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S02.E04: Smoke & Mirrors 2016.02.02

But then in ignoring race until hard turn race is an issue line of dialogue we have the multicultural 2016 SSR squads. Besides an Asian killed on the Red Room raid they just don't have any lines

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We saw Dr Wilkes treated with respect in his place of employment (which presumably is at least somewhat progressive since they hired him at a time when we were importing nazi war criminal scientists instead of hiring americans who were not white men, by and large). And which I suspect Whitney had something to do with, since she of all people recognizes that brains have very little to do with the skin they're wrapped in. She was certainly the only one smart enough recognize both him and Peggy as a serious threat.

Then we saw him in a club which was specifically aimed at the demimonde of people who socialized across color lines.

Every other transaction he was part of, someone was disrespectful in a specifically racial way - even the cop who kidnapped him because he was the only scientist who could save his life called him the janitor - and it seemed clear that TPTB were leaping to fit up the black guy for every unsolved crime in sight. I'm not sure that's exactly a picture of a post- or non-racial society.

Edited by Julia.
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Remember it's all connected we have The First Avenger and season 1 of Agent Carter to take into account when discussing the shifts in tone now that race relations is an issue

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This. I would totally agree with the "Agent Carter shouldn't take on racism if it's not going to be handled in a historically appropriate way" criticism if the show hadn't taken a lot of flack for not dealing with racism last season. But that was one of the biggest complaints about the show from certain corners of the audience, and so the focus on race this season seems clearly to be a reaction to those criticisms. And now the criticism has shifted because race isn't being handled in a way a lot of those critics wanted it to be handled. So I'm torn...on the one hand, I do agree that it's socially irresponsible to gloss over the ugly realities of the time period (even if, as others have said, the MCU seems to have been somewhat more enlightened earlier than our world). On the other, at this point, it's hard not to feel like some people simply want the show to be something it's not. They want the show to be a fundamentally different show from what it is. And I'm not sure that's a fair yardstick by which to measure the show, either.

 

Honestly, I think a big part of the problem is that the writers got scared off by the negative reaction to the preachy vibe the show sometimes had in S1 regarding gender. In response they've toned the gender stuff down a lot this season; I wouldn't be surprised if they thought--or were told--that they had to soften any race content as well.

 

Not gonna lie, I trust maybe 5% of what Tony says about Howard.

I think the writers are in a very sticky place in regards to how they are portraying race and racism. They caught flack last season for not showing minority characters. So this season we have Dr. Wilkes. And now the complaint is that he isn't being treated poorly enough in the context of the historical setting. I think what the writers have to take into the account is that showing that mistreatment will feel *badly* out of place to a 2016 audience. I'm not naive enough to claim that there aren't problems with race in this country but I also know that standards have a changed a lot since 1947. And showing what was actually happening in 1947 can easily engender a whole 'nother type of backlash. I think that to really portray how Dr. Wilkes would have been treated and for the audience to accept it would have been to place the show in the Deep South. I think that is the one place left in the media where racism *wouldn't* feel out of place, simply because the setting too well known for having it.  

 

Jim Crow was the law in the South. It was not law in New York or California. So think the perception (I said perception, not reality!), is that once you got out of the South that racism ceased to be problem. And we know that wasn't true but that makes it a lot harder to portray on screen. These aren't places known for Whites Only signs on the bathrooms or for having problems with the KKK.

 

The other issue I think the writers face is that they have a limited number of episodes into which to execute their story. Every line of of dialogue must ultimately advance the plot forward. There are only so many minutes per episode and only so many episodes per season. Racial discrimination is a terrible thing and the show has acknowledged that it both exists and is wrong. But they just many not have the room in the script to take it further.

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Given what we know happened to the real capture female SOE operatives, Peggy would have ended up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp and most likely executed by guillotine. It is a little known fact that the Third Reich used the guillotine more than the French did during the Reign of Terror. It was a favored method for disposing of spies.

Violette Szabo and those that were executed at the same time as her were shot in the back of the head

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I don't know if it's an intentional Easter Egg, but Michael Carter is the real name of DC hero, Booster Gold.

Edited by Perfect Xero.
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Given what we know happened to the real capture female SOE operatives, Peggy would have ended up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp and most likely executed by guillotine.

Yes, being a spy was an extremely risky job. While people in uniform were (at least in theory) protected by the Geneva convention, spies were not. Spies were executed on both sides although one could count on the Allies being more humane about it. The NAZI's were also much more enthusiastic to define people as spies, so they killed a lot more people for it. The last person executed at the Tower of London was actually a German spy - he was captured in 1941 and deemed an enemy combatant so he was tried, convicted and executed by the military.

 

In 1949, the Geneva Convention was amended to state that spies too should be treated humanly. 

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I think the writers are in a very sticky place in regards to how they are portraying race and racism. They caught flack last season for not showing minority characters. So this season we have Dr. Wilkes. And now the complaint is that he isn't being treated poorly enough in the context of the historical setting. I think what the writers have to take into the account is that showing that mistreatment will feel *badly* out of place to a 2016 audience. I'm not naive enough to claim that there aren't problems with race in this country but I also know that standards have a changed a lot since 1947. And showing what was actually happening in 1947 can easily engender a whole 'nother type of backlash. I think that to really portray how Dr. Wilkes would have been treated and for the audience to accept it would have been to place the show in the Deep South. I think that is the one place left in the media where racism *wouldn't* feel out of place, simply because the setting too well known for having it.  

 

Jim Crow was the law in the South. It was not law in New York or California. So think the perception (I said perception, not reality!), is that once you got out of the South that racism ceased to be problem. And we know that wasn't true but that makes it a lot harder to portray on screen. These aren't places known for Whites Only signs on the bathrooms or for having problems with the KKK.

 

The other issue I think the writers face is that they have a limited number of episodes into which to execute their story. Every line of of dialogue must ultimately advance the plot forward. There are only so many minutes per episode and only so many episodes per season. Racial discrimination is a terrible thing and the show has acknowledged that it both exists and is wrong. But they just many not have the room in the script to take it further.

In the end I think that is the major problem since the first integrated war bonds tour audience shown in Captain America The First Avenger to Dr Wilkes openingly flirting with Agent Carter in front White men unknown to him, Chief Sousa and Detective Henry, and Spider Raymond (Andre Royo The Wire's Bubbles) flat out about to have sex with a blond woman without one reaction in Agent Carter's first season, when you play show versus tell everything we have been shown contradicts what the selected lines of dialog try to tell

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They could have had a black person working in the SSR office as support staff who wants to be an agent but is overlooked much the same way Peggy was. There were many possibilities for a minority character without being unrealistic.

Manhattan--sadly canceled after 2 seasons--did a much better job of this in the same era.

If Agent Carter execs were worried about triggering white guilt, they could have used humor to defuse it--like have the racist make a fool of himself.

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they could have used humor to defuse it--like have the racist make a fool of himself.

They did that in the first two hour episode. They had a racist store-owner make raciest comments and look like an idiot.  We have also been told that a great mind like Wilkes had trouble getting a job in his field due to the colour of his skin.

 

Now, Wilkes is supposed to be dead and he is being kept in hiding as a prime aspect of the plot. Should the show have added a racist agent this season who spends all his time making rude comments about a dead character and then gets made a fool of every single episode? That won't seem a little weird? Wilkes is only interacting with Peggy, Stark and Jarvis who were canonical already shown not to be racists. Making Sousa the foolish racist would probably not go over well either.

 

The focus of this show is spies and super-villians and Peggy. They addressed race relations and then moved on because that is not the focus.  It doesn't mean race relations are not important, it just means they aren't going to bring it up all the time. 

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This. I would totally agree with the "Agent Carter shouldn't take on racism if it's not going to be handled in a historically appropriate way" criticism if the show hadn't taken a lot of flack for not dealing with racism last season. But that was one of the biggest complaints about the show from certain corners of the audience, and so the focus on race this season seems clearly to be a reaction to those criticisms. And now the criticism has shifted because race isn't being handled in a way a lot of those critics wanted it to be handled. So I'm torn...on the one hand, I do agree that it's socially irresponsible to gloss over the ugly realities of the time period (even if, as others have said, the MCU seems to have been somewhat more enlightened earlier than our world). On the other, at this point, it's hard not to feel like some people simply want the show to be something it's not. They want the show to be a fundamentally different show from what it is. And I'm not sure that's a fair yardstick by which to measure the show, either.

 

Honestly, I think a big part of the problem is that the writers got scared off by the negative reaction to the preachy vibe the show sometimes had in S1 regarding gender. In response they've toned the gender stuff down a lot this season; I wouldn't be surprised if they thought--or were told--that they had to soften any race content as well.

 

Not gonna lie, I trust maybe 5% of what Tony says about Howard.

 

 

I think the lighter tone is part of the issue. If the show isn't taking anything else seriously it makes it harder for the issue it wants us to take seriously. It was a lot more pointed last year and that made it seem like the show was taking things seriously. Now it just doesn't work when they try and insert serious topics. Its a shame last year I loved this show now I spend a lot of it cringing at bad anachronistic jokes (People did not "do lunch" in 1947 even in LA). I didn't really have a problem with the show not having a black character last year. Its actually realistic for the time period.  Not to mention there are other ways to show the discrimination That's why it was called segregation (yes there was still some segregation in New York it just didn't have the legal backing it did in the South. Segregation just refers to keeping groups separated and isn't actually specific to the South) because the two sides didn't mix. I just really hate what they are doing now with Wilkes and wish the show had stuck with what they are good at.

 

I personally find token efforts like the show is doing with Wilkes to be patronizing and more offensive than just leaving things alone. People need to learn to respect minority stories and that they need to told truthfully. Anything less is just appropriation. Especially when the show has a reason not to be inclusive like this one does.  I get that not everyone feels that way and that's fine. Racism is an emotional and personal topic but I think this is discussion worth having.

 

Although honestly I wonder if ABC was the one who told them to tone down the racism. Shonda Rimes and shows like American crime are a big part of their brand I would actually see them trying to hit back harder if anything. I suspect if anyone told them to tone it down it was Marvel actually they're the ones with a sketchy track record on this subject.

 

Also I think I pointed out Howard specifically because hes the most likely to stand up to Peggy. For all their goofing around hes actually the least intimidated by her. They are on a more even ground because of their history. The other guys are all various degrees of intimidated around Peggy.

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I think the lighter tone is part of the issue. If the show isn't taking anything else seriously it makes it harder for the issue it wants us to take seriously. It was a lot more pointed last year and that made it seem like the show was taking things seriously. Now it just doesn't work when they try and insert serious topics.

I definitely agree with this. The tone is definitely lighter/campier this season, and while I do think it has helped the show hit more of its stride, it also weakens the social critiques it wants to make. This season also feels more generic Marvel superhero movie, which I don't like.

 

I suspect if anyone told them to tone it down it was Marvel actually they're the ones with a sketchy track record on this subject.

I would believe it. I'm stunned that Marvel let a dig at their lack of female superheroes go in one of the scripts.

 

If Agent Carter execs were worried about triggering white guilt, they could have used humor to defuse it--like have the racist make a fool of himself.

I feel like they tried this last year with a lot of the gender critiques, and people still (again, probably unfairly) got turned off by it.

 

I wonder if part of the problem is that the perception is that the general Marvel audience wants to tune in for an hour or two of escapism and pure fun.

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I definitely agree with this. The tone is definitely lighter/campier this season, and while I do think it has helped the show hit more of its stride, it also weakens the social critiques it wants to make. This season also feels more generic Marvel superhero movie, which I don't like.

I would say it's more specifically in line with the tone of Captain America: The First Avenger, which was very deliberately done in the style of 30s/40s adventure serials, a la Joe Johnston's earlier The Rocketeer.  The first season of Agent Carter made some stabs at being something more like Mad Men -- which in truth, were kind of an awkward fit for the character as already established in the movie, both in terms of how she ended up where she was and what the audience was probably interested in seeing from her.  This year they've largely moved away from that and more toward just being a period-set adventure story.

Edited by SeanC.
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it also weakens the social critiques it wants to make

 

Does the show particularly want to make social critiques?  They were interested in sexism primarily because Peggy was a woman in the working world, but their story is primarily about Peggy and not about the world she lives in.  In other words, the sexism existed to illustrate Peggy; Peggy didn't exist to illustrate the sexism.

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Sorry I don't keep up with the conversation very quickly, but I had two thoughts that haven't come up yet. One is that the fans weren't solely asking for a more diverse show after season one; they were also asking for something like the interracial romance Peggy does have at one point in the comics. So there's comics precedent for her dating a black man which likely was part of the inspiration here. And I think with comic book shows optimism, even completely ahistorical and unfounded optimism, is always going to be part of the genre.

And just as a personal philosophy, I don't really buy into the idea that any character with a marginalised identity in the past must be portrayed in as miserable circumstances as possible. Like yes the overarching situation was filled with terribleness, but individuals still carved out lives for themselves rather than passively suffering all day. Not being politically popular isn't the same thing as literally never happening and all this stuff was happening then. Black scientists, female scientists, interracial romances. Would realism demand more hostility and cautiousness surrounding it? Yes but I feel like that's a pretty different show.

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What is happening with this show? I know their attempts at feminism and girl power were a bit clunky in season 1 but now it's like they're throwing all the female character cliches at Peggy. Not only do we have the hinted romances with Sousa and the scientist... now we've got her brother and a broken engagement? Is there nothing in her life that can't be traced back to a man? I miss her having female friendships. This is The Mindy Project all over again. Who keeps banishing the women (other than the protagonist) in season 2 of all these shows? All the flashbacks with Peggy and Agnes/Frost were a bit too much for me. It's not actually the 1940's. You're going to have to do better than this.

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The focus of this show is spies and super-villians and Peggy. They addressed race relations and then moved on because that is not the focus.  It doesn't mean race relations are not important, it just means they aren't going to bring it up all the time.
Yes, that's how I feel about it, too. Also, Dr. Wilkes is currently incorporeal. I don't think anyone's going to worry about the heat that Peggy/Wilkes will take for dating when it's unclear that he'll ever be returned to dating. The show has addressed the racism he faces and made it part of his story, just as they do with sexism and Peggy and Whitney, but it's not his complete story and they're not going to beat the drum every single scene he's in. If he becomes corporealized again and his romance with Peggy gets more serious, I expect that racism will get addressed again by the other characters (I also thought Thomson alluded to problems Peggy would face if it were known she was hanging out with Wilkes, i.e. a black guy, when he changed the report). 

 

Ultimately, this show is a about Peggy Carter, which means all other issues will be secondary to Peggy's life and choices. I thought the diversity critiques were misplaced last season for that reason. On a personal level, as an Ashkenazi Jewish woman with specifically Hungarian ancestry, am I wild about the way the very real anti-Semitism Anna would be facing and the problems that Jarvis would be facing in an interreligious marriage with her are completely not acknowledged by the show? No, it is very frustrating to me to have a Hungarian Jewish Holocaust escapee character in the late 40s and have her Jewishness and anti-Semitism completely not acknowledged. But I also recognize that there's not room for it on the show, and I do ultimately want the show to tell the story it needs to tell, and I do recognize that it's ultimately meant to be a fun, frothy, feel-good show, which means that it does have to walk a delicate line when it addresses sexism and racism. (nevertheless, I still don't forgive the casting or Lotte Verbeek's lack of a proper accent because that was not necessary!)

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There is also the fact that there is no scope, right? She only interacts with our characters so how do they show this anti-semitism? 

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As far as anti Semitism discrimination goes in regards to Anna, how would someone know that she is Jewish unless she tells them? Her religion isn't visible the way Jason's skin color is. If she and Jarvis ran into issues due to an interfaith marriage that might explain why they now live in the US instead of England. They are getting a fresh start and learned to keep their mouth shut. As far as Howard goes I highly doubt he cares

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There is also the fact that there is no scope, right? She only interacts with our characters so how do they show this anti-semitism?
I did say, "But I also recognize that there's not room for it on the show, and I do ultimately want the show to tell the story it needs to tell". Although there were little moments throughout this season where anti-Semitism could have been referenced. For example, with Stark's throwaway line about Jarvis not being white enough for the club, his marriage to Anna would have been a bigger factor than his 1/16 Turkishness. 

 

Her religion isn't visible the way Jason's skin color is.
Certainly not with Lotte Verbeek playing her. :)
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 I love 1 or 2 avengers, but I pretty much love (or love to hate) every character introduced in the Agent Carter era.   I don't care what the ratings say, I think this is one of the best Marvel Properties brought to the screen.

 

 

 

This is the best. And apart from the great lead character, I think it's because the era has forced them to pare back the action and the special effects and the stupid costumes and concentrate on the characters. There are very few shows these days that allow their characters time to breathe and this is one of them. It combines action, plot and characterisation in the right amounts and that is very rare these days.


Between this and Jessica Jones, Marvel seems to be on some kind of mission to take down all men who tell women to smile for them. For all the differences in the various Marvel works, they do tend to have similar themes. 

 

This is a personal opinion, obviously. But as a woman I can tell you that the perpetual pressure to be happy, pleasant and agreeable at all times (because if you're not you're a bitch) gets unbearable. I'll vote up any female character who can vicariously smack the shit out of every person who judges them for not being smiling and agreeable all the damn time. That way I can pretend it's me and not actually be reduced to physical violence in my own life.

 

On the subject of race relations, and considering the comment I just made, if someone has a problem with this show's portrayal of race then I'm happy to take their word for it that's it's not being done well. Yes a vehicle can't be all things to all people and as an Australian I'm not going to see a problem with it but I'm an Australian so it's not for me to determine if there is one in the first place.

Edited by AudienceofOne.
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