Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Peggy Carter in Marvel’s One-Shot Agent Carter

The first time we get a glimpse of post war Peggy Carter is in the short film Agent Carter, which was part of the Marvel One Shot series. One year after Steve Rogers death - which is shown via flashbacks - Agent Peggy Carter is still working with the Strategic Scientific Reserve but a lot has changed since the war ended. Gone are the female dominated offices of war time, Peggy Carter is the only woman to be seen. Agent Carter is over looked and patronised by her male co-workers especially her boss Agent John Flynn but she’s not getting pushed out without a fight. When a call comes in while the boys club are out for a drink Agent Carter takes the mission her self.

This short film, released with Iron Man 3 is basically a really short pilot for the Agent Carter television series and it says so much about what Peggy is going to face in those upcoming stories. In Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy is in a position of power. Sure she’s still battling sexism and she’s clearly had to break a lot of boundaries to get to get to where she is. But when the war ended most of the women in the workforce were ejected to make room for the men returning from the front. It’s a testament to Peggy Carter’s character that she’s still there one year later because this short film makes it obvious that Peggy is the only woman around.

Agent John Flynn, is one of the men that is determined to put Peggy down. He’s clearly not happy that he has to make space for her at all, belittling her by calling her names like “darling” and asking if she’s being kept busy like she’s a child that needs to be entertained. When Peggy asks why she hasn’t been sent on assignment in the two months she’s been there Agent Flynn responds: “relax, wars over we’ll handle the rough stuff.” Later, as the men in the office head out for a drink, instead of inviting Peggy they give her more paper work and proceed to turn the light off as they leave the building, like they’ve completely forgotten Peggy was there.

Except that’s what makes Peggy so amazing. She has to deal with all the misogyny she encounters and it holds her back but she also uses it to her advantage. Those men just walked out leaving Peggy alone with the emergency phone that hands out orders to Agents because no doubt it never would have crossed their mind that she would take a mission on her own. She can answer a phone, maybe break a few codes but she’s not a real agent. Peggy continues to use those misogynist assumptions to her advantage throughout the mission to retrieve the Zodiac. None of the men she encounters perceive her as a threat which gives her a huge advantage in combat. Of course it doesn’t hurt that she’s obviously a trained fighter but the fact that she can walk right up to them without encountering any resistance definitely helps. 

Just as she’s about to retrieve the Zodiac, Peggy is attacked from behind by a man that is almost twice her size. She fights back, but he quickly over powers her reminding the audience that although Peggy is incredibly skilled she is still at a disadvantage due to her size. But Peggy is more than just brute strength, which means she’s probably had to figure out a way to out smart or out manoeuvre men that are bigger and stronger than her. And she does just that by reaching for a weapon she knows is close by rather than trying to simply overpower her attacker. Peggy is very aware of her own limitations and she’s clearly figured out how to work around them, unlike that big buff monster of a dude who’s probably just used to sitting on people until the pass out. 

Peggy Carter doesn’t try to deny her femininity, she wants to be accepted and she wants to be respected but she’s not going to change who she is to do that. Her hair is perfect and her make-up is always on point. She uses her femininity as a weapon, to draw men in, to allow them to underestimate her and even literally when she pulls out her compact mirror and uses it to spy around a corner. Most girls keep a spy arsenal in their handbag, so I don’t know why the whole intelligence community isn’t run by women. 

Throughout this short film Peggy is obviously affected by her relationship with Steve Rogers. The film opens with a flashback to her and Steve’s final conversation and she keeps his picture in her draw at work. Steve’s influence can also be seen in her costuming, she is dressed in red and blue reminding the audience of her connection to Captain America. At both her lowest and highest point, she looks at Steve’s picture for comfort making it obvious that Steve’s life and death had an important impact on the person Peggy Carter is and no doubt who she will become. Unfortunately her relationship with Steve is not just a source of comfort and courage. It’s also another excuse for her male colleagues to dismiss her. She’s Captain America’s girlfriend and that’s a label she’s going to be fighting for the rest of her life. 

When Peggy returns to work the day after successfully completing the mission to retrieve the Zodiac she is confronted by her boss Agent Flynn, who is not at all happy about Peggy’s insubordination. At first the conversation seems justified, Agent Carter did break the protocols - she didn’t attempt to report in or get the proper authorisation, and those protocols are there for a reason. Breaking the rules usually results in some kind of punishment, even if the mission was successful - it’s pretty dangerous for anyone to go out on their own. But the conversation soon takes a turn that reveals Flynn’s true feelings on the matter. 

Flynn refers to Peggy as Captain America’s old flame and suggests that the only reason she is there is because she was grieving and they wanted her to feel useful. While Peggy has a great comeback - “If they wanted to make me feel useful, they wouldn’t have made me work with you” - she’s clearly upset by Flynn’s words and why wouldn’t she be? Imagine working your whole life, pushing through glass ceiling after glass ceiling only to have your success attributed to the boy you made out with one time (or more, IDK what happens in the war stays in the war). At the same time Peggy doesn’t want to dismiss the impact Steve had on her life, especially while she’s still grieving him. 

Luckily Peggy Carter won the respect of more than one powerful man during the war so Agent Flynn’s misogynist reprimanding is cut short by Howard Stark. Stark makes Agent Flynn tell Peggy that she’s being called away and that she’s going to head up SHIELD with Stark and Colonel Phillips. This is a nice little end to the short story, and certainly feels good to see Flynn bite his words but it also says that the only way for Peggy to get any kind of recognition from her male colleagues is if she’s validated by another powerful male. Flynn only says nice things to Peggy because Howard told him too, and remember that Stark has his own brand of misogyny as shown in the mid-credits clip where he and Dum Dum Dugan are oogling two women in bikinis. 

Marvel’s One-Shot Agent Carter sets up the horribly unfair post-war world that Peggy Carter is going to be forced to fight against throughout the upcoming Agent Carter television series. Poor Peggy is essentially fighting two wars, one against the ever growing supernatural threats and one against her own colleagues and friends. It really isn’t easy being Peggy Carter but that just makes her all the more magnificent.