What If...? Episode 1 fixes Captain America’s biggest failure
Peggy Carter gets her due.
Peggy Carter is a victim of circumstance.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has recently gone out of its way to give time to the female members of its super roster — as cringe-inducing as the results sometimes are — but Peggy Carter has always been left out of these moments.
Perhaps it’s that Marvel has struggled to write a girlboss triumph story set in the 1940s. And though ABC-housed spinoff series Agent Carter initially seemed ready to do right by Peggy, Marvel has refused to acknowledge its existence since repositioning its original shows off ABC and Netflix as Disney+ exclusives.
And so, when preparing to write a Peggy Carter story for the animated series What If...?, the new show’s writers found themselves back to square one: seeking a satisfying, plausible way to give this iconic character her due.
With “Captain Carter,” What If...? found a way to deliver the Peggy Carter story fans always wanted. Here’s how they pulled it off.
What If...?’s premiere episode delivers on one promise right away: more Peggy.
After arriving as a standout supporting character in Captain America: The First Avenger and making cameo appearances across the rest of the Infinity Saga — not to mention starring in a short-lived (non-canon?) series of her own — Peggy was more or less replaced in the main narrative of the franchise by her niece Sharon. (That character was fleeced in her own way, an oversight that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier attempted to remedy, with mixed results.)
Now, What If...? attempts to retroactively do right by one of the MCU’s most overlooked supporting players, reaching back through time to tell a different kind of origin story.
In this What If...? episode, the Nexus event is simple: Peggy chooses to stay and watch Steve receive the serum. It leads to an unforeseen chain reaction wherein Peggy receives the serum herself, meaning Captain America becomes Captain Carter... and the military has a significant PR disaster on its hands.
While Peggy was a victim of sexism in Captain America: The First Avenger, What If...? could have mistakenly ignored the sexist reality of her era. Episode 1 could have projected a you-go-girl message that would have been not only trite but historically inaccurate. What If...? painted itself into a corner: How do you give a character like Peggy a well-earned hero showcase as she exists in a world that wants to erase her?
The solution What If...? discovers involves staring that problem dead in the eyes. The episode forces its male characters to overcome their misogyny after facing Captain Carter, a super-powered individual who holds the key to their success.
What If...? can’t change the sexism that ran rampant in Peggy’s wartime era, but by turning Peggy into the kind of serum-enhanced hero no one can deny, the character is suddenly gifted in a way that allows her to break through even the most staunch misogynist. Peggy’s always had the potential to be an exceptionally high-flying hero, but the events of “Captain Carter” make it impossible for her closed-minded peers to ignore this fact.
Of course, these men only begrudgingly accept Captain Carter’s help, and though this is a dismaying display of their chauvinism, it feels period-accurate. What If...? may be telling superhero stories, but they’re still based in our world.
“Captain Carter” allows Peggy to strike out as the kind of revisionist hero she could have been had only a few key events unfolded differently. But it also allows Marvel to address sexism in a way that shows how this issue still resonates 70 years later into the here and now.
What If...? is now streaming on Disney+.