I have heard a rumour that some people are unhappy with the reveal of Eve Moneypenny at the end of Skyfall. Since the original role was essentially the traditional romantically available secretary this isn’t particularly inexplicable, but I’m a bit thrilled about it. The film goes to a lot of trouble to set Eve up as a skilled, competent MI6 agent. Despite the fact she’s obviously young, she’s considered good enough to be working with Bond, and even though she ultimately makes an error in shooting him, it seems to be accepted that this is something that could have happened to anyone. She hasn’t been penalized by M or anyone else, and James doesn’t seem especially upset. When he tells her initially, that ‘Field work isn’t for everyone’ there’s no particular rancour, and it basically seems to be joking about it. He also seems perfectly comfortable working with her later in the casino, highlighted when he asks for her help shaving and the camera lingers on her pressing a cutthroat razor against his neck.
Thematically Skyfall spends a lot of time on the idea of cooperation. The chorus of the musical theme, Adele’s “Skyfall”, actually contains the lyrics “Let the sky fall/When it crumbles/We will stand tall/Face it all together” (emphasis mine) within the chorus. This is the second point made when James asks Eve to help him shave, but it occurs with many other characters. This is why, instead of kitting James out with his usual array of gadgets and retiring to the side-lines, Q instead gives James only the weapons specific to his skill-set, a gun and a radio, and carries out the more high tech operations himself. Over the course of the movie, James goes from insulting Q about his age and reliance on technology, to appreciating and relying on his skills. This is also why M, rather than issuing an assignment and letting 007 do his work, and ends up in the field along-side him and why Mallory goes from trying to shut down M’s division, to working with them and ultimately taking over M’s position after her death.
Nor do I think it is necessarily a bad thing that Eve is now occupying a traditionally female role as a secretary. James Bond exists not only as a character, but also as an avatar of masculinity, and represents a very specific form of masculine power. In a more typical Bond film structure where Bond receives orders and intelligence from M and gadgets from Q and then carries out his mission largely unsupported reinforces the supremacy of this mode of power; all the other characters essentially surrender their forms of power to James before the action begins. The focus, within the film on M, rather than Bond as the locus of power, and James’ gradual acceptance of Mallory as an ally rather than an obstruction legitimizes the value of soft and political power as a valid alternative to physical violence. Likewise James Bond’s increasing appreciation for Q’s highly technological skill set, places computerized warfare as equal to Bond’s more conventional form. Metaphorically, this makes M, an older woman and Q, who is not only younger than Bond but physically much smaller and less visually masculine, equals to the classically masculine James Bond. Conversely M’s defense of the continued usefulness of James and the 00 agents in general to the skeptical parliament ensure that Bond’s forms of power are equal to M and Q’s, not subservient to them. Ultimately, this creates the case that ideally, a balance of all three forms of power are necessary. This, once again, relates to the theme song “Put your hand in my hand/And we’ll stand”.
So when Eve repeats that ‘field work isn’t for everyone’ at the end of the film, the implication is clearly not that she’s now working behind a desk because she can’t cope with the rigours of working in the field, but that she considers this a better use of her skills, this is paralleled by M’s successor Gareth Mallory, who is also a desk-worker with a background in fieldwork.
Given how extensively Skyfall established both that Eve specifically is a powerful, competent character, that James Bond needs his supporting characters just as much as they need him, and that running and shooting are not the only way to be powerful in James Bond’s universe, Eve stepping behind Moneypenny’s desk, rather than into the field, is not a let-down, it is the culmination of the film.