The greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe character passed away last week. Margaret “Peggy” Carter, a founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. and all-around onscreen delight, was shown to have gone to her rest with the release of Captain America: Civil War last week. The film’s release was followed up by the announcement that ABC would not be renewing Agent Carter for a third season, leaving the show on a cliffhanger and disappointing hundreds of fans. When Brandon asked me if I wanted to take a minute to talk about what Peggy meant to me, I jumped at the call. Please, allow me this moment to eulogize one of the greats.
Who was Peggy Carter? The character first appeared in the MCU in a supporting role in Captain America: The First Avenger. As revealed in the second season of Agent Carter, Peggy had grown up a tomboy before ultimately giving in to the expectations of femininity that were thrust upon her and enforced by her mother. She joined the war effort, initially as a code-breaker, and was ultimately recruited to join the Special Operations Executive organization, which led to her meeting with Steve “Captain America” Rogers. Following Cap’s disappearance, he was considered missing in action, and Peggy joined the Strategic Scientific Reserve, the precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D. In this position, Peggy helped thwart an attempted Hydra takeover and foiled the assassination attempts of a graduate of the Black Widow program. She later participated in overthrowing a corrupt cabal of powerful men on the East Coast. Forty years later, she was still an active part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and serving on its board, as shown in the opening scene of last summer’s Ant-Man. When Cap finally re-emerged in the modern world, Peggy was his last remaining connection to his old life, and we had the pleasure of seeing him visit her bedside in Winter Soldier.
All of that, is, however, just fact. Or, “fact,” rather, given that we’re talking about a fictional character. Who was Peggy Carter, really, though? 2015 saw the release of an astonishing three American television shows that revolved around women from the comics: Agent Carter, Supergirl, and Jessica Jones. Despite the more obvious familiarity with the Supergirl character and the surprise success of the Netflix interpretation of Jessica Jones, Peggy Carter’s stories stood out just as strongly as those of the other series. Although it was a network show and therefore would never be able to address the lie of a enviable past with the same depth as, say, Mad Men, Agent Carter still put a woman in an important role in a spy agency in the late forties and was as honest as it could be about how she and her sisters would be treated. In one of the first season’s greatest speeches, Peggy is confronted by her chief and two male co-workers, who are incredulous that she could have spent the whole season performing an independent in-depth exploration of evidence under their noses. “I conducted my own investigation because no one listens to me,” she says. “I got away with it because no one looks at me. Because, unless I have your reports, your coffee, or your lunch, I’m invisible.” And, unfortunately, it looks like Agent Carter itself wasn’t visible enough to warrant further investigation.
But that does not mean that we can’t adore the episodes that we were blessed with until the dark night consumes us all. We can always look back fondly at a program that featured women who loved to eat (and even secreted away gravy compartments in their handbags to allow for dining after hours), women who protected each other, and women who saw the opportunity for jealousy and instead took the road of affection. It’ll be a darker world without her, but we’ll make it through. As for me, in the meantime, I’ll keep on doing as Peggy says.