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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The most important thing Agent Carter got right

Alas, our eight weeks of Agent Carter are up, and the short series tied up most of its ends with a neat bow. The finale was satisfying enough, though fairly unsurprising – my biggest qualm was that the suspense relied heavily on the danger facing Howard Stark (and anyone who has seen Iron Man, which is basically everyone watching, knows Howard has to make it out just fine).
What surprised me most, though, was what the series didn’t do. From episode one, a huge part of the buzz and speculation around Agent Carter focused on a single idea:
Who does Peggy Carter marry?
Part of me gets the speculation; we know Carter eventually gets married based on her brief appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But it’s also a huge disservice to the character. Post-war, Carter struggles in her professional life, seen by her peers as little more than Steve Rogers’ love interest. Carter was competent in the film and fulfilled a role beyond the archetypal love interest or damsel in distress, but she’s still Captain America’s girlfriend. And now that Cap is gone, what everyone looks for next is not what she’ll do or who she’ll fight, but who she’ll kiss.
I’m not sure if it was intentional, but it almost feels like the men in Carter’s office were a proxy for audience and media reaction.
It would have not only been an easy trap to fall in, but a common one. Women in films have it pretty rough, and it’s hard to imagine it’s much better on television. Only 12% of identifiable movie protagonists in 2014 were female, according to research from the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film. The few females that do show up in speaking roles are more likely to be identified by personal life-related roles, such as wife or mother, than males, who tend to be identified by work-related titles, such as doctor or executive.
Rather than moving Carter from Cap’s love interest to someone else’s love interest, the show runners and writers decided to let her be he an agent. Not a girlfriend. Not a wife. Sure, there were a few potential future suitors, but they were so minor, they could easily fall away and be completely removed if the series comes back for another season. In fact, the only male relationship that feels like it would require a mandatory wrap up or return in a second season is Carter’s relationship with Jarvis, which is rooted in professional respect rather than infatuation.
So basically, Agent Carter was entirely about Agent Carter. How crazy is that?
It’s not something we see in TV often, but by refusing to become a show about love triangles or Peggy Carter’s happily ever after, Agent Carter made its intentions remarkably clear.  As Carter says to Sousa at the episode’s close: “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t matter.”
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