Agent Carter Season 2: Feminism and Women’s Choice

Happy International Women’s Day! What better to celebrate than by discussing awesome female characters?

It’s been a week since Agent Carter wrapped Season 2. While Agent Carter’s second season garnered both applause and criticism from fans, there were certain discrepancies in the fandom reactions that I found a little surprising.

Namely, reactions to Peggy’s origin story in 2×04 “Smoke and Mirrors,” Ana Jarvis’s fate and character reactions to it in 2×08-09, “The Edge of Mystery” and “A Little Song and Dance”, and the general love triangles seen throughout this season in the form of Jason/Peggy/Sousa and Peggy/Sousa/Violet. A lot of the negative reactions had to do with how… not-so-feminist the writing choices were perceived to be, for a show that claims to be so.

I gave this some immense thought, and I think there is an alternative way at looking at these plot choices that does fall in line with the feminist aims of the show. Namely, the fact that these all come down to a question of choice for the characters.

Choice is the key word here. Because the conversation about feminism should always be about choice, making sure all women and men of all types can choose the lives they want and have access to the resources that would make it possible with enough work.

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Image: Peggy says “Now, I go to work,” hair tossing behind her as she gets in vehicle. Source.

The following contains spoilers for Agent Carter Season 2

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5 Ways Agent Carter Matches Up to Indiana Jones (And 5 Ways It’s Better)

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In honor of the Agent Carter Season 2 finale, let’s see how Peggy matches up to the legendary Indiana Jones. Can this modern action series stand up to a classic?

HOW THEY MATCH UP

Action/Adventure

Probably the easiest similarity to spot about these two is the genre. Indiana Jones and Agent Carter both center around a typical action-adventure concept: keep the powerful object out of the wrong hands. They also pack in quite a lot of exciting, well-executed action fare: car chases, explosions, air fights, gun fights, fist fights, the whole shebang, without going too much for the gore factor, which makes them such crowd pleasers.

Brains and Brawn

Indy and Peggy are both action stars, so of course they know how to give a beat down. They may not have gracefully lethal moves like a lot of modern action fare, but they know how to throw their weight (and others’  weight) around, and use anything at their disposal. At the same time, however, they are both noted for their intelligence, which is crucial in the field. Indy has a doctorate after all, and can figure out a historically-based clue without much trouble. And Peggy, even before getting trained as a spy, was a skilled code breaker for the Allies.  They’re also adept at disguising themselves while on a mission, which takes good thinking on the fly (Though Indy’s Scottish accent could use some work).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiZ8D9akdV4

Double Lives

It could be said that Indy and Peggy are so good at disguises because they basically disguise themselves in everyday life. Both are multifaceted characters in that their world sees one side of them, while the audience and trusted team members see another side.

After witnessing the man navigate dangerous booby traps in an ancient temple to steal a golden idol, Indy’s civilian identity of Dr. Henry Jones Jr., a boring (but attractive), bespectacled professor at Princeton, is intended to come as a surprise to the audience. But the moment he dons the fedora, leather jacket, and whip, he’s a completely different person.

Peggy, as introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger, is a tough-as-nails SSR agent who shines in the heat of battle during World War II. So upon picking up the series in New York after the war is over, it is disheartening to see her pretend to the world to be a telephone operator, and reduced to secretary within the SSR itself because she is a woman.

Watching both characters play with these double lives is a part of what makes them memorable, and makes those characters who see them as they really are all the more valuable.

Period Pieces

Part of the intrigue of Indiana Jones and Agent Carter is that they are set in a specific time frame. The original three Indiana Jones films take place in the years leading up to World War II, while Agent Carter takes place soon after the war. Not only does it give both a similar aesthetic in terms of costumes and tech which appeals to the nostalgia factor, but also allows them to deal with the worldwide effects of this huge event in world history, whether by preventing threats or dealing with the aftermath.

Humor

I love a good one-liner, and Indiana Jones and Agent Carter both have tons of them! Personal favorites:

 

  • Indiana Jones: “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” (Raiders)
  • Indiana: Do we need a monkey?
    Marion: I’m surprised at you. Talking that way about our baby. He’s got your looks, too.
    Indiana: And your brains.
  • Henry Jones: [accidentally shoots their own plane with the machine gun]
    Indiana Jones: Dad, are we hit?”
    Henry Jones: “More or less. Son, I’m sorry… They got us.” (Last Crusade)
  • Peggy Carter: [Cuffed to the table in the interrogation room] Mr. Jarvis, how would you feel if we smashed that mirror with this table?
    Edwin Jarvis: I would feel splendid about it.
  • Daniel: This is a bad plan.
    Jarvis: It’s a horrible plan.
    Peggy: It’s a solid plan.
  • Peggy: How are you now?
    Sousa: I still want to kill Thompson, but no more than usual.
  • Mr Jones: I didn’t know our government had such good taste in secretaries. What’s your name darling?
    Peggy: [deadpan] Agent.

HOW AGENT CARTER IS BETTER
Strong Nuanced Characters (and Hey, Look, There Are Women!)

Agent Carter, as a TV series, already allows more room for character depth than Indiana Jones. Not that Indiana Jones doesn’t have some great character development – just compare Indy in Raiders to Indy in Last Crusade, plus all the father-son stuff in the latter.

But even accounting for length of time, the characters of Agent Carter are just so striking, breaking boundaries on many levels. Of course, a big selling point for this series is the women. I’ll be addressing Peggy herself later, but let’s look at some f the other women in this series:

  • Dottie Underwood, who seems like a sweet girl, but is not as guileless as she appears.
  • Ana Jarvis, a Hungarian Jew living in America who totally gets the need for a gun holster under one’s skirt
  • Rose, who may wear glasses and floral patterns, but can bring the heat just as well as Peggy
  • Whitney Frost – delicate starlet? Not so much. When her facade cracks, it cracks horrifically, and makes for a truly fascinating antagonist.

While Indiana had some strong female costars, Agent Carter deserves extra props for the strong female representation. But the male characters get some great diversity and development too:

  • Daniel Sousa, a handicapped vet who starts the series as just a nice guy, but proves his keen intellect and ability to lead, an equal with Peggy in the field. His injury does not define him, but it causes him to find creative solutions and value those he trusts.
  •  Jack Thompson may seem like just another misogynist jerk. To a degree, he is. But it is so, so hard to figure out whose side he’s on or what he ‘s going to do next. And thankfully, he is never set up as love interest to Peggy
  • Jason Wilkes was an ordinary physicist (albeit one used to being looked down upon), until put in a unique position that endangered his life. This conflict gives him a chance to really show his smarts, but also pushes him to the point of desperation, causing him to make choices that make him neither villain nor victim.

Actually managed to pull off Sci-Fi in a cool and intelligent way

Remember when Indiana Jones attempted to tackle sci-fi elements?

Did you want to remember?

After three films focusing on supernatural elements, Indy 4 tried to pay homage to 50s sci-fi with a story of crystal skulls and aliens. And honestly, I think it could have worked. But the film didn’t quite manage to pull off the concept convincingly. Agent Carter, on the other hand, deals with sci-fi level crazy on weekly basis. Of course, maybe it’s the lack of aliens, maybe it’s the already established connection with the pseudo science of the Marvelverse. But let me put it this way:

When Indy handled a nuclear test, it went for the expected: Indy hides in a refrigerator and survives (despite that the fridge probably should have been flattened). It is then quickly forgotten as Indy goes on his way.

But when Agent Carter handled a nuclear test in Season 2, it went for the unexpected: instead of exploding mushroom-cloud style, the bomb implodes and produces an alien substance dubbed zero matter, capable of swallowing anything in its wake. This substance becomes the heart of the rest of the season, and the implications of it are almost more devastating than a nuclear bomb! Hard to beat that.
Marvel-Ish

Related to the above, Peggy, having come from Captain America: The First Avenger along with Howard Stark (Iron Man’s father), has ties to the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe. It thus gets to play with some cool comic book elements. Again, it’s not as if Indiana Jones wasn’t known for things beyond the norm, and some would say the deeper connection to mythology made the Indy films more epic. But there’s a particular reason people love Marvel movies, and Agent Carter captures quite a bit of it. What other show set in the 1940s gets to play with stuff like miniature implosion bombs, emotion manipulating gas, and zero matter without blinking an eye? It also gets to hint at future developments in the Marvelverse, but since it takes place before the majority of those events, you don’t have to see every single Marvel movie to understand what’s going on, and the show can go on its own tangents, to a certain extent.
All the Feels

While Indiana Jones had some great emotional moments (particularly, for me, between father and son in Last Crusade), for the most part these were fast-paced, action-packed films with little time to get really emotional. Plus, nobody wanted to shatter the idea of Indiana Jones being a super tough guy by having him get too moved by emotions, and it works for Indy.
But Agent Carter is more comfortable with emotionally devastating its audience by giving the characters some truly gut-wrenching scenes. It isn’t that Peggy or her colleagues are any more apt to show emotion than Indy. But they are allowed to go to some deep, dark places emotionally —  when these characters are honest, or angry, or sad, they are brutally so.
Peggy Herself

Just… I mean … look at her!

I’m not saying Margaret Carter is better than Dr. Henry Jones Jr. as a character. I love them both, and Indy is such an icon.

But Peggy is a force in her own right, and the show deserves to be viewed for that alone.

She is tough, yet she is gentle. She is brave and knows her value. She is kind and sticks up for others. She knows how to manipulate emotion within the field, but has trouble dealing with her own in real life. She has high standards, but for no one more than herself. And she kicks serious butt. In heels! She’s a complex lady with flaws and fortitude , and she deserves to have her greatness witnesses more!

Peggy deserves to be as iconic as Indiana. Let’s give her a shot at doing so and rally for another season!

Agent Peggy Carter & Sarah Jane Smith: So Awesome They Got Their Own Show (Pt. 2)

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Last week, we started exploring the similarities between Marvel’s Peggy Carter and Doctor Who‘s Sarah Jane Smith, in terms of their roles as supporting and leading ladies.

This week, I’d like to continue this exploration by going into what makes these characters tick. What is it that we love about these characters so much? I confess, it is hard to put into words (and even harder to find evidence in video or gif form). But finally, I think these words best sum it up: 

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Maria, there are two types of people in the world. Those who panic, and then there’s us. – Sarah Jane Smith, “Invasion of the Bane.”

 And then there’s Peggy Carter and Sarah Jane Smith. Bold and intrepid, they face danger unflinchingly, doing what must be done to save others. Where others may panic, they stay calm and figure a way of the situation. This, ultimately, is what makes them valuable both as supporting characters and as leads.

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Agent Peggy Carter & Sarah Jane Smith: So Awesome They Got Their Own Show (Pt. 1)

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So yes – I, like many others last week, have jumped on the Agent Carter bandwagon. Captain America: The First Avenger, I’m not ashamed to admit, is my favorite film of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe (though Avengers and the first Iron Man are very close seconds). But, much as I love Steve Rogers (and I do, I really do), his leading lady Peggy Carter is a big part of why I loved that film.Though I don’t like that Peggy is the only substantive female role in the film, I can overlook that due to the depth of the role she is given.

Agent Peggy Carter is a direct, no nonsense, unflinching woman in a man’s job, who constantly proves she is just as, if not more, capable. Rising from her mere love interest status in the comics, Peggy’s character stood out so much to fans and to creators that she has not only appeared in a number of Marvel companion works, but is now the center of her own mini-spinoff.

Which is so awesome! She is so far the only female character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have her perspective as the central narrative**. Steve Rogers might be Peggy’s inspiration and the story’s jumping-off point, but Agent Carter truly is Peggy’s story.

Y’know who’s another awesome female character who went from a supporting role to starring in her own series?

Sarah Jane Smith is acknowledged by much of the Doctor Who fandom to be the most iconic and beloved of the Doctor’s companions (friends who travel with him through time and space, for all you non-Whovians out there). A strong-willed feminist journalist, she appeared on the long-running series from 1973-1976, and was intended to break from the typical female companion of the time, who often screamed at the sight of danger. Though she still acted as the Watson to the Doctor’s Sherlock, she was confident and courageous, and often held her own in bad situations. After leaving the show, she reappeared in an anniversary episode or two, but not much that furthered her story…

…That is until 2006, when the character was brought back for an episode of the rebooted Doctor Who (as the showrunner had been a fan of her character as a child). Viewers appreciated her reappearance so much that she was soon given a spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which was aimed towards a slightly younger audience.

In her spinoff, Sarah Jane becomes the leader of a group of children, using brains instead of brawn to deal with alien threats. Is it childish? A little. There are less developed stories, some gross-out jokes, hammy aliens. But Sarah Jane kept it grounded, always making the stories believable, and causing a new generation of children to fall in love with her. 

Just what is special about these two ladies that caused them to break out from supporting roles to lead their own stories? Perhaps in seeing what they have in common, we can pinpoint that touch of star quality. Though their stories are rather different, we can see a number of parallels in their personalities, initial roles, and later development. Here is part one of our exploration into these two characters.

(SPOILERS for both Captain America films, Agent Carter 1×01-1×02, Doctor Who, and Sarah Jane Adventures)

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