Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’: fabulous, feminist, fearless female lead

By Jennifer Ives
Contributing Writer

Agent Margaret “Peggy” Carter was first introduced to the big screen in 2011, in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and portrayed by Hayley Atwell. Capable and confident, Atwell portrays Carter as a woman carving out a place for herself in a world that is very much built for her male counterparts.

Unlike her love interest, Steve Rogers, Carter is introduced as a woman who is already at the top of her game, trained and seasoned. She received no special serum, no training catered to preparing her, and little to no encouragement in pursuing her craft. Yet despite the deeply entrenched sexism that she encounters, Carter continues to prove her worth and ability to take anything thrown at her.

Marvel’s “Agent Carter” is set in grimy post-war New York in 1946. In the aftermath of World War II, Carter has been assigned to the Strategic Scientific Reserve, or SSR, the precursor to Marvel’s modern day SHIELD, well known as a lurking agency outside the government prevalent throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Carter must deal with being regulated to mundane office work and the sexism of her fellow agents. When inventor Howard Stark, better known as the father of Iron Man, is framed for selling weapons on the black market, Peggy must walk the fine line between clearing his name and remaining objective throughout her illicit investigations, assisted by Stark’s faithful butler, Edwin Jarvis.

The eight part miniseries “Agent Carter” is the first female-led contribution to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe since its inception in 2008, and already it has deftly handled many 1940s issues which often lose significance when they are romanticized by most period action-adventure pieces. Agent Carter acknowledges the period’s sexism, internalized misogyny, police brutality, and rapid distortion of history to appeal to the masses, all issues which still ring true today.

It even subtly references the often forgotten anti-Semitic views held by some Allies during the war, period discrimination against Italians, and the historical struggle for single working women to find respectable housing, though it has so far failed to acknowledge the overt and oppressive racism of the period.

All of this is so deftly handled that it enhances rather then detracts from the excellent screenwriting by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and Hayley Atwell’s beautifully consistent and relatable acting. Marvel’s “Agent Carter” is a refreshing, respectful, and wildly entertaining show, whether you are a long time Marvel fan or just dipping your toes in for the first time to enjoy the gorgeous historically accurate clothing.

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