Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review - Agent Carter: "A Sin to Err"

This review contains spoilers.

Well, Peggy Carter is in a tight spot now, and no mistake. After confirming his suspicions in what must be noted as a rather unscientific manner (isn't it bad form to only have one person in a lineup?), Agent Sousa took his findings about Peggy to Chief Dooley—igniting a manhunt that was equal parts exhilarating, intense, and at times distinctly amusing.

On a personal note, I have to say that Sousa's interruption of Dooley's debriefing with Dr. Ivchenko was one of the best instances of good timing/bad timing I've seen in a long time. I had a strong sense that Ivchenko was a Leviathan operative in the last episode (he was willing to kill a man under his care with far more ease than was plausible for a person in his supposed situation), but nothing could have prepared me for the near-apoplectic levels of fangirl flailing I would ultimately go into when I realized that he was shaping up to be the MCU's version of the iconic Captain America villain, Doctor Faustus. So, good job Sousa for saving the Chief, but bad job Sousa for busting Peggy.

As I said, Peggy Carter is in a tight spot, and it is one delineated by bitter ironies. The first irony is that Peggy got into this situation in part because of the internalized misogyny that prevented her from realizing that Dottie from Iowa was a threat. The second is that, as of "A Sin to Err," Peggy has only just managed to earn the hard-won respect of her male coworkers in time for that respect to be turned against her. Had she been caught in the conspiracy to aid and abet Howard Stark before she had earned that respect, Peggy might have been able to call upon the feminine wiles that served her so well when practically everyone in the office saw her as a creature of inherently lesser talents as a defense. Having seen her in action and developed a healthy appreciation for her abilities, however, none of her fellow agents were inclined to take it easy on her.

One of the primary driving motivational forces on the show has been Peggy's desire to be valued by her male coworkers, but that desire has manifested not in an attempt to improve her colleagues' perceptions of women, but in an attempt to be perceived as one of the boys—a strategy that in itself has sexist overtones. Joining the boys' club often seems like the solution to the problem sexist discrimination, but as this episode demonstrates it actually does little-to-nothing to advance the cause of gender equality. Though the agents of the SSR have come to respect Peggy's abilities as a trained operative, that esteem does not extend to women in general—a fact made all too clear by the fact that both Thompson (who has come to admire Peggy over the course of the show) and Sousa (who admired her from the very beginning) were taken in by the relatively simple subterfuges of both Dottie and Angie. Clearly, Peggy, like many women who find themselves in the boys' club, has won a battle only for herself—not for feminism—and the spoils of that battle are not nearly as valuable as she might have imagined.

It's interesting to speculate on whether or not Peggy would have had the opportunity to win her colleagues' approval without the chain of events that transpired as a result of her taking Howard Stark's offer to investigate for him. For my part, it's debatable. After all, much of her success in the department seems to have hinged on the mission to Russia that came about as a direct result of their acquisition of Sasha Demidov's typewriter, an object that the SSR—arguably—would never have acquired if Peggy hadn't provided them with Demidov's dead body and thus his identity, residence, and possessions. In ways both orthodox and un, Peggy has had to make all of her opportunities for herself, and she will undoubtedly continue to do so as the series draws to a close. But what this episode has made clear is that she has been making opportunities only for herself at this point, and not for women as a whole. The pressing question now is not so much whether or not Peggy has engendered enough respect amongst her colleagues for them to believe in the possibility of that her intentions were honest, but whether or not Peggy will realize what membership in the boys' club actually means for her and for the fight against sexism in general.

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