Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review - Agent Carter: "Snafu"

This review contains spoilers.

Not gonna lie here, when Chief Dooley looked at Peggy Carter and said, "Atta girl!" before doing a sacrificial header out of the office window to save his team from the explosive strapped to his chest, I totally cried.

This reaction was one-third the fact that Chief Dooley had grown into a complex character that I cared about, one-third the pitch-perfect performance of Shea Whigham, and one-third the sheer significance of his last words. Dooley asked Agent Thompson to speak to his wife; he asked Agent Carter to get the son-of-a-bitch who killed him. The fact that Dooley looked to Peggy, rather than to any of his other agents, to solicit the promise that the SSR would catch Doctor Faustus (aka Dr. Ivchenko)—the man who put Dooley's head on the chopping block—was deeply meaningful. It indicated that Peggy had finally succeeded in earning not just Dooley's respect but his trust as well, and I would argue that earning Dooley's trust is what lay at the heart of Peggy's actions. She thought she wanted his respect, but—as last week proved—having his respect meant nothing without having his trust.

What's most interesting here, though, is the manner in which Peggy had to go about earning first the respect and then the trust of her male coworkers. The final blow against their deeply-rooted sexism came during a positively electrifying confession scene, in which Peggy called each and every one of them out on their misogyny—a call out that very clearly shamed both Sousa and Thompson because they knew not just that Peggy was right but that she was dead right. (Chief Dooley was unmoved, but in fairness to him Dr. Ivchenko already has his claws in by that point, so Dooley was fighting a harder battle than either Sousa or Thompson.) That call out would not have been possible, however, without the violent campaign of resistance on Peggy's part that first got the attention of those men. To whit, neither Dooley, Thompson, nor Sousa was in a position to really see or hear Peggy until she violently claimed their attention. Days of clandestine operations and properly channeled challenges didn't fully earn their respect—to say nothing of their trust. Working her way into the boys' club didn't fully earn their respect. Only forceful resistance and explosive violence earned their respect, and only a confession delivered in a tone of carefully controlled, but nevertheless vehement, anger earned their trust.

Peggy could not earn the respect or trust of her SSR colleagues simply by remaining pleasant and working within their prejudiced system. She had to act against that system, and against her colleagues, to do so. There's an implicit message in the fact that Peggy couldn't earn the respect of her colleagues by either remaining demure or playing the game by their rules that applies generally to the nature of successful resistance: politely asking for your rights gets you nothing; anger, on the other hand, gets shit done. It's a sad fact of life, but most people will never give up their privilege without first having their ears boxed, and "Snafu" was a perfect illustration of that principle at work. White women, not to mention minority communities not represented on this show (1), are often told that they should be polite, that they will get more flies with honey than they will with vinegar, that they need to not alienate people from their cause if they want to be victorious in the end. The narrative of Agent Carter explicitly rejects this argument and tacitly supports the viewpoint that change, social and otherwise, requires a willingness to resist, a willingness to challenge people and upset them, a willingness to wield anger as a tool, and—yes—a willingness to resort to violence should the situation call for it.

The world tells minorities to remember their place, and to have consideration for the feelings of their oppressors. Agent Carter reminds us that bitches get shit done.

1) I've fiddled with the language of this sentence multiple times in an attempt to articulate the fact that these issues are being writ large with an overwhelmingly white palette. The social justice commentary of the show is obviously meant to apply to more than just white women, and yet many people quite justifiably feel that such a message is undermined by the fact that Agent Carter takes place in a world of manufactured whiteness. My intention with this statement is to acknowledge the criticisms while analyzing what I perceive to be the intended message of the narrative.

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