Agent Carter has finally arrived on TV, and she is being welcomed with open arms. The Marvel TV series sees the comic book character – first introduced onscreen in Captain America: The First Avenger – battle bad guys and sexism in post-war America, while nursing a tragically broken heart. The show has been hailed as a small victory for women in television but, while the strength of the feminine portrayal cannot be denied, she is, in fact, the latest in a long tradition of powerful women on television.
Despite this long tradition, the current situation for female characters in television is an odd one. Audiences rightly herald the arrival of this new female-led show because, in reality, Agent Carter is still the exception to the rule. While powerful female characters have become increasingly visible over the years, they usually exist in a strange alternate reality, where they spend most of their time talking to men (like, Chloe O’Brien in 24, or Deputy U.S Marshal Rachel Brooks in Justified, or Sydney Bristow in Alias), or are lonely figures that are almost cautionary tales – suggesting that the pursuit of career and professionalism leads to isolation (like, Stella Gibson in The Fall, Sarah Linden in The Killing, or even Liz Lemon in 30 Rock).
This makes Agent Carter’s arrival all the more worthy of celebration – along with all the powerful female television characters that paved the way for her. They come from all walks of life – young and old, professional and unskilled, free and imprisoned – but they all have one thing in common: they are complex portrayals of complex women. As such, they are powerful characters that resonate far beyond the confines of the script they appear in. Here, then, are 17 of the most powerful female characters seen on TV.