“Agent Carter” — Will Men Watch It?

“Agent Carter” — Will Men Watch It?

The premiere of the long-anticipated “Agent Carter” was on ABC Tuesday, January 6. To say everyone involved with “Agent Carter” is in the hot seat would be an understatement. Writers, directors, producers, casting, costuming, marketing, personal assistants, catering… let’s just call them “The Crew.”

In 2014 a lightning rod was attached to the word feminism. Now everyone is under the microscope for how women are represented in media. Bloggers must have been bent, quivering in anticipation, over their keyboards to let everyone know how the “Agent Carter” Crew failed. (I haven’t read any reviews yet. I’m saving that for desert.)

Overall, I thought the premiere was quite good. There were some plot holes and minor gender issues, but above all, you can tell it was developed with respect and awareness.

Agent Peggy Carter is the lone female agent assigned to the New York Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) office. In post-WWII America the attitude toward gender roles has boomeranged: men returning from war are going back to work and the women are encouraged to return to more ‘feminine’ responsibilities. Although a highly praised agent in the war, Carter is treated like a secretary.

Agent-Carter-SSR
“Agent Carter”, ABC, Pilot

Carter’s secret mission is to clear Howard Stark’s name. Stark is pursued by the SSR under suspicion of selling weapons to the enemy. Because of Carter’s close association to Stark in the past, her judgment isn’t trusted — at least not by the SSR. Stark, on the other hand, trusts her completely. He gives her the information he has in the plot to set him up and leaves his butler, Edwin Jarvis, to assist her.

GENDER

Gender issues are up front in “Agent Carter”; they come with everything except a freeze frame, buzzer, and giant pointing finger labeled “Gender!” It’s not a bad thing — gender is a major theme the show gladly embraces.

There are more kudos to hand out to The Crew than demerits in this category.

  • Carter dispatches an assassin after he’s committed a particularly senseless murder. Afterwards, Carter sits next to the victim and weeps openly without being construed as weak.
  • Sexual harassment and sexism are rampant in the SSR office and Carter handles it with wit and finesse. She knows when to fight battles (refusing to be left out of an agent briefing meeting) and when to simply throw a left hook (when told she’s better at filing she turns the back-handed compliment into the ignorant statement that it is).
  • When a fellow agent, Daniel Sousa, tries to stand up for Carter, she respectfully asks him not to. If Carter is to achieve any respect, chivalry will have to take a back seat.
  • Carter is not unaware of her power as a sexual creature and doesn’t despise it.

There are two scenes that I think are polar opposites in getting gender right.

"Agent Carter", ABC, Pilot
“Agent Carter”, ABC, Pilot

When Jarvis and Carter first get together, he opens the back door of the car for her to get in so he can drive her. Carter opens the front passenger door and lets herself in there instead. At first I thought this was a slight on Jarvis but, after reviewing the context I realize it’s actually a compliment. As a butler, Jarvis is the driver and Stark rides in the back. By putting herself in the front seat Carter sees Jarvis and her as equals.

The opposite of this is what I consider the worst moment for Carter. She is waiting in front of a cafe for Jarvis to pick her up. He stops the car and runs around the front to open her door. She doesn’t wait for him but hops in saying, “Too late.” This is rude. At no point has Jarvis treated Carter disrespectfully yet her words were belittling and there was no explanation for it.

Gender roles are somewhat flipped for Jarvis. At home he does the cooking and cleaning. At no point is he seen as a weak man because of his profession or place at home. He’s intelligent, wise, and courageous.

"Captain America: The First Avenger", 2011
“Captain America: The First Avenger”, 2011

Men are not the only sexists on the show. Angie, the waitress, is less concerned with the “damsel in distress” trope in the live radio program, “The Captain America Adventure Show,” than the fact that she didn’t get the role of the damsel. And the manager of the all-female Griffith Hotel outlines quite specifically what is expected of a ‘proper’ young lady.

FIGHTING

There is no question that Carter is a formidable opponent and can handle herself. That’s what I love about her in the “Captain America: The First Avenger” film, when she stands off and plays chicken with a car! But there is nothing more annoying to me than a woman constantly in hand-to-hand combat with a man.

There are fights in “Agent Carter” that I found thoroughly enjoyable, like when she beats up the bouncer with a stapler. (And how badass was it when she climbed the electric fence?)

The fight in her apartment with the Green Suit assassin is reasonable. The assassin primarily uses a gun; I don’t think he’s very specialized in hand-to-hand. Carter is very adept at using her environment to her advantage and what more of an advantage when it’s your own apartment.

"Agent Carter", ABC, "Bridge and Tunnel"
“Agent Carter”, ABC, “Bridge and Tunnel”

But when Carter threw McFee, a very big man, up and crashing down into the furniture, it was just ridiculous. Carter, known for her preparedness and strategy, had the element of surprise as well. And the fight on top of the milk truck was cliché.

THUMBS UP

I’m very excited to see what The Crew is going to do. Carter’s disguises are great fun, as are her spy gadgets. There’s a great deal of potential in the characters and story.

I look forward to more episodes, which I hope are many, so that The Crew can refine the notes they’ve struck so well.

Rhonda has a BS in Mathematics and Computer Science and is a self-taught graphic designer. She considers herself a geek*wildcard because she has a little bit of experience in everything.

1 Comment

  1. I liked it. I won't claim that it was perfect, but it got a lot of things right. Agent Carter was a likeable part of the first Captain America movie, and since that plot line was 60+ years ago, she wasn't likely to show up in any of the new movies (other than flashbacks). I'm happy to see Marvel take the equity they have in this character and give her a series.

    Her experience post-war is much like that of the characters in the British ITV series "The Bletchley Circle". These women made significant, groundbreaking contributions to the war, and afterward they were expected to forget that and go back to "women's work". Both series reflect the reality of their time, in that, while the women could not openly do the work they were called to do and remain accepted, yet both series' show that women were and are very capable.

    I agree with the comment about throwing the very large man. I think it is a silly trope. Marvel has handled it better in the cinematic universe with the Black Widow. She overpowers larger men, but not through brute strength. She uses leverage, speed, precision. Much like Agent Carter used when she apprehended the fleeing traitor (the scientist Miles Van Ert) in the 2nd episode. She put herself in the right place so that a surprise attack on Van Ert could stop him.

    And I agree with comment about the door-opening. Jarvis has shown himself to be an ally, and he accepts her for what she is. She should do likewise and accept him.

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