What makes a great TV show? Is it the characters you root for or love to hate? Is it the setting that makes it all the more intriguing? Is it the plots that makes you beg for more? Or is it simply all of the above? With Marvel’s Agent Carter, it’s really all of the above.
In the modern era of superheroes, the media supporting them are everywhere, and it’s sometimes hard to break the mold and deliver something special. For Marvel, that “something special” is a little thing called Agent Carter. A show set before the “age of heroes” we now see in the films, it’s mix of great setting, characters, and plot make it truly something amazing to watch. With its second season premiere happening a few days back, I thought it appropriate to take a step back and note why I love Agent Carter.
1. It’s Proof That Marvel Listens To Its Fans
Though incredibly popular now, the comic book history of one Peggy Carter isn’t as deep as you might think. When she was created, she was seen via flashbacks in the Captain America comics. Yes, she was his supporting character and eventual love interest, but there honestly wasn’t too much to her aside from the fact she was a resistance fighter and would later be the sister/aunt/grandmother (depending the time period) of Captain America’s modern day love interest Sharon Carter, who is still his main love interest to this day.
That all changed when she made her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Captain America: The First Avenger. Here, she wasn’t just a resistance fighter, she was a member of the US military, and she wasn’t just some random love interest. She was a skilled fighter, a tough woman, and a lady with a very pure heart and set of beliefs.
Played by the amazing Hayley Atwell, her performance wowed fans so much that they began to ask for more of her. Sure enough, she got a “Marvel One Shot” in the Iron Man 3 DVD release. After the success of the short, she would appear in several other MCU films, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and even Ant-Man, as she was a founding member of SHIELD. To make it all the sweeter, she got her own leading role in her own show, Agent Carter. Not bad for a character who was originally nothing more than a throwaway of sorts. However, all of this was because fans said they wanted more Peggy Carter, and Marvel said, “OK.”
2. It’s Not A Superhero Show
It’s easy to say that Agent Carter and Agents of SHIELD are essentially the same show but with different time periods. The truth is that’s not the case at all. Both shows are incredibly different in tone and purpose, not to mention plot. Agents of SHIELD is about an organization in the midst of a world filled with superheroes and supervillains, ones that can arrive out of almost anywhere and have to be dealt with. That’s of course on top of numerous other spy and superpowered organizations.
With Agent Carter though, the focus isn’t on the powers, but the people. The first season of Agent Carter was truly about gadgets more than anything else. As someone stole Howard Stark’s (father of Tony) “bad babies” or inventions so deadly they would be disastrous in the wrong hands. With Howard believed to be a traitor, he had to turn to the two people he trusted the most to save him and the world: Peggy Carter; and his butler Jarvis.
Just that paragraph alone shows the difference in my eyes. Yes, there are people in Agent Carter with “enhanced” or nearly superhuman abilities, but these can all be attributed to training and skill, not superpowers. Whereas SHIELD literally deals with powers on an almost daily basis, especially in seasons 2 and 3. With Agent Carter, that’s not the case, and that’s perfectly fine. The villains are just as compelling, and deadly, without the powers.
3. Time Period Allows For Lights To Be Shined On Issues Thought Forgotten
If Agent Carter should be commended for something, it’s that they’re afraid to show what the 40’s, and even subsequent decades if we’re being honest, were like for some people. For Peggy Carter, it’s the fact she was “a woman in a man’s world.” Yes, she was a war hero, and a decorated soldier in many ways. But the moment she was stateside? Desk duty. Getting coffee. Not seen as anything but her gender. I read an interview with the show’s writers, and they noted how they actually toned down the chauvinism presented. To show it in true fullness of the period would make it seem unbelievable. Those who lived then would know otherwise.
Even with the “toned down” nature of the subject matter, it was hard not to be outraged for what Peggy, and even other women, had to go through in the series. Peggy was constantly berated and treated like a lesser human all because she was female, while males who were clearly incompetent, or not nearly as skilled as she was, were praised for their “work,” simply because they were male. While this may seem like a negative, it’s not because it gave Peggy fuel to show up her oppressors in the SSR (the Strategic Scientific Reserve), and it made us cheer for her all the more.
My favorite instance of this was when the investigation led the SSR to needing to go overseas to interrogate a prisoner. The chief of the SSR wouldn’t let his lead agent go alone. Peggy wanted to join him as she speaks numerous languages. Naturally, the chief refused, but when she said she could bring the Howling Commandos to help her and the other agent, the boss joked that if she could really do that, she could go. Two minutes later, she had their confirmation, and the coordinates where they would meet them. Go Peggy.
That’s just scratching the surface of all the tough topics the show addresses that are still relevant today. Chauvinism still exists, as does racism (which was shown in full on the Season 02 premiere), inequality, and bullying. Agent Carter never shies away from addressing these topics because to do so would be a disservice to what happened in those times.
4. Characters Major And Minor Have Stories To Tell
With ensemble casts, there’s always a danger of a character, or characters, getting lost in the shuffle, or just being fluff or filler, a character to serve a purpose or goal. With Agent Carter, there are very few characters like that. In fact, from Peggy, to Jarvis, to Howard Stark, to the other agents at the SSR and beyond, many of the characters had arcs that were very well told in the eight episodes of the first season. Every character was precious, which made watching them grow all the more satisfying.
Peggy I’ll get to later. For Jarvis, it was the journey of a man who had done things both good and bad, being asked to do even more good and bad things in the name of helping his employer. Yet you could see with every lie and deception, it was affecting him. This led to him and Peggy having a very strong friendship, one that endured into the second season.
There was Peggy’s roommate Angie, who dreamed of being an actress, but was told by her family and others that would never happen. As the season went on, she wondered if she would ever make her dream come true. Then, in a key moment, her acting skills saved Peggy from being captured, which inspired her to keep her dream alive.
The SSR had plenty of storylines. From the handicapped Sousa who also was trying to gain respect and solve a mystery of his own, to the “prized employee” Jack Thompson who was trying to live up to his own reputation. There was also Chief Dooley, who was struggling to balance his home and personal life to his professional one. It was all great material, and not all of it ended like you would have expected. When a show gives that much attention to nearly every character, that’s awesome. Yes, there were still throwaway characters. You need them to a degree, but the vast majority of the cast were very well made.
5. Hayley Atwell Is Amazing As Peggy Carter
I could seriously have made this piece “5 Reasons I Love Peggy Carter” because this character is that amazing, but that wouldn’t be possible if the woman portraying her wasn’t equally as amazing. The way Hayley Atwell shows off the numerous layers of Peggy Carter is incredible. Honestly, she deserves an award for her role.
I noted one of the key arcs of Peggy above in that she’s “a woman in a man’s world.” But more than that, she’s still recovering from the loss of Steve Rogers, a man whom she truly loved for all the right reasons. Throughout the first season, you see the weight of that loss on her shoulders. It affects how she acts to people, and how she composes herself. The only time she really lowers her guard is when she’s either exhausted, or she’s with someone who understands the loss she went through because they knew Steve Rogers.
It was that dichotomy of personality by Atwell that really sold her character. She was a woman in grieving, as well as a woman who wanted to prove she was as good, if not better, than every man in front of her. That’s hard to pull off, yet Hayley Atwell did so magnificently. It was because of her that Peggy Carter became an iconic character in the films and TV shows, and it’s because of her that she now has a show in its second season.
Shows are made and broken on numerous levels. Sometimes its the writing that’s weak, or the actors and actresses who just don’t give the characters any flavor. Or the whole thing just doesn’t work. With Agent Carter, a rare blend of good writing, sharp plot, and great characters offers a truly fun experience. If you haven’t watched this show, get on board. It’s worth the watch.