Agent Carter: The Atomic Job

Posted on February 10, 2016

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We may as well admit it now. We’ve been dancing around it since the second season started but our love for the show, the character, and the lead actress all kept us from saying it. This is the second week in a row where we sat through a mostly enjoyable episode of Agent Carter but found ourselves largely disconnected from it. After pondering it for a while, we came to a conclusion as to why it’s just not clicking with us. There’s something missing from this season of Agent Carter. Several somethings, in fact. Or at least, that’s how it looks to us.

To reiterate, before we get into the whining and complaining: Hayley Atwell is still a treasure and the scripts still sparkle with a quick, screwball-comedy wit not normally reserved for network television. There are still plenty of reasons to watch and enjoy the show. It’s just that the show isn’t quite as good as it was last season and we finally figured out why. First and foremost, Peggy has no life and no real obstacles in her way. She has nothing standing in her way nor does she seem to have a personal life of any sort.  Last season, one of the biggest thrills of the show was watching Peggy astutely and blithely navigate the heavily chauvinistic if not downright misogynistic world she was operating in. Her power came from her self-knowledge and self-confidence in the face of withering indifference if not downright hostility from all of her co-workers.

Now, with the exception of Jack Thompson, with whom she barely interacts and at whom she’s free to spew the most righteously outraged invective, thereby cutting him off as a viable threat to her, there are a string of men who have crushes on her and upon whom she entertains crushes if not outright attractions, but in the cases of Sousa and Wilkes, the attraction is framed in a way as to make Peggy look so heroic and wonderful that it’s impossible not to love her. In other words, these attractions give us no hint of what’s going on in Peggy’s head and heart. They’re designed to do the opposite; to show you how other people think about Peggy. Last season, she and Jarvis had an amazing chemistry that was partly bound by a shared country of origin, partly fueled by a mild sexual tension, and largely built on the love both characters have for witty repartee. This season, he’s little more than comedy relief to her. We thought the casting of Lotte Verbeek as Mrs. Jarvis was going to give Peggy someone to bounce off, but she’s been largely sidelined since her introduction.

And while may have a blossoming romance or two on her hands, aside from those brief moments between her and Jason or her and Daniel, she doesn’t seem to have a thought in her head or a moment in her life that isn’t all about being an SSR Agent. Now, the writing could play that up as Peggy being so driven that she has no time or interest in anything but her career, and no ability or interest in developing relationships with other people. You could go that route, but that would mean Peggy would have to be depicted with some form of flaw in her character and that does not appear to be something the creative team is willing to do to her.  They love her far too much.

Bottom line: when it comes to Peggy’s life, she’s surrounded by men who worship her as she fights women who hate her. It’s … limiting, to say the least.

Last season, Peggy had to deal with her lingering grief over the death of Steve Rogers, which gave her an emotional arc, while living in a women’s boarding house, which made a wonderful setting to comment on the outdated social norms she was living under and give her a string of female characters to interact with. Foremost among these characters was Dottie, who should have been turned into her number one supervillain by now, but instead has also been sidelined in order to develop what appears to be an attempt to create a new nemesis for her, Whitney Frost. And while she makes for a serviceable villain, aside from the surface similarities with Peggy – they’re both brilliant and bold women who routinely use their looks to their advantage because the world isn’t ready to reward women for being bold and/or brilliant – there’s little about their battles that really resonates. Dottie was a fantastic villain last season because she wasn’t just similar to Peggy on the surface, she was her dark doppelganger. Just like superheroes,  great detective and spy characters have to have their nemeses, too. Holmes had his Moriarty; Bond, his Blofeld. If Whitney is going to be Peggy’s dark opposite, so be it, but we feel like a huge opportunity was wasted in not making Dottie more prominent this season. With Dottie, it felt personal somehow. With Frost, it just feels like a case she’s working on at the moment.

Again, we have to reiterate that we are enjoying each episode as it plays out. And the addition of Rose – as well as the way she was played up in this episode – is encouraging. It’s just that, unlike last season, the show instantly becomes forgettable the second it ends. We fear Peggy may be suffering from River Song Syndrome. Her creators love her so much that they inadvertently make her less interesting with each appearance. Let’s see some flaws and some emotion out her. Let’s see her form relationships that aren’t about men worshipping her and women wanting to kill her. She’s a rich, well-realized, fully rounded character in the hands of Hayley Atwell. She just deserves better storytelling.

 

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