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Goodbye Agent Carter

So here I am I’m in the middle of a big bout of denial right now over Agent Carter being cancelled.

Network giant ABC has gone on something of a cancellation spree that axed both the struggling and stalwart alike: quirky Galavant, mainstay Castle, and not-as-bad-as-the-internet-says Muppets. And as a further blow to network TV Marvel fans, ABC has also now backed out of their proposed Agents of SHIELD spinoff with Adrianne Palicki’s Mockingbird character and Nick Blood as Lance Hunter – also leaving the fate of those characters in limbo.

This cancellation though feels shittier than all the other announcements, by far. Maybe because…

 *minor spoiler follows*

It feels really unfair that in the span of a week, thanks to Captain America: Civil War, I have essentially lost Peggy Carter twice now.

Not since Freaks and Geeks and Serenity has a geek-cred show with so much potential gone so abruptly and before its time.  Is that an exaggeration?  I really don’t think so. Because for one, despite having just wrapped its second season, Agent Carter still only lasted 18 episodes.  Marvel’s Agent Carter maybe showed up too soon, before a string of Netflix hits delivered a hard right hook to those who’d argue “There’s simply no audience for this.”  So, instead we got network TV where the show was sold to us as a gamble and a tease – something that could get snatched away at any second – as though we should feel grateful to get the few episodes we got.  And to be honest, I was grateful.  There was still a full season’s worth of stories packed into those two micro-seasons.

The show was fun; it’s adventure, mystery and spy caper all in one.  And because of what the writers, actors and crew were able to do in those 18 episodes, there are five things I will really miss (and we will miss out on), with no season three of Agent Carter.

  1. Her Rogue’s Gallery: Although it’s a small list, Peggy’s primary antagonists were most often complex, clever and capable women – every bit as formidable as Carter herself. This past season’s Whitney Frost (played by Wynn Everett) was as sympathetic as she was monstrous and larger-than-life. Meanwhile, the thoroughly fun Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan), the Russian assassin disguised as an unsophisticated small-town Iowa girl, was instantly the perfect match for Carter as much as any arch villain could be, from Holmes’ Moriarty to Batman’s Joker.  Seeing the return of Dottie in season two as a snarling wild card was a fun bonus to a second-season arc already packed with good characters.  Speaking of which…
  2. The Supporting Cast: Season 1’s cast began by-and-large as a group of white men who were about to “learn their lesson not to underestimate Agent Carter.” There was a certain obvious reality in that portrayal, of course, but it also threatened to give the show an outdated, overdone “girl-power” 90s sensibility.   Then as quick as it came, that element fell away.  Each character on that show was given nuance – and even those who most underestimated our Peggy Carter were no straw men. They had their reasons, even if they were wrong (and they were wroooong).  In season two, the setting jump from New York to California gave us an even broader and more diverse cast of characters. Diverse is a word that seems overplayed at times, but in this case representation was refreshing to see.  Characters that on almost any other show would be one-note and disposable were given dignity and agency.  Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), suffers no one’s pity for his permanent war injury.  Rose Roberts (Lesley Boone) and Aloysius Samberly (Matt Braunger) two behind-the-scenes SSR agents demand to be treated with value and prove their mettle in ways that eschew the normal.  And while the show gives Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin), a black scientist in the late 1940s , a somewhat softened and anachronistic reality, his inclusion prevents us from ignoring that the era was hardly the storybook Coca-Cola ad that many of us would pretend it was.
  3. The Relationships: Agent Carter portrayed a world that is somewhat lost to us. I can’t know for certain just how much of 1940s New York is truly reflected in a TV show based on a comic book world.  But there were things I had never seen before – only heard of (like automats!).  In those elements of unfamiliarity, there was something that felt honest; and that was the relationships.  The women at the boarding house and working the switchboard understood each other and shared the camaraderie that came with blazing trails in whatever small ways the world was willing to let them.  The friendship between Peggy and waitress pal Angie Martinelli was a great example of that. True and believable friendship between women, and not based on quips or boy talk.
    But Peggy can hang with the boys, too.  At least those who get her.  When Peggy reunites with the howling commandos – that was such a fun episode. An all-too-real reminder to me of just how differently Peggy, Sousa and Jack Thompson all struggle in very different ways to find themselves after returning from war.  And then Jarvis.  There’s something so great about how fast and naturally these two characters settle in with one another.  Loyalty, humor, trust.  I was really looking forward to seeing that friendship grow more.
  4. The Untold Missions: With the Agent Carter series now gone, we will likely miss all the stories in that three decade block of time between this past season and her cameo in a 1980’s flashback scene in Ant Man. In the past few years, Peggy Carter the character has quietly become the thread that runs through the MCU. When I think of her in terms of SHIELD and the Avengers, she isn’t just one of the founding members, she essentially IS the founding member of SHIELD.  And frankly, seeing her in MCU cameos is more exciting by far than seeing Stan Lee make his latest could-this-be-the-last-time(?) appearance. As much as Claire Temple, she is the glue of the MCU.
  5. Peggy, the Marvel Hero: It’s telling, I suppose, that when I think of heroes in fiction to compare Peggy Carter to, I too often find myself thinking of some of the most prominent male characters as much as female ones. There’s echoes I think of the derring-do of Indiana Jones, the defiant moral conviction and determination of Hermione Granger and the cleverness and innovation of … Bugs Bunny (I mean, she’s smart as hell, but her disguises aren’t all that great!)
    My wife pointed out to me what I myself couldn’t put my finger on.  She is not a male hero character dressed up as a woman.  She is not the ass-kicking hot girl trope.  Yes, she is tough as nails.  She is certainly a capable fighter and won’t hesitate to shoot.  But she also thinks her way out of problems, she uses guile and cleverness and she trusts her circle – even if she would spare them the burden of the decisions she makes.  She can also be wrong. She also has failed.  And when she does, she gets up and finishes the job.  Who couldn’t root for a hero like Peggy?

I, along with every other fan, I think, remain hopeful that Agent Carter may yet be back again – at least as a character.  I don’t think this is the last we have seen of her.  If I’m wrong, I can at least say I’m glad 18 little episodes managed to make a pretty huge impact.  And if the apparent lack of viewership and this cancellation indicates to some people a lack of real support and enthusiasm for the character, a walk down any comic or pop-culture convention floor illustrates otherwise. A sea of blue dresses, stylish red hats and throwback military uniforms tell me that Peggy Carter still has a long life ahead of her.

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