An Open Letter to ABC, Marvel, and Agent Carter

Dear @agentcarterabc, Marvel, and ABC Network:

So I’m rewatching season one of Agent Carter and I have to get this out or it’ll just fester and keep cheesing me off.

Season One and Season Two are such completely different shows? The entire tone of the show changed, and I’m willing to let a certain amount of that slide because we moved from New York to LA, but past a certain point…I’m just confused.

There are the surface differences–Season One felt full of women, perhaps partly because Peggy was living in a boarding house for women, while season two gave us two new female characters (three if you count Rose) it still didn’t feel as well-rounded as the first season. Fortunately, Rose, Ana, and Whitney are all compelling and well-written characters and I loved them all.

Season One was all about character development for Peggy and–well, everyone, really. Sousa and Dooley and Thompson may have evolved at a much slower pace with a big jump there at the end, but they did grow as people. Howard and Jarvis, they, too, developed as people. Season Two seems content to skim the inner lives of our leads (with the exception of Smoke & Mirrors, one of my favorite episodes by far of the season) in favor of science-and-procedural leanings–not out of place in a 24-episode season, perhaps, but irritating when you only get ten episodes.

Another detail that struck me–and maybe this seems silly–is food. In Season One, we see Peggy eat all the time. She hangs out at an automat. She interacts with her housemates over breakfast. One of them has a special chicken pocket in a sweater! And maybe it is silly, but I know I’m not the only person who loved that, who thought that made the show feel more real. I can’t help but feel that the shift from real-person Peggy–who wants credit for finding Stark’s inventions, who shoves food in her mouth while talking to people, who feels she is responsible for the deaths of her friends–to the slightly less nuanced Peggy of season two. The shift between writing a real person to writing what Hollywood thinks female characters should be.

For all that every superhero show wants to be “darker” and “grittier” Agent Carter Season One was dark. We had Peggy dealing with depression and survivor’s guilt, sexism and PTSD. None of those things was explicitly called that, but they were there. And maybe that isn’t the “dark” Hollywood thinks their viewers want–in some ways, it was a very passive dark–it doesn’t change the fact that in many ways, it was a very serious show, dealing with very serious issues.

Season Two has very little of this shadowy nuance. I can appreciate the fact that Peggy is moving on with her life; that she managed to let go, to a certain extent, of Steve. That she is, perhaps, pursuing a romance.

But why were we never given any indication of what happened between her and Daniel? In Season One, the show opener reminded you of who Peggy is, and why life is so weird for her. That the war is over, and everyone is trying to find their place. A little annoying, maybe, but the show never assumed we should know everything about Peggy. For the most part, I think you could have gone into that season having never seen Captain America and followed it just fine.

Season Two makes no such allowances. Sousa has been on the west coast for at least a few months, but how many? He’s not returning Peggy’s calls but we’re never told what happened to prompt this. For all we the viewers know, Peggy and Daniel’s relationship hasn’t grown at all since she declined to get a drink with him at the end of Season One. In fact, when I first watched the first episode of Season Two, this was the main reason I was confused, because I assumed that if something important had happened between Peggy and Daniel we would have, if not been shown it, at least been told about it. As far as the viewers are aware, the only reason Daniel hasn’t returned Peggy’s calls is because she didn’t go out to get a drink with him once.

Sure, we can make an educated guess that they went out–but the farther we get into season two, the more confusing it gets. Did Daniel move because he wanted more from Peggy? Did Peggy push him away? Did Daniel push Peggy away? Did she miss too many dinners because the job always comes first? We shouldn’t have to guess this much.

In Season One, the main drive was Peggy’s growth as a person, and finding her place in the world. In Season Two, it was a love triangle.

I’m fine with love stories. I love sappy, unrealistic romances. This is why I love the Hallmark Channel. Agent Carter is not a two-hour romantic movie.

I’m fine with romance for Peggy. I want Peggy to find love. She deserves to find someone to love, who loves and respects her. I don’t want this to be one of the major movers behind an entire season. And if it is, I can accept that–but you can’t just fabricate romantic tension and not explain how it came to be. What that looks like is you didn’t know what to do with Peggy except romance, so you created a sort of hand-wavey obstacle that she and her endgame love had to overcome. If we’d gotten even an inkling of what drove Peggy and Daniel apart, maybe the romantic tension would have made more sense.

Some of you are going to think I didn’t like the romance because I just want Peggy to be tough all the time.

Well, no, I don’t, and Season One proves that Peggy doesn’t need romantic drama to let her guard down or to soften. We see her mourn Steve, we see her cry for Krzeminski even though she doesn’t like him much. We see her selfish, and foolhardy, and kind, loyal, and caring. We see her tough-as-nails, we see her judgmental, we see her as a wonderful friend. She’s willing to be branded a traitor for the sake of a friend; we see her hold back tears; we see her hold back punches.

She is not a strong female character. She’s a person

More than once, we see Peggy get upset or even angry when someone rushes to her defense, Sousa in particular. Peggy doesn’t need you to save her. She’s perfectly capable of doing that herself; but, as Jarvis points out early in Season One, she needs support.

There were wonderful moments in Season Two, and for me, none of them were when romance was on the table. Every interaction Peggy has with Jarvis, with Ana, with Howard, even with Jack Thompson. Rose and Samberly, some of the scenes with Jason Wilkes. Even when she was talking to Violet, I enjoyed it! The banter, the ways she manipulates Howard so easily, Howard in general, the big blowup between Peggy and Jarvis in the desert–all of these were great moments. But every time the scene strayed towards romance–or, more accurately, about talking around her supposed romance with Daniel Sousa–the show lost me. It wasn’t about Peggy being unsure about a man she has feelings for, or even about her having more than one man to choose from. It’s about the viewers never being given enough information, and about Peggy deserving better.

In part, it is because I feel like Daniel doesn’t respect her. He doesn’t disrespect her, sure, but he also consistently thinks she needs to be saved. Jack has learned that Peggy rarely needs to be saved, and he might not be nice to her in Season Two, but he respects her as an equal. Personally, I think part of why he sends her to LA is because he sees her as an equal–and for good ole’ boy Jack that the fact that a woman is as good or better than him at his job is flat-out terrifying. It’s a dick move, sure, but it’s enlightening as to his character.

What’s enlightening to me about Daniel’s character, on the other hand, is that not only did he not talk to Peggy when he moved, he was seeing someone else and was avoiding actually telling Peggy this fact, somehow forgetting in one fell swoop how to act like an adult and that Peggy is a spy who understands that windows are good for looking through. Daniel is nice. But he’s also borderline Nice Guy. He didn’t have to be written this way; maybe if he’s shown more character development between Seasons One and Two, like Jack did, I would feel differently.

Peggy doesn’t need a romance to make her seem more–I don’t know, feminine? She doesn’t need a romance to make her seem more human, or to make her more relatable. So many women related to Peggy in Season One, and that was without a major romance.

And you know what? I wasn’t going to talk about Angie when I started this but I’m going to. I started rewatching Season One, half-convinced that Cartinelli was some sort of collective fever-dream that we’d made up as a fandom, desperate and eager for mainstream queer representation. And then I watched Time and Tide. Where a crying Peggy goes to the automat where Angie works and Someone to Watch Over Me is playing as Angie comforts Peggy. That’s the kind of song you play while romantic interests are interacting.

Yes, women can be friends and it doesn’t have to be romantic. This show proves the point that there doesn’t always have to be romantic tension between friends with Peggy and Jarvis beautifully, and they prove the point again and again. This doesn’t change the fact that there was more chemistry between Peggy and Angie than Peggy and any other man on the show. This doesn’t change the fact that we are given small (and occasionally not-so-small) nudges that point to a Peggy and Angie romance. Someone to Watch Over Me. Are you kidding me?

And then in Season Two, ABC was so terrified of how bisexual Peggy is that they completely ignored Angie, to the point that her name is only said once and that she is referred to by Peggy as “my roommate”. That the threat of Peggy’s queerness was so terrifying that she has to be given not one, but two potential romantic partners, both male (and yet the sexual tension between Peggy and Dottie still couldn’t be squelched).

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier Peggy says that she is married, that Steve rescued the man that would later become her husband–but that interview happened in the fifties, right? Until maybe the last twenty or thirty years, you didn’t just go around telling people you were queer. Lavender marriages existed. Peggy could still have had a relationship with a woman. The first season did such a great job of showing and, in many ways, critiquing, the sexism of the forties, and to see that same care and brutal honesty about two women being in love would have been, at the very least, interesting, and potentially moving and vindicating for LGBT+ women. Season One of Agent Carter had such a profound effect on many women (and men) by showing Peggy stand up to adversity, seeing her grow as a person, giving all of us the courage and awareness to be able to say “I know my value–anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”

That attitude in respect to a relationship that, at the time, would have meant being ostracized by friends and family, ridiculed, fired–not only would it make sense for Peggy’s character, but it would have allowed for the exploration not only of the time period, but of Peggy Carter herself, the strength of her friendships, and the nature of the S.S.R.

I’m trying not to get angry about this and failing, so I’ll try to wrap it up. I knew that Peggy and Daniel were endgame, and still I hoped for bisexual Peggy Carter. Hayley seemed okay with it; the character Peggy developed the strongest relationship with in Season One was Angie, and there were, as mentioned above, so many cues that Peggy and Angie would wind up together, at least for a while. Marvel and ABC had the chance to do something huge–dare I say groundbreaking?–that would have meant so much to a lot of people–and me, personally. The thought that I might see a bisexual woman on tv–on a show that I adored–the idea that I might see someone like me on television, in the guise of such an amazing character as Peggy Carter–was incredible. Just the idea that it might happen was one of the things that kept me thinking and talking about Agent Carter between seasons. Logically, I knew it would never happen; I hoped that it would.

But still: we all knew that Peggy and Daniel were endgame. If that storyline hadn’t been done so poorly, and with so much unexplained drama, I might have even liked it.

Marvel and ABC had the opportunity to do something really amazing with Peggy Carter. They did something amazing with her in Season One, but it’s like between seasons one and two, they forgot how to write her as a real person.

There were some really stellar moments in Season Two, but they pale in comparison to the solid greatness of Season One.

I hope Agent Carter gets renewed. I hope that whoever the show lost between Seasons One and Two on the production side of things comes back. I hope they can maintain some of the lightheartedness of Season Two, while not sacrificing the emotional depth of Season One.

(and yes, deep down, I hope that Peggy winds up with Angie, that Marvel and ABC do something, well, marvelous, and give us a canon bisexual character, that Marvel and ABC realize what visibility does and what that would mean to people. And who knows? It might help the ratings.)

With All Due Respect,

S.

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