ABC has already cancelled a number of shows so far this year, much to the disappointment of television lovers everywhere. In particular, the recent loss of Marvel’s Agent Carter has been huge shock to fans of the Marvel franchise. Many fans have viewed the show’s cancellation as a melancholic parallel to Peggy Carter’s sudden offscreen death in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War.
However, with the cancellation of a show that seemed to be widely loved and the role her niece, Sharon Carter, plays in the latest MCU film, a question must be asked: are we failing the Carter family?
Critically acclaimed television series Agent Carter followed the missions of Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell, as she struggles to live as both an agent and a woman in post World War Two American society. The first season shows her desperate attempts to clear Howard Stark’s name after he’s accused of selling his weapons on the black market. She teams up with his butler, Jarvis, to conduct almost unfeasible schemes behind the backs of her inept work colleagues using both her skills as a talented undercover agent and her unassuming presence as a woman in 1940s America.
Having previously been introduced as Steve Rogers’ love interest in Captain America: The First Avenger, the series showed Carter come into her own as a character, through tales of espionage and personal growth. It all seemed incredibly promising. The first season of Agent Carter, which began in January 2015, rose to critical acclaim universally and was praised by critics and fans alike. It received 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it received 72 out of 100 with Metacritic. Marvel fans everywhere praised the show for its witty script and engaging plot.
So how did this lead to the show being cancelled after its second season?
The second season, while still being highly praised by critics, simply didn’t receive the high ratings its predecessor had. During its final episode, the show only received a 1.4 rating which was a significant drop from the first season. You could argue that the change of scenery, with Carter moving from New York to Hollywood, or in storyline made it less appealing but the quality of the second season was not hugely lower than its predecessor. So what happened?
Maureen Ryan of Variety claimed the season’s low ratings were simply due to low viewership, which she blamed on ABC’s “questionable scheduling decisions.” She went on to state that the show received very little promotion from the network to begin with and received even less once the second season came about. The premiere date was changed which confused fans who were aware of its return to begin with and Marvel’s media site was so inaccessible that fans couldn’t even watch the episodes online. The first season was only available online a few days before the second season aired, meaning fans who had missed it didn’t have time to catch up.
The second season thus ends on a cliffhanger. As we see Peggy in The Winter Soldier and we know she had her somewhat happy ending, it isn’t too bad. Leaving a show with so many questions unanswered and a character with so much growth left in her without tying up the loose ends is hard for any fan to take. Ryan said that “letting the show die would be a serious mistake, for the network and for the bigger Disney-ABC conglomerate,” and “A third Agent Carter season could help solidify Marvel’s standing not just with female fans, but with everyone who appreciates excellent and adventurous storytelling.” However, while there are calls for the show to be picked up by Netflix, it seems unlikely that Carter will get that closure fans deserve.
While the handling of the promotion and availability of Agent Carter most likely led to it being cancelled, at least there are only few complaints about the basic characterisation of Peggy Carter in the television show. Her character retained the same relentless determination that was much-loved in the first Captain America film and what fans did manage to watch it no doubt continued to hold her in high esteem. The same cannot be said for her niece, Sharon, who made her reappearance recently in Marvel’s Civil War.
Marvel fans everywhere have been waiting for the reveal of Agent 13 since her debut appearance in The Winter Soldier. Played by Revenge star Emily VanCamp, fans of the comic would have already known Sharon was the niece of Steve Rogers’ wartime love interest. However, the long-awaited revelation in the cinematic universe did not come without criticism.
The criticism appears to stem from how Marvel handled Sharon’s reveal. Instead of having her and Steve work together and eventually become romantically entangled before Steve’s previous relationship with her aunt ever came to light as had happened in the comics, they appear to have not even kept in contact between The Winter Soldier and The Civil War and she is revealed to be Peggy’s niece before they become involved. Fans are arguing that not only is their relationship underdeveloped and their dynamic under-utilised, but it actually makes it look as though Steve’s renewed interest in her after two years is because she is Peggy’s niece.
Another argument fans are bringing up in response to this is that Sharon’s inclusion in the Civil War apparently had to impact the ambiguity of Steve’s relationship with other major characters in the film. Joe Russo’s statement concerning the relationship between Steve and Bucky led to hope among fans that the exact nature of their relationship would be left ambiguous. “People have interpreted that relationship all kinds of ways, and it’s great to see…what that relationship means to them. We will never define it as filmmakers, explicitly, but however people want to interpret it they can interpret it,” Russo had stated on the publicity tour in China. However there is nothing ambiguous between Steve and Sharon kissing and many fans have hypothesised that Sharon was only given a role at all to make the movie seem like less of the love triangle between Steve, Tony and Bucky people have been implying since it was announced.
The main argument however is that Sharon Carter’s role in Civil War is simply a disservice to her character, similar to how ending Peggy’s character arc abruptly and then killing her offscreen was a disservice to her’s.
Have the Marvel franchise failed the Carter family?
I would argue that, in reducing Sharon’s character arc to unsatisfying cameos and an unnecessary love interest and cutting Peggy’s arc off when it had so much potential, yes, the Carters have been failed. Marvel have also failed their fans too by taking two iconic female characters who were well-loved by female comic book fans worldwide and not doing them the justice they deserved.