AGENT CARTER Debriefing: The Lady Hero we’ve all been waiting for

Courtesy ABC

I’ve got a confession to make.

I’m not really into the whole superhero zeitgeist of late.

I’ve seen a couple of the Marvel movies, sure. (Definitely at least one Iron Man, and I think one of the Captain America films, too.) I watched the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot last year and liked it enough, but never managed to keep up with it beyond the first few episodes. I’ve come across gifs from Arrow and Guardians of the Galaxy on Tumblr from time to time. They all seem very entertaining, but they just aren’t the first thing I think of when I want some distraction.

So when they announced Agent Carter picked up to series, I was intrigued, because I was curious about how they were going to adapt Hayley Atwell’s role for the small screen.

Then I saw the trailer, and I was hooked.

Feisty women holding their own in a sexist workplace? Check. Said women being secret double agents trying to prove a friend’s innocence? Check. Proving they are more competent than any of their co-workers and gaining some fans along the way? Check. Gorgeous period sets to recreate 1946 New York? Check.

Needless to say, the Agent Carter premiere was highly anticipated, and it absolutely lived up to the hype.

And here is why we all need a little more Peggy Carter in our lives.

If you’re looking for a detailed play-by-play of tonight’s two-hour series premiere, you’re going to have to head elsewhere. I’ll admit up front that the details of the plot of the first two episodes that aired tonight escaped me, because there was so much going on and I’m definitely going to need a second viewing to catch it all.

What’s important, though, is this: isn’t it about time we got another (literal) kick-ass female protagonist on our screens? They are few and far between, and if Agent Carter proves one thing, it’s that women can fight crime just as compellingly as their male counterparts.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

From the start, Peggy Carter (Atwell) takes no prisoners. Despite being an agent at the Strategic Scientific Reserve, she’s treated like a secretary by all of her colleagues, save for Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj). But she’s no damsel in distress: she lets the pigs know she won’t stand for their misogyny, and tells Sousa, perhaps overly harshly, that she doesn’t want him to fight her battles when he tries to stick up for her in front of the guys, including their boss Jack Thompson (One Tree Hill’s Chad Michael Murray, proving he’s pretty much typecast as a douchebag no matter what era he’s portraying). Agent Carter is no shrinking violet, and there’s no doubt she can tell the “boys” where exactly they can stick their filing. (And I definitely cheered her on for it.)

What’s so interesting to me is that despite the fantastical elements typical of the genre, Agent Carter is trying to, at least tangentially, touch upon the harsh realities postwar women faced in their careers. Once vital members of the workforce while men were off fighting for their lives and freedom, they were unceremoniously expected to vacate those positions just as quickly when the boys came home, and Peggy Carter is an unfortunate victim of this. Add in a dash of grief at the loss of her best guy Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, and Peggy’s feeling mighty frustrated about where she stands right now.

Enter entrepreneurial playboy and presumed traitor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) of Stark Industries, an old friend who calls upon her, in an unconventional way, to help clear his name. His secret weapons have been stolen, but he’s accused of selling them on the black market instead, and he implores Peggy to help him prove he didn’t do it — which would, in turn, put her neck on the line. She protests half-heartedly, but Peggy is plucky, and above all else, as we learn, wants to help others, so she agrees, and almost immediately becomes embroiled in homicidal exploits and nefarious plots of all kinds.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

What follows is a delicious cat-and-mouse game between Peggy and her colleagues, who have no idea (yet) that she is the mystery woman who is always one step ahead of them and seems to know their every move. (Because they don’t know they’re feeding intel to their apparent foe right under their noses.) She plays nice and abuses their sexist sensibilities by claiming “lady problems” to get out of work, but when they aren’t looking she’s eavesdropping on conversations they assume she doesn’t understand (because, women), sneaking into desks to retrieve incriminating photos and archives to retrieve secret devices that will help her locate Stark’s molecular nitramine they’re all after.

Peggy cannot contain her disdain for the status quo, so she defiantly shatters it. Much of the first episode plays out like a 1940s version of Alias, complete with blonde wigs, sexy seductions to fool hapless criminals, dance scenes to escape pursuers, glowing balls of chemical weapons that can destroy the world, more kicks and punches than a Tae-Bo infomercial and an unfortunate assassination of a beloved roommate. (Spoiler alert?) Peggy Carter doesn’t have time for anyone’s crap, and she definitely doesn’t have time for your prescribed societal norms. The show may be set seventy years ago, but it’s thoroughly modern in its approach to women’s capabilities.

What I particularly enjoyed so far, other than a female hero kicking butt and taking names, is that Peggy’s abilities are decidedly down to earth so far. Yes, it might be unbelievable that a woman of Atwell’s stature can take down men who are easily a foot taller and twice her size, but there’s no doubting that she worked damned hard for those karate chops of hers. There is no magical glowy device in her chest keeping her alive, while a suit flies her around the world to take bad guys out, nor is she turned into a superhuman fighting machine due to a military accident. (That’s at least sort of how those movies went, right?) She’s an everyday woman who’s risen beyond her station to go toe-to-toe with her peers, and has far surpassed them in every way — physically, intellectually and emotionally. Sure, she could rightfully complain about the disrespect, but instead she shows them all what she can do, even if she can’t, you know, tell them it’s her. (Lest she end up behind bars herself.) She’s not here to break the rules; she’s here to set them.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Rounding out the show is a very capable supporting cast giving Peggy a number of foils to bounce off of. First is Stark’s butler Jarvis (James D’Arcy), who’s as English as they come, and is unaware that the world of espionage sometimes dictates unusual bedtimes. Yet, he’s bitten by the spy bug, and after saving the world once with Peggy, suddenly the service industry isn’t quite as fulfilling. D’Arcy and Atwell play off each other so wonderfully; Jarvis and Peggy are English comrades in arms, and his stoicism contrasts nicely to her gumption. Sousa’s kind demeanor and apparent good nature are obviously laying the groundwork for some romantic tension between him and Peggy, but the Captain America-sized elephant in the room will undoubtedly cause some roadblocks. Thompson and Agent Ray Krzeminski (Kyle Bornheimer) are unapologetic jerks, but one has to believe they’ll catch onto Peggy’s double life at some point. And Lyndsy Fonseca as diner waitress-turned-new-neighbor Angie will hopefully bring a little more fun into Peggy’s life — after all, nothing seals the bonds of friendship like threatening to kill a nasty customer for the other.

(As an aside: did anyone else get weirdly nostalgic at seeing One Life To Live’s original Jessica Buchanan, Erin Torpey, as the radio actor in episode two?)

As if all the Girl Power isn’t enough, the world of Agent Carter is visually stunning. The show has paid as much attention to detail as is possible in a fictionalized Hollywood production to the era it is depicting, and I for one am eating it all up. Not unlike this fall’s Gotham on FOX, Carter’s sets take on a life of their own, and the entire series feels decidedly cinematic. I actually wonder if they will be able to keep up that level of production value all season long, because I imagine it must be costing the network a pretty penny to keep up to the standards of its big-screen brethren. As someone who loves the “golden era” of Hollywood movies, seeing all the period costumes and old cars in the scenes only heightens my enjoyment, because I feel like I’m completely immersed in the world they’re selling me. Sure, they take liberties — Green Suit’s Typewriter O’ Microwaves is the original text messaging device — but I appreciate that they at least pay lip service to the era by incorporating the fictional technologies into period-appropriate devices. It might all be eye candy, but it doesn’t mean I’m not easily swayed.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

It goes without saying that I’m on board for next week. I can’t wait to see what happens: what was up with Jarvis’ telling Howard (presumably) that Peggy didn’t suspect anything? Will Sousa figure out Peggy is their culprit after tracking down who owned the key he found at the scene of the last nitramine explosion? Will Thompson catch on that Peggy really is his greatest asset — and his greatest foe, too? Which Big Bad is going to come after them next? I could go on and on, and I’m excited.

Agent Carter is the show I’ve been waiting for all season (or even years) that I never knew I always wanted. I’m so pleased that we get a female superhero as a lead character in her own series — especially because what makes her super is her intelligence, which is a power that is apparently rare, indeed.

What did you think of Agent Carter? Does it live up to the Marvel name, or is it much ado about nothing?

Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

5 Responses to AGENT CARTER Debriefing: The Lady Hero we’ve all been waiting for

  1. Cassidy says:

    I can’t wait to watch this! I *loved* Peggy Carter on her Captain America movie and I like the time period — the pics I’ve seen make it look gorgeous.

    So your piece (and the general positivity) makes me want to see it even more! 🙂

    • Nels Nels says:

      Aw, I hope you get to watch it soon! I was surprised by how much I liked it. I haven’t been this excited by a new show in a long time.

      • Cassidy says:

        I ended up watching it a couple of hours later. I loooooove her and the show has so much potential… I totally understand why you’re excited! 🙂

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