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SYFY WIRE Killing Eve

Agent Carter, Emma Peel, and more: The 7 best lady spies on TV

With Killing Eve about to end, it seems like a fine time to look at some of television's other great lady spies. 

By Tara Bennett
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The fourth and final season of Killing Eve begins airing Feb. 27 on BBC America and we have to admit, we're going to miss the delicious cat-and-mouse game played out between former MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and her psychopathic nemesis, the assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Framed against a backdrop of revolving sexy European locales, the barely resolved, psycho-sexual subtext between good Eve and bad Villanelle fed us on so many levels. Plus, there were plenty of spy machinations and betrayal to make the rest of the series worth watching.

Killing Eve also got us thinking about some other television spy ladies that have commandingly carved their own special places in our hearts. With their sass, savvy and no-nonsense skills, there are our favorite lady spies of the small screen.

1. Sydney Bristow, Alias

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Giving us the strongest wig game in spy history, actress Jennifer Garner's five amazing seasons as super spy Sydney Bristow on Alias remains a benchmark for the genre. Bristow stands apart from the pack because of her smarts, vulnerability, and amazing prowess with a roundhouse kick. Sydney was the a victim of double-crossing spies who convinced her that she was recruited by the CIA to be a member of their black-ops unit, SD-6 when in fact, SD-6 was actually a member of Alliance of Twelve, an enemy organization of the U.S.A. Once she discovers the truth, Syd goes rogue and agrees to double agent from within, partnering with her double agent, spy daddy (Victor Garber) to boot. Where the story went from there was truly bonkers, but Garner's Sydney was always the woman you had to watch and the grounding factor when the show often went too Rambaldi. By the way, where's our fan service-driven Alias reunion that puts Sydney back into action? We're more than ready.

2. Peggy Carter, Agent Carter

The small screen sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, Agent Carter allowed fans of Peggy Carter to see what became of her in the wake of Steve Roger's sacrifice. She certainly mourned, but she also kept going as a post war agent for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) in New York City. While her misogynist SSR co-workers tried to relegate her to desk work and coffee runs, Carter took ownership of her own value and went full spy helping Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) thwart more evil from Russia to Los Angeles. Letting Carter have adventures in a serialized medium gave actress Hayley Atwell a forum to make the resourceful Brit spy even more dynamic and charming. Able to change accents on a dime, fearless in any fight, and more clever than just about anyone around her, Carter left us wanting more. Thank goodness she merged back into the Marvel Studios theatrical timeline so broadcast cancellation was really just a momentary speedbump.

3. Emma Peel, The Avengers

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Way back in the late '60s, British actress Diana Rigg pulled off the ultimate flex in embodying arguably one of the coolest spies ever as secret agent Emma Peel in The Avengers, and then in 1969, going on to play the only woman to truly shatter James Bond's steely resolve in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. While she played Bond's wife in the film, Rigg could have certainly taught Ian Fleming's super spy a thing or two from her two seasons on The Avengers where she made spying look absolutely effortless alongside Patrick Macnee's bowlered John Steed. Together, the partners who avenge on behalf of a secret British Intelligence organization would solve cases of the week. In particular, Rigg's Peel had the mind, the wit and the fencing skills to do the job on her own. But her ambiguous relationship with Steed, where they sparred and flirted, was half the fun. Peel also defined fashion of the time with her catsuits and kinky boots, and set a sexy template for other spy ladies to come.

4. Agent 99, Get Smart

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In 1965, Get Smart was created to be the television series spoof of the James Bond franchise. Don Adams' Maxwell Smart/Agent 86 played the bumbling CONTROL agent who leaned on his very smart partner, Agent 99, to actually close their cases. Actress Barbara Feldon's 99 was the definition of the competent sidekick, getting Max out of innumerable pickles and saving the day. She also did it with '60s fashion plate style and plenty of sass. Since the show was a straight-up comedy, Feldon proved that women could be smart and funny at a time when housewife roles were still a majority in the medium.

5. Nikita, La Femme Nikita


A television spin-off of Luc Besson's film, Nikita, the series also revolved around a juvenile delinquent arrested for murder. But in the series La Femme Nikita, Nikita (Petra Wilson) is setup by Section One, a nefarious counterterrorism organization, who take her in and train her to be a spy/assassin on their behalf. Bound to work for them under threat of death, Nikita's struggle in the series was being exceptional at her job, but hating being forced to do it. Wilson did an exceptional job making Nikita sympathetic and compassionate even when her methods were brutal. Over five seasons, the spy thriller also turned into a personal mystery for Nikita as she was able to peel back why she was set up and forcibly recruited into Section One. It added another layer to the character that made her pursuits very personal and engaging to watch.

6. Malory Archer, Archer

If Alias had Spy Daddy (Victor Garber), then Archer's secret weapon for 12 seasons was most definitely Toxic Spy Mommy, Malory Archer (Jessica Walter). In the long-running FX animated spy comedy. Malory was mother to "world's most dangerous secret agent" Sterling Archer (Jon Benjamin) and the head of the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS). Walter's acerbic take on Malory meant she got to emasculate her son at home and on the job. A truly horrible human being, Malory was ruthless at her job which made her the perfect foil to ruin Archer's work/life balance. And the lady certainly wasn't dumb, just self-serving using the ISIS power and connections to branch out and become a mob boss, corrupt entrepreneur, and even a proto Jeff Bezos as the owner of her own spaceship. You may not like her, but never cross her.

7. Sarah Walker, Chuck

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Taking the TV spy baton from Sydney Bristow, Chuck introduced Yvonne Strahovski as the next great lady spy with CIA Officer Sarah Walker. An ultra competent badass in the field, Walker is assigned to "handle" average nerd, Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), after he's accidentally subliminally imbued with the databases of the NSA and CIA. Suddenly able to access skills and knowledge at will, Walker has to both protect and train Chuck to get out of his own way. What was especially fun about Strahovski's Walker was watching her thaw over five seasons from an entirely frustrated agent held back by her charge, to a mentor and eventual partner for Chuck. She was the brains and the brawn of the operation who had to earn her status, while Chuck essentially cheated to get to her level. It made for a great adversarial start for the pair that was both fun and kickass.