ByMichael Fenn, writer at Creators.co
I love everything Sci Fi, Action and Comic Book Related
Michael Fenn

Flashbacks are a useful narrative tool that can reveal new layers to characters or add clarification to a situation happening in the present, and although I don't think Marvel's Agent Carter necessarily needed to use them at this stage—do we really need to see how Peggy got to where she is to understand her character any better?—the flashbacks to Peggy's past as a young child, as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, at her engagement party to Fred, and at the moment she learned of the death of her older brother Michael, who recommended her for field work, helped to further reinforce the idea that much of who Peggy is in 1947 is natural instinct but also something propelled by intense loss.

During Agent Carter's first season, Peggy was grieving the death of Steve Rogers, and over the course of eight episodes she dealt with the accompanying pain so that she was eventually able to find closure in the finale. But Steve wasn't the first man Peggy lost to war. Her brother—the person who believed in Peggy even when she didn't believe in herself—died in battle, and it was his death that spurred her into action and put her on the path toward becoming the woman who this week tranquilized a hit man, stuffed him in the trunk of a car, and later interrogated him in a closet. From a narrative standpoint, Michael's death didn't really add much to the story except to drive home the idea that our pain doesn't have to define us, but it does help shape us into who we are. We have the power to choose our destinies, and Peggy chose to embrace the life she'd always wanted rather than the one she thought she should take, whether that decision was based on society's expectations, her mother's influence, or something else entirely. Arguing about whether she truly loved Fred—and she probably did—doesn't much matter at this point, but their relationship does show that there's still more to be learned about Peggy Carter.

Mrs. Frost
Mrs. Frost

Peggy's flashbacks also juxtaposed nicely with those of Whitney's (a.k.a. Agnes Cully's) childhood in Oklahoma, which was anything but supportive and helped to create the woman who Zero Mattered-up a cage full of rats and eventually Mr. Hunt in "Smoke & Mirrors." Though they're fighting on opposite sides presently, Peggy and Whitney are not currently nor have they ever actually been all that different. Both must consistently fight against a society that seeks to treat them like second-class citizens, and both had mothers who disapproved of their primary areas of interest. Peggy, as we could have assumed, has always been a female pushing boundaries to lead in a male-dominated world. She craved adventure and wanted to slay the dragon even when it was only an imaginary beast and not a real evil. Whitney, too, was in a similar position of being a woman with interests—this time in the fields of science and technology—beyond what her mother wanted for her daughter.

Our first glimpse of Whitney as a young girl featured her fixing a broken radio while her mother slept with their older landlord in what appeared to be an exchange of sex in place of rent. Both Peggy's mother and Whitney's' mother wanted their daughters to be more traditionally feminine, which for Peggy would have meant being the princess rather than the knight in shining armor, and for Whitney, would have meant using her face rather than her brain to get ahead. Both women carved out their own paths, eventually finding some form of success, but it's at this point their paths diverged. Peggy went to work as a code-breaker in 1940 and she nearly turned down an offer of recruitment to become a field agent in order to marry a perfectly nice gentlemen, who clearly desired a homemaker for a wife. She took off the wedding dress and picked up her recruitment letter after her brother was killed during the war, and well, we all know the rest of Peggy's story. Whitney, however, moved to Hollywood after being rejected from the University of Oklahoma, changed her name, and became a model and an actress after being spotted by a talent agent as she entered a movie theater to escape her sad reality.

Bastard
Bastard

Whitney would eventually find a way to put her brilliant mind to work during the war and continue to manipulate the people and the world around her long after, but seeing how differently these two women have used their specific skills to their advantage and watching how they've grown and developed puts the spotlight on what happens when society attempts to force people into boxes. Peggy was lucky and managed to rise above the men who tried to knock her back down, and in doing so she became a champion for good. We already knew it to be true, but this week's episode once again proved what a tenacious and independent thinker (yes, that is a compliment) she was, even though that sometimes meant bending the rules a bit. Whitney took a different approach toward climbing the ladder of success, one that was molded by her mother's insistence that her face was her golden ticket, and the result was a life that relied on manipulation and deception to get ahead.

In less than a handful of episodes, Whitney has progressed from a brilliant young woman terrified about what's happened to her to a woman who's learned once again how to use her "skills" to further her own agenda. Whereas Peggy chose the greater good over her personal happiness (you could potentially argue the desire to do good was actually what gave her happiness), Whitney's selfish desires and built-up anger have taken her down the opposite path. What Whitney wants, she wants for herself, and she's currently greedy with power and the fact that she no longer has to hide behind a mask. It's worth mentioning that at this point, it's not entirely clear whether this was Whitney being driven by Zero Matter or whether she's finally just reached a breaking point and realized she had the ability to do something about it. I'd argue it's probably a little of both, and it's fascinating to watch the birth of a villain and see it play out alongside that of our hero and realize how much we're shaped by our environments, but that we ultimately hold our destiny in the palms of our hands.

Lovely Peggy
Lovely Peggy

Whitney would eventually find a way to put her brilliant mind to work during the war and continue to manipulate the people and the world around her long after, but seeing how differently these two women have used their specific skills to their advantage and watching how they've grown and developed puts the spotlight on what happens when society attempts to force people into boxes. Peggy was lucky and managed to rise above the men who tried to knock her back down, and in doing so she became a champion for good. We already knew it to be true, but this week's episode once again proved what a tenacious and independent thinker (yes, that is a compliment) she was, even though that sometimes meant bending the rules a bit. Whitney took a different approach toward climbing the ladder of success, one that was molded by her mother's insistence that her face was her golden ticket, and the result was a life that relied on manipulation and deception to get ahead.

In less than a handful of episodes, Whitney has progressed from a brilliant young woman terrified about what's happened to her to a woman who's learned once again how to use her "skills" to further her own agenda. Whereas Peggy chose the greater good over her personal happiness (you could potentially argue the desire to do good was actually what gave her happiness), Whitney's selfish desires and built-up anger have taken her down the opposite path. What Whitney wants, she wants for herself, and she's currently greedy with power and the fact that she no longer has to hide behind a mask. It's worth mentioning that at this point, it's not entirely clear whether this was Whitney being driven by Zero Matter or whether she's finally just reached a breaking point and realized she had the ability to do something about it. I'd argue it's probably a little of both, and it's fascinating to watch the birth of a villain and see it play out alongside that of our hero and realize how much we're shaped by our environments, but that we ultimately hold our destiny in the palms of our hands.

Peggy & the Bastard
Peggy & the Bastard

This week, Agent Carter pushed those same purposefully frustrating buttons in two different storylines—one with Peggy and one with Whitney, which helped to keep the episode's theme of comparing and contrasting the two women alive. While Peggy was forced to deal with the condescending nature of Vernon Masters (a name that just screams old regime) as he threw his power around to assert his dominance over Peggy, Sousa, and the S.S.R., Whitney was faced with something much worse, because Peggy's confidence in her abilities and her actions at least gave her a leg up on Vernon even if it wasn't readily apparent.

At two different times in her life, two men in positions of power told Whitney to smile because she'd be a lot prettier if she did. This is a belittling form of harassment that still happens with regularity today, and something that just appeared in another series about a woman taking back her life from a controlling bastard. I'd like to call it a coincidence, but let's be honest, Marvel doesn't do coincidences. When Marvel's Jessica Jones debuted late last year, Libby Hill of the Los Angeles Times wrote a spot-on piece that wonderfully articulated how something as seemingly harmless as someone telling another person to smile is in practice actually an incredibly offensive turn of events, and that was again at play here. At its roots, this comment promotes the idea that someone has the power to dictate what someone else does or how they look, which in turn propagates a culture of submission. The most uncomfortable aspect of these exchanges between Whitney and the men in her life was that they're still happening today and men still don't view it as being misogynistic, whether because they're simply ignorant or because they won't or can't admit that they're wrong.

Whitney eventually smiled for the smarmy talent agent, who actually reached into Whitney's personal space with no regard for her value as anything beyond a pretty face, as if she was an object to be used. The guy somehow made Howard Stark look somewhat respectable, and that dude has a car with a mirror on its ceiling and devalues women who aren't Peggy in nearly every way imaginable at every possible turn. Many years after her interaction with the talent agent, Whitney was finally attempting to break free from this position that she put herself in in the 1930's in order to get ahead. On the one hand, I'd like to high five Whitney for no longer settling, for no longer sitting idly by and allowing men, especially not her oaf of a husband, to tell her what to do. Of course, on the other hand, she's exerting her power in a way that's, you know, not ideal. Killing people, even bad people like Mr. Hunt, is not something we should support, but based on what Dr. Wilkes said—that he was bone-tired and felt like he was being called to something much larger, that it'd be easy to just give in—it's probably very likely that the same thing is happening to Whitney and every time she attacks someone, the pull to do so again gets stronger. I wish I could say that she wasn't so weak that she'd give in to that power that Zero Matter has provided her with, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

Raid Party
Raid Party

"Smoke & Mirrors" did an excellent job of adding depth to Whitney, and although I still don't think we needed to know about Peggy's past to know what motivates her (the death of her brother and the death of Steve have certainly shaped her life, but this was always who Peggy wanted to be), it was nice to see those moments right up against Whitney's own flashbacks. Agent Carter is building an intricate web here, one that in addition to the evolution of a villain is tied to a supposedly untouchable group of older, white men exerting their dominance over American politics and economics, as well as the S.S.R. and Peggy through government interference. Running through it all is Zero Matter and Dr. Wilkes and Peggy's feelings for yet another man who she likely won't be able to be with, probably because he'll be taken from her too soon (again)... and because she's in love with Sousa who's also still harboring his own feelings for her. Yep, I said it. Just admit it already, you two.

I just can't believe how well everything is coming together after just four episodes. Though, based on what we saw in Season 1, that's hardly a surprise.

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