Television

Published on March 27th, 2015 | by Holly Ringsell

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Why You Should Be Watching Marvel’s Agent Carter

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Did you check out Marvel’s Agent Carter? 7 million viewers did. And that’s not including the countless others who downloaded, streamed or otherwise found ways around the location-locked content, including an enormous bulk of fans in the UK. Channel 4, who previously picked up Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, have stated they have ‘no plans’ to pursue Agent Carter, and it doesn’t appear any other UK channels have made a move either — a somewhat questionable decision in my opinion. You’d think after the unbelievable success of Breaking Bad (a show which never aired on a UK channel, but found its audience via Netflix,) the UK would be desperate to snatch up any quality US shows they can get their hands on… Apparently not!

Agent Carter, aired in the US on ABC, has also found a remarkable audience with online communities. Tumblr is rife with fanart, role-players, gifs, and general celebrations of the red-lipped founder of SHIELD. There are cosplayers in abundance working on celebratory costumes, and fans all over the world are baying for more Agent Carter… So why is Marvel’s foray into the 1940’s so important?

Lets go over this with a few easy to list points.

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Expansion Of The MCU

The current Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) presents us with myriad characters. Some of these, the main members of the Avengers, for example, are given their own standalone movies, yet we’re left with an abundance of characters who get no, or very little screen time, outside of the main movie. For example, Black Widow’s appearances in Iron Man 2 and Avengers left plenty to be desired, and it wasn’t until Captain America: The Winter Soldier, (an entire 4 years after Iron Man 2 and 2 years since Avengers,) that we got any kind of decent character development for her. She was essentially a cameo part in Iron Man 2, and her main job in Avengers was to constantly run away. Hawkeye has suffered a similar fate, with a handful of cameo appearances, a part in The Winter Soldier which was subsequently cut out and not much else — but we want to see more of these characters! Comic books are rife with side characters and bit parts, yet each one of them has an expanded back story available for delving in to, something the MCU currently severely lacks. By giving us standalone series like Agent Carter, and the upcoming Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, we’re allowed to move into the backstory of these characters and this world, thus giving a more rounded, fully fleshed out universe. We gain a deeper understanding of other characters’ motives and growth, which subsequently improves the quality of the movies, and other characters surrounding them. It adds multiple levels to the Cinematic Universe as a whole, and improves the experience overall.

Representation

C’mon, admit it. Female representation in comic books and comic book movies, is pretty abysmal. The MCU’s current roster of Avengers contains one female, to five males. If we’re lucky, Avengers: Age Of Ultron might add Scarlet Witch — but also Vision and Quicksilver. Everyones favourite space-nerds, the Guardians Of The Galaxy, have one female to three males (Groot is often regarded as genderless.) That’s pretty shoddy! All of the current MCU movies are male-fronted, and it’s not until 2018 that we’ll see a female-fronted movie with Captain Marvel — the first female-fronted movie of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s insane, right?

So why is this the case? Fans all over the world enjoy seeing Black Widow kick butt as much as they do Thor, yet the movies and representation are barely happening. This is in part due to a somewhat stale industry, one that needs a shake up, but is apparently apprehensive to do so — female-fronted comic books have a history of poor sales and being cancelled, although this is undoubtedly in part due to marketing and the natural ebb and flow of the comic book industry. Female-fronted superhero movies don’t fare much better, with the dreadful Elektra in 2005.

Thankfully, the fans voices are finally being heard, and with the popularity of comic books and its related media on the rise, female characters are arriving thick and fast. Marvel’s latest Thor comic book, which features a woman taking up the hammer, is selling better than her male predecessor — The first five new Thor books are currently selling more copies than the last five Thor books from 2012, by close to 20,000 copies per month… And that doesn’t include digital sales. Spider-Gwen, Silk, Ms Marvel, Black Widow — Marvel seem to finally be responding to the outcry for more female character books, and it seems like their Cinematic Universe could do with a similar boost.

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Time Period

Who doesn’t want to see the humble beginnings of a comic juggernaut like SHIELD? To combine that with the undoubtedly cool vibe of the 1940’s is perfect — the early onset of practical gadgets and gizmos, as well as the struggles Peggy and co. face in a pre-technology era, it’s infinitely more interesting than every pocket having a smartphone within it. Stylistically, it looks and sounds fantastic, from the dresses and hair, to make-up and suits, the cars and lingo, it even features a soundtrack perfectly combining 40’s crooning with swing, and the adventurous, punchy scores of movies like The Avengers. It’s an impossibly cool decade to observe.

Using such a time also gives Ms. Carter the chance to dole out some much-needed social justice to some chauvinistic co-workers. They range from piggish and brash to ignorant but well-meaning, and the character is allowed to deal with them each in increasingly brilliant ways. Their assumption that she is little more than a glorified office worker gives her the room she needs to carry out her own missions, and there’s a particularly brilliant showdown in one of the latter episodes, where she finally confronts the awful attitudes of the men around her. It’s used to her advantage, and it’s relevant, yet not overbearing — if anything, it’s simply realistic.

Agent Carter gives us an eight episode snapshot into a greater Marvel Universe. It allows Peggy to expand and grow as not only a character, but a vital member of Marvel lore. We’re barely allowed a peek into her motivations in both Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, but through her own series, we get to see exactly where she came from. We’re privy to the struggles she faces, both as a woman of the 40’s, and in a post-War Brooklyn, living in a world that is rapidly advancing around her. She is simultaneously allowed to kick butt, and mourn Steve Rogers, another double trait we don’t often see in male-fronted pieces. By allowing our characters, both male and female, to show not only overwhelming strengths, but emotional weaknesses (not those simply remedied by revenge,) we gain a deeper knowledge of the fictional universe laid before us. In turn, this draws us even deeper into the world they’ve so carefully constructed, and what comes from being drawn in deeper? A greater sense of immersion, unparalleled by anything else. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest and most extensive film universes ever created.

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Simply put, Agent Carter is a damn good piece of television for everyone. The writing is great, both in storyline and dialogue — nothing is too ‘cheesy’, and the plot slides in nicely to the pre-existing timeline. Hayley Atwell is perfect as Agent Carter, equal parts fierce and endearing, powerful and elegant. Make-up and hair always flawless, and clothed in some of most wonderful suits that have ever graced our television screens. She’s a pillar of power and inspiration, a take-no-crap woman in a post-War man’s world, determined to get the job done, despite her trauma and losses. Shea Whigham’s role as her boss (or should I say ‘bawss’?), Roger Dooley, is every part snappy asshole you want him to be. Enver Gjokaj’s disabled Daniel Sousa is completely adorable, and his insistence on standing up for Peggy is treated spectacularly, particularly in her disdain for it. James D’Arcy’s Jarvis, Dominic Cooper’s Stark, Lyndsy Fonseca’s Angie and Bridget Regan’s Dottie — they’re all exquisite. Even Chad Michael Murray’s Jack Thompson goes from an absolutely intolerable chauvinist, to a somewhat sympathetic character — within eight episodes, we’re treated to more depth in this handful of characters than Agents Of SHIELD has managed with thirty plus episodes.

Agent Carter is vital. Peggy is an inspiring icon for men and women alike, and it’s rare we’re presented with such a strong human character in a world saturated with superheroes. She overcomes battles both personal and fantastical, fighting Leviathan with as much gusto as her personal losses and tragedies. She’s a human being, one allowed to experience emotions and motivations, one that falters and succeeds as much as the rest of us. Agent Carter, as a TV show, proves that superhero shows can be excellent, character-driven pieces, and that female-fronted media is of equal importance to its male counterparts. It’s existence benefits all of us.

The successes of Agent Carter means more characters coming from page to screen, more movies, TV shows and comic books… And who could deny something that awesome?

Holly Ringsell

Holly Ringsell

Pink and purple. Owner of Dark Side Comics. I have a lot of feelings about Steve Rogers.
Holly Ringsell

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