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The Untold Truth Of Marvel's John Flynn

Um, who exactly is Marvel's John Flynn again? We can't blame you if you've forgotten this obscure character from the MCU. Marvel loves bringing back characters who only got a small cameo in previous films, usually as part of a superhero team-up, but John Flynn is one character that never gets this treatment. Most likely, he is destined to remain a minor character in the larger scale of the MCU.

In the MCU, John Flynn (played by Bradley Whitford) was a member of the Strategic Scientific Reserve during the 1940s. He doesn't show up in any of the Marvel films, but he does get a cameo in two smaller projects centered around Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). If you want to see Flynn in action, just watch the short "Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter," or check out Episode 1 of "What If...?"

Between the Peggy Carter short and the "What If...?" episode, his total screentime in the MCU clocks in at roughly five minutes and thirty seconds. But then, it's not like he needed more development. There's only so much you can do with a character who can be summed up in a single sentence: he's Peggy Carter's sexist boss. Unlike Peggy Carter, whose cameo in the short was so popular that it opened the doors for her to get her own TV series, John Flynn probably won't be getting his own TV show anytime soon.

The Agent Carter TV series has the same premise as the short -- but cuts Flynn

"Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter" was a promising prelude to the TV series "Agent Carter," which was unfortunately canceled after two seasons. And yet, despite being a perfect embodiment of the sexism that Carter must confront throughout the series, John Flynn didn't make a single appearance in the show. However, viewers can still see the influence of the short bleeding into the TV series.

Both the short and the series begin on the same note: a recap of Peggy's final goodbye to Steve Rogers, each using the exact same clip from "Captain America: The First Avenger." Both stories involve Agent Carter working for the SSR after the war, even though she is forbidden from doing any fieldwork because she's a woman. Fans might notice that the SSR office in the TV show looks almost identical to the one from the short. Clearly, the set designers were attempting to replicate the same 40s-era vibe with mahogany desks, venetian blinds, and a glowing red air raid siren mounted on the wall. It's no wonder, then, that anybody who watched the short was expecting John Flynn to walk in.

Of course, we doubt that anybody was disappointed to learn that Flynn was replaced by Roger Dooley (a character who is just as sexist as Flynn but is at least shown to have some redeeming qualities later in the series).

The TV series steals some lines from Flynn

There may be no John Flynn in "Agent Carter," but many of the SSR agents still discriminate against Peggy because she's a woman, including Chief Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham). Even though he's a bit more subtle than John Flynn, his words don't sting any less for Agent Carter. In fact, Dooley even steals a few of Flynn's lines.

There's a line of dialogue from Dooley in Episode 1 that seems to have been lifted right from the script of the short. "The war's over," he tells Carter. "Let the professionals decide who's worth going after." Flynn says almost exactly the same thing in the Marvel One-Shot, implying that Peggy ought to go back home now that WW2 has ended. Both men also define Peggy in relationship to her previous boyfriend, which is unfair to an agent who is talented in her own right. Flynn calls her "Captain America's old flame," while Dooley refers to her as Steve's "liaison," though the way he says the word it might as well be "old flame."

Don't worry, though, it's not plagiarism. The director of the pilot episode, Louis D'Esposito, also happens to be the director of the original short. Still, John Flynn ended up on the cutting room floor.

John Flynn replaces Chester Phillips as colonel after Phillips is killed

In "Captain America: The First Avenger," Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) repeatedly tells the hero he is not fit to be a Super Soldier. But in the alternate universe of "What If... Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?" (the first episode of "What If...?"), that job goes to Colonel John Flynn. Here's why the switch happened.

This is an easter egg in Episode 1 that only serious Captain America fans will notice, but Colonel Phillips is a background character in the crowd at Project Rebirth. When a HYDRA agent tries to steal the Super Soldier Serum, Phillips is one of the first casualties. So, John Flynn steps up to fill Phillip's shoes as the head of the SSR.

If Flynn was just one assassination away from being promoted colonel, it makes you wonder what Flynn could have possibly done to rise that far in the ranks. Flynn is not exactly the most capable agent of SSR. He has been shown to repeatedly ignore the advice of his colleagues (he didn't seem to grasp that Red Skull could wipe out entire continents with the Tesseract), and he's no good at interrogation (he had Arnim Zola imprisoned for half the episode, and Zola didn't let anything slip until Captain Carter entered the room). But then, we think it's safe to assume that the SSR doesn't always promote based on merit, otherwise Agent Carter would've been at the top of the command chain.

John Flynn is a more accurate representation of 40s-era sexism than Colonel Phillips

Unlike his counterpart from the "What If...?" series, Colonel Phillips eventually overcomes his prejudice toward women, which makes for a much satisfying character arc, if not a particularly realistic one.

Colonel Phillips is a little bit sexist, a fact that "Captain America: The First Avenger" acknowledges, but his portrayal is somewhat inconsistent. His attitude toward Peggy changes rather quickly. One minute, he seems ready to saddle Carter with all the blame for an unauthorized rescue attempt (No matter that Howard Stark was involved, too), the next, Phillips acts as though he never doubted Peggy. While we can buy that he had a change of heart, it does make you wonder if the filmmakers decided to gloss over the colonel's behavior simply because the plot required it.

Meanwhile, John Flynn never treats Carter as an equal. Given the social norms of the time, that sounds more in-character for a WWII colonel. Keep in mind that at first Congress would only approve the creation of the Women Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which designated the woman volunteers as "auxiliary" and not official members of the army — and that bill took a whole year to get passed, according to The National Museum of the United States Army. It took another year of debate before they finally dropped the "Auxiliary" from WAAC and officially recognized these women in the army. So, we suspect that most men at the time (or at least men in positions of power like Flynn) wouldn't have accepted Captain Carter so quickly.

The way Flynn harassess Peggy is all-too-realistic

"Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter" definitely doesn't shy away from depicting workplace harassment. John Flynn manages to cram a lot of abuse into the short runtime of the film.

For starters, he touches Peggy's shoulder (unnecessary physical contact) and repeatedly calls her "darling" and "sweetie." Later, Flynn (who is clearly ducking out of work early) announces he'll be getting a drink with his other male colleagues. Agent Carter is not invited; instead, she is expected to finish up some paperwork for them and "lock up." For many who have experienced harassment, this situation may hit uncomfortably close to home. What's more, Flynn is clearly holding Peggy to a double standard. "There are protocols in place," he says after finding out about her unauthorized mission. "No one is above protocols." Yet, as one reviewer pointed out, Flynn must not be counting the time he left early to have a drink with his colleagues, which we would think is decidedly against protocol.

Even when Flynn compliments Peggy, he never gives her the credit she deserves. In the "What If...?" episode, he calls her a "knockout" — an interesting choice of words that sounds like it should be used to describe an attractive "dame" instead of a woman soldier who literally knocks out Nazis.

Flynn's reaction to his orders from Howard Stark is priceless

The sheer amount of abuse that John Flynn dishes out is enough to make anybody uncomfortable. Luckily, he gets some satisfying comeuppance.

At the end of the Marvel One-Shot, just when Flynn is threatening to get Peggy in trouble (even though she basically just did his job for him), he gets a call from Howard Stark, the head of SHIELD. Flynn eagerly awaits Stark's orders — until Howard cheerfully informs Flynn that he is inviting Agent Carter to fill a leadership position at SHIELD, because unlike Flynn, Stark knows talent when he sees it. All Flynn can muster is a feeble "yessir." When Stark instructs Flynn to tell Agent Carter that it's an honor to promote her, Flynn says, "You want me to say that verbatim?" He may be a jerk, but he knows there'll be consequences if he disobeys a direct order. Howard just hangs up with a flourish, leaving Flynn still waiting on the dead line. Having no other choice, Flynn does deliver the news verbatim, though he says it through gritted teeth.

Peggy, of course, gets to have the last word. Grinning, she declines Flynn's offer to help her with her bags on her way out, assuring him that she has no need of his assistance — she never did.

John Flynn is just as villainous as Red Skull

"What If...?" couldn't have picked a better person to replace Colonel Phillips. Marvel's John Flynn is the perfect villain for Captain Carter.

Except, isn't Red Skull the villain? Technically, yes. Johanne Schmidt (Ross Marquand) functions as the "boss villain" for the episode, but Red Skull is Captain America's archenemy, not Peggy's. He is the Anti-Steve-Rogers, but doesn't really have any connections to Carter, good or bad. Schmidt exchanges exactly one line of hero-villain banter with Captain Carter — and then he gets destroyed by his own monster. Peggy doesn't even need to lift a finger to stop him. You could call him a lame villain — or you could just say he's not the true antagonist of Episode 1.

For most of Episode 1, Captain Carter's biggest problem comes from within the SSR. Colonel Flynn is constantly putting her down, even though she's the most capable one in the room. He represents the real thing standing in Peggy's way: sexism. He's not some larger-than-life supervillain like Red Skull, but he is certainly an everyday villain that viewers are likely to encounter in real life. Flynn even gets a dramatic "villainous" exit, telling Peggy that there's no way HYDRA will figure out how to use the Tesseract. (Hate to break it to ya, Flynn, but HYDRA is two steps ahead of you.) It could be argued that John Flynn is twice as valuable to HYDRA as any double agent, because he underestimates HYDRA — and more importantly, underestimates Captain Carter.