So, who here is excited about tomorrow night’s showdown between one Ms. Peggy Carter, SSR Agent, and Black Widow Dottie Underwood?
Let me just go ahead and answer my own question. I am.
I have enjoyed Agent Carter from the get go; I found it smart, funny, exciting, and sometimes truly heartfelt. I applaud the sharp feminist slant, how the show doesn’t shy away from a wide array of misogyny. It’s not simply shown in grotesque, caricatures of monstrous men – such as the auto-mat patron who harasses Angie – that anyone could pick up on. It’s not simply her boss, Chief Dooley, or one or two sexist Agents, like Thompson or Krzeminski. No, it’s also Howard Stark the womanizer. It’s Agent Sousa who idolizes Peggy yet can then so easily despise her when he thinks she’s betrayed them. And it’s even Mrs. Fry, the woman who runs the hotel for ladies: ladies who only work until they find themselves a husband, ladies who are given a curfew and community meals, and ladies who must preserve their modesty and dignity with no men allowed above the first floor. Sexism and misogyny (and, to make an analogy, racism, able-ism, homophobia, etc.) are not traits unique to monsters.
In contrast, the show does a good job of counteracting that blatant sexism. We see multiple examples of women supporting other women. We see it in the camaraderie of the women at the Griffin, sharing their meals and their tricks for stealing food. We see it in the way Peggy stands up for Angie against the rude customer, the way Angie helps Peggy get a spot at the Griffin. We see it in the way Peggy takes the time to listen to Angie dream about Broadway and offers her encouragement, the way she takes the time to stop and chat with Rose on her way into the office. We see it in Angie’s unwavering faith in Peggy, and her attempts at aiding her in her escape from the SSR agents.
Peggy is a master at using other’s sexism against them. She’s able to gain access to people and information by passing herself off as another dumb blonde. She’s able to play the part of a demure, husband-seeking good girl in order to obtain stable housing for herself. And she’s able to conduct an entire investigation under the noses of her fellow SSR agents because, as a woman, they just don’t see her. Her dressing down of Chief Dooley and Agents Thompson and Sousa in this past episode where she was forced to come clean, clearly pegging exactly what they think of her and how they treat her, was the stuff of legend.
You think you know me, but I’ve never been more than what each of you has created. To you, I’m the stray kitten, left on your doorstep to be protected. The secretary turned damsel in distress. The girl on the pedestal, transformed into some daft whore.
And then later…
I conducted my own investigation because no one listens to me. I got away with it because no one looks at me, because unless I have your reports, your coffee, or your lunch, I’m invisible.
It’s impressive to have a show that spells it out just that plainly; and not to monsters, but to decent men.
It’s that same invisibility that Dottie is able to employ; her aw-shucks, big-eyed country girl act letting her be caught almost red-handed knocking out Peggy with no one the wiser. The agents almost don’t believe Peggy that it was a woman who killed Agent Krzeminski, that it was a woman who was the agent of Leviathan they were looking for.
I love that it’s Dottie and Peggy going into the showdown in the Season Finale. There are men that have played their part: Howard Stark, and Agents Thompson and Sousa, and Mr. Jarvis. But in the end it comes down to two women, who were overlooked and underestimated, circling each other for the final battle.
And here we finally get to what I actually wanted to talk about when I started this post – which was surprisingly not supposed to be almost 700 words extolling the feminist virtues of Agent Carter. No, what I really want to talk about is Dottie Underwood, and what word people are choosing or, more specifically not choosing, to call her.
Is Dottie Underwood a villain?
I’ve thought about this. I’ve read other people’s ideas and thoughts and arguments. And I’ve come to my own decision on the matter.
Yes. Dottie Underwood is a villain. I have no qualms referring to her as such.
I understand the arguments against using that specific word to describe her. She is a victim. She was raised under terrible conditions, brain washed with teaching and propaganda, and molded into a Black Widow assassin. I agree with that whole-heartedly.
She’s killed. She’s killed an innocent, civilian man with no remorse. She means to kill again. She is in league with Leviathan. She is attempting to obtain stolen weapons capable of massive destruction. She believes in the cause she is fighting for, and more than that is willing to do despicable things to further this cause. All this is the mark of a villain.
None of this means she and her story aren’t complex. They are. She isn’t evil for evil’s sake. She has reasons for being who she is, what she is. She has reasons for her beliefs and her actions. And her story is tragic. I can empathize, and I can pity her. But she is still the enemy Peggy needs to defeat.
Dottie’s villainy doesn’t exist in a vacuum, however. It’s not the zenith of villainy. Despite feeling firmly okay with calling her a villain, I also called her a victim. There is someone, some thing, higher than her: the person responsible for Leviathan, the people responsible for the Black Widow program. There are people who have done her wrong, and should pay for those wrongs. Dottie deserves justice for the crimes committed against her, just as that dentist deserves justice against Dottie.
I get feeling protective and defensive of Dottie. I can understand it and support it. But I can’t fully excuse her in the end. But Dottie’s villainy doesn’t have to be a constant. Natasha Romanov may have red in her ledger, but she’s working to pay it off. Dottie could do the same. She could still redeem herself. She could be rescued. She could be delivered from her own villains. It’s not over ’til it’s over. But she doesn’t get to go unchecked if she doesn’t. If she can’t. And until she does, Dottie Underwood stays a villain in my book. A complex and fascinating villain. A tragic villain. But a villain all the same.