Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
Basically, if you partake of pretty much any form of mainstream entertainment today, you know one thing to be true: It’s Marvel’s world, and we’re all just living in it. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the pop culture behemoth that drives almost everything else, comprised of nearly 30 feature films and over a dozen television properties, with more being announced on what feels like a daily basis. From Moon Knight and She-Hulk to Ms. Marvel and Echo, if you can name an even vaguely recognizable comics figure, chances are they’re getting a live-action series or appearance in some form over the next few years.
So why does it feel like this franchise is determined to pretend like one of its best series never existed?
Prior to the rise of corporate synergy and quest for total Disney+ domination, Marvel’s approach to television was fairly scattershot, to put it kindly, and no one in any sort of position of power likes to talk about it much anymore. But in the Before Times, there was more variety. The street-level Netflix series were dark and gritty; the teen-focused shows explored superpowered coming-of-age issues over on Hulu. Legion had serious weirdo Prestige TV vibes on FX. And Agents of SHIELD… basically turned into a different show every other season. But within this group of very different sorts of shows, one series stood out, with its butt-kicking female lead, fabulous sartorial choices, and fiercely feminist storytelling: Marvel’s Agent Carter.
One of Marvel’s all-time best efforts in any medium, the show ran for two all two brief seasons on ABC and served as an origin story of sorts for one Margaret “Peggy” Carter (Hayley Atwell), founder of S.H.I.E.L.D., former girlfriend of Captain America (Chris Evans), and general all-around badass. Agent Carter chronicled her time at the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), as Peggy grieved Steve, navigated life in post-World War II America, and battled sexism in the workplace. She found new love. She made friends. She brought down villains. And she did it all with both strength and tremendous style.
It’s honestly hard to overstate how important Peggy’s presence was to Marvel fans at the time Agent Carter premiered, when female representation in this universe was at a much lower point than it is now. (And even now, let’s face it, it could still use some work!) The first explicitly female-led Marvel television series, Agent Carter arrived when there were only a handful of female heroes in the MCU. Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johanssen) was the only female Avenger (who still wouldn’t get her own solo film for another six years). We were six months away from Avengers: Age of Ultron introducing Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and a female-led feature film—2019’s Captain Marvel with Brie Larson—wouldn’t arrive for another four years. Even fellow ABC series Agents of SHIELD was heavily promoted as a vehicle for Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson, despite the fact that it featured several fabulous women at its center in Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen). It’s no wonder we all imprinted on Peggy and her story so quickly and so thoroughly.
Agent Carter allowed Peggy Carter to not just become a fully realized character in her own right, but to step out of the shadow of her famous other half and become something much more complicated than simply Steve’s love interest from the first Captain America movie. Here she was just Peggy, herself; a woman who knows her own value and is going to make darn sure everyone else knows it, too.
It’s just too bad Marvel doesn’t really seem to feel the same way—because they desperately want to shelve Agent Carter as far down our collective cultural memory hole as possible.
Part of the reason for that is the plot of Avengers: Endgame, the blockbuster film that serves as the culmination of a decade of Marvel feature film storytelling, which decides that Peggy’s story is an acceptable sacrifice in the name of Steve Rogers’ happy ending. There are plenty of reasons to question the final twist that saw Steve time travel back to the past to live the life he missed out on with Peggy the first time around—personally, I’m still mad about the abandonment of his friendship with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), a man he’d turned the world upside down to save—but the icing on the cake is that it essentially puts Peggy right back into the “simple love interest” box she started out in. Yay, she finally gets her much-ballyhooed dance with Steve, but the price is the erasure of everything else we got to see her do, and all the growth and agency we witnessed on Agent Carter. In Endgame, she barely even gets a line.
Yet, it’s clear that Marvel is still aware precisely how popular both Peggy Carter and Atwell are. After all, the first episode of its animated speculative animated series What If…? brought both back to the MCU, and gave Peggy a prominent place in its story across multiple episodes. Just not the Peggy any of us remember. Instead What If…? followed an alternate universe version of the character who was injected with the supersoldier serum instead of Steve. This Peggy became Captain Carter, a shield-wielding superhero who is essentially Captain America and even recreates some of Steve’s iconic scenes from Captain America: The First Avenger. And it’s… fine for the most part (though occasionally quite fun).
To add insult to injury, however, the Marvel’s Legends Peggy Carter retrospective—a recap episode which Disney+ usually releases right before a major character is set to return to a streaming property—that went up prior to the release of What If…? doesn’t mention Agent Carter at all. I guess we should be grateful the series is still available at least on the streaming service in the first place.
But the existence of this—admittedly, fairly awesome!—Captain Carter Peggy doesn’t make up for the absence of the original version of the character. This is a Peggy with superpowers, a completely different woman who never had to grieve Steve or learn to rebuild her life in his absence, a woman with an entirely different set of problems than the version that had to convince her colleagues she was capable of more than fetching coffee. And while it’s certainly exciting to get to watch a woman wield Cap’s shield (I’d honestly love to see Atwell get to do this in live-action someday!), it’s hard not to look at this character and grieve the loss of Peggy’s original incarnation, who fought through so much to earn her triumph on her own terms. She deserves better, as a character, and so does Agent Carter.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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