The majority of this Column is going to consist of me doing something I rarely do - criticizing a portion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The following will contain spoilers for the season (/likely series) finale of Marvel's Agent Carter. If you don't want to be spoiled, skip down until after the picture of Agent Carter.
I love Agent Carter as a character. I really enjoy Hayley Atwell's performance in the role. I love Jarvis and, in particular, the acting job of James D'Arcy who plays him. I like the period. I like that the protagonist is female (as are many of the antagonists). I really like the idea that Marvel would tell the tell of Agent Carter and Howard Stark in their formulation of S.H.I.E.L.D.
There's just one problem with that last bit, though. It doesn't.
When I first heard about Agent Carter, I got super excited by the premise of the show. There is a great Marvel One-Shot about Agent Carter that tells a story about her being a one-woman wrecking ball, kicking butt, saving the day, and her role as a co-founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Howard Stark. I was looking forward to a great, self-contained mini-series that expanded on that story. In the middle of the first season, though, I realized that the show wasn't leading into the One-Shot. Near the end of the first season I realized that there wasn't going to be a tie-in to S.H.I.E.L.D. at all. I was sad, but happy to forgive the writers because the show was genuinely pretty good.
When the series got picked up for a second season, I thought that maybe this time around my hopes would come to fruition; and this seemed pretty likely in the first episode when the antagonist is revealed to belong to a secret group with a familiar-looking symbol. However, as the season progressed it became painfully clear that not only was I going to have my hopes let down again, but also I was going to witness the character of Peggy Carter be pretty well wrecked by terrible writing.
Peggy Carter very quickly finds herself in the middle of a love triangle. Much like with Black Widow in Age of Ultron, Marvel took an awesome female character and turned her into the object of affection whose story revolves around her relationship with men. Can we not have a female character who doesn't eventually become a cute little girl with a crush? Even worse - the two men she makes out with throughout the season are BOTH not the guy she eventually winds up marrying. We know this because of the following quote from Captain America: the Winter Soldier:
"Steve, Captain Rogers, he fought his way through a HYDRA blockade that had pinned our allies down for months. He saved over 1,000 men, including the man who would become my husband, as it turns out."
- Peggy Carter-
So, obviously she doesn't end up with Sousa or Wilkes. This kills any real dramatic tension for those of use who paid enough attention to know that already. I was hoping she wouldn't end up with them because one or both of them would meet a tragic demise this season. However, despite several situations in which one or the other of them clearly should have died, some Deus Ex Machina saved their lives, they walked out of the season alive and well, and Agent Carter never had to deal with any real consequences. This season ends with Peggy on the lap of a man she most certainly does not end up with.
Aside from the problems I have with what the writers did to Peggy Carter - let's look at some of the details of the second season:
- The mystery that is brought up in the first episode is never resolved.
- The Zero Matter literally explodes Wilkes, which somehow not only leaves him unharmed but also magically cures him.
- Carter is impaled in the middle of season, but fighting people two episodes later.
- The fate of Dottie Underwood (whose character I do like) was left open-ended.
- The big bad of the season is defeated by her absent-mindedly walking in front of a humongous cannon.
- Nobody of real importance died until the very last minute of the last episode, and even then it was a side character whose death was an obvious attempt at a setup for season 3 (which isn't likely to happen).
- The entire story, while not necessarily actively disagreeing with the established MCU canon, certainly does not want to line up with it.
In summary, the television show that is "Agent Carter" failed to deliver on the premise off which it should obviously have been based, fell into the "girl with a crush" trope, and generally sucked in season two.
That was a lot longer than I expected it to be.
The other thing I wanted to talk about in this post is a somewhat new found appreciation I have for history (or, at least, specific parts of history). I went to Wikipedia the other day and started reading about WWII. Within ten minutes my browser had over a dozen Wikipedia tabs open for me to read when I was finished. I wanted to know more about what exactly happened and why. All in all, I probably read for 2+ hours about WWII and, to a lesser extent, the Cold War.
What I did not read about was World War I. I don't know much about it, but it seems like it couldn't possibly be as interesting. World War II had Hitler, the Holocaust, the Russians and the United States teamed up, the Manhattan Project, and two nuclear explosions.
I should probably read about WWI before I go out on a limb and declare WWII the "more interesting" one - but I was surprised at how much I appreciated learning about history. That has literally never happened before.
Top 5: Podcasts - by my excitement level for each new episode
4. This American Life
3. This Week in Google
2. Freakonomics Radio
1. Radiolab / Serial (can't decide on a favorite)
"You wouldn't really die of anything, in the traditional sense. You would just stop being biology and start being physics."
- XKCD author Randall Munroe, when describing what would happen if you were standing in the path of a 1-meter wide laser beam constructed from all of the energy released by the sun -