I’m not going to lie: I’ve been over the moon about Agent Carter since it was officially announced by Marvel. The Captain America films are my favorite MCU installments, so I was eager to see a continuation of the story with Peggy at the helm. The premise promised three things I love: the Captain America universe, early Cold War era spies, and a female narrative.
I was not let down at all. Not in the slightest.
There’s a lot that I loved about the first two episodes of Agent Carter, but one of my favorite things, by far, was the fact that it addressed the sexism of the 1940s without falling into the common trap of actually becoming sexist.
A lot of this is because we’re experiencing the story told through Peggy, which shifts the focus through a female-centered lens as opposed to the typical male-centric one. This shift allows Peggy to take control of her agency as a character. She’s not a perky sidekick to a male protagonist; she’s not a forlorn love interest; she’s not another in a long line of two-dimensional “strong female characters.”
From the beginning of the first episode, it’s clear that Peggy isn’t out to prove herself to her male coworkers (as as well intentioned Sousa is, she doesn’t need male coworkers championing her cause, which would undermine her further). She’s irked by their misogynistic comments (and has subtle digs on the tip of her tongue), but she’s fine letting her coworkers underestimate her and her femininity as long as that means she’s free to operate and complete missions on her own terms, away from an overbearing male presence.
Unlike other female narratives in man-dominated fields, Peggy doesn’t need sacrifice her femininity in order to succeed; instead, she embraces it as an asset, simply another tool in her spy arsenal. She seamlessly incorporates traditionally feminine items and situations into her spy work: she uses the excuse of making coffee to get herself into a meeting, disguises herself with a blonde wig and a low cut dress, knocks a guy out with her lipstick (while also making a premature ejaculation joke), pretends she’s looking at Steve’s old file for sentimental reasons while also grabbing another item to use out the box, uses an outfit from one of Howard Stark’s sex fantasies as another disguise, picks a lock with her brooch, uses her stove as an extra weapon in a fight, and (my favorite) diffuses a bomb with household cleaning supplies and a perfume bottle. Even better, she doesn’t back down from her femininity for the sake of making men comfortable (for instance, when she uses “ladies’ things” to be excused from work).
Underneath all of Peggy’s femininity, though, is a very finely concealed anger that is poised to break through at any instance (we see this in the first Captain America movie when Peggy decks Hodge and also when she fires a gun at Steve). Her fighting style isn’t the graceful and acrobatic agility of Natasha Romanoff or Melinda May, who both use the momentum of their opponents against them. Peggy is absolutely brutal in comparison. She bulldozes in, barreling into her opponent full-stop and using every and an item in her reach: guns, knives, stove burners, briefcases, staplers. She’s absolutely unapologetic, and it’s definitely a sight to behold, especially in her quieter moments of rage like threatening a guy in the diner with a fork because of his misogynistic behavior towards Angie.
Even though Peggy is one of few women who has a secure job in man-dominated field, she doesn’t lord her specific set of privileges above other women; she welcomes the companionship (even when her job forces her to push them away). Peggy and Colleen’s relationship echoes, in a way, Steve and Natasha’s friendship in the first part of The Winter Soldier — Colleen chiding Peggy about dating and Peggy giving orders. She and Rose, the telephone operator who is in direct contact with the SSR office, seem to be on a friendly basis with each other (I would actually love to see this explored more in a later episode). I really enjoyed the protectiveness and playfulness of Peggy’s friendship with Angie, and I can’t wait to see Peggy interact not only with her new neighbors, as well as her landlady, in the upcoming episodes.
The most notable relationship that Peggy develops throughout the course of the show is her working relationship turned friendship with Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis.
First off, Jarvis himself is a wonderful character. He isn’t traditionally masculine, but he also isn’t coded as gay (his major concerns besides butting his way into aiding Peggy are making soufflés and washing the linens for his wife). He wants to help Peggy (and is very insistent in offering his help), but he doesn’t want her job or claim that he can do it better than she can. He’s there to challenge and support Peggy, not as a rival or a love interest, but as a friend (side note: I love how much of Peggy’s interaction with men isn’t laced with romantic undertones, with the possible exception of Sousa, who might develop into a love interest?).
This friendship, cemented in the scene at the end of episode two where Jarvis is giving Peggy a pep talk very similar to the one Peggy gave Steve before he decided to do something more with his Captain America persona, is such a positive one as we see Peggy begin to transform into her own version of the Captain America legend (albeit on a deeply personal, very private level). Jarvis gives Peggy a very safe outlet to discuss her private life that she can’t disclose with her coworkers or her other friends. From the earliest moments of the show, it’s clear that Peggy’s grief and her past relationships don't define her, but, in her moments with Jarvis, they don't become cast aside or minimized; they become shared.
Perhaps my favorite scene across both episodes was one of Peggy’s fight scenes which brilliantly paralleled a fictional fight during the Captain America Adventure Hour, the in-universe radio show. Bookended by her fictional counterpart’s entreaties of “If only Captain America were here to rescue me!” and “Captain America, what would I ever do without you?”, it really sunk in: Peggy Carter can do everything Captain America did, except backwards and in high heels.
Overall, the first two episodes of Agent Carter were everything that I could have hoped for and so much more! I feel neglectful in my analysis that I didn’t discuss the actors, but Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy are wonderful and I can’t wait to see more of them as well as Enver Gjokaj and Lyndsy Fonseca in future episodes (also woah Chad Michael Murray). I also really appreciate that so many people who worked on the Captain America films are also writing/directing episodes. I really really loved the premiere, and I can’t wait to see how Peggy’s story unfolds!