Hey everybody! It’s been a while since I did a regular series–the series I was planning to do next has become a bit derailed. I was going to rewatch Jem and the Holograms and humorously recount the various crimes people commit during the episodes–the show has a kind-of hilarious habit of sweeping kidnappings, attempted murder, and various economic misdemeanors under the rug. I realized by the end of watching the first episode that not only would that series involve a lot–a lot–of notetaking, but it would end up with me making fun of the show in a way that wouldn’t actually be fun. As hilarious as the show’s idea of criminal justice is, tearing the show to itty bitty shreds just wasn’t that fun–it was too nitpicky for my taste, and, ultimately, wouldn’t work.
So! I’ve decided to rewatch Agent Carter. And of course, I started at the beginning: “Now is Not the End.”
“Now is Not the End” is very purposefully built as a re-introduction to the character of Peggy Carter. While her fans could hardly forget her–especially after the “Agent Carter” short that served as the springboard for her TV series–she was, ultimately, a minor character who by that point only appeared in one of the films, and in flashbacks in Marvel’s then-fledgling TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The use of clips from Captain America: The First Avenger actually helps the show really establish the emotional impact it wanted to land with, which is Peggy, in 1946, now bereft of all the things that, during the war, gave her life meaning and purpose. Steve Rogers is presumed dead; Howard Stark has gone back to a life of women and invention; and the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) office in New York totally overlooks her achievements in the war because she’s a woman, and because her romantic involvement with Captain America makes her easy to see as a swooning sidekick. Peggy’s roommate complains that “ten girls” just lost their job at her factory to make room for returning GIs; the world has gone back to normal, and women are increasingly being asked to put themselves back into a prim and proper place. For Peggy, this just isn’t doable; she has no interest in dating men, dancing, or “settling down.” The show makes it clear that part of this disinterest is the heartbreak she still feels over Steve’s death, but also because submitting to these roles means submitting to an idea of womanhood that she finds boring as hell.
It’s actually extremely interesting to watch this show in the aftermath of #MeToo. While I found Peggy’s issues in the workplace relatable when the show first aired, they’ve become even more poignant and timely. I recently read this Ask A Manager from a woman who was receiving advice she neither needed nor wanted from a person who was her colleague, with equal years of experience. In “Now is Not the End” Peggy receives that exact attitude from several men at the SSR; several of them express that Peggy can be “taught” by them and say that she ought to be allowed into a meeting because she can “learn a thing or two,” which seems ridiculous in light of the fact that many of these men are veterans of WWII who were recruited to the SSR, while Peggy was doing covert work for the organization throughout the war. Very few of them seemed to have any tangible idea about her experience and what she’s supposed to be doing there. When she brings coffee into a meeting just to eavesdrop on the men in it, the only one who even notices her obvious tactic is her direct supervisor. I guess he’s the boss because he notices things like a woman existing in his general presence.
Another thing I noticed in sharper relief is how deftly this pilot establishes what sort of “look” and genre this show will have going forward. With most of the Marvel franchise taking place in the present, this show had to establish what a post-WWII America would look like if this was the type of Earth that had Red Skull and Captain America. The show guns hard for a vintage sci-fi and spycraft feel. While it’s not full rayguns-and-laser-swords, and the look of things like clothes, cars, and places is very carefully modelled after the real-life period, the show does not shy away from being fantastical. Peggy has a safe-cracking watch and knockout lipstick; a sinister, as-yet-unnamed character has a shaving set and typewriter that can be reassembled into a remote transmitter, with the razorblade as the antenna. A glowing, glass orb bomb is at the center of the first episode’s dramatic thrust. My husband watched this episode alongside me; he snorted a little at Peggy’s watch, but pointed out that the shaving set concept later on was “cool.” Like the flashbacks to the Captain America movie, the introduction to gadgets and shenanigans is vital, because it helps the audience know what they’re really getting into with this show.
I think the key moment for me in this episode is when Peggy, realizing she needs a Vita Ray detector to move the plot forward, digs through the SSR’s boxed-up files on the experiment that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. Naturally, the first thing that falls out of the box of files is a photo of pre-serum Steve Rogers, very skinny and earnest, and Peggy reflects over the photo. Even though the episode has been half made up of flashbacks to his “death” as he plunged a plane into the ocean, I think it’s really poignant that this is where we see Peggy actually get emotional. She’s spent so much of her time since his death having to defend herself, of having to prove herself as more than “just” Captain America’s girlfriend, that she clearly hasn’t had much time to grieve over him properly. Her love for him has become a weakness, and when Agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) stumbles across her, she tries to rugsweep her emotions, saying she “doesn’t do this often.” Sousa, the one decent guy in the whole SSR, allows her to deflect, telling her a story that ends with a joke about his amputated leg. It’s a great moment in that it confirms that Sousa is a decent guy capable of recognizing Peggy as an agent and a person, but also because it reveals how strong Peggy has had to be and how the men’s world she moves through has had to make her defensive about her love for him. I mean, she can’t even openly share her grief with her roommate, or admit to a curious waitress that she’s grieving a good man, since the whole thing is classified. (I do also love, as a character choice, that the picture is of skinny Steve; I love that she’s mourning the mortal man, not some glorified version of him.)
This show’s pilot is perfect at setting tone, setting structure, and establishing the world. I’m excited to see what’s next.
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