Marvel’s Agent Carter Sn1 Ep1 “Pilot,” Ep2 “Bridge and Tunnel”

Marvel Studios has delivered some excellent films and in my opinion one of their most successful achievements was Captain America. Taking a campy, World War II icon and bringing him into our modern world filled with irony and disillusionment in the way that they did was a huge triumph. Part of this success is due in no small part of the casting of Hayley Atwell as the fabulously written Agent Peggy Carter. Now, finally, Marvel gives her her due credit with her own series.

I believe that the best science-fiction, fantasy, and horror is that which holds up a mirror to our society while offering great entertainment. “Marvel’s Agent Carter” manages to be exceptionally entertaining, Hayley Atwell embodies the role and for all intents and purposes IS Agent Peggy Carter, a complex character who is strong, independent, capable, smart, resourceful, and relatable as human without being positioned as weak. This is both a testament to how well Atwell portrays her, and how well she is written. Too often in films a women is either capable and cold, or human and weak. Black Widow is exceptional, she is a fine tuned killing machine, yet anything regarding human emotion comes across as barely believable. I like that Peggy Carter is allowed to be real, without being penalized for anything like female characters often are.

The post-WWII setting allows for some serious discussions that are still relevant today, yet can be presented in a “safe” manner. Agent Peggy Carter, in the post-WWII atmosphere is pushed into a support role, as many women were, when the men return from the battlefield. She struggles to find her role as she looks around and realizes that she is more capable than many of those positioned in roles and valued over her. In the second episode she is even openly referred to as a “secretary” to which she brazenly corrects a major CEO, “That’s AGENT Carter.” The diminished role of women in the post-WWII American economy is also thrown in bold focus in the characters of Colleen, who loses her job in the opening moments of the “Pilot” episode, and Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca), the waitress at the diner who invites Peggy to live at her apartments wherein Peggy undergoes a tragically one-sided interview that no man would have to go through. Women are still facing these issues, so while they may seem dated, understand that for equal work the average woman still only earns $0.77 for every dollar, for equal work, earned by a male peer. Watching Agent Carter struggle to find her new identity and place in an America that is devaluing her is both heartrending and inspiring.

Agent Carter’s plight and story isn’t the only reflective one that shines a light on issues in our world. One of her potential male allies is Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) and like Agent Carter is a veteran of WWII. In 1946, the Oscar winner for Best Picture was the amazing and one of a kind picture “The Best Years of Our Lives.” A film like this, which openly depicted the grievous injuries and the mental/emotional trauma returning soldiers often dealt with, would not be seen again. After “The Best Years of Our Lives” the reality of WWII was covered up in John Wayne type bravado where people bloodlessly and heroically died, yet the survivors fabulously won the day and marched on singing as the credits rolled. This film captured the stark realities of wounded soldiers, ones with lost limbs and fractured psyches. Sousa, like Carter is openly mocked due to his lost limb and perceived less value. Yet, like Agent Carter, Agent Sousa begins to show as the two episodes progress that he has as much value as any other agent in the SSR offices. In our modern world groups like the Wounded Warrior Project have to exist because of the poor way in which our government actually takes care of those who put their lives, bodies, and minds on the line to fight for. Agent Sousa moves across the screen reminding us that our men and women are still here, wounded or not, and should never be cast aside or de-valued.

I was surprised by the storyline of “Marvel’s Agent Carter.” I sat down to expecting to watch one plot unfold, only to see a different one develop. A maligned Agent Carter takes to the shadows, aided by Jarvis (James D’Arcy) to help recover tech stolen from Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and prove his innocence for treason. Her peers in the SSR, convinced of Stark’s guilt, set out to prove it and bring him in to face justice. Agent Carter finds her opinions maligned, she is contacted by Stark and helps him out in secrecy. I found that this idea of her mission, operating in secrecy, maintaining a shadow position within a greater government organization, to be more in position with my expectations of what I thought an agency like SHIELD should be in a more realistic story like presented in earlier films like “Iron Man,” “Thor,” and the Hulk films. In those early films the role SHIELD had was more like a shadow agency operating in secrecy below the radar, as opposed to how it became openly known later on driving around in large vehicles with SHIELD emblems prominently placed on all doors and hoods. “Marvel’s Agent Carter” feels true as an origin story to the SHIELD agency, without “just” being another origin story.

“Marvel’s Agent Carter” has a great old-school feel to it, comparable to the earlier James Bond films like “Dr. No” and “Thunderball.” None of Agent Carter’s gadgets are too techy to feel out of time or place. Like the Howling Commando gadgets used in recent episodes of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” Agent Peggy Carter’s wristwatch, lipstick and VitaRay detector feel right at home, which they should since she ran with the Howling Commandos. But, more than anything, this is the story of Agent Carter rediscovering herself and her role. After losing Captain Steve Rogers in such a tragic manner, losing her position after the end of the war, her status, and all other loss she is a woman searching for meaning. These two episodes are a perfect companion and compliment each other in this message. Jarvis brings great humor and sentiment to the script and while resourceful clearly knows he is out of his league, yet eager to help.

“Marvel’s Agent of Carter” succeeds because it respects its title character in every way. It presents us with a well-rounded character who is believable and fantastic. The show uses the post-WWII time and place to analyze real issues and takes them as the launching point for great story and conflict. Familiar characters are back and new faces fill the screen with interesting new quirks. Characters, even when being irritating and foolish, act according to their time, place, and situation. There are no excuses given, “well it’s just how it was,” no preaching, but story and great characters who move us through these elements forcing us to confront these issues organically. Most of all the show is fun. Agent Carter is brazen, intelligent, and character that can take care of herself. She uses others prejudices against them to her advantage. She makes mistakes. She is a great role model for anyone and it is time for a real female superhero to grace our screens. I also find it emboldening that the first one, from Marvel or DC, to get her own show is one without super powers.


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