As the second season of Agent Carter draws to a close, I start to realise that I have been subject to a story that stretches beyond super villains, mobsters, spies and corruption. Although, to be honest, I must have been distracted by all the Marvel superhero connections.
In season one, Agent Carter was a marginalised agent working secretly for Howard Stark while also finding herself marginalised by the male agents. Season two has taken a different approach with the characters of Whitney Frost and Jason Wilkes. Issues of gender have been enhanced with race and social status. The aptly named zero matter, which already exists in the Marvel universe, has been used to good effect in the story of characters who find themselves restricted by social conventions and given opportunities to subvert morality under the influence of the unknown, unimaginable and uncontrollable power of zero matter, which for most of the series consisted of Whitney Frost using black goo to absorb people.
Having a show with a main female character leads to an inevitable marginalisation of the show. The fact that it is a period drama, doesn’t help, especially when it is going to be compared to Agents of Shield which is more directly connected to the Avengers movies.
A better comparison is the Marvel shows on Netflix, Daredevil, with a male main character and Jessica Jones, with a female main character. While Daredevil gets a higher status because of the familiarity that may exist because of the less than successful Ben Affleck film or a hugely successful five decades of comics, does that really account for the show’s success in relation to Jessica Jones?
The issues of female characters on TV (and in film for that matter) continues to be of concern. Just look at Wonder Woman in Batman vs Superman. Sure she is going to get her own film, but she still needs to be introduced by Batman and Superman just as Superman needs a little helping hand from the cinematic successes of Batman. In Agent Carter, the writers and producers have taken a more proactive approach to the situation of gender and race in the setting of the 1950s.
Whitney Frost is striving against objectification while also absorbing the attention and compliments of men (when she isn’t literary absorbing men). Jason Wilkes is intangible for most of the series. His ability to make a physical impact reduced to nothing and occasionally become completely invisible and disappearing altogether. A little being of Richard Wright influence there? Probably a little too heavy for superhero show. Which brings us to the al important question of whether dealing with such weighty issues adds to the entertainment of the show and whether it should be renewed.
Why it shouldn’t be renewed is easy. This series does what other series don’t do. After the first Captain America film, it is no longer directly connected the cinematic franchise. Sure, it could be made relevant, but if one thing is being made clear with the Agents of Shield TV show, if the show can’t fit in with the film, it won’t. There have been little attempts to even suggest that the film could connect to the show. I mean, Fury appeared in the Age of Ultron, why not Agent Coulson? Well, there was that whole ‘Coulson got killed’ plot point to explain from the first Avengers film.
Why Agent Carter should be renewed is more difficult. Should the show be renewed just because it is doing something that no other show is doing? Part of me says yes, but if it can’t attract the viewers then maybe people aren’t ready for the ideas or the ideas aren’t being presented in an appropriately appealing way. Do we need difficult issues presented in an appealing way? Kinda yes. In order to introduce difficult ideas, they have to be presented in an accessible manner. Sure they are difficult but people won’t seek difficult ideas without motivation. Why would they?