I love shows with well-written characters. What makes Agent Carter amazing was that it wrote amazing characters. The show can get heavy-handed at times about how sexist the 1940s were, but it got better as the show went along. But sexism wasn’t the only theme that Agent Carter had going on. Throughout the show, the characters, both heroes and villains, showed examples of the five stages of grief.
Spoilers for Agent Carter ensue. You were warned.
The male members of the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve) spend most of the season in a constant state of denial over issues in their lives and the denial is partially to blame for their mistreatment of Agent Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell).
Chief Roger Dooley (played by Shea Whigham) has a strained marriage, in part because his wife cheated on him. This makes Dooley vulnerable to a hypnosis that one of the series’ villains puts him under. More on the villains later.
Agent Jack Thompson (played by Chad Michael Murray) is my least favorite character on the show, mostly because he’s a sexist jerk, even if he was a good agent. In “The Iron Ceiling,” however, it was revealed that Thompson has feelings for Peggy and that he made a bad call in relation to an encounter with enemy soldiers in Japan. Even though he received great reward, he felt like it was undeserved, which is why he constantly seeks approval and accolades by his peers. While I gained sympathy for the dog, I do not ship him with Carter.
Daniel Sousa (played by Dollhouse’s Enver Gjokaj) is an injured war veteran who has a crush on Peggy and the guy I ship Carter with. Even though he’s the only one in the SSR that supports Peggy, it’s shown that he has this idealistic, unrealistic view of her in the form of a Madonna-Whore Complex. When he eventually finds out about Peggy working with Howard Stark, he automatically assumes that she’s sleeping with him. Thankfully, he was able to listen to reason.
The two major villains, Dr. Ivchenko AKA Dr. Fennhoff (played by Ralph Brown) and Dorothy “Dottie” Underwood (played by Bridget Regan), are motivated by anger. Dr. Fennhoff holds a grudge against Howard Stark for creating a gas that ended up killing his brother and comrades in a Russian town called Finow. When Peggy fights Dottie in the season finale, Dottie confesses that she always wanted to be like Peggy. An earlier episode shows Dottie stealing Peggy’s lipstick and imitating a British accent while looking at herself in a mirror. It’s an anger born of envy, but it’s anger nevertheless.
Peggy Carter constantly bargains for some kind of approval throughout the series. She wants people to take her seriously. She also tries to cut herself off from her allies in the hopes that they don’t get caught in the crossfire. And when she finds out that one of the items that Howard Stark sent her to retrieve contained a vial of Steve Roger’s blood, she chastises him for lying to her and for planning to use the blood for future projects.
However, throughout the series, Peggy’s bargaining chips slowly get taken away from her. It’s not until she gets to the point that she has nothing left to lose (losing her new apartment, potentially losing contact with her new friend, losing her job at the SSR) that she starts transitioning into the stage of acceptance. Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis (played by James D’Arcy) points out to Peggy that Captain America relied as much on her as much as she relied on him, so she didn’t have to do everything on her own. And eventually, Peggy’s friend, Angie (played by Lyndsy Fonesca) covers for Peggy when the SSR comes looking for her.
Howard Stark has 2 major character flaws that make me have this love-hate relationship with him. I hate him for being such a womanizer. (Do you not know of a concept called self-control?) But I also love him because I see so much of Tony Stark in him and his guilt he has over what he created and the consequences from his inventions going wrong tugs at my heart because he has no idea of the awesomeness that his son would become. Creating Captain America wasn’t the only good deed he did. Creating Tony Stark was another one.
Howard Stark is absent for most of the show, but he exhibits signs of depression over Captain America’s death in the season finale. When Doctor Fennhoff hypnotizes Howard Stark into remembering the moment of his greatest guilt, he doesn’t think about Finow, but of the Arctic, where Steve Rogers crashed his plane.
Many of the characters eventually get to the stage of acceptance as the series drew closer to its end. Chief Dooley found acceptance in “SNAFU” when he woke up with the 1940s equivalent of a suicide bomb vest, recognized Carter for the valuable agent she was, and chose to save the Agency by throwing himself out of a window. In doing so, he also accepted that he wasn’t going to be able to fix his marriage and asked his agents to apologize to his wife on his behalf.
Thompson accepted his actions in the war by confessing them to Peggy in “The Iron Curtain.” He also eventually accepted Peggy’s worth when Dottie’s true colors were revealed. He was ready to face against Dottie, knowing that he was going to face someone capable of killing him.
In the season finale, there are three major scenes that show Peggy Carter going from bargaining to acceptance.
Peggy gets on the radio at Howard Stark’s private hanger, pleading to Howard Stark to snap out of the hypnosis that Dr. Fennhoff put him under. At this point, Howard Stark believes that he is flying over the Arctic, about to rescue Captain America, when he is really flying to Manhattan, about to unleash a dangerous gas over the city. Tears stream down her face as she leans over the intercom.
“Howard, I know you loved him. I loved him, too. But this won’t bring him back. Howard, you are the one person on this earth who believes in me. I cannot lose you. Steve is gone. We have to move on, all of us. As impossible as that may sound, we have to let him go.”
Then, when she arrives at the SSR Headquarters to pick up her paycheck, Peggy is greeted with applause from her coworkers. Men from Washington DC arrive to congratulate Thompson on his investigation and Peggy says that she doesn’t need to take the credit in spite of Sousa stating otherwise. She said “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.” This prompts Sousa to finally get the courage to ask Peggy out in the season finale and wasn’t deterred when she turned him down.
After settling down in one of Howard Stark’s residences with Angie, Peggy was given Steve Roger’s blood to keep since, according to Jarvis, she’s the only one who would truly know what to do with it. Instead of wearing it around her neck or keeping it in a vault, Peggy goes out to the Brooklyn Bridge and pours the blood into the water as she says “Goodbye, my darling.” I started tearing up at this scene, but I also felt proud at Peggy for finally being able to move on. I know that she’ll find love again, if she so needs to.
Let’s just hope the show gets a second season!