Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: Hollywood Ending

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“Dwelling on what might have been is no way to live.”

We can’t change the past, and we can’t control the future. But we can choose how we deal with the present. A life lived as a slave to the hypothetical is a life half-lived, so it’s up to us to make the present the best it can be. Peggy Carter’s journey this season has been about moving away from the hypothetical—her longing over what might have been and her fears of what could be—and allowing herself to find a place in the present where she belongs and feels happy. That journey created a season of Agent Carter that was allowed to grow with its heroine and a finale that showcased the power of choosing to live in the present and forge a path without regrets.

As a Catholic schoolgirl, I learned a prayer when I was younger that I still use as a mantra today:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change those things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s in that balance between serenity, courage, and wisdom that we find happiness in the present. And “Hollywood Ending” highlighted the ways all of this season’s major players worked to find that balance.

Naturally, the character who struggled the most with that balance was Whitney Frost. If I had one major complaint about “Hollywood Ending,” it was that Whitney’s defeat felt anticlimactic and not worthy of the complexity of her character. I would have loved for her to have been the reason the rift stayed open instead of her playing no real role in that life-or-death situation. However, the scenes before and after the Zero Matter was taken from her were much more interesting.

Watching the madness take hold of Whitney was fascinating, and Wynn Everett was once again at the top of her game. Whitney believed this was her way of making the most of the present, of choosing her happiness. She’d spent so many years listening to what other people told her to do and living the life she thought she was supposed to live, but it broke my heart to see that all she was doing now was listening to another voice telling her what to do—the voice of Zero Matter.

Whitney’s desire to grow more powerful on her own set up another excellent parallel between her and Peggy. While Peggy learned that she could achieve more by allowing others to fight alongside her, Whitney chose to push everyone else away. Peggy entered that final showdown with a whole team beside her, but Whitney entered it alone.

However, there was one person who was still fighting for Whitney over the voices of Zero Matter—and that was the man who loved her. Yes, Joseph Manfredi is a villain in his own right, but I’m a sucker for a man who loves a strong woman—and that’s who Joseph turned out to be. He knew a life with Whitney—the real Whitney—was worth fighting for. Even if it meant working with Team Carter to save the woman he loved (which gave us that fantastic scene of him holding Jarvis at gunpoint).

It broke my heart to see Joseph visit Whitney at the episode’s end, only to discover that she’d lost the one thing she valued above all others: her mind. She was now a slave to what might have been—desperately trying to get back to a place of power by any means necessary, including clawing at her own face to open it up. It was a chilling final moment that was worthy of such a great character, and that final scene made up for the fact that the actual climax of her story was a bit underwhelming.

Unlike Whitney, Jason Wilkes refused to be controlled by Zero Matter. He chose a different path for himself—a hero’s path. And while it felt a little convenient for his explosion to take away all his Zero Matter, I wasn’t complaining, because it was nice to see him join Team Carter as himself. Jason is a fundamentally good man who made desperate choices when faced with an impossible situation, and I liked that no one held that against him. What mattered weren’t the choices he made in the past but the choices he was making in the present. And in the end, he found where he belonged.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: The Edge of Mystery/A Little Song and Dance

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You must own the choices you make.

This week’s Agent Carter double feature will most likely be remembered as “The One With the Musical Number.” There’s no denying that the show took a bit of a risk by starting the aptly-titled “A Little Song and Dance” with an extended dream/dance sequence, but the gamble paid off. It showcased the incredible talents of its cast (including the Dancing with the Stars cast they brought in for backup) and the downright ridiculous amount of chemistry between Hayley Atwell and Enver Gjokaj (who can dance with me anytime, if we’re being honest). It allowed us to see the always wonderful Angie again. It provided a brief moment of escapist joy in the middle of a very tense two hours of television. And—perhaps most importantly—it used an entertaining plot device to highlight the central theme for this pair of episodes: choice.

The entire musical number was staged as Peggy’s subconscious way of working through the romantic entanglement she’s found herself in this season. Peggy has a choice to make: Jason, Daniel, or none of the above. She has to choose soon, and only she can make that choice. And it’s so important for her to make the right choice, because—as this episode reminded us—we must live with the choices we make and the repercussions of those choices.

And when it comes to Peggy’s love life, there’s an added complication with her ability to choose the right person: Most of the people she chooses to care for wind up hurt or dead. I feel like this dream sequence reinforced who Peggy is more closely drawn to (Let me mention again that Atwell and Gjokaj were basically burning up the screen together in that dance scene, looking every bit the pair of lovers in a 1940s musical romance.), but Peggy is still wrestling with her fear that her destiny is to keep losing everyone she loves. If you’ll permit me the Hamilton reference, I always come back to this lyric when I think about Peggy Carter:

And if there’s a reason I’m still alive when everyone who loves me has died, I’m willing to wait for it.

I think Peggy deals with an incredible amount of survivor’s guilt; I think she’s still waiting to find the reason why she’s been spared even though so many people she’s cared about were not. And that idea came up again in what was probably this pair of episodes’ second most memorable scene: Peggy’s fight with Jarvis in the desert.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: Life of the Party/Monsters

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up and running, friends! I’ve been a little busy getting things ready for the deadline for submissions to The Fan Mail Project (which is February 29 if you’re still interested in writing a letter)!

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No one should have to go through difficult things alone, and it’s important to remind others that they have a support system when times get tough. 

Agent Carter started as a show about a woman who felt she was alone in the world. She’d just lost the man she loved, and most of her coworkers kept her on the outside looking in because of her gender. It made sense for her to keep her guard up, to isolate herself, and to pull away from anyone who tried to get too close. It broke my heart to watch it happen, but it made sense.

The beauty of this second season of Agent Carter, though, is that Peggy isn’t alone anymore. She’s slowly learning how to fight battles with people by her side rather than believing (as she did for much of last season) that every battle she fights is her against the world.

The main plot of this pair of episodes involved Peggy teaming up with Dottie Underwood and then trying as hard as she could to find and rescue Dottie when Dottie was left alone and in the clutches of Whitney Frost. Watching Peggy work tirelessly to rescue one of her biggest enemies underscored the idea that this two-hour event was about the ways these characters have grown to support each other and accept support from each other—and what happens when that support gets taken away.

This pair of episodes focused closely on characters seeking each other out in potentially isolating situations. In many instances, these moments of vulnerability were beautiful and led to powerful moments of honest connection, but one example had tragic results. It made me so uncomfortable to watch Whitney genuinely find hope in and feel buoyed by her husband’s support, because I knew there was no way it could end well. All Whitney seems to have ever wanted (even from the time she was a girl) is for someone to believe in her and support her as a scientist, and it finally seemed that’s what Calvin Chadwick was doing. However, it ended up being a lie; his support was a ruse that he hoped would lead to her capture, but it ultimately led to his death. And it emphasized the fact that, while it’s a good thing to let your guard down and lean on people for support when you need it, you have to choose the right people to trust with your most vulnerable self. It turned out that Calvin wasn’t the right person for Whitney to trust, and that had deadly consequences for more than just one person.

Throughout the rest of the episode, it was interesting to see Whitney have small moments of connection with both Dottie and Jason Wilkes. With Jason especially, it was fascinating to watch her remind him that the respect he’s found with Peggy’s team isn’t the norm, to watch her try to forge a bond between them not just based on their connection to Zero Matter but also their place in society. It’s the kind of connection we saw more subtly evoked in the season premiere between him and Peggy, but this was a version of that connection twisted by Whitney’s bitterness.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: The Atomic Job

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Everyone has hidden parts of their identity; sometimes they’re hidden because others don’t bother to look past the surface, and sometimes they’re purposely tucked away in the dark corners of the heart. But it’s important to be honest about who you really are and what you really want—and that includes not lying to yourself.

Agent Carter‘s characters often dabble in the world of espionage: a world of secret missions, elaborate disguises, and fancy gadgets meant for covert operations. And like most shows that take place in such an environment, it raises important questions about the nature of the secrets we keep, the identity we share with the world, and the people we choose to be our most honest self with. Most of the time, I don’t think of those themes immediately when I think of Agent Carter—because Peggy Carter herself is about as honest as it gets about who she is. However, “The Atomic Job” reminded me that every character on this show has layers that aren’t visible on the surface, and the plot of this episode allowed those hidden layers, unknown depths, and damaging secrets to come out—as they often do in times of crisis.

The first mission in this episode did an excellent job of foreshadowing what was to come near the end of the hour. Although Peggy had previously met Hugh Jones, she thought she could hide her identity from him with a wig and a flawless American accent. But Jones saw through her disguise and figured out her true identity. The discovery of the truth and the ramifications of that kind of revelation were presented in a comedic manner in this scene (with Jones repeatedly getting his memory erased), but, by the end of the episode, that theme was no longer being played for laughs. Instead, we were shown the heartbreak that can occur when truths people try to hide even from themselves are suddenly revealed.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: Smoke & Mirrors

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Choose your own path. Define yourself on your own terms. It’s okay if other people don’t understand you in the moment, because someday that path you chose will lead you to people who respect you for who you really are.

Throughout our lives, we’re presented with many crossroads. Sometimes we’re too scared to go down an unfamiliar path, so we stick to the well-traveled route. Sometimes other people around us steer us in the direction of one path or another. Sometimes one of the paths is closed to us because of factors beyond our control. But sometimes we bravely step onto a new path that we know in our hearts is meant for us. And that might mean leaving behind people who don’t want to follow us on that new journey. It might mean having people question why you would ever choose that road. But it might also mean finding new people along that path who are meant to walk beside you.

“Smoke & Mirrors” presented us with stories about two women walking down what seem to be two very different paths: Peggy Carter, who is openly walking on her own tradition-defying path, and Agnes Cully, who was forced to hide everything about herself—from her real name to her passion for science and engineering—until she snapped.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: Better Angels

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up and running! I spent most of last week recovering from a stomach bug. But I feel better now and can’t wait to talk about Peggy Carter with all of you!

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“I trust my instincts…. They’re more reliable than what I’m told to believe.”

Those words from Peggy Carter resonated with me on a very deep level when I heard them in “Better Angels.” I believe in little else like I believe in the power of trusting your gut and following your instincts—even if it feels like no one else understands. If something feels wrong to you, it feels that way for a reason—and you should trust that feeling instead of belittling your intuition. It takes confidence to trust your instincts, but, as many of the characters in “Better Angels” showed us, it’s a path we don’t have to walk alone. If we have the right people around us, they’ll trust our instincts, too.

From the start of the episode, Peggy knew the story being spun about Dr. Wilkes being a Communist spy wasn’t right. But when she went toe-to-toe with Jack Thompson about the truth behind what happened at Isodyne Energy, Peggy encountered a sad truth about a woman’s intuition: People are often quick to dismiss it. Jack accused her of letting her emotions cloud her judgment, and all too often we as women are told that our instincts are actually just our emotions, our anxieties, or our nerves getting the better of us. But instead of letting what he said lead to self-doubt, Peggy stood up for her instincts and her ability to act on them. Peggy has enough confidence to trust herself and her feelings—no matter what anyone tries to get her to believe. And she’s also not afraid to call out someone (in this case, Jack) when they’re ignoring their own instincts.

Peggy knew Jack also had a sense that she was right, but he was willing to ignore the truth in order to behave how others wanted him to behave. And that kind of attitude is shameful to Peggy—not just because he’s ignoring her instincts, but because she knew he was ignoring his own. It’s often easier to just push away the gnawing feeling in your gut that says something isn’t right. To follow your intuition can sometimes mean acting in a way that others—especially those society deems “cool” or “important”—won’t appreciate or understand. And while it was more important for Jack to do as he was told in pursuit of acclaim and power, it was more important for Peggy to be true to herself, which often means acting in direct opposition to the way she’s supposed to behave.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: The Lady of the Lake/A View in the Dark

Welcome, fellow Peggy Carter fans, to the first of my weekly Agent Carter posts for this season! Instead of doing a traditional episode review/analysis, I’m going to take a different path with these posts. Each week, I’m going to focus on something I learned from Peggy (or any of these fantastic characters) and explain how that lesson manifested itself throughout the episode (or pair of episodes, in this week’s case). I can’t wait to discuss what looks to be an excellent second season of this wonderful show with all of you, so don’t be shy—dive right into the comments section as soon as you’re done reading! And if you’re looking for more thoughts on this show, I highly recommend checking out MGcircles

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Kindness is power.

The Marvel Universe is filled with so many powerful people that it’s easy for us to focus only on the flashiest powers and stereotypically strongest people. But, in doing that, we lose sight of the beauty that comes from finding strength and power in unexpected places and people. There are so many different ways a person can be strong, and perhaps one of the most underappreciated powers a person can possess is the power to openly show kindness toward another human being. Agent Carter has always taken great pains to show strength in all its many forms, and that continued in this second season premiere with poignant examples of the value of kindness and the power of those who offer it to others.

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