The first half of this two-parter is a largely character-driven affair, unlike pretty much every other episode in the series.
Well, okay, that's not fair to say. Avengers Assemble has played around with character-driven stories before. "Hulk's Day Out" springs to mind, as does "Crime and Circuses." So what makes this episode different?
Oh, sure, the entire world's been put in danger a few times over by this point in the show. But what never seems to be at risk is the team.
There's a very popular quote from The Avengers. "We're not a team, we're a time bomb." And we finally get to see this dynamic in action.
Pick a previous episode of this season. Any episode. Odds are, the world is put in danger. And odds also are that the Avengers get mildly angry/annoyed as they fight the threat. Perhaps one of the characters is forced to confront his own shortcomings and emerge as a better person until the reset button is pressed by the next episode. Though they have their dysfunctional moments, the Avengers are a well-oiled machine that will take anything in stride in most episodes.
But when Falcon gets injured, Tony shatters.
Adrian Pasdar doesn't ever give the most... shall we say "energetic" performance, but Tony is visibly different after Falcon's injury. No jokes. No ego. No thinly-veiled cockiness in his voice. It's the calm, steady voice of a broken man.
|He can only find solace in his glowy Rubik's Cube.|
Honestly, if you had simply ended the finale there by having the Cabal be taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, you'd have a satisfactory, if slightly underwhelming, end. But then Tony knocks the Red Skull right into the Tesseract, giving us a part two. And therein lies the problem. "Exodus" was about Tony. And by the end of it, he's back to normal. So... what else is there to do with the story?
Answer: Fight scenes.
The Avengers fight the Cabal and defeat them.
The Avengers fight the Cosmic Skull, and start losing.
So the Avengers team up with the Cabal to defeat the Cosmic Skull.
While the story has some "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" themes running through it, "The Final Countdown" is pretty much all about the fights. Oh, and also lovingly ripping off the appearance of Thanos post-credits scene of The Avengers to set up Season 2.
I'd critique this further... but I'm going to save that particular detail for my critique of the first season as a whole. Because a lot of things suddenly made sense for me... but I'll get to that.
In the end, "The Final Showdown" is a bit of the step down from the character drama of "Exodus." The season may end with an episode where the stakes are higher... but the characters are just as snarky and confident as ever. The stakes just don't feel high, and that's simply because the characters aren't acting like it. At no point is there a moment where they wonder if they can save the day. At no point to they reach the pits of self-doubt. At no point are they afraid that perhaps even the Avengers aren't enough. Because as soon as Tony has his doubts, he strikes a deal with the Cabal and formulates a plan to misdirect the Cosmic Skull and save the day.
The greatest challenge they’ve ever faced… and they all act like this is just another crisis like that time the city flooded, or when the Impossible Man paid a visit.
|I mean, Falcon was more visibly worried by his mom visiting the tower.|
Tony Stark/Iron Man
Finally, Tony Stark has to deal with the consequences of his own hubris. And while that's a welcome change, perhaps it's not enough of a welcome change. I mean, by the end of the first part, Tony's back to his old self and saves the day by relying on himself and his technology.
Though to be fair, the lesson about teamwork seems to have stuck, as he takes it to heart when he suggests a team-up with the Cabal to save the day for good. So it looks like things stuck for him more than they did for Falcon. Speaking of....
Falcon has just cemented his status as the token black guy, with a smattering of "women in refrigerators," to boot. "Women in refrigerators" is a term that was coined to refer to the injury/violation/death of a female character in order to further a male character's growth. And really, though he isn't female, that's Falcon's role in "Exodus."
Character injury can be used to great effect. For example, that episode of Star Trek: TNG where Worf broke his spine in an accident, causing a conflict between his Klingon ideals and his love for his friends and family, while Dr. Crusher butted heads with another doctor whose "miracle cure" was reckless and untested.
But here, Falcon spends most of the episode in a coma, so he never has to come to grips with any repercussions from this injury. In fact, as soon as he wakes up, he gets up, gets his new armor from Tony, and gets going. "Recovery period"? "Overexertion"? Forget about it.
Now that I mention it, what exactly was Falcon's injury? I'd imagine it was some head trauma and a few broken bones at least, what with the fact that he had a Hulk thrown at him before falling out of the sky. And as any doctor can tell you, broken bones heal in a day and concussions are nothing to worry about, right?
|"That's how medicine works!"|
And as a cherry on top of my whiny sundae, I don't like his new costume.
Steve Rogers/Captain America
I know that this technically won't be an issue until next season, but I'm bringing it up now.
Cap's unbreakable shield was broken by the cosmically-powered Red Skull. I'll buy that. But the next time we see it, it will be back to normal, like it was never broken. How? Never addressed. It's as if the show is trying to actively punish you for paying attention.
And on a minor note, Cap fully admitted to working with Dracula in "Blood Feud," even treating the King of Vampires with a modicum of respect. So why is he so vehemently against an Avengers/Cabal team-up? I mean, it's not a major issue, but even a flashback there could have made Captain America seem like he had a valid point instead of giving Tony somebody to argue with to show off his own point of view.
Red Skull's villainy has hit a new high as he sinks to new depths.
So, he got the Tesseract a few episodes back, right? By all rights, he should have won then and there.
|He was undone by his own omnipotence impotence.|
And you know what? If the Avengers failed in their attempts to stop the Cabal from walking through those "portals," then the Red Skull would have conquered Earth with the Tesseract. This is enough that even the other Cabal members have a moment of “Dude, not cool!”
But in the end, the Red Skull is felled by his own overconfidence, yadda yadda hubris. And he ends up in the service of Thanos, fulfilling this season’s goal of ripping off The Avengers. But with the Skull in Loki’s position.
So while he may have dropped the ball repeatedly, it wasn't for lack of trying. Losing wasn't ever the Red Skull's fault, like with some villains.
Honestly, they almost seem like an afterthought. In the first part, they serve as the henchmen for Red Skull’s plan. But when the plan is revealed to be an elaborate ruse to eliminate most of the Cabal, they ditch the Red Skull, get quickly taken out in Part 2, and come back for a quick team-up before calling a temporary truce with the Avengers. So in an unfortunate way, the Cabal ends up as useless to the overall plot as… well, most of the Avengers. Except for MODOK, who snitches on his former boss.
The actual technical animation is par for the course. Not their worst animation, but the same shortcuts and CGI as ever. So let’s talk about Falcon’s new costume. Actually, let me just ask a simple question.
|Or "wherefore." Either one.|
|So... well done...?|
|Oh, yeah. These guys all totally look like they belong in the same universe.|
Despite some problems with making the stakes feel as high as they should be, the first season ends with a bang, dovetailing with a promise of things to come. Overall, an above-average outing for the show, though the first part is definitely better than the second.
Of course, this raises a valid question. "If this episode is 'above average,' then how exactly does the first season stand up as a whole?
Rest assured, a full Review of Season 1 is coming soon, complete with a little tidbit of information that will explain everything. See you then!