Looking Back At AGENT CARTER - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At AGENT CARTER

Alexander Wallace travels back to the 1940s to revisit Agent Carter.
Explaining Peggy Carter to people who aren’t into anything related to Marvel can be somewhat tricky; if they’ve seen her in anything, it’s the main MCU movies, where she’s Captain America’s girlfriend. That is indisputably an accurate statement; they are romantically involved for an arc of several movies, and their dedication to one another is quite touching.

But those of us who have only seen the movies are getting a very skewed picture of her, especially given that for most of the films she’s in, she’s elderly and bedridden; we see the good Captain carry her casket at her funeral. That means, though, aside from The First Avenger we never see her in her prime on the big screen. The small screen is a very different story, and one quite worth telling.

Agent Carter aired for two seasons in 2015 and 2016 on ABC; after those two seasons, it was unceremoniously cancelled at a cliffhanger. This is a massive loss for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, given what two shining gems those seasons were. Those of us who didn’t see it when it aired have access to both seasons on Disney+, where I hope it will be appreciated by many more people.
The series itself is set in the late 1940s, some years after the end of the cruel war that saw Captain America lost and frozen, not to be seen again for decades. The first season is set in New York and the second in Los Angeles, revolving around Peggy Carter and her colleagues working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) to combat whatever high-technology threats rise to challenge the newly resplendent colossus that was the United States of America after the war (in this regard, it has shades of what Kim Stanley Robinson called ‘American-imperial Heinleinism’). This setting is lushly recreated, with elegant old cars and elegant old music and elegant old buildings. There’s even a reasonably accurate depiction of a swing dance in the period, which I, the avid swing dancer, greatly appreciated (although I did have some quibbles with how it was used narratively).

But not all is well in late 1940s America. Peggy Carter is a single woman in a male-dominated profession who has to contend with the rampant misogyny of the time, and it is in no way understated. The things she needs to deal with from several of her male colleagues are straight-up appalling. This is handled in a very sensitive and compelling way, one that never devolves to bashing you over the head with it in the way some other superhero media has. There’s a particularly powerful scene at the end of season one where she is not acknowledged for something that she doubtlessly brought about, and it sent shivers down my spine with the pathos and the indignation that the scene evoked.
And Peggy Carter is not the only character that shines in this series. Dominic Cooper plays Howard Stark, the father of the famed billionaire playboy philanthropist that kicked off the MCU, and shows exactly where Tony got everything we know and love (sometimes) about him from. Flanking Howard is James D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis, the billionaire’s butler and the namesake for the snarky artificial intelligence that later becomes Vision. Enver Gjokaj brings a charisma to Daniel Sousa, another one of Peggy’s colleagues, that can be hard to look away from.

The plots of both seasons are deeply suspenseful and make you crave for at least one more episode; I hadn’t realized that the second was two more episodes than the first and stayed up ‘til three in the morning because of it (and I have no regrets). You see both New York and Los Angeles in their postwar glory, as well as some excursions to Europe. Both are deeply involved in the Marvel mythos, and those looking for easter eggs will find many.
I must make a brief diversion to the soundtrack; there’s a lot of music either of that period or emulating it that I liked (and like) a lot. The series kicks off with Caro Emerald’s That Man, a song to which I’ve swung, and it later uses to great effect Bing Crosby’s and the Andrews Sisters’ Pistol Packin’ Mama in a masterful parody of a certain sort of scene common in modern action movies (and it had me listening to that song for days).

Agent Carter is a series that has been unfairly overshadowed by Agents of SHIELD or the Netflix shows. It’s a series that shows that, for all the understandable accusations of corporate hackery, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us things that are legitimately worth cherishing. Those who have neglected this little corner of that sprawling universe should correct that oversight as soon as is feasibly possible.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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