In Defense of Peggy Carter – American Badass
Season two of Marvel’s Agent Carter recently wrapped up and the future if the show is uncertain. This, to me, is a goddamn Greek tragedy. Sure, the show is great, but if I were a network exec, I’d renew it in a heartbeat on the strength of its main character alone. To my mind, we have not seen nearly enough of her and it would be a shame to cut her off before we’ve seen all she can do. Peggy represents a gold standard of Strong Female Characters, a term I wish we didn’t need, but until there are more Peggy’s in the world, it’s a necessary evil. She is smart, strong, skilled, and not at all sentimental. Even though she’s British, she kicks ass for the U.S. government and that makes her an American Badass.
It’s not just that Carter can hang with the boys, it’s that she’s better than a lot of them, and better than almost all of them give her credit for. In season 2, there’s a very telling line about her character through the observation of her by others. In a flashback to an unseen moment from season 1, just after Stark instructs Jarvis to assist Peggy, Jarvis tells his wife about Mr. Stark’s “new associate.” Ana Jarvis looks disappointed when she learns this person is a woman, but Jarvis is quick to correct her assumption, saying “This one’s different. I think he respects her.” Howard Stark may have a lot of less-than-desirable qualities, but he doesn’t suffer fools and he knows well enough to surround himself with smart, capable people. It takes a formidable character to earn his respect and such a character can be found at the heart of Agent Carter. Likewise, Peggy earns the grudging respect of her colleagues at the SSR. Even the biggest sexists, namely Chief Dooley and Agent Jack Thompson, come to admit she is a vital part of solving the case by the end of season. By season 2, Thompson eventually finds enough sense to take orders from her (sometimes literally). It’s not that Peggy needs the approval of these men, but we often learn a lot about a character through the reactions of others and you won’t find anyone with a bad thing to say about Agent Carter.
Likely, Peggy has earned respect by showing one of her most admirable traits: independence. She doesn’t depend on anyone to do anything she can’t do. One of my favorite things about the show is that it has never once put Peggy in the “damsel in distress” role. She may sometimes rely on help from a team or a partner, but it is never because of some sort of inherent weakness on her part. When she is locked in the back of a moving truck with Jarvis, she’s the one who busts a superheated wire out of her belt to melt through the lock and get them both to safety. That’s just one of a hundred ways she is shown to be resourceful and independent.
When you compare her position in the SSR at the beginning of the first season to how far she’s risen by the end of the second, where she started becomes downright laughable, given her formidable managerial skills. Although capable of working quite well independently, she’s not foolish enough to ignore the resources at her disposal. Like any good, team leader, she makes the most of what she has and often uses tools and people that are overlooked by others. In season 2, unable to trust all but her closest allies, she recruited Rose and Dr. Samberly to her team, two players previously relegated to the bench because few recognized their talents. In a tight spot, she even resorted to getting Russian spy Dottie Underwood to play for Team Carter, citing a common enemy and a mutually beneficial relationship. Carter doesn’t just work well with a team, she runs the whole damn show. She also demonstrates her managerial abilities in her excellent decision-making. Jason Wilkes holds Peggy hostage, forcing Sousa to tell him where the uranium is, because he can’t be sure Peggy would give up important information for sentimental reasons. And Peggy is an excellent problem-solver. When presented with a choice between two unattractive options, she always thinks of a third, unexpected solution. If no desirable third option can be found, she’s always ready to put herself in harm’s way so that someone else won’t have to be because it’s her job. She’s responsible and treats her duties as an SSR officer as paramount to anything else, including her personal feelings.
In addition to a sharp mind and an passion for duty, Peggy uses her body to her advantage in all the most positive ways. For starters, she’s a hell of a fighter. There’s not a weapon she can’t handle and not a hand-to-hand fight she can’t hold her own in. She may not always be stronger than her opponent, but she is always smarter. She knows how to use her size, strengths, and skills to her advantage against any opponent. She’s not super-powered, she’s capable in a believable way. You can tell she’s spent hours training to learn as many skills as she could, because she’s smart enough to know that many times she’ll face an opponent who has a physical advantage. And when brute force isn’t the right solution, there are other ways to use her physicality. In Peggy’s time, most men think of women in a certain way; as less capable and confined only to certain roles. She is smart enough to use this perception of her gender to take advantage of anyone foolish enough to underestimate her. If you took the time to count the number of instances in which she used her feminine wiles to get one over on some poor sap and gain access to highly protected secrets, you’d be spending a lot of time doing so. And yet, while she may make men think they have a shot with her in order to gain some advantage over them, she’s never lowered herself to sleeping with a man just to get what she wants.
There are plenty of good reasons to renew this show aside from its lead, but our desire to spend more time with her is the strongest one. Put simply, Agent Carter is just fun to watch. It’s always entertaining to see her out-think, out-fight, and out-perform her contemporaries, especially in a setting when such things were thought impossible for women. It would be criminal to cut such a phenomenal series so short, just when it was getting so good. The relationship between Peggy and Jarvis has become a true friendship. The chemistry between her and Sousa is just heating up. We’re finally getting a window into her captivating backstory. Don’t make us give up our hero, one of the best female characters and role models on television, just when, like Sousa, we’re beginning to learn how much we truly love her.