Agent Carter of Mars

I expected to like the television show Agent Carter.  At first glance, it appears to have all the ingredients of a television show that I would make an effort to reserve space for on my DVR — it takes place in the Marvel Universe; the apparent storyline is woven around events of importance in that universe; the titular character, Peggy Carter, seemed promising when we saw her in the Captain America movies, and I’m a sucker for a period piece.  Honestly, I’d probably tune in just to see the postwar cars and clothing.

And I feel that I was probably expected to like the show for these reasons, and so perhaps the writers and producers thought that was enough and didn’t bother to provide the real reason people like me watch these shows, which is because we find the characters interesting and want to learn more about them.  An essential, proven element in a superhero tale is the origin story.  What makes the hero willing and able to the things that he or she does?  What makes them different?  What inner conflict motivates them?  Who are they?  Why should we care what happens to them?

None of these questions have been addressed about Peggy Carter, not even glancingly.

In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the other show that shares the timeslot with Agent Carter, there is a similar situation — we don’t know much about most of the main characters, particularly Skye.  But unlike Agent Carter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D uses this mystery as motivation, and most of the episodes so far have revealed, in at least a small way, some important information about at least one of the characters.  The characters are interested in each other and we watch them reveal their pasts — or have the secrets of their past torn away.  We’ve known since early in season one that Skye is some sort of space alien mutant star child, but deep into season two we still don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Peggy Carter isn’t interesting.  Nobody is trying to find out more about her.  There’s only one character — a waitress in a diner that Peggy frequents — who even seems to have any interest in her as a human being.  We don’t know where she’s from, besides having a sort of watered-down British accent.  We don’t know if her parents are living or dead, or whether she has any siblings.  We don’t know where she went to school, although this would probably be interesting because she seems remarkably well educated on many subjects and is fluent in a surprising number of languages.  We don’t know how or why she entered the military, or how she ended up attached to an American unit, although again this would probably be interesting.  We don’t know why she chose to return to New York City after the war, since she appears to have no friends there and she was only stationed there briefly during the war — why didn’t she return home and work for an agency like MI-5 that might better appreciate her talents?  We don’t know where she picked up her extraordinary hand-to-hand combat skills — the sort of skills that would typically require many years of dedicated effort (starting long before the war) to acquire, or some sort of latent supernatural ability.  Either way, it’s conceivable that there’s a story there, and we’re not hearing it.  She could be from Mars, for all we know.

And there’s nothing to suggest that we are ever going to learn more.  Unless there’s a sudden change in the narrative, Peggy Carter has the unenviable role as the least interesting, most predictable person in her own show.

The truly broken thing about this situation is that the writers haven’t completely abandoned the concept of the origin story — they just haven’t given Peggy one.  They’ve teased us with tidbits of the backstory of Jarvis, Howard Stark’s butler, who has also shown something resembling character development.

Maybe they’ll do a show about him.

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