With [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409) having hit the cinema, it's a suitable time to appreciate Cap's first and best girl from The First Avenger (2011) — Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter. Atwell's Carter charmed audiences, leading to a Marvel One-Shot on the Iron Man 3 (2013) home release and then to her own series, which recently concluded its second season, and created one of the most compelling heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Airing during the midseason breaks of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter's seasons were short affairs, eight and 10 episodes, respectively. Point being that they're not a huge drain of your time if you want to binge now, and a shorter run means a tighter narrative focus; a lack of filler. The show played to the MCU's main strengths, offering typically comic-booky plots alongside complicated and well-developed characters. Things could get dark, but there was always a joke to bring it back from the brink. Beyond that, Agent Carter was tremendously funny, especially when Howard Stark made one of his few appearances.
A special shout-out goes to James D'Arcy's Edwin Jarvis, Stark's long-suffering butler and essentially Peggy's sidekick in her adventures. Carter and Jarvis's relationship was one of the absolute highlights of the series, a purely platonic relationship between two people who absolutely trusted and respected one another. It's always refreshing to watch a male-female pairing that has zero romantic undertones, to see actual friendship develop.
The series picked up Peggy's story in 1946, after the end of WWII, and showcased how her role had changed in peace time. This led to one of the most interesting aspects of the series in how it depicted Carter's trials as a woman in a less-accepting time. Atwell was fantastic as Peggy throughout, utterly believable as a woman who was just as much a superhero as Captain America was, even without the superpowers. During the war, she was Captain America's handler, a vital part of the war effort. Now, she's seen as Captain America's girlfriend, someone who can best serve the office by fetching coffee. As an audience, we already knew what Peggy was capable of and it was extremely frustrating to watch her be sidelined in a male-dominated workplace.
It's especially interesting, since her male co-workers didn't even realize they're doing it. These other agents were all well-rounded and developed characters, all capable of heroism in their own way. But the way they underestimated Peggy mostly stemmed from a larger problem of the times, rather than from any kind of malice. This extra layer made Peggy's successes even more satisfying, but also added more impact to her failures. She had more to prove and more to lose, which made us even more invested in the character. It might not have been subtle, but it was a powerful way to explore an issue that is still all too prevalent.
The second season introduced Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett), the perfect foil for Peggy. Frost as a villain was very much a product of a male-dominated world and neatly paralleled Peggy's journey. While they both fought to be recognized beyond what was expected of them, Frost's battle for recognition pushed her down a darker path. Her journey was captivating because it came from the same place as Peggy's and we could completely empathize with her position. It was tragic to watch her slow corruption, which also highlighted just what made Peggy so remarkable. Frost was easily one of the most compelling Marvel villains committed to screen so far, with a genuinely chilling power set and a motivation that was damn difficult not to sympathize with. A great villain is one you actually consider deserves to succeed, and Frost definitely fell into that category.
As a part of the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agent Carter was a more than worthwhile addition. It explored the impact of Captain America on the world, as both a symbol and as part of the just-beginning superpowered arms race. Not to mention what his death meant for Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, who knew him not as a symbol or a science experiment, but as a person.
Through the character of Dottie Underwood, played by Bridget Regan with charming menace, the show also delved into the Black Widow program that created Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff. Dottie's unique brand of danger and crazy was absolutely captivating and provided chilling context to any mention of Widows past in the current Avengers films.
The second season introduced the concept of Zero Matter, which is slated to play a part in the upcoming Doctor Strange, and of course the whole series was set as part of the evolution of the Strategic Scientific Reserve into S.H.I.E.L.D.
While Agent Carter has now been axed by ABC, it absolutely deserves another season. As a show, it's been a fantastic addition to the MCU, bringing plenty to the table and being unafraid to tackle some uncomfortable topics whilst remaining entertaining television. But as a character piece, Atwell's performance and evolution as Peggy Carter was absolutely gripping and simply must be continued.