Six Degrees of Peggy Carter: Why the S.H.I.E.L.D. Founder Is the Lynchpin of the Entire MCU
By Meredith B. Kile
Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/ABC
This March, CBSi is marking Women’s History Month by celebrating the amazing female power in Marvel film and television. Click here to see more on all of the powerful female forces that make up this comic universe, and read on for more on the godmother of the MCU as it exists today: Peggy Carter.
The current iteration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with the very first Iron Man film, back in 2008, so it seems fitting that the latest epic trailer for Avengers: Endgame -- a culmination of 22 films' worth of origin stories, twisting plot lines and heart-wrenching deaths -- begins with Tony Stark’s voice, issuing a farewell to Pepper Potts from a dark corner of space when all hope seems lost.
But then, there is another voice -- one perhaps even more central to the MCU as a whole.
“The world has changed, and none of us can go back,” Peggy Carter says wistfully, over clips from Captain America: The First Avenger. “All we can do is our best. And sometimes the best that we can do, is to start over.”
Astute Marvel fans will recognize the quote from a scene in the second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier, when a conflicted Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) visits Peggy as an old woman, as she lies in a rest home, memory starting to fail her. And while there are likely Endgame clues to be gleaned from the use of Peggy's quotes in the trailer, her inclusion highlights the significant impact the groundbreaking agent has had on the cinematic universe as a whole.
It may have been Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who assembled the Avengers, but Peggy had a hand in several origin stories that made the team possible. She and Howard Stark (played in early years by Dominic Cooper) helped turn the Strategic Scientific Reserve into the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (and gave it an acronym, S.H.I.E.L.D., for their fallen friend, Captain America). And, of all the characters that have died in the MCU’s run so far, Peggy Carter -- played to perfection throughout several cinematic decades by Hayley Atwell -- was the only one to be given an on-screen funeral.
While there may not be direct links from Peggy to every single Avenger, her status as a founding member of S.H.I.E.L.D. links her intrinsically to the heroic group and their efforts to save the world from evil time and time again. So here is a very unofficial, fan-centric look at the impact Peggy Carter has had on the MCU, and the ways in which she helped bring Earth's mightiest heroes together as a team. “All we can do is our best,” after all.
1. Captain America
The most obvious entry on the list, of course. Peggy was instrumental in Skinny Steve Rogers becoming the “Star-Spangled Man With a Plan” from the very beginning. In the weakest of fanboy biographies, she is reduced to the mere role of “Cap’s girl,” but anyone with half a brain understands that Peggy’s role in Captain America’s evolution runs deeper than that. From her support of Steve’s first solo rescue to the way she carried on his mission throughout her time at the SSR, and eventually, the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D., Peggy kept Cap's heroic memory alive until the day he returned.
There are many theories out there regarding how the ill-fated pair might finally get their shot at that dance somewhere in Endgame's epic, three-hour runtime, but even if they don't, Captain America's legacy was shaped by Peggy Carter. “Every word.”
2. Iron Man
A “self-made man” in the same way that Kylie Jenner is a self-made billionaire, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) likely spent his childhood years on the receiving end of some very disapproving glances from his father’s friend and close confidante. Howard's working relationship with Peggy -- sans fondue, of course -- is established in The First Avenger, but their friendship is explored even further in Agent Carter’sstellar two-season run on ABC. The pair teamed up to save the world more than a few times, forging a bond so strong, it's impossible to believe that Peggy wasn't a part of young Tony's life -- and that she didn't have an impact on the hero he grew up to be.
And besides that, if Howard had died in Agent Carter’s season one finale, as he came very close to doing, Tony would have gotten scrubbed from the timeline, Marty McFly-style. Thanks, Aunt Peggy.
3. Ant-Man (and the Wasp)
Another fairly obvious one. Peggy worked with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) at S.H.I.E.L.D., and unknowingly protected him when she and Howard Stark (in later years played by John Slattery) let him walk in Ant-Man's1989 flashbacks, rather than listening to the advice of Head of Defense Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan), who suggested they not "let him leave the building."
Peggy and Howard's dismissal of Carson may have saved Hank's life, and tech, as Carson was later revealed to be an undercover HYDRA operative who was attempting to procure the Ant-Man suit -- and later, the derivative Yellowjacket -- for the authoritarian organization. By allowing Hank to escape with his proprietary tech, Peggy and Howard set in motion the events that would ultimately land Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in the Ant-Man suit and on the Avengers team.
4. Black Widow
Here, we have to dig a little deeper, but there’s still a strong connection between arguably the two most important women in the entire MCU. (Carol Danvers may ultimately prove to shake up that ranking, but we’ll have to see how she fares in Endgame.) The connection between these two is also a little more tragic -- which will likely surprise no one with any sort of understanding of the history of female comic characters.
In a season two episode of Agent Carter, titled “The Iron Ceiling,” Peggy reteams with the Howling Commandos to infiltrate the Red Room Academy, a Soviet facility in Belarus where young girls are trained to become elite assassins. The program birthed one of Agent Carter’s most delightfully diabolical antagonists, Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan), but was also a predecessor to the program that shaped Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) into a ruthless spy. Peggy and some of the Commandos escape the facility with their lives but not much else, failing to glean much important info or put a stop to the torturous training program, thereby allowing it to continue for years under the KGB and spawn the assassin known as Black Widow.
5. The Hulk
In the final scenes of Agent Carter’s first season, Peggy is seen destroying the only remaining sample of Steve Rogers’ blood in a tearful farewell to a love long lost -- or so she thinks at the time. While the moment is scripted as heart-wrenching character development, it also has several implications in the MCU beyond Peggy’s emotional (and, some might argue, moral) decision to erase the possibility of recreating the exact Super Soldier Serum that turned Skinny Steve into Captain America.
In the canon of the MCU, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, and then Mark Ruffalo) became the Hulk because scientists were trying to recreate that serum, and exposure to Gamma radiation -- rather than the Vita Radiation that changed Steve -- turned him into the raging green monster. Had Peggy never destroyed Steve’s blood, it's possible that the military scientists would have been able to recreate the serum that catalyzed Captain America, thereby sparing the world of the Hulk. And while Banner would undoubtedly argue that it would have been for the best, the Avengers (and the world) may not have survived to the Endgame without the green guy.
6. Captain Marvel
OK, so this one is more “fanon” than actual MCU canon, but, given the timeline established in Ant-Man’s flashbacks -- where Peggy is still in an active leadership role at S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1989 -- it seems likely that she would have heard of a daring young Air Force recruit named Carol Danvers, and even more likely that she would have been made aware when Carol returned to Earth six years later and was being pursued by then-agents Fury and Coulson.
And if you’re trying to tell me that Peggy Carter, even in her 70s and close to or newly retired from S.H.I.E.L.D., wouldn’t have wanted to meet the most powerful female force in the galaxy -- let alone another hero who calls herself “Cap” -- well then god, Jed, I don’t even want to know you.
Avengers: Endgame soars into theaters on April 26.