Agent Carter was back in full force last night, now with an introductory voice over to kick off her spy intrigue. In the continuing absence of Stark, this week’s episode finds Jarvis in the thick of it with the SSR, and Peggy working backhandedly to help him out of it, while still trying to keep up the appearance to her employer that they have no acquaintance or connection. Indeed, this ruse is the source of a major, accidentally-on-purpose blunder Peggy instigates to get Jarvis out of hot water while throwing herself right in.
In the episode’s most emotional sequence, Peggy is brought into her bosses’ office to endure a humiliating, quasi-public censure for her ‘mistake’ – the entire floor can hear them through the closed door – and in the middle of it, he declares openly what has always been strongly implied: that she was “dumped” on his agency and he never wanted her to begin with. Peggy just barely manages to maintain emotional control, though her voice clearly falters and there are tears on the brink.
One senses that if she had made an actual mistake, the moment would not have been so acutely painful, for her or for us. Peggy Carter seems like the kind of woman who could take constructive criticism quite gracefully. It is the fact that she is already trying to fight an uphill battle to be seen as remotely competent, and in the midst of doing what the job requires, she must deliberately undermine her own quite shaky credibility for the greater good. What stings is not that she got reprimanded by her boss, it is the fact that the reprimand was undeserved, that she is actually brilliant at what she does, and because she is a woman, no one around her can see it. It is that aggravating feeling of being misread, of being rendered as so much less than what you truly are, that hurts. And boy does it hurt, far more than any of the punches she takes while fighting off the weekly big-bad.
She and Jarvis do manage to hunt down at least some of Stark’s missing inventory, which they must ultimately leave for the SSR to find through an anonymous tip. (James D’Arcy is hilarious here as the American-accented Jarvis calling in the find) At first Peggy wants to take credit for their success, clearly desperate to resuscitate her reputation, but Jarvis convinces her that rather than clear Stark’s name, she’ll simply incriminate herself along with him. “They’ll use it to tear you down,” he asserts firmly and sympathetically. Peggy ultimately agrees, conceding “D’Sousa is working the office tonight. I can just about stomach him getting the credit.”
We also learn quite a bit about Jarvis’s backstory in this episode and how he came to work for Stark. Apparently he was in the British Army during the war and met his Jewish wife in Budapest (hmmm, does anyone smell an Avengers tie-in?). He forged his general’s signature on travel documents to get her out, and was dishonorably discharged for the offense. Stark – who knew the general – took pity on Jarvis and sponsored his move to America.
All in all, this episode was far more about establishing character relationships than it was about extensively forwarding the myth-arc plot. Although Peggy does have one stand-off with a seeming mook of the dreaded Leviathan organization, there aren’t nearly as many dramatic fights sequences as the show’s first two installments. Office politics within the SSR and Peggy’s ever wavering relationships with both Jarvis and Angie definitely take center stage. The balance is rewarding. While I like a good fight sequence or car chase as much as the next person, the show definitely benefits from having strong character arcs and storylines, in addition to the ongoing good guys/bad guys saga.
Speaking of Angie, I sense a proto-femslash pairing in the making with those two. The show in many ways positions them almost stereotypically as love-interests. In that most classic of superhero storylines, Peggy must keep her work secret from her friend in order to protect her, though she desperately wants to be honest; it is the Superman/Lois Lane dilemma almost par excellence. Furthermore, Peggy must initially blow Angie off when she wants to gal-pal around, inadvertently hurting her feelings and not being able to tell her why – super secret spy business calls. Again, looks quite familiar. To round the episode out, Peggy comes to the Dinner at the end a particularly hard day, when she discovers her colleague Krzeminski was killed, and asks warily, “Can I tell you about my day?” Pretty quick to forgive the earlier slight, Angie then serves up some coffee and a listening ear as the ersatz spouse, providing our leading-lady emotional comfort after a hard day at work.
I am not suggesting they are actually positioning Angie as Peggy’s love-interest, nor would I even really classify it as queerbaiting at this juncture. But they do need to be careful. In many ways Agent Carter is a deliberate gender-reversal of many of the stereotypical comic-book hero tropes, and the show seems to be using Angie as friend to fill the role of what would typically be love-interest if Peggy were male. It’s an understandable change to make, but it is also a risky move in this cultural climate. No matter how platonically intended, writing like that can come to seem like queerbaiting very easily, and that’s not something to be trifled with.
“In polite society, one telephones ahead before trespassing.” – Jarvis
D’Sousa: Unbelievable. A known fugitive isn’t answering his door. Thompson: Knock harder. D’Sousa: Sure, can I borrow your forehead?
“Mr. Stark doesn’t like visitors. Whether he’s here to receive them or not.” – Jarvis
“I got a half a bottle of Schnapps and a rhubarb pie. Let’s see which one makes us sick first” – Angie
“Let me give you a nickel’s worth of free advice. Give it up. No girl is gonna trade in a red, white and blue shield for an aluminum crutch.” – Krzeminski
“Mr. Stark would trust a shark to not bite him if it was wearing a short enough skirt.” – Peggy Carter