Beneath my crusty, jaded exterior, I am a sap. I just love me a good romantic subplot, and while the key components of that phrase are usually “good” and “sub,” I’ve been known to enjoy both straight-up love stories and pairings that actually, if we’re being honest, weren’t that well executed. However, despite my weakness for kissy stuff, I am continually fascinated by platonic relationships, possibly because they’re so much rarer.
This is one of the many reasons I’m digging on Agent Carter, the delightful bone ABC and Marvel have tossed us until Agents of SHIELD returns to answer some pressing questions, the cliff-hanging bastards. The overarching story concerns Peggy Carter trying to prove that Howard Stark hasn’t committed treason, with the help of Stark’s butler Edwin Jarvis. Peggy and Jarvis are not quite partners, not quite friends, and despite them both being so very pretty, possess not one spark of sexual tension. That’s a very good thing, and while there’s still time to fuck it up, I don’t think they will.
The main reason is that Jarvis is quite happily married, thank you. Not that writers have ever balked at using an established relationship as a mere obstacle for their preferred couple to overcome, but Jarvis’s biggest character trait is his unwavering loyalty. Last week’s episode “Time and Tide” further underscored his devotion to his wife; the first time we ever see him get really riled is when the SSR dudebro (I admit that I can’t really tell them apart) threatens her, and he reveals that he risked his life and career to save her from the Holocaust. This is not a man whose head will be turned by a pretty secret agent. For her part, Peggy also shows no interest, likely because she’s still a bit hung up on Steve Rogers and because she already has a perfectly good love interest in Sousa, the fellow agent who may or may not be the rescued POW she will eventually marry (according to the archive footage in Winter Soldier).
Mind you, I’m still a little annoyed that the status of this friendship is assured by one (or possibly both, depending on how you look at it) being unavailable rather than them just not being interested. Someday, we’ll have a proper platonic pairing who have absolutely nothing standing between them and the horizontal mambo but complete lack of desire to do so, and I will shout my joy unto the heavens. But until then, these two make an appealing pair of guides through this world of old-school spy shenanigans. Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy have a chemistry that has nothing to do with uglies and the bumping thereof, and there are the hints that Jarvis is still hiding something that might undermine their growing mutual regard. Plus, their particular relationship means that some common scenarios get to take on fresh meaning; when Jarvis chides Peggy for going into danger alone, it’s not from a place of overprotective macho bullshit, but from the logic that it’s silly to do so when she has a willing and capable ally. He’s trying to convince her to let him take his proper place as field support rather than trying to take over.
Given that this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female-fronted property, the execution and reception of this show are kind of a Big Deal. It would be easy to fall into the common traps of the stories deemed appropriate for girls to carry, but while the relationships in Peggy’s life are really the core of the show, it’s heartening that those relationships aren’t your usual romantic fare. (Her friendship with waitress Angie gets much more weight and screentime than her mild flirtations with Sousa.) Her SSR colleagues may not take her seriously, but her real friends do–and Marvel certainly does.