One of the things I have been most looking forward to about 2016 is the return of Marvel’s Agent Carter for its second season. When I immersed myself in comics in preparation for 2015’s summer reading program, I immediately fell in love with the Marvel universe in general, and with Agent Peggy Carter, portrayed by Hayley Atwell, in particular. I enjoyed her character in the two Captain America movies, as well as her cameos in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Agents of SHIELD, but as the titular character in Agent Carter, she truly shines. Far from being just a romantic interest for Captain America, Agent Carter is a superhero in her own right, and quickly became one of my favorite fictional role models.
The first season of Agent Carter finds Peggy living and working in New York in 1946. Although World War II has wrought great changes in America, Peggy Carter is still a woman working in a male-dominated profession in a man’s world. Well-respected by her colleagues during the war, she has trouble finding that respect in the post-war world. However, as much as she longs to be accepted by her coworkers, Peggy would rather earn their respect than have it handed to her. In fact, when one colleague demands that another apologize for disrespecting Peggy, she asks him not to defend her. Later, during an argument with her partner-in-crime, Edwin Jarvis, Jarvis taunts her by asking whether she honestly expects her coworkers to change their minds about her. Peggy never misses a beat before responding, “I expect I will make them.” And while others might see a need to forsake femininity in Peggy’s workplace, Agent Carter uses her womanly wiles to her advantage as often as they work against her, for example, in seducing a man to gain access to a formula for a dangerous chemical, with the help of her sedative-laced lipstick.
Throughout the series, Peggy shows herself to be comfortable in almost any situation. She is one of the girls with her housemates, joking with her roommate and commiserating with her neighbors over communal meals. Likewise, on a mission that unites her current colleagues from the Strategic Scientific Reserve with her former comrades, the Howling Commandos, she is able to hold the combined unit together under fire, taking the lead when the mission takes an unexpected, potentially disastrous, turn. With firsthand knowledge of Peggy’s war record, the Commandos automatically look to her as a leader. During this particular mission, even the most taciturn of Peggy’s SSR cohorts begins to see her in a new light as she draws him out and does not judge him, even when he spills the secret that has weighed him down since he came home from the war. At the end of that episode, he invites her along with the others for a celebratory drink. Not only is Peggy one of the girls; she is also one of the guys.
Over the course of the series, it becomes apparent that the war affected each character in different ways, physical or emotional. Peggy is no different in this respect; she makes it clear that Steve Rogers was the love of her life, and they never even got to go on a date before Steve went missing. She occasionally grieves openly for him, but she is by no means ruled by her grief. Instead, Steve becomes her ideal. His character is the standard to which she holds herself, and, though never one to suffer fools gladly, Peggy is at her most heated when others cause her to lose sight of that standard, even going so far as to slap one of her closest friends across the face in anger. Just as Steve was a protector of his country, Peggy isn’t afraid to throw her weight around in defense of people who are being mistreated, whether they are prisoners of a Russian terror group or the waitress at the local automat.
Perhaps the thing that I love most about Peggy Carter, though, is that her character is one that I can really relate to and see as a role model for both my teen patrons and myself. Though she has trouble finding herself in post-war America, at the end of the day, Peggy finds strength that she didn’t realize she had. Once the day is saved, another agent is given credit for her work, but as Peggy says, “I don’t need Agent Thompson’s approval, or the President’s. I know my value. No one else’s opinion really matters.” Knowing one’s own value is important in our world. Agent Carter is a character whose confidence and sense of the right I try to emulate in both my personal and professional life, and I hope that my teens are picking up on that lesson both from the show and from me.
Agent Carter airs Tuesday nights at 9:00 PM Eastern on ABC.
— Elizabeth Norton, currently watching Agent Carter