So I caught up with Agent Carter last night, and oh my gosh was it a breath of fresh air.
Obviously, quite a lot happened in the double-episode series premiere. The show established the main plot of SSR agent Peggy Carter attempting to clear her old friend, Howard Stark, of treason (with the assistance of Howard’s butler, Jarvis), and quickly thickened it by introducing both the implication of a broader international conspiracy—with allusions to a shadowy organization called Leviathan, whose renegade agent Leet Brannis stole Howard Stark’s weapons in the first place and whose unnamed assassin was sent to bring Brannis down and reacquire something—and a precarious situation for Peggy—with the SRR’s acquisition of photographs that show Peggy, though only from behind, investigating the Stark case on her own. Nevertheless, the writing was super smart and the acting was fully on point throughout. Using a situation in which Peggy must turn traitor against her own organization to help her old friend prove his innocence in a weapons leak case as a framework, the show is taking on sexism in a pretty frank manner and challenging traditional concepts of masculinity as well with the inclusion of the Daniel Sousa character.
Furthermore, the writers have given these themes a beautiful continuity with the world of the Captain America films. There’s definitely a sense here of looking at inequality through the lens of Erskine’s philosophy about strength and weakness. (“The strong man who has known power all his life may lose respect for that power,” Erskine tells Steve the night before his procedure, “but a weak man knows the value of strength—and he knows compassion.”)
In The First Avenger, Erskine’s philosophy (in the context of the movie as a whole) was mainly applied to foreign powers and foreign serum-enhanced megalomaniacs, with only brief glimpses of how that philosophy is reflected in, and applies to, American culture. Though such glimpses were present, they mainly served to give shape to the reality of Steve’s lived experience. In Agent Carter, however, we’re seeing a world populated and run by the strong men that Erskine was so leery of, and we’re seeing what that world is like for people who do not fit within the narrow parameters established by that hegemonic system. Taken together with the show’s subtle but ongoing allusions to the threat of America’s unnamed enemies, this exploration of a world run by strong men represents a superb social commentary. Contrasted as these allusions are with an examination of the world taking shape under the hands of the strong men running the American justice system, the American intelligence system, and the American government, a story that seriously considers the disconnect between propaganda and reality in the US is emerging—a theme that is beautifully echoed in the “Captain America Radio Program” sequences that are interspersed throughout the tale and whose timing couldn’t be better.
I seriously can’t wait to see what the show has got in store for us next.