Marvel’s espionage show defies gender roles

Photo courtesy of ABC Studios

Captain America’s (Chris Evans) heroic decision to sacrifice himself during 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, as he reminds his girlfriend Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) about their upcoming date, opens ABC’s new show Agent Carter. From the writers of the Captain America franchise, the nostalgic journey set in post-World War II New York follows Peggy Carter as an agent of the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve) jumping into thrilling adventures full of deception and action.

Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, Need for Speed), a revolutionary inventor in all matters of science, sees his deadly inventions, turning up in the hands of enemies of the United States. The U.S. government promptly labels him a traitor, so Stark jets off into the dark to hide away from capture. Before he leaves, he recruits Agent Carter to secretly retrieve his inventions and clear his name. However, it is clear from the get-go that this retrieval is not a simple affair and that Stark may have ulterior motives.

While the SSR is searching for Stark and his inventions, leaving Agent Carter at HQ to watch the telephones and stay out of the way, Carter slips away. She, along with the help of Stark’s butler, Jarvis (James D’Arcy, Those Who Kill), gains new enemies and finds Stark’s inventions with the use of disguises, strong fighting skills and her intelligence.

From previous Marvel productions, such as 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we gather that Carter leads the Howling Commandos in fights against the villainous HYDRA during the war. The persona created for Carter is that of an agent more qualified than any of her male counterparts, and is carried on throughout the show. The show juxtaposes Carter’s personality as an assertive, willing and unabashed women with her perceived character as a meek, lady-like and modest female.

There have been four episodes so far with half of the season left, and in an official capacity we have only seen her take phone calls, lunch orders and act as a secretary for all the other agents in the SSR; she is greatly underutilized until Stark shows up.

It is striking that the characters that see Carter as an equal are the more distinctive ones. Jarvis, the quirky British butler; Stark, the Jewish scientist labeled traitor; and Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj, Dollhouse), another agent who is also at the bottom of the food chain at SSR after losing a leg in the war.

As they have lived slightly apart from the rest of society, they value Carter because of her strengths, as they know that it is not weakness that defines a person. On the other hand, while Carter’s enemies take big blows to their egos after being on the losing end of a stapler, or her fist, they never again underestimate her.

The more respected and superior characters are all puzzled by Carter’s diligence in working at the SSR; at this time, most women who worked during the war returned home or only continued working until marriage. The society, personified by Carter’s strict apartment matron, deems it unladylike to work long hours or to advance in the work place. Viewers can already see that much of the thrust of Agent Carter is about Carter changing everyone’s minds, and it will be fascinating to watch her in action.

The show does have its humor, with Carter’s front as an unassuming lady slipping away at some moments of injustice, including a moment where the agent threatens a diner customer with a fork after watching him belittle her waitress friend, Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca, Nikita). Not to mention, Angie is not afraid to speak her mind, which leads to many of the show’s lightest and most fun moments.

Agent Carter showcases Carter’s personal journey of lost love, unexpected friendships, demeaning job duties and life in an authoritarian all-female apartment building. All while showcasing her fearless expedition to stop Stark’s inventions from reaching the wrong hands, and persistence in finding the truth.

Agent Carter has the potential for a most interesting season fraught with perilous clashes against ill meaning characters, close calls with the Madam who runs her apartment building and so much more. So far, the show has given us an intriguing story line and a rare glimpse into the struggle of women in the workplace in the 40s; the series has a fighting chance to continue past this season, and viewers should look forward to watching the show establish itself and grow.

Our Take: 4/5