Peggy Carter has been many things. A World War II code-breaker. An operative of MI5. A member of the SSR. A founder and Director of SHIELD. A wife. An aunt. A woman who experienced great loss and mourned that loss, but did not let it stunt her growth. Who worked hard on herself — and helped others — to process and move on.
But all that doesn’t matter, because she is, most importantly, the love of Steve Roger’s life.
Peggy’s story after Steve’s plane went down has not been left to interpretation. She has never been a character waiting in the sidelines for a plot to come back around and pick her up. From the moment she graced our movie screens in The First Avenger to her criminally short TV show Agent Carter, Peggy has been sure and vocal and blatant in what she wants: to be respected as a soldier, to be respected as an agent, to be respected as a woman. She is confident and strong and intelligent. She can fight assassins, shoot a gun as good as any marksman, outsmart bad guys left and right, and keep up with the best and brightest minds of whatever age she’s in. She took what she and Steve and Howard began to build and finished it.
And it’s not just her career that forged ahead after World War II and Steve. We know she moved on because we watched her develop a relationship with Daniel Sousa. We know she had a husband because of the video interview. We know she had a family because we see the photos by her hospital bed. We know she had a full life because she quite literally says so, to Steve, in Winter Soldier.
It’s strange, then, that Steve would keep the wick of this old flame burning when he’s been told by so many people, Peggy herself included, that he needs to live his own life. It’s especially strange because at no point in this film — a film that makes the point ad nauseam that she is Steve’s endgame — does Peggy get two words in edgewise.
In Endgame, Peggy Carter is the driving force behind Steve’s need to undo Thanos’s Vanishing. Despite the fact that she in no way had a part to play or was brought up during Infinity War.
While the team is developing a plan to bring back those they had just lost just over a month back, Steve is staring wistfully at the picture of a woman who died two years ago. He’s relating to others struggling with the loss of those Vanished by sharing stories of what it was like to miss out on the love of his life, who at this point had passed away a full seven years ago, of old age. Not once do his thoughts stray to Bucky Barnes, his life long best friend whom he spent two full movies trying to save only to have him disintegrate before his very eyes. Or to Sam Wilson, the man who uprooted his whole life to help Steve and to save the world, who left everything behind to support Captain America when no one else would.
No, while civilians are mourning real, tangible people, Steve can only think about the one who got away.
Peggy is ever present in the movie thanks to Steve’s trusty compass and far off looks, but we only get to see her twice. Each time is incredibly brief, and each time her appearance is centered around Steve and how she makes him feel.
During the Time Heist, Steve and Tony are forced to make a new jump to a further past when their attempt at stealing the Tesseract goes sideways. Luckily the Cube was safely tucked away at a SHIELD bunker for decades, and Tony knows just when to go. Of course, we all know who was a part of SHIELD in 1970, so it’s no surprise that the room Steve has to duck into while he makes his escape belongs to none other than Director Carter. It takes Steve a minute to realize, but for the audience, it’s obvious.
When Steve looks through the slats of the blinds in the office window he sees Peggy, but not as she should be. Peggy in 1970 is almost fifty years old, the established Director of SHIELD. Yet as Steve gazes at her while she moves around her office with purpose, talking but unintelligibly (what she says is not important, only that she’s there for Steve to see), the brief glances we see of her show a woman much younger. No gray hairs, no lines around her eyes or mouth. Her lack of age is not a mistake or an oversight, not when the film goes through great pains to make Michael Douglas look half his age and Chris Evans twice his own.
Peggy will always be frozen in time to Steve, a photograph of a young woman with soft curls, tucked inside a compass.
Peggy at 50 had a life, a career, a family. And yet when Steve takes in that dark office there is only one photo of note on that desk: the easily recognizable photo of a young Steve Rogers before the serum turned him into a soldier. No photos of friends, or a newlywed couple outside their first home, or a family pressed close and smiling at the camera. Nothing that proves Peggy moved on.
Would such a picture have ruined the illusion? Would a photo of Peggy’s life progressing without Steve have forced him and the audience to remember that she is her own person, and not a prize for a job well done? Would the realization that he was pining for the idea of a woman who no longer existed have swayed Steve to make a different choice after Thanos was defeated?
After everything is said and done, the only thing left to do is for Steve to bring the stones and the Hammer back to their original time so they don’t upset the universe any more than they already have. But he’s also going back for Peggy. Before he says goodbye to Bruce and Sam, before the strangely knowing farewell with Bucky, he’s made up his mind. Steve absolutely deserves a life of peaceful happiness, but why does it have to be in the past? Why not in the present, surrounded by friends and a family he built from scratch, that he already knows and loves? In a movie about how you can only use the past to heal your present, Steve has decided that the only way to move forward is to turn back. And he decides it for Peggy, too.
Would Peggy choose this for herself, a life with Steve? It’s very possible. We know she loved him, and she missed him dearly. But does Steve lay out what really happened, about how in another time she has another life and another family, and offer her the choice to become who she already has been or become someone different?
We will never know. Because Peggy is silent. She seems content to be led in that infamous promised dance, and surely she is, if this a younger Peggy with the wound of losing Steve still fresh. But she is a prop in this scene, in this closing chapter of Steve’s limited time with the Avengers. Proof that you can always get the girl in the end, even if she hadn’t been yours for a very long time.
In Winter Soldier, Peggy says “The world has changed, and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best, and sometimes the best that we can do is to start over.”
In Endgame, Peggy says nothing.