I don’t want there to be an Agent Carter TV series.
You see when I first saw Captain America: The First Avenger I quite liked it. I didn’t think it was one of the best superhero movies that I’d ever seen but I left the theater happy with the overall product and excited for what would come next.
One of the things I liked most about the movie was Peggy Carter. I thought she was just the right amount of tough, determined, sympathetic and slightly bumbling.Even though her role really was mostly that of the obligatory eye candy/’no-our-superhero-isn’t-gay-see-he likes-this-lady’/a prelude to Sharon Carter, I liked her. I really liked that she was also part of the Strategic Scientific Reserve and thus was working closely with the army.
What I especially liked about her was that she occasionally had to do some fighting, and that she wasn’t extraordinary at it! She was just good. There is a trope called the Exceptional Woman or Exceptional Woman Syndrome, where at least one female (sometimes its Exceptional Women as you’ll see in a minute) character in an action or political setting is AWESOME AND THE BEST and the rest are nonexistent, while only men get to be there and be average. (One good example of this trope can be found in Star Wars where Leia is the only important woman in the whole first series and she’s shown as being much smarter and more capable than most of the men.) In most of the past superhero movies the female characters usually fell onto the categories of either A) not a gun user but very strong through intelligence, heart, courage, etc. or B) THEY KNOW HOW TO FIGHT AND WHOO-WHEE THEY’RE THE BEST AT IT. Look at Natasha/Black Widow. Look at most of the action girls in any action movie; there’s usually just one and that one girl is considered to be one of the all-time best in that stories’ universe, while there are many male characters who are allowed to just be competent. What I loved about Peggy was that she didn’t fit into that trope. She had two fight scenes where she was firing her gun at enemies and that was it. She didn’t come with Steve on his mission to find Bucky and the other soldiers because she knew that it was way, way beyond her capability to help him. She wasn’t recruited to join the Howling Commandos because she wasn’t in their league. Peggy was the woman who’d avoided becoming The Exceptional Woman. I found that so refreshing that I actually considered going to see the movie again in theaters so I could enjoy her scenes and her competent-but-not-extraordinary-skills all over again.
What I did instead of that was look up various interviews with Hayley Atwell regarding the role. One of the first ones I found she made a comment that kind of threw me off. I’m paraphrasing as I can’t remember her exact words but she said that Peggy was nearly as capable of saving Steve as he was of saving her. I thought it was odd that she said that but I shrugged it off and assumed it was for marketing reasons to attract more women. I went on through a couple other interviews of hers, liking a lot of what she said but also frustrated by some of the other comments she made. One thing she said was that Peggy ‘doesn’t really need to be rescued’ and all I could think in response to that was ‘Well yeah she doesn’t go on any very dangerous missions that require her to be rescued, otherwise she definitely would’, not because she’s a woman, but because she’s not the Exceptional Woman and thus isn’t the strongest person in or assisting the army after Captain America, the Howling Commandos and Chester Phillips.
I became very disappointed by just how much Peggy’s capabilities were being talked up behind the scenes. To me her character was no longer the beautifully competent Strategic Scientific Reserve Officer but a faux action girl version of the exceptional woman. I felt cheated. I liked Natasha as the extraordinary woman fighter, I knew Maria Hill and Sharon Carter would be coming in as great woman fighters and I liked the idea of Peggy being the one that was just good, it made her more relatable. Even the official character power grids listed Peggy as having a 3 or 4 in fighting skills while the above three mentioned (especially Natasha) each had scores a good deal higher. What was wrong with Peggy just being average but also brave, intelligent and determined? Because that didn’t make her ‘worthy’ of Captain America’s affection? Because Steve is now some arrogant God-like figure that couldn’t possibly be attracted to anything less than the Exceptional Woman, and thus Peggy had to be made out to be one so she could be his trophy girl?
I was kind of angry by that point because not only was that cheapening Peggy as a character but Steve as well. Never mind that in the comics Steve has dated quite a few girls who were neither gunman nor the Exceptional Woman in their respective career paths. When I eventually watched Captain America again I couldn’t enjoy any of Peggy’s scenes or her moments with Steve anymore. She had been gutted of what made her so appealing to me to begin with.
I recently got to see the Agent Carter one-shot and I liked it. That was the Peggy that I had liked from the beginning; one who was brave and willing to take a risk taking on a mission that would require a bit of luck and careful planning in order for her to pull it off because she didn’t have the strength to do it otherwise. She was able to surprise and take out Zodiac’s gunmen. She got what she came to get, was nearly killed by Zodiac (who has the average strength of a full grown man) but was able to defeat him thanks to her conveniently located trunk of tools.
Seeing her succeed through competence and luck made me so happy; but then I got pissed all over again when I heard they wanted to make a series around her. I get that empowering a woman in that time period is a bit different from empowering a woman in the present day but still there are plenty of other,better and more skilled comic book candidates to make a TV series about. Off the top of my head: Jacqueline Falsworth, Madeline Joyce, Mary Mitchell, Elizabeth Barstow, Betsy Ross, and Mary Morgan are all women from that time period in the comics who have some form of combat skills and bonusthey all have superhero identities! Or don’t go the superhero route and let us get to know Tony’s mother Maria, Nick Fury Jr’s. mother Nia or Agent Cynthia Glass. I would watch the hell out of a show starring any of them, but not one with Peggy. She was the progressive woman in that she got to be a love interest and kick ass with a gun as an AVERAGE Agent.
I wish Hayley and the rest had just sold her exactly as she was, instead of talking her abilities up. I wish they’d said ‘She’s not some one woman fighting platoon the way Black Widow was in Iron Man 2. She’s by no means one of the best at her job but she is good. She works hard, has good aim and is willing to take some big risks for the greater good’.
Because that should have been enough.