In the last week, Marvel killed Margaret Carter twice with the cancellation of Agent Carter on Friday. But amidst the sorrow, let’s take a look back and remember Peggy’s crucial contribution to the Marvel universe.
Although Agents of SHIELD had come before it, Agent Carter‘s arrival on television last year provided a hugely important layer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that SHIELD couldn’t. While Coulson and his friends served to support and prop up the current, modern-day movies, Agent Carter provided a bridge beyond that to the history of the MCU, an era left barren after Captain America: The First Avenger.
Agent Carter gave context to the world before Iron Man, whether it was through exploring Tony Stark’s father in is heyday or paving the way for the existence of SHIELD as an organisation itself through the Strategic Scientific Reserve. Her adventures saw her tangle with the Red Room, the Soviet assassin training program that would eventually produce Black Widow; she even kept “Zero Matter” from destroying the world, an other-dimensional substance that will likely play a role in the upcoming Dr Strange film.
But while Agent Carter‘s branching between the world of movies and television was important, its most crucial contribution to Marvel was its distinctly female focus. Announced at a time when fans were begging to see Black Widow, Marvel’s most prominent female character, get her own film, and with the promise of a Captain Marvel movie still nothing more than hearsay (it wouldn’t be confirmed until 10 months after Agent Carter‘s announcement, and even then it was — and still is — years away), Agent Carter was not only the first Marvel venture that starred a female protagonist, but one that intimately focused on the plight of a woman battling against a society that sought to dampen her every accomplishment.
Season one’s laser-guided focus on the struggles Peggy faced at the male-dominated SSR were a natural evolution from her arc in The First Avenger, and her fight for acceptance was hugely important in the ongoing discussion about the role of women in comics media. For every step forward Peggy took, she’d be knocked back — and Peggy would carry on walking regardless. It could be summed up in a moment from the finale of the show’s first season, when Peggy’s fellow agent Jack Thompson takes the credit for saving the day. One of her colleagues, De Sousa, is baffled as to how she can sit by and let Thompson take the plaudits, and Peggy simply replied with a statement that would become a rallying cry for the show’s fans:
I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.
Peggy Carter was the epitome of a strong female character. She wasn’t just an arse-kicker (although she certainly was that) but she also had the strength to defiantly march into command of a situation with a smile and a glib quip, despite living trapped in a world that wanted to hold her down for gender. Furthermore, while Peggy had a tragic past, just like so many other Marvel heroines — but it never defined her in the way her humour and positivity did.
The show would not be without its problems when it came to celebrating female-focused creativity, of course — it repeatedly faced criticism for both a lack of female directors and a scarcity of non-white female characters — but Agent Carter still carried the banner for positive, complex looks at female characters not just for Marvel’s live-action universe, but for this entire era of comic-inspired entertainment. Much more than the shorts and two seasons of Agent Carter we have to remember her by, this will be Peggy’s legacy.
That’s the important thing, in the end. Beyond the lamentations, the wondering of what might have been. Beyond the frustration of an uneven second season, and the lost potential of more chapters left uncovered. Beyond the criticisms of the second season (with a cliffhanger ending that will never be resolved). Even beyond the dwindling viewing numbers that ultimately sealed Agent Carter‘s fate many months ago.
Through the highs and lows of it all, Peggy Carter knew her value — and in a Marvel Cinematic Universe where the divide between television and film is deeper than ever, and while we’re still years away from a female-led Marvel movie, we knew it too. And we will miss it more than anything else.