Some Thoughts on AGENT CARTER

Posted: January 7, 2015 in Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

In brief:  fine.  It’s fine.  Hayley Atwell is great, she hits a guy with a stapler.  Just cold wrecks him with it, that was worth tuning in for, considering this whole misadventure is, at the very least, free.

I do have some further thoughts, I shall present them in the form of…


1.  On Historical Misogyny

A+ on going fullbore on the “Men are Chauvinist Pigs” route.  Like, two of them are okay, basically everyone else is just a sexist asshole, just like the actual 1940s.  I hope they’re as clear on the subject of racism.  Is it my imagination, though, or does that seem less likely?  It seems to me that it’s a lot easier to think of these other SHIELD pricks (excuse me, SSR pricks) as sexist but still okay guys than it would be if they were clearly racist.

Is that right?  That it’s okay for sexism to be this sort of ordinary background radiation for Peggy Carter’s story, just something that’s there and she maybe even plays for a joke (once or twice or eight times or something), but if there were racism we’d have to hear about it, someone would have to learn a lesson that racism is wrong or something?

(To be clear:  I think both racism and sexism are wrong, and I also think that there were a lot more assholes in the Greatest Generation than we usually think of, and I think it’d be good to expose that.  I just feel like there’s a difference in the way we treat these two particular forms of bigotry, I just think it’s weird.)

2.  Hayley Atwell

Is great.  Good work, continuing to employ her Marvisney Studios.  She strikes a good combination of tough, exasperated, intense.  Honestly, I think the worst part of this — and this has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with the writing — is when she has to be “vulnerable”.  They’ve got these parts in here when she’s sad about how her roommate got killed and look, I get crying over your dead friend, but then going on about it to your missing friend’s butler, I don’t know, guys.  Wasn’t Peggy Carter in the fucking war?  Surely she’s got over the tendency to hold herself personally responsible for every loss, the way every hero ever in the history of TV shows heroes has done?  Or, if she IS starting to break down, is she suffering from PTSD?  That was a real thing in WWII, that might bear some investigation, but I’m not sure if we could handle a female character who was damaged, I think we only want a female character who is vulnerable.

This just seems to me to smack, “Yeah, she should be strong, but also vulnerable.”  Why?  “Because that’s what makes a good character, when they’re strong but also vulnerable.”  Why is that, though?  “Because…because it is.”  Because why? “BECAUSE.  VULNERABLE.”

Okay dudes, whatever.

3.  The Postwar Era

I could not care less about this time period in American History.  It ranks above only the 1970s in “Eras Chris Couldn’t Give a Shit About If He Tried”, so in a certain respect, this TV show definitely wasn’t meant for me.  Dumb hair, stupid clothes, they’re about to go to town building the lamest-looking houses in history.  I guess it’s good that everything is so dark I can hardly see it.

The music was shit, too.

There’s a part with this radio show that’s going on while Peggy Carter is kicking ass, and the show is about Captain America, and on the Captain America radio show, “Peggy Carter” is a triage nurse who keeps getting captured and rescued by Captain America.  This is a very good idea you could use to explore:  1) How Captain America in particular, and the soldiers of WWII in general, became outsize heroes during this time in a way that meant they were constantly standing in their own shadows, and 2) How media and art transform history and reinforce cultural and social norms.  Radio occupied this really weird niche in the 1940s, and could be used to great effect.

I guess the way they used it, which was just that it was funny for it to be on while Peggy Carter kicked a guy, was fine.

This was also, maybe not coincidentally, the time period when a certain medium you might have heard of called COMIC BOOKS really started to take off, but you wouldn’t know it to watch this show.  Is Marvel just basically trying to erase its own history, do you think?  Is part of its struggle to achieve cultural dominance actually disassociating itself from the superhero-heavy medium that was its genesis?

4.  The Plot

Peggy has to get a glowing thing.  She’s gone rogue, or something, because no one at SHIELD is listening to her, so she just goes off and gets the thing, an exploding, imploding explimplosive that Howard Stark designed, then has to get a bunch more of the things, without her colleagues knowing about it.  Fine, a standard “Get the Thing” plot, but it does kind of make me feel like the production meetings went like:  “Yeah, Peggy Carter!  A woman in a man’s world!”  “Sure!  And we can put Howard Stark in it for a hot second!  And give Enver Gjoki something to do!”  “Great!  I’ve got some ideas about hats that people could wear, and hey, is Chad Michael Murray doing anything these days?”  “Oh, uh, what should happen in it, though?”  “I don’t know, someone think up a thing for her to go get, or something.”

Here’s the thing, though, literally the first thing that Howard Stark tells us about the nitrimplodium that he invented is that you can steal it on a piece of paper because it’s just a formula for nitrimplodium, so why does Peggy Carter spend the whole two hours chasing down actual little explosives?  She doesn’t even try to get the formula!  Why…why are these guys even secretly making nitrimplodium and a factory in Red Hook instead of just building their own secret factory somewhere else?  Also, if ONE nitrimplodium explimplosive could destroy an entire oil refinery, surely a milk-truck full of them would destroy…more.  Than that?

This is a situation where I wonder “what’s going on here”, but I don’t wonder it in a way that’s all, “Hm, there might be more to this plot than it seems!” it makes me wonder it like, “Have you guys even thought about this at all?”

[ETA: She has to get the glowing thing because Howard Stark is on trial for weapons selling (not the good kind of weapons selling, which is what he was doing before, but the bad kind) and she has to clear his name, I guess.  I don’t know.  Yawn.]

5.  The Leviathan Is Coming

So, a dude without a voicebox says that the Leviathan is coming (he’s got one of those laryngeal vibration things, those external voiceboxes that you see sometimes), and let me tell you, I am sure that this is different from the OTHER vaguely-menacing generic supervillains that have been teased in every fucking TV show in the history TV shows since Buffy the Vampire Slayer introduced the Dark that Will Eat Your Butt or whatever it was in season 7.  (Possibly it was before Buffy, I am not an expert on TV shows.)

I don’t know why TV shows do this.  It doesn’t lend urgency, because I don’t know what the Leviathan is, so I don’t really have any good idea of what it means that it’s on the way.  And it doesn’t really make me interested in the “mythology” that you’re creating, because I don’t care.  Whatever, a Leviathan.  Is it some kind of giant beast?  A giant beast with a million heads?  Oh, wait, maybe it’s a secret organization of double Nazis that have infiltrated American government at every level…well, it’s probably not that, it’s probably some other spy organization or a cult organization or a conspiracy or one of a million things I’ve seen before.  We’ve seen so many different kinds of badguys that when you leave it generic and “mysterious” (i.e. “vague”), my imagination doesn’t run wild trying to fill in the gaps.  It’s more like, “Oh, right, I wonder what that Leviathan thing was. Probably some spy thing. Well, I’m not doing anything next Tuesday, may as well see what it is.”

Whatever, I don’t care.  I assume it’s just something to give people the impression that the first season is going to be tied together with something, and then after they get that out of the way the writers can get down to the business of telling stories or something.  I just don’t feel like it’s too much to ask to ask that TV shows and writers and such have this stuff worked out before they make the pilot and start working on the first season.  I think enough pilots and seasons have been made now that we know how to avoid all of those problems of shaky pilots and first seasons that haven’t found there footing, the secret is to figure out what you’re doing first and then try to do it.

6.  Stay Tuned for This Seven-Part Series!

Wait, what?


*  Do you think Peggy Carter was lying to scare that guy, or did she really not know where the brachial artery is?

* Ant-Man trailer teaser!  Thrill to the story of another guy who is special and saves his family with powers or something who cares.  Sooo many feeeeeelings in the traiiiiiler, never has a world more keenly felt the absence of Edgar Wright and his maniacal sense of fun.

* I know this all makes me sound like a dickbag for hating on a show starring a lady, but I really do want more lady protagonists and non-white protagonists and non-straight and non-cis and disabled protagonists, I want diversity really badly.  I just wish, when we finally get around to making a lady hero, we could be bothered to give her a better story.

  1. braak says:

    UPDATE. I am writing more about this because it keeps making me mad. Here is the thing, in this show Agent Carter works for the SSR, the Strategic Scientific Reserve. This is the part of the army in Captain America that invented Captain America, and their job is basically to think of new technologies to help win the war. And now it’s after the war (1946), so what is the job that they have to do? Like, the whole bureau or whatever it is, all they’re doing is going after Howard Stark because his weapons (secret weapons that he hid in his safe and no one knew about, so how did anyone recognize them?) turned up in the Arsenals of America’s Enemies (an exact term, except it’s after the war, so who are these enemies, exactly? The Korean War doesn’t start until 1950, Mao doesn’t take over China until 1949, so it’s basically just the Soviet Union, right?

    So, I mean, but why does this organization exist to get Howard Stark, if Howard Stark just turned traitor? What was their job before that? Why did they exist? No one does anything, no one seems to have any expertise except in investigating and punching (standard 30s FBI/hardcore police skills), why are they even chasing criminal fugitives at all?

    I think this is important because it exemplifies what is, I think, the endemic laziness in this entire project. These motherfuckers couldn’t even be bothered to figure out what Peggy Carter’s job is before they tried to write a spy story about her.

  2. John Jackson says:

    I agree with everything here. I’m still going to watch it all. Maybe just because of Hayley Attwell, maybe because of … um… okay I can’t think of another reason.

    “I think enough pilots and seasons have been made now that we know how to avoid all of those problems of shaky pilots and first seasons that haven’t found there footing, the secret is to figure out what you’re doing first and then try to do it.”

    The problem with pilots is that pilots are the most worked over and re-addressed episodes of any tv show. Every American pilot these days suffers from too many cooks syndrome. There’s just nothing to do about it if you’re making a pilot episode for someone who is paying you to do it, expecting to make money off the show.

    So, no, apparently we haven’t learned those lessons.

  3. John Jackson says:

    So, four episodes in, and we’re only just hitting the stage where the 15 minute Marvel One-Shot short film that was essentially, a pitch film for this series left us. 168 minutes of middling nonsense and absurd ‘mystery’ building to leave us in EXACTLY the same place that 15 minutes did. Man, I really dislike network TV right now.

    Side note: everyone keeps talking about how Marvel needs to announce who the lead is in Captain Marvel, which is intended to be “a strong female character”, probably in the Whedon vein. They introduced Adrianne Palicki as Bobbi Morse, who in the comics is Mockingbird. Not only is Mockingbird simply not a fun name for action, but a horrible idea when hunger Games and MockingJay is so *big* right now. I can’t say for sure that Palicki can carry a film entirely on her own, but I’m more than willing to bet that she’s one of the few rising young stars in Hollywood that Marvel/Disney will trust with a lead role in a franchise. Also, it fits with another explanation for why Agents of SHIELD should still exist, even if it still isn’t any better than average.

    Sure, everyone wants Sackhoff, but you could do something really fun if you cast both of them somehow.

  4. braak says:

    I have been reading comments from people, many of them something like, “We have to support Agent Carter, or no one will ever make female-lead stories again!” and then the response of, “Yeah, but have you guys noticed how casually racist this show is? Like, there are basically zero black people living in New York City in the 40s? Especially after the ethnically diverse Howling Commandos were introduced in Captain America?”

    Which I think is a fine enough argument, but the real problem here is that this show was just really lazy. It’s lazy about race, it’s lazy about its plot, it’s lazy about basically EVERYTHING. This was 100%, “Hey, people like this Peggy Carter character, that’s crazy! Guys, throw some garbage together real quick, see if they’ll tune in.”

    Bleh. I have a hard time getting excited about Captain Marvel, because I actually don’t even know the deal with Captain Marvel anymore. Does she have powers? What does she do? Why is there a Captain Marvel.

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