing my words here when I say Agent Carter is fun, engaging, emotional and hugely entertaining. The action and fight scenes are well-done and there is some really great writing to back it up. And Atwell’s shining performance as Peggy is a flip on the usual angst-driven male protagonists that are dime a dozen in TV shows these days. She is fuelled to do good by a loss, yet afraid to let people get close to her. She is capable, but quick to fall victim to her own pride. And she needs help to cope from some trusted allies.
PEGGY IS A WOMAN WHO KICKS ARSE AND DESPAIRS AT THE SEXIST CRAP SHE HAS TO PUT UP WITH, AND ALWAYS LOOKS AMAZING WHILST DOING SO.
Peggy’s first trusted ally in this case comes in the form of James D’Arcy’s Edwin Jarvis, butler to Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark and inspiration for Tony Stark’s eventual A.I. Whilst the two attempt to find stolen technology of Stark’s, Peggy has to deal with working for an agency where she’s more likely to be sent for the lunch order than on a mission, something she deals with coolly, but also constantly chips away at her. Peggy stays at the job though, as she believes entirely that what she does is the right thing to do. She is also a character who never compromises on her gender for the sake of “strength.” Peggy is a woman who kicks arse and despairs at the sexist crap she has to put up with (the Captain America radio drama in Episode 2 was a particular comic highlight for me), and always looks amazing whilst doing so. (She even has drugged lipstick!)
We also get a really strong solid female friendship between Peggy and waitress/aspiring actress Angie (played by Lyndsy Fonseca), with the writers fleshing out the characters and their relationship with no cattiness or bitchiness in sight. Perhaps it helps that the show is run in part by two women who have successfully collaborated on crafting strong female characters before: former Law & Order: SVU producers Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas.
The final product with all these combined elements is something I can only describe as refreshing. It’s just nice to watch something that, while part of the wider Marvel universe, is very much its own thing and not tied heavily to what the next upcoming film is. In that sense, we’re just free to just enjoy it and at times it ends up being a lot more satisfying than Agents of SHIELD. Any references and links we do get just add a bit more flavour to the history of the world, (i.e. seeing the early incarnation of the Black Widow programme). Is the show perfect? Well, no show is straight off the bat. But any problems are ones that can be smoothed out in later seasons.
Aye, there’s the rub.
The future of Agent Carter is, at this point anyway, uncertain. While reviews have been positive, ratings have wavered. The old excuse that female-led superhero properties are just not as popular or successful rears its ugly head again. To which I say, well, of course, they aren’t as such if you don’t give them a fair chance. And you know what? Agent Carter deserves that chance. It deserves to grow and bring us more of these characters, especially more of Peggy bludgeoning people with the nearest object available. There are still lots of stories that can be told in this corner of the Marvel universe and it would be a shame to never get to see them through.
So, dearest reader, if you enjoyed Agent Carter as much as I did, please make it known. Tell your friends. Tell your Twitter followers. Rewatch the episodes on the ABC website and Hulu. Don’t let the Television Powers that Be ignore the love that is out there for this show.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go challenge the patriarchy in my best red lipstick.