The first episode of What If…? focused on the concept of Peggy Carter becoming the allies’ super soldier in WWII, Captain Carter, instead of Steve Rogers as Captain America. Even in Captain America: The First Avenger it was hinted that Peggy Carter had that same quality that made Steve the perfect candidate to become a super soldier. When the dud grenade was thrown as a test and Steve quickly jumped on it to save the others, Peggy instantly made a move to jump on it as well. While many elements of the story from Captain America: The First Avenger were the same, Captain Carter had deeper elements to her arc that are still extremely relevant today.
Throughout the episode Captain Carter needed to continuously prove herself with people doubting her every step of the way. And while Colonel Phillips initially doubted Steve in Captain America, he very quickly gained respect for Rogers after he rescued the 107. Peggy on the other hand had to keep earning respect, especially from Colonel Flynn.
WHY CAPTAIN CARTER DESERVES TO BE IN THE ROOM
From the start, Captain Carter has an uphill battle losing her best military support before she even becomes a super soldier when Colonel Phillips is shot after Dr. Erskine is killed in the explosion. And when Peggy jumps into the machine to become the super soldier, as the only one able and willing, Flynn is against it the entire time. Colonel Flynn who takes over the SSR has no faith in Carter, quickly dismissing her abilities and making sexist remarks about why women can’t be soldiers.
Captain Carter quickly proved herself to be one of the most effective super soldiers in the MCU even as she was doubted at every turn. She has a brutal efficiency from the start that Captain America initially lacks. Captain Carter shows she isn’t afraid to throw a dirty punch and manages to take Dr. Zola and the tesseract in her first rogue mission.
And where Steve was stealthy in his rescue of the 107, Captain Carter attacks full force from the start taking out many of the Hydra soldiers on her own. As she rescues the 107, Captain Carter immediately and viciously takes out the guards, but Dugan continues to call her a dame even after learning her name and watching her decimate Hydra guards.
In The First Avenger, the Howling Commandos are a huge part of the war time montage showing the military camaraderie that Steve found with them and that his team trusted him implicitly. It’s notable that in Captain Carter’s montage Steve Rogers as the Hydra Stomper is her most prominent ally. And the one time that the Howling Commandos are shown Bucky Barnes is questioning her plan. Captain Carter’s most consistent allies in What If…? are Steve Rogers and Howard Stark. Even with the Howling Commandos fighting alongside Captain Carter their primary motivation doesn’t feel like it is built on the same trust and brothers in arms mentality that it does with Steve Rogers in Captain America.
And when Steve Rogers is lost in What If…?, Flynn immediately loses all the faith he seems to have gained in Captain Carter, stating that she never should have been in the field. Flynn constantly tells Captain Carter she is lucky to be in the room now that he is in charge of the SSR. Even as Captain Carter proves herself to be an effective and vicious fighter taking out Hydra forces swiftly and violently throughout the episode.
But what she gains from the serum is not only about her newfound physical abilities, but also the respect of “being in the room.” By the end of the episode Captain Carter has made it clear that she won’t take the disrespect from Flynn any longer, turning his own words on him. Captain Carter is forced to not only deal with the difficulties that Steve Rogers did as the sole super soldier for the allies in WWII, she has the added difficulty of being a woman.
This sexism isn’t a shock considering the story takes place during WWII, but the need to continuously prove oneself as a woman is still a prominent aspect of life today. Even today it’s hard for women to get in the room in all areas of life. Captain Carter’s arc of not only working to gain the respect of her peers, but ultimately deciding that she doesn’t need to keep fighting for it is an important story to tell.
“A woman ‘staying in the room’ is incredibly important in the 1940s, and even more so I think today in 2021, because this is how we change the world. When it came to the character, we all knew Peggy Carter was going to be a hero. ”
Her heroism, strength, and bravery is most prominent not in her abilities as a superhero, but her belief in her own abilities and recognizing her own worth. And Peggy’s strength also shines through in her willingness to be vulnerable and fall in love when it likely would have earned her more “respect” if she didn’t show her emotions.
Captain Carter is a hero not only because she fights against Nazis or makes the ultimate sacrifice, but because she “stays in the room”. Captain Carter is good at what she does even before getting the serum and only becomes more effective. Captain Carter’s refusal to stay on the sidelines and take charge of her own destiny in a male dominated era and profession is an incredibly important message especially today.
What did you think about the first episode of What If…? What did you think about Captain Carter? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media check back with The Illuminerdi for more MCU and What If…? And be sure to join us on The Illuminerdi’s Marvel Watch Along on our YouTube channel.