Editor’s note: The TV goes on, but we do not have it. In our game series It Still Stings, we relive emotionally charged TV moments that we just can not get over. You know them where months, years or even decades later it still elicits a reaction? We are here for you. We scream because we love. Or, once loved. And of course, when discussing finals in particular, there will be spoilers:
Basically, if you participate in just about any type of regular entertainment today, you know one thing is true: It’s Marvel’s world, and we all live in it. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the pop culture that drives just about everything else, consisting of nearly 30 feature films and over a dozen TV properties, with more being advertised on what feels like daily. From Knights of the Moon and Hun-Hulk to Ms. Marvel and Echo, if you can name an even vaguely recognizable cartoon character, the chances are that they will get 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 one of its best series has never existed?
Prior to the emergence of corporate synergy and the search for total Disney + dominance, Marvel’s approach to television was, to put it mildly, rather scattered, and no one in any position of power likes to talk so much about it anymore. But in Before Times, there was more variety. The street-level Netflix series was dark and gritty; the teen-focused shows explored superpowered coming-of-age issues on Hulu. Legion had serious weird Prestige TV vibes on FX. And Agents from SHIELD… basically turned into a different show every other season. But within this group of very different kinds of shows, one series stood out with its ass-kicking female lead, amazing sartorial choices, and fiercely feminist storytelling: Marvel’s agent Carter.
One of Marvel’s best efforts of all time on any media, the show ran for two all two short seasons on ABC and served as a sort of origin story for a Margaret “Peggy” Carter (Hayley Atwell), founder of SHIELD, former girlfriend of Captain America ( Chris Evans) and general all-around badass. Agent Carter portrayed his time in the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) as Peggy mourned Steve, navigating life in the United States after World War II and fighting sexism in the workplace. She found new love. She made friends. She overthrew villains. And she did it all with both strength and tremendous style.
It’s honestly hard to overestimate 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-directed Marvel TV 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 would not get her own solo film for another six years). We were six months away Avengers: Age of Ultron introduction to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and a woman-directed feature film — 2019’s Captain Marvel with Brie Larson – would not come until four years from now. Even other ABC series Agents from SHIELD was heavily promoted as a vehicle for Clark Greggs Phil Coulson, despite having several amazing women at the center in Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen). No wonder we have all imprinted Peggy and her story so quickly and so thoroughly.
Agent Carter allowed Peggy Carter not just to become a fully realized character in her own right, but to step out of the shadow of her famous second half and become something much more complicated than just Steve’s love interest from the first Captain America movie. Here she was just Peggy herself; a woman who knows her own worth and wants to make sure everyone else knows it too.
It’s just a shame that Marvel does not really seem to feel the same way – because they desperately want to put on the shelf Agent Carter as far down in our collective cultural memory hole as possible.
Part of the reason for that is the plot of Avengers: Endgame, the blockbuster movie that serves as the culmination of a decade of Marvel feature film storytelling that decides Peggy’s story is an acceptable sacrifice in the name of Steve Rogers’ happy ending. There are plenty of reasons to question the last twist that made Steve travel back to the past to live the life he missed with Peggy the first time – personally I’m still upset about the abandonment of his friendship with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), a man he had turned the world upside down to save – but the icing on the cake is that it basically brings Peggy back into the “simple love interest” she started in Yay, she finally gets her very troubled dance with Steve, but the price is the erasure of everything else we got to see her do, and all the growth and freedom of action we witnessed. Agent Carter. IN Playoffs, she hardly even gets a stroke.
Still, it’s clear that Marvel is still aware of exactly 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 MCU and gave Peggy a prominent place in his story across multiple episodes. Just not the Peggy any of us remember. Instead What if…? followed an alternative universe version of the character who was injected with super soldier room instead of Steve. This Peggy became Captain Carter, a shield-wielding superhero who is basically Captain America and even recreates some of Steve’s iconic scenes from Captain America: The First Avenger. And that’s … fine for the most part (though sometimes quite fun).
To add insult to injury, however, Marvel’s Legends Peggy Carter retrospective – a summary of the episode that Disney + usually releases just before a major character has to return to a streaming property – that went up before the release of What if…? does not mention Agent Carter at all. I think we should be thankful that the series is still available at least on the streaming service in the first place.
But the existence of this – admittedly, quite amazing! – Captain Carter Peggy does not compensate 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 over Steve or learn to rebuild her life in his absence, a woman with a completely different set of problems than the version that was supposed to convince her colleagues that she was able to do more than just pick up coffee. And while it’s certainly exciting to see a woman wearing Caps Shield (I honestly would love to see Atwell get to do this in live-action one day!), It’s hard not to look at this character and mourn the loss of Peggy’s original. incarnation, which fought so hard through to achieve its triumph on its own terms. She deserves better as a character, and so does she Agent Carter.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a TV enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, Baltimore Sun. and other. Literally always looking for someone to shout about Doctor Who and / or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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