What Would She Do is a column that takes a moment to appreciate and celebrate the most kickass, most inspiring female TV characters of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres, who keep us tuning in and feeling fierce.
In our inaugural post, we focus on Agent Peggy Carter whom we originally met in Captain America: The First Avenger.
Agent Carter ran for two seasons on ABC from 2015 to 2016 and picks up 1 year after the end of the Second World War. The show follows Agent Peggy Carter’s clandestine missions to ensure the safety of, like, the world, whilst she battles sexism of the mid-forties.
Agent Carter is also featured in Captain America: The First Avenger, but I’m mainly focusing on Agent Carter for this piece, as I think it shows primo-badassery.
In Captain America, viewers met a Peggy Carter who was a warrior and a leader, respected among her peers, who included soldiers, intelligence officers, one super soldier and one mega-millionaire/genius. She compassionately led Steve Rogers through the hero-in-spirit to hero-in-actuality process, while being instrumental in defeating Hydra for the decade, and being an all-around boss.
At the time that we meet Peggy again, she has relocated to New York City and is working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), a government agency founded during WWII to combat Nazis and Hydra attacks, and now battles the worst that may come to threaten democracy/the world. Across the Pond, the only accolade Peggy retains is as Captain America’s ‘best gal,’ as she is relegated to being the SSR offices’ Girl Friday while her male co-workers get the assignments and acclaim she deserves.
The show as a whole has a theme of the disenfranchised – women, the disabled, people of color – being pushed to margins, their contributions overlooked or under-revered. Peggy’s primary love interest Agent Daniel Sousa, who is often kept at a desk because he’d earned a lifelong limp in WWII, is the only SSR agent who recognizes from the start that Peggy is being wasted. Later, a brilliant physicist of color Dr. Jason Wilkes gets caught up in Peggy’s Season 2 L.A. adventures and is mistaken for a janitor in the first episode. Familiar with societal biases, and the ignorance on which they’re based, Peggy sees what others choose not to.
This trait is clearest when it comes to Peggy’s biggest foes (other than sexism) – villains Dottie Underwood (Season 1) and Whitney Frost (Season 2). As Peggy is forced to soar under the radar, Dottie and Whitney use it to their advantage. They work and thrive in society’s blind spot – the notion that a woman could not be strong or smart enough to be a hero…or a threat. In fact, Peggy soon becomes their greatest adversary because she doesn’t underestimate them, something that she is singularly able to do.
The wealth of female characters on Agent Carter is probably thanks to female co-showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, who met on X-Files and have produced multiple shows together, adding their names to the short list of female showrunners. Agent Carter is full of female characters, monumental and supporting, who have depth and texture rarely seen on other TV shows. No doubt, most of them will garner their own WWSD posts, but for now, Peggy…
One night, after a long day of answering phones and taking lunch orders, Peggy is recruited by old buddy and America’s Most Wanted Howard Stark to recover his stolen, most dangerous inventions and clear his name. So, with the help of Howard’s butler Jarvis, Peggy embarks on secret missions to figure out who stole the gear, recover it, and eliminate the threat of the Big Apple’s annihilation. In the field, Peggy is back to her old self and more as she infiltrates the dens of criminals, pulls off high-octane heists and rescues, and kicking innumerable asses along the way. She is tough, smart, compassionate, and ingenuitive; basically the answer to the question: “Who would you want on your super spy team?”
It’s easy for Peggy to make time for her side projects and fly under the radar at work because her fellow agents rarely take notice of her anyway. It also helps that she is often one step ahead of them, already incognito at the party to which the SSR has sent agents. Throughout the first season, Peggy makes progress at the SSR, inching forward as they realize they need her. For instance, they find a code their experts can’t break; in walks Peggy who, like thousands of other British women, was a Bletchley codebreaker and cracks it in minutes. They hadn’t thought to ask her.
In a key episode in Peggy’s professional growth, the SSR is sending a team to Russia to recover an asset, and Peggy wants to go along. Despite her having served in the area, her fellow SSR agent and resolute misogynist Jack Thompson is loath to have to ‘babysit’ someone on the mission. He holds steady until Peggy delivers him to the legendary Howling Commandos to accompany them. In grey Eastern Europe, the Commandos greet Peggy in a manner befitting her, as a brother-in-arms, while the other SSR agents are her new college friends she brought to the party.
This is a feeling of camaraderie that eventually grows between Peggy and some of the other SSR agents. Perhaps, however, it was one that also had to grow between Peggy and the Commandos. Peggy meets the group through Cap in The First Avenger, but they don’t interact much and they don’t really see her in action. Perhaps she had to prove herself to the Commandos just as she did to the SSR, and as she did to the SOE so many years before. Each time Peggy moves up, she is surrounded by men who have done half the work for twice the credit, and she has built her own stepping stones brick by brick.
But she can…
Because the most badass thing about Peggy Carter – more badass than espionage or commanding ragtag groups of upstarts – is that she knows her value. She knows what she can do, she’s confident in her abilities, and she doesn’t allow anyone’s actions or ideas about her change that. There are a great many things about Peggy Carter that make her a role model for young ladies, but if there were only one Carter-ism to pass on, this would be it, because it is unwavering and truly something that girls must master. Whether they are in the superhero game or otherwise, girls constantly walk into rooms with biases, misconceptions, and old-fashioned ideas, and it’s important that ladies know their worth, and that no one and nothing can diminish them.
Not even Chad Michael Murray.
THE YOU GO GIRL
…I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter. Season 1, Episode 8
NEXT TIME ON WWSD: A look at the mathematics, supernatural, and fashion genius of Teen Wolf’s Lydia Martin.
Feature Photo via Agent Carter FB Page