Welcome to Bae Watch Wednesday, where I tell you all about the fictional characters you ought to be crushing on. This month I’m hyped for Avengers: Infinity War, so I’m showcasing MCU baes all April. First and foremost: Peggy Carter.
Who is Peggy Carter?
Peggy Carter is, hands down, one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She’s one of my favorite fictional characters overall, actually. Peggy Carter is one of the most interesting, well-developed female characters I’ve ever seen. She’s also the first MCU female character to get her own property.
We first meet Peggy in Captain America: The First Avenger, but she later gets her own show, Agent Carter. While Agent Carter primarily covers Peggy’s life after the end of World War II, it also shows some of her backstory. It adds new depths to an already great character.
Peggy was born in England shortly after World War I. She enjoyed a fairly nice childhood, where she dreamed of slaying dragons and saving princesses. Her mother despairs at Peggy ever becoming a lady, but this shows her adventurous spirit early on. Peggy also enjoys a close relationship with her brother, Michael.
When war breaks out in Europe, Peggy joins the ranks of women who worked as code breakers. At the same time, she is in a relationship with a nice, if bland, man. Then, Peggy learns that she has been recommended for transfer to special operations. She’s not so sure — she still longs for adventure, but she’s had feminine passivity drilled into her.
At her engagement party, Peggy learns that Michael was the one to recommend her for special ops. He badgers her, saying that this life — one of bland simplicity — is not who she really is. When Michael later dies, Peggy accepts the transfer in his memory. She gives up her chance at a simple life but gets so much more.
Peggy joins the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a branch of the military devoted to finding new ways to combat the Nazi threat — especially the Nazi science division, Hydra. It is through her work with the SSR that Peggy becomes involved in Project Rebirth.
Project Rebirth was an experiment designed by Dr. Abraham Erskine. Erskine had previously developed a serum to grant a person augmented abilities. When Hydra corrupts it, Erskine flees to America. He agrees to give the serum another try — but this time, he wants to make sure they pick the right person. That right person? Steve Rogers.
Steve seems an odd choice, at first. He’s scrawny, sickly, and not terribly imposing. But Erskine sees that there is more to him. When Steve emerges after receiving the serum, his outside finally matches his fierce and determined soul. When he is held back from actually fighting, though, it is Peggy who gives him a nudge — telling him he is meant for more.
Peggy works with Steve to help him rescue his friend, Bucky Barnes, from a Hydra facility. Then, Steve, Bucky, and other rescued troops set out to dismantle Hydra’s grasp on the continent. Peggy and Steve have a definite connection. When Bucky dies, it is Peggy who comforts Steve by reminding him that Bucky made his own choices — all Steve can do is the same.
Unfortunately, Steve makes poor choices. In an attempt to stop Hydra from bombing NYC, Steve crashing a plan carrying Hydra weapons. He says goodbye to Peggy over the radio, knowing that this is the end of what could have been something great. Although we know that Steve doesn’t die, he is not found for many years, and Peggy has lost him — for good.
The war ends, and Peggy must decide what to do now. She cannot go back to her simple life — she has experienced too much. So, Peggy continues her work for the SSR. Sadly, most men are a lot more sexist than Steve Rogers, and they view Peggy as a glorified secretary.
That won’t stop Peggy, though. When Howard Stark, a wartime friend, is accused of treason, Peggy works to clear his name. She begins her own investigation, using the SSR’s sexism to her advantage. She also meets Howard’s butler, Edwin Jarvis. The two work together beautifully to save Howard — and the world.
Eventually, Peggy’s investigation is discovered, and she is arrested. However, in the end, she clears both her name and Howard’s. Although she gets little credit, she is proud to know she made a difference.
Later, Peggy moves to California to help the west coast SSR branch solve a strange case — and catch up with Daniel Sousa, an SSR agent who helped her in NYC. Sousa also had a definite crush on Peggy — one that she started to return. When she arrives in California, though, Peggy finds out that Sousa is engaged. They continue to work together well, though.
Peggy is able to get to the root of a strange conspiracy and stop an actress from ending the world in her quest for power. She also manages to work things out with Sousa — he never stopped loving her, and they are able to come together as equals in love.
Later in life, Peggy will found — and direct — SHIELD. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Peggy reunites with Steve, but she has Alzheimer’s, so they cannot truly reconnect. Captain America: Civil War reveals that Peggy has died.
Why is Peggy Carter Bae?
First of all, Peggy Carter is flawlessly beautiful. Hayley Atwell is gorgeous, and Peggy’s wartime aesthetic really works for her. She is never anything less than 100% classy — even when the show tries, they just cannot make her look anything less than perfect.
Now, I love a 1940s look anyway. But on Peggy Carter? That look is good. With pin curls, cute dresses, and fabulous red lipstick, Atwell always looks to die for. Plus, I love that Peggy gets to be a strong, well-developed, kickass female character and yet is still unabashedly feminine. That’s not very common.
Peggy is one of those cases where you’re not sure if you have a crush on her, or if you want to be her. Why not both?
Staple the Patriarchy
One of the things I love best about Peggy Carter — one of the things I think Agent Carter does a great job with — is how fiercely she fights for her own equality. Peggy Carter is not here for the patriarchy. Peggy Carter is not here for your sexist bullshit. No, Peggy Carter is here to get shit done — and heaven help the man who tries to stop her.
In the MCU, we’ve had a decent variety of female characters who actually fight. Natasha Romanoff and Melinda May bring deadly grace. Jessica Jones brings the muscle. We’ve definitely gotten some interesting kickass women.
But Peggy Carter? Peggy Carter is an unstoppable force. She blows through life with sheer determination. She wasn’t raised as a ninja or an assassin and has no superpowers. But that never once stops her. Instead, Peggy is scrappy, using anything she can find to her advantage.
In the very first episode of Agent Carter, Peggy pulls out all the stops. She gets out of work early by using “feminine issues” as an excuse, knowing her misogynistic colleagues won’t question it. She uses her femininity to manipulate men in the club where she’s looking for answers — even knocking out a man with poisoned lipstick.
But the kicker comes when she uses a stapler to take down a bodyguard who finds her. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. That episode really sets the tone for Peggy. She will do whatever is necessary to accomplish her goals — primarily, saving the world. She has no time for sexism to hold her back. Try and stop her, and she’ll take you down in an instant. Peggy shows that women can fight — and you should be afraid.
Know Your Value
But just as much as she fights physically, Peggy also fights philosophically. In the war, Peggy felt useful. She accomplished a lot with the SSR. Captain America considered her a hero and every bit his equal.
So when the war ends, Peggy is at a loss with post-war society. How could people dismiss how much she has done and accomplished? How could people go back to treating her like she was nothing? Peggy Carter is no man’s secretary — and she won’t let you forget it.
Surrounded by misogyny, Peggy never backs down and takes it quietly (except to manipulate men to accomplish her mission). Peggy snaps back at her fellow SSR agents who try to treat her like she’s not every bit as much an agent as they are. She fiercely fights to prove her value to men who just will not accept that in a woman.
At one point, Peggy goes on a mission into Russia. While the SSR would have liked to leave her home, Peggy recruits the Howling Commandos — Steve’s troops from the war, who respect her and treat her as a leader. On that mission, Peggy proves that she deserves to be in charge. She proves her worth, even saving the life of an SSR agent who constantly provokes her.
Captain America only provides hints at Peggy’s fierce rejection of sexism. Peggy is able to bond with Steve because they are both dismissed by society. But Agent Carter directly confronts sexism in every episode. Agent Carter was a godsend to female nerds — here is a woman, who is every bit as much a hero as Captain America, without any of his privileges.
What’s Not To Love?
Peggy Carter is my hero. Even today, sexism is rampant. It can be difficult for a woman to be taken seriously. In the 1940s, it was even worse. But that never stopped Peggy Carter. She powered through.
Remembering Peggy Carter as Captain America’s love interest does her a huge disservice — she was so much more. Peggy saved both NYC and LA in Agent Carter. She helped Howard Stark receive justice. She founded SHIELD. (Sure, SHIELD turned out to be infiltrated by Hydra, but they canonically took 70 years to come to power because of Peggy).
Peggy created a lasting legacy that shapes so much of the MCU. Her impact on Steve’s life shapes his actions — his torturous PTSD vision in Age of Ultron proves she is still heavy on his mind. But Peggy also paved the way for so many powerful female characters. SHIELD agents like Maria Hill or Melinda May have her example to look up to. Jemma Simmons idolizes Peggy. Good people — good women — are able to do good because Peggy did it first.
Even in modern times, women are still not terribly prevalent in pop culture, especially action genres. But Peggy Carter stands out as a shining example of what a female character can do. Peggy kicks ass, but never rejects her femininity. Peggy accomplishes so much but never denies who she is.
Agent Carter gave us something magical, and its cancellation was a tragedy. And now that Peggy is dead in the MCU, it’s unlikely we’ll get too much more of her — but I’ll take what I can get. Because Peggy Carter is a true hero, and I’ll never tire of seeing her destroy the patriarchy with a stapler and lipstick on point.