Agent Carter and the Bechdel Test

From the blog  Super Connectivity

by Charlie Esser for the Nuff Said Podcast

There is a test created by a cartoonist with such a snarky cut to the chase bit of cleverness as to become the basis for countless Annapolis level treatises on navel contemplation with regard to popular media.  This Bechdel tests asks simply enough if two female characters in a film discuss anything other than their relationship to a male character.

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Many films with strong female protagonists fail this test, so in and of itself simple failure is not bad, but failure reminds us that to be real a story must go deeper.  The Bechdel Test shouldn’t be seen as an onerous obligation to appease a demographic, but as an attempt to make the world created more real.  Any writer should ask if their characters have real world interactions, and the Bechdel test, is just one more tool for a writer to achieve this.

A strong piece can fail, as I’ve said, and the one shot we have of Agent Carter does fail.  Carter is the lone female in the piece, but she is throughout the film, a strong and well rounded character.  We can write this off as merely a problem with time (it is a short after all) but her character again in Captain America has only a single interaction with another female about the attentions of Steve Rogers. This in and of itself isn’t the problem, like the Black Widow in her films, that she is a lone female protagonist in “a man’s world” is part of what makes the character so interesting.  But in Agent Carter, Peggy will be the marquee character, now that it’s her world it has to be full and complete. For that, Peggy needs something more than a romantic interest or just being one of the guys.

To that end, I thought I would suggest to no one in particular a few established female characters in the Marvel universe to help round out the cast of Agent Carter.

Sharon Carter:

This one’s a little tough, since we’ve already met a Sharon Carter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  That Sharon is theoretically the niece (or perhaps grand niece at this point) of Peggy if we are following current Marvel history.  That said, her original origin was as Peggy’s younger sister.

If we are to explore an MCU variation on this theme, we could have a precocious young woman, fascinated by her sister’s adventurous life, and perhaps tagging along on various adventures.  Certainly this could have its own problems, but having the sisterly relationship as a central theme has proven to be quite solid for other Disney properties, so this shouldn’t be ruled out completely.  That said there are other women to consider.


Faith Bradley:

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If we follow the Marvel Comics story line in the MCU, Isaiah Bradley was a later forced test subject in an attempt to recreate the Super Soldier Serum.  Faith Bradley was his wife.  After WWII, Isaiah is imprisoned by the US government and Faith spent the intervening years petitioning for his release.  As the Strategic Scientific Reserve would have been involved in Isaiah’s creation, her coming into interaction with Peggy makes sense and allows for Peggy to learn some of the more unsavory aspects of the SSR.  Together they investigate and run afoul of the powers that be in the new SHEILD perhaps even coming close to revealing the HYDRA infiltration even then.

Venus:

A character in the 1950’s Marvel comics universe the woman who presented herself as the Ancient Roman Goddess of Love would in our own time eventually be revealed to be a Siren whose form was an intentional imitation of the extra dimensional Olympian Goddess Aphrodite.  All that said, Venus served in the 1950’s Avengers, and was an adventurer in her own right prior to that, even crossing paths in her own book with everyone’s favorite omnipresent villain of the MCU, Loki. 

(Okay, the early version of Loki was no Tom Hidelson, but we can fix it in post)

(Okay, the early version of Loki was no Tom Hidelson, but we can fix it in post)

With the introduction of Venus you present something that will be unique to the Agent Carter Universe.  How do you deal with an ostensibly good super being, whose power is far beyond your control, and who is not bound to heroics, except as their own personal interest.  Peggy can have a largely antagonistic relationship with Venus even as they work together to save the world on a regular basis.

Miss America:

Madeline Joyce Frank, was a full on Patriotic super hero in the 40’s, with super strength, flight and even X-Ray Vision.  Unfortunately her powers began to fade, and in her story, eventually her X-Ray Vision failed leaving her having to wear glasses to just have normal vision.  Pulling the hero from retirement is a classic tale to weave, and as an added interesting side note, in early drafts of the Quick Silver/Scarlet Witch story, Madeline and her husband the Whizzer (Marvel’s first speedster) were their parents, not the non-Marvel owned Magneto.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross:

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In all honesty, as much as every one of these characters should make appearances in Agent Carter, Elizabeth Ross belongs there as a series regular.  Like Peggy she is a female agent struggling in to make a name for herself in the male dominated spy world.  She also becomes the partner of Jeff Mace, the third Captain America, allowing her to in many ways live the life the Peggy no doubt imagined she and Steve Rogers might have had.

Just passing the Bechdel test won’t make the series good, but Marvel long ago set the seeds in place for a show like this to have the sort of diversity of character that one would expect from a real super heroic world.  All the producers of the show have to do now is take advantage of the ground work laid, and tell amazing stories. 

Posted on July 30, 2014 .