Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Agent Peggy Carter: Strong Character or Predictable Shell?

Agent Peggy Carter from the Marvel universe was one of the most highly requested characters to examine in my Strong Female Characters study. I admit, I wasn't completely familiar with the character, having only seen her in Captain America movies, so I also quickly caught up on the new TV show Agent Carter. (I haven't read any comic books, so if you were wanting me to draw from that, my apologies.) I might still disappoint some of you, but let's jump into it...

Agent Peggy Carter

Margaret "Peggy" Carter is an agent for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.R.R), the top secret Allied war agency during WWII. From the movie and TV series, not much is known about her past, which you could argue is consistent with her character; she is a woman of mystery, and hates revealing personal details unless completely relevant. 

Her greatest struggle seems to be the gender politics after WWII. Having been greatly involved in the war, the men are now home, and her position has reversed. Instead of pulling her weight alongside generals, she is now pushed to "secretary mode" and spends her days taking lunch orders. She faces sexism with surprising grace, however, biding her time. 

Despite the frustrations she faces at work, she still takes her work seriously and buries herself into it, perhaps a little too much. She is intelligent, observant, and wildly independent. At the same time, she is grieving. The TV show takes place after Steve Rodgers a.k.a Captain America "dies," and she pushes her feelings aside and in doing so pushes friends aside. She does eventually acknowledge her weakness, however, and mends fences. 

She isn't a robot; she doesn't open up easily, but she still cares. Her friend is murdered; she cries. A colleague she disliked is murdered; she cries. She sticks up for friends when they are threatened, doesn't crack under pressure, and she takes care of herself.

 How does she appear to others? 

  • Mention already, there's the sexism in the late 1940s. To the recruits, she's a woman not to be taken seriously (which she quickly dissolves). 

  • To her commander, she is one of the leaders.
  • To her colleagues, she's viewed as a secretary, not a fellow agent. She's not "up to snuff." 
  • To Steve Rodgers, she's first an ally, someone who can relate to doors being slammed in one's face, and eventually she's a woman to be admired and loved. 
  • To her enemies, they soon learn she is not to be messed with. She packs a punch, has amazing aim, and can take down a group of highly skilled SSR agents with surprising ease. 

"Not bad, for a girl."
"I hate you all." 
--Agent Carter

Things that make us love her:

  • She is not a whiner; she takes care of the problem. 
  • She doesn't care what others think; she knows what she's worth and that's enough. 

"I know my value. Anyone else's opinion doesn't really matter." 
-- Peggy Carter, Episode 8 

  • She can do 107 one-armed pushups.
  • Appreciates people who have morals. 
  • She stands by her actions. 
  • She can see the value in others. 

Now...what is WRONG with this character?
A flaw of the TV show, Agent Carter, is that Peggy is a predictable character and the only woman in the SSR. Obviously this was done for a reason as focus the attention solely on her and the sexism of the day. However, this makes everyone — the character, the viewers — view her as "the only one for the job," which in turn makes the character appear hoity-toity, as though she is leaps and bounds above others. This contradicts other attributes we see, such as valuing others and herself (yes, it is possible to write a character who doesn't care what others think of her without making her appear self-righteous). 

As mentioned before, she also has no background, at least none that was seen in the movies and entire TV show in which she appears. No background, no foundation, no connection. A character might be likable without background, but it's hard to take someone seriously if you don't know where they are coming from. 

What was done RIGHT?

She can be friends with other women. Many times these types of loner characters who are surrounded by men all day and defined simply as "tough" are depicted as unable to carry friendships with women. This is one place where Peggy Carter doesn't place herself above others.

And again, though she tries to hide her emotions, we are still shown she has them. She loves, cries, worries, is frustrated, is impulsive, etc. This helps to balance the fact we don't know her backstory as these are emotions we can relate to. 

What can we take away from this character? 

Overall, Peggy Carter is an admirable woman with many good qualities, but in my opinion, she's weak as a character. 

All of us want someone we can look up to. Give your character at least a few strong qualities that we can relate or aspire to, whether it's internal (fearless, patience, being completely comfortable in one's own skin, etc.) or external (stamina, incredible fighting skills, etc.). 

Remember to provide background for your character. You don't have to go into great length in the story; you don't even have to reveal everything to the supporting characters. Glimpses here and there are good. Perhaps her father left her as a child. Maybe she had to retake the driver's examination test three times. The reason she's obsessed with eating healthily and exercising is because her friend died of cancer. A character without foundation is a pretty but empty shell. 

If you are familiar with this character and have differing views, don't be shy to post your opinions in the comments. I'd love to hear what you think.

Please feel free to give any other suggestions on female characters to study! Comment below or use one of these ways to contact me. 


  1. I went into Agent Carter having never seen her in the Captain America movies and preparing to dislike her because she was constantly revered as being the ever-popular "strong female character". I couldn't have been more wrong--I ended up loving her character and I was sad when the show was over. I agree with you that background would have been great. I really would love to know where she came from and what she was doing before the SSR. You made an interesting comment about her being seen as hoity-toity. I can see where you're coming from, though I personally didn't feel that way much. When I did, I attributed it to her as a character flaw, showing that sometimes with all her self-confidence she gets a little bit too uppity. Very interesting post! My suggestion for a female character to study would be Captain Janeway from the Star Trek: Voyager series. She's one of my very favorites.

  2. I had a bit of that going into Agent Carter as well; I think the show's first season ended pretty strongly, and I hope it's renewed for another. Maybe then the writers would have more time to delve into her character deeply.
    I considered that viewpoint; it could very well be what was intended for her character. For me personally, it was a turn off point, and I felt as though it was overdone, but that is solely my opinion! It's interesting to hear from someone else who considers the opposite, thanks for sharing!
    Ah, the Star Trek: Voyager series is one I've always had in the back of my mind for watching, but never have! Perhaps this will be my excuse to get that done. I'll add her to my list, but be forewarned, it will be a while before I get to her.