I may have implied that these writers could do no wrong. That is not at all true.
Brandon Auman did some phenomenal work on EMH with episodes like "Ultron-5" and "To Steal an Ant-Man." Then he wrote "All About the Ego," which was the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. episode that led me to start reviewing that particular series.
My point is that while the influx of EMH writers was definitely a good thing, it didn't automatically rule out the possibility of crappy episodes. Not only can writers have off days, but the writers have no control over the animation quality and the actors' performances.
So while I wiped the slate clean to review the second season, this episode might just undo that good will.
|Yeah. That bad.|
Falcon: "You guys headed to stop Grim Reaper, or trying out for Dancing with the Superheroes?"
|Well, he's got the moves for it.|
Falcon: "Very cool, but not surprising. A Stark designed it.”
Yeah, because roboticist abilities are hereditary...? To the degree that a father and son can independently build similarly-functioning designs?
But Iron Man isn't finishes up goofing off with his metal friend and keeps heading for Grim Reaper’s location. And because somebody has to supervise from the tower, the job goes to Falcon and Captain America. Cap informs Iron Man that Grim Reaper has broken the perimeter at some military base. As Arsenal destroys some flying collateral damage to demonstrate his immense power for the audience, Grim Reaper prepares to enter the base and enact his evil plan. But Iron Man and Arsenal aren't about to just let him waltz in there.
Iron Man: "Hey, look. Guess who's surrounded."
Grim Reaper: "Iron Man...."
Wrong. Guess again.
Grim Reaper: "And who's this? Iron Boy?"
After the usual unpleasantries are dispensed with, Grim Reaper takes Iron Man out of the game in one move. Because out of all the villains in the world, Grim Reaper of all people has figured out how to disable Iron Man's armor with an electromagnetic pulse. As Iron Man gets knocked away by said pulse, Arsenal flies off to "save" him. After all, protecting Tony is his primary program.
|"On a scale from one to ten, how would you rate your pain?"|
Falcon: "Whoa. That won't just take out the tower. It'll take out half the city!"
Judging by that kind of payload, it's a nuke, then. I would heavily criticize the show for the ease of launching this nuke... were it not for a single detail added into the scene. Grim Reaper has inserted his scythe into the machine in a manner that suggests that he's somehow using it to hack into the system and override every single security measure. So, hey, at least they kind of did something to justify the ease of launch.
|Handwave accepted, show.|
MODOK springs instantly to mind. He's got the resources of AIM, the mind of a genius, the hatred of the Avengers, and maybe even some wisdom gained by teaming up with the Cabal and learning how not to get the job done. Heck, he took control of the remains of the Cabal at the end of last season.
But alas, MODOK does not appear in this episode. Ordinarily, this would be a good thing, because in practice, MODOK hasn't really proven himself as a menacing villain in this series, despite his potential. But the actual main villain of this episode makes me pine for MODOK. Which... yeah. That bad.
Anyway, as Arsenal tries to take Iron Man to safety, he tells Arsenal to override his primary programming and take care of the nuke while the Iron Man armor reboots. Before Arsenal can deal with the incoming nuke, Thor intercepts it and changes its course through sheer strength.
Thor: "How about I throw this into the heart of the sun?"
Well, that's really more the Sentry's thing....
Falcon: "Uh, Thor? According to these readings, that missile is designed to detonate if it changes course."
Thor: "Hah! Not true! Because I just...."
A flash of white, and Falcon's visual feed goes blank. But Thor survives, thanks to Arsenal containing and absorbing the blast the same way he did in Russia. And back at the missile base, Grim Reaper has no idea how to react.
Grim Reaper: "That's impossible!"
Iron Man: "We're Avengers. We do impossible."
As long as you don't do Impossible Man again, please.
With Grim Reaper taken down and the trailer line said, we cut to the team maxing and relaxing back at the tower. Hawkeye's in a bit of a mood that there's a machine being treated like a full-fledged member of the team, but Hulk and Thor have the opposite reaction. Hulk even gives Arsenal a punch to the shoulder, which he usually saves for Thor.
Hulk: "I like you, robot. You take hits better than Thor."
Thor: "And you smell better than Hulk."
Thor and Hulk want to have a training match with Arsenal, but Tony tells them that Arsenal's got some homework to do.
Tony Stark: "Tell your friends you'll see them later."
Arsenal: "I will witness you later."
Hawkeye reiterates Rhodey's opinion from the first Iron Man film that no machine will ever replace a human's instinct and intuition. So as a rebuttal, Tony has Arsenal beat Hawkeye at darts.
Now, it goes unaddressed, but Hawkeye raises a good point. The reason that Tony wears his armor into battle is because he has the knowledge and instincts to utilize the armor better than, say, a drone piloted by JARVIS. Sure, he'll do the Iron Legion thing with multiple JARVIS-controlled armors, but he always leads them in some way. He never just sits back and gives orders, he wears an armor for himself.
Of course, Tony's apparent change of opinion is indicative of his obsession with his new friend. So at the very least, the change of opinion makes sense. Still never addressed, though.
In the other room, Nick Fury calls Captain America on Skype and gives him a piece of his mind regarding all the collateral damage to Lost Forest, Russia. Cap refers to it as "minimum," but… Okay, let’s take a look at the damage Captain America saw last episode.
|I don’t see what Nick’s problem is. It actually looks better than when Cap left it!|
Captain America: "Thanos...."
That’s right, Thanos rebuilt those buildings! …Or maybe it was done by robots, like the incident South America? After all, you guys didn't see any life signs aboard the ship. You're jumping to conclusions, Cap.
Over with Black Widow, she's trying to get information out of the slightly-cuckoo Red Skull. Calling upon her years of S.H.I.E.L.D. training, she's decided that the best course of action is to just ask him over and over about Thanos.
Red Skull: "Five... power... mind...."
Yeah, it's basically foreshadowing, but nothing useful.
Black Widow: "I've gotten intel from less coherent people."
Hawkeye: "How's that possible?"
Black Widow: "I've gotten intel from you."
Meanwhile, far above the Earth, on the Blue Area of the Moon, Uatu the Watcher (Clancy Brown) is monitoring the situation on Earth, as is his MO.
|"As Ultimate Spider-Man plods along, Avengers Assemble seems to be
looking up for now.|
Time will tell what Season 2 of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. gives us, though."
But before he can launch into his usual spiel about how he can never get involved and is only there to observe, Thanos breaks into his observatory. Back on Earth, Tony's been running holographic simulations on what would happen if Arsenal unleashed the might of the Power Stone.
Falcon: "The world ends every time Arsenal uses the Power Stone?"
Tony Stark: "No. Sometimes the entire universe ends."
Which Tony is eager to avoid because he's one of the idiots who lives in it.
So... how does this simulation work? Is it simulating Arsenal's energy output? Or is it just simulating an environment for Arsenal?
Follow-up Question 1: How do you simulate incalculable energy output?
Follow-up Question 2: How do you simulate an artificial environment that is still able to keep incalculable energy from destroying the tower, if said energy output can destroy New York?
Anyway, Tony notes that in terms of releasing energy, Arsenal's a bit like an unfocused cannon. And as for absorbing energy in the first place, Tony can't make heads or tails of where the absorbed energy actually goes. Tony goes to the lab and pores over the schematics, wishing that his dad had included some kind of instruction manual.
Arsenal: "I believe he did."
Yeah, yeah, "Tadashi is right here," play the message.
Arsenal emits a hologram from his head of Howard Stark (Stephen Collins).
|"Help me, Tony-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope. Heh, remember? I took
you to see that a little while back?|
I hear they're making a second one. I hope Luke and Leia get together."
Arsenal: "I have 108 holographic recordings of your father in my system, Tony."
Of all the breakthroughs that Howard Stark must have made in the 1980's, you know which one impresses me the most? It's not the bipedal robot that can handle a Hulk-sized punch. It's not the functional A.I. with speech-recognition capabilities that leave Siri in the dust. It's not even the holograms. It's the fact that he revolutionized digital information storage when the rest of the world was still saving data on magnetic tape.
I mean, look at Arsenal. If he were human, I'd say he was skin and bones. He's a skinny robot whose insides are filled with not only the gears and hydraulics powering his movements, but a freaking energy converter. Simply put, there's barely any room left inside his robotic shell for any sort of period-accurate data storage medium. Therefore, I can only conclude that Howard Stark invented solid state storage while the rest of the world was switching floppy disks around to play the next level in Doom.
Anyway, Arsenal continues the footage of Howard.
Howard Stark: "In order to protect you, Arsenal shuttles excess power into a parallel dimension."
No, seriously. Why is this a thing Arsenal can do? Howard Stark didn't make Arsenal as a buddy for Iron Man, he made Arsenal as a friend for his son. Was Howard expecting his son to regularly have to deal with nuclear blasts?
Howard Stark: "If he had to, he could bring the power back. But that would obliterate him."
Then why did you even make that an option? Again, what possible purpose could that serve for a little kid?
While Arsenal searches the glitchy recordings for one that will actually play all the way, Cap comes in and does a double take when he sees Howard.
Captain America: "Now that's a face I never thought I'd see again."
Tony Stark: "Yeah. But did he build me a buddy, or a weapon?"
Man, even Tony's questioning the logic of this.
Elsewhere in the tower, Thor and Hulk are playing a Captain America-themed first person shooter.
|As long as it's better than the actual Captain America video games.|
Hulk: "Shut off that racket, we're almost at a save point!"
Alright, I know this is kind of nitpicky, but this bit just utterly baffles me.
- Usually, a situation like this would have Thor reply "That wasn't me!" At that point, the gunfire would suddenly get louder and closer as the Avengers were attacked by armed bad guys. But no, the gunfire is coming from the game. And Thor's grin indicates that it's probably coming from him.
- Hulk wants Thor to "shut off that racket." Wanting to conserve ammo makes sense, but what does that have to do with the upcoming save point? I mean, sure, you could theorize that maybe the game keeps track of how much ammo you have at each save point, or maybe there's an accuracy bonus, or something. But without any additional context to this scene, the phrase "Shut off that racket, we're almost at a save point" is almost a non-sequitur.
Anyway, back in the actual plot, the Watcher suddenly crashes through the window and slams into the wall. The Avengers are familiar with him, and they know that crashing in like this really isn't his style. Cap looks into the Watcher's eye and sees a vision of Thanos attacking the Watcher from his point of view.
|That's right, kids! Original Sin is in your local comic shop today! Buy! Buy! Buy!|
Hawkeye: "Throwing the Watcher off the moon? Doesn't Thanos have email?"
Personally, I'm wondering how Thanos got to the moon, seeing as how he was last seen in Russia. The Avengers pile into the Avenjet with the Watcher in tow. And Hawkeye, of all people, is the one to point out that if Thanos wants the Power Stone, then why are they bringing Arsenal?
Captain America: "A strategic risk. If all else fails, the Power Stone's the only thing that can stop him."
Which is why, spoiler alert, Tony is going to veto that plan every chance he gets. As they approach the moon, a gigantic asteroid gets launched at the Avenjet, breaking it into a million pieces. From the wreckage that lands on the moon, Thanos finds the Power Stone's containment unit and picks it up. And then he does the worst thing he could possibly do. He speaks.
Thanos is voiced by Isaac C. Singleton Jr., who is probably best known for slapping Keira Knightley in the face in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. And, if I may be quite frank, he gives a terrible performance. It's hard to put into words why the voice performance doesn't work, it's much easier to just listen for yourself, but I'll do my best.
Let's go phrase by phrase. The first thing he does is laugh evilly; a simple "huh huh." And really, that's where the problems begin. It doesn't sound like Thanos is laughing, it sounds like somebody's reading the words "huh huh" off of a piece of paper. It's a mirthless, humorless laugh that doesn't sound like Thanos is pleased at his triumph. It sounds like the actor was given the instruction to do a deep laugh, but he doesn't exactly know what his motivation is, other than "Thanos is laughing."
Thanos: "The Power Stone. Finally, I claim what is mine."
And that delivery. It's just... wrong. So wrong. Thanos is clearly using too much effort to speak; he emphasizes words like a pro wrestler. Instead of having a calm dignity, Thanos sounds a lot like a kid pretending to be Darth Vader.
|No, even Kylo Ren had a buttload more dignity than Thanos, here.|
|Are you telling me Thanos could be defeated by Kraven the Hunter, show?|
In closing, Thanos does not inspire fear. Thanos does not appear to be in control of the situation. It looks like Thanos said, "Hey, come and get me!" and then got upset when they successfully came and got him.
Captain America congratulates Black Widow for her idea to booby trap the second ship, and the Avengers head out to face Thanos. As they surround him, Thanos grabs the energy bars that make up the cage that surrounds him. He gets a massive shock for his troubles, making him look like even more of a fool.
Falcon: "Inverse force energy cell. I invented it. Cool, huh? The more you hit it, the stronger it gets."
Falcon. Falcon of all people has successfully trapped Thanos. The teenage whiz-kid successfully trapped the most feared dictator in the galaxy. Yeah, I know I keep harping on this, but Thanos looks worse and worse with every second that passes.
Thanos: "Hear me, Earthlings. Your Red Skull stole something from me."
Hawkeye: "'Our' Red Skull? We don't want him."
Thanos: "I will only make one offer. Give me what was stolen, and I will spare your world."
You know, Thanos, perhaps that threat would strike fear if...
A. You looked like you could back it up. And...
B. You weren't saying it in a way that sounded like a little kid going "Come on, guys, give it back! Or I'm telling!"
Understandably, the Avengers decline.
Thanos: "So be it."
Said with the exact inflections of a little kid saying "Fine! I didn't want it anyway."
And so, Thanos is trapped in an unescapable cage that uses his own power to keep him contained. But he still has one weapon up his sleeve: the ability to pull victory out of his own rear. Thanos will demonstrate this ability many times this season, but first manifests it here by somehow reaching out of the cage.
|How did he do that? I was watching it, and I still don't get it.|
Thanos: "Human technology is child's play….”
When you have the writers on your side?
Thanos: “For a Titan."
Oh, shut up. You're not impressive.
Cap shouts at the team to whip out "Offensive Pattern Delta-Niner," which apparently entails Iron Man flying straight at Thanos.
|Not even firing, just flying straight at him. Slowly.|
Hawkeye: "Tick, tick...."
Thanos simply grabs the arrow, which detonates with a pitiful PAF.
|"Yeah, leave the 'tick tick boom' to me."|
|"Aren't you just the past version of me? From the flashback in 'Molecule Kid'?"|
|"Hey. We do not speak of the confusing flashback. You'd know that if you really were me."|
Let me put it this way.
You know Mjolnir? Thor's hammer? The one that is magically enchanted by Odin to be unliftable to anyone who isn't worthy to wield it?
|Yeah, this happens.|
|No. No. A million times no.|
Arsenal asks Tony if it's time to use the Power Stone, and Tony tells him that he'd rather not blow up half the moon. But he realizes that there's got to be something in the Watcher's home that can focus the Power Stone's energy, and he gets to scavenging. He radios Cap for backup, and gets sent Falcon, Black Widow, and Hawkeye while the others continue to fight the ridiculously OP Thanos. When Tony gets his backup, he shows them the alien doodads he plans on using to save the day with.
Tony Stark: "These crystal lenses were formed in the heart of a gas giant."
Hawkeye: "They were formed inside Hulk?"
Tony's plan is to use them to focus the blast from the Power Stone, but he needs help. Black Widow gets tasked to help pull apart machinery, Hawkeye gets to find some kind of array for the lenses, and Falcon gets to search the Watcher's database for information on Thanos.
Hawkeye: "Won't cueball here stop me from ransacking his crib?"
Watcher: "I can only... observe."
As Thanos fights Thor, the Mad Titan suddenly finds himself unable to pick Thor's hammer up from off the ground.
Thor: "You are not worthy."
|Then why was he able to do this?|
A cool solution, even though Thanos's whining is getting old.
Meanwhile, Falcon finds some information on Thanos. He's a Titan who wiped out the rest of his people.
Falcon: "He makes Hyperion look like a nice guy."
Well, to be fair, Hyperion was a pretty nice guy.
Hawkeye, Tony, and Arsenal create a power-focusing-thingy out of a laser gun and a rack of lenses, only to have all the lenses fall out when Thanos takes the fight to the observatory. The fight continues as the Avengers try to keep Thanos distracted while they snatch back the wayward lenses.
Arsenal: "Finally, we get to play catch."
As the lenses are put back into place, Black Widow completely fails to do anything that even resembles hurting Thanos. Heck, she really doesn't even seem to be bothering him.
|It's kind of funny, in a way.|
Thanos: "You thought I'd come for the Power Stone... without a way to contain it?"
He was probably hoping, yeah.
Thanos: "Behold... the Infinity Gauntlet!"
And he begins to suck the Power Stone right out of Arsenal's chest from fifty feet away, which I guess he could have done at any time. Iron Man fails to save his friend, who gets the Stone ripped out of his chest. With his new power, Thanos angrily tells the Avengers that he won't spare their world because he's still totes upset that they rejected his offer. He flies away to destroy the world as Cap has Falcon check the Watcher's database for a way to destroy the Power Stone. There isn't one.
They basically have no way to fight Thanos. Unless they had, say, a sudden burst of energy on their side?
Falcon: "Like, ten megatons."
Arsenal: "I can access that kind of energy. I absorbed Grim Reaper's missile."
But as Howard's hologram explained, that would destroy Arsenal.
Black Widow: "We play the hand we're dealt."
Captain America: "She's right, Tony. I know it's not easy, but Earth comes first."
Oh, God, this is the end of Big Hero Six all over again! I can't go through all those feels again! Not again!
Arsenal: "I was created to do one thing, Tony. Protect you. Permit me."
I'm not satisfied with my care! I am not satisfied with my care!
But the plan is made. First, they need some readings of the Power Stone while it's in use. So Hawkeye, Thor, and the Hulk suit up in some exoskeletons from Thanos's homeworld to see if they can get him to wield a little bit of that energy.
|I have to question this blatant toy-shilling when no toys of these were actually ever made.|
Falcon nails the Power Stone's frequency as 87 terahertz, and tells Arsenal to adjust his blast to that frequency. Arsenal leaves the jet and unleashes his payload on Thanos, shooting him deep into space.
Tony Stark: "Goodbye, Arsenal."
When the blast clears, all that's left is Arsenal's head, which Tony tinkers with back at the tower.
Falcon: "Not sure how much sleep I'm gonna get knowing Thanos is still out there somewhere. Blasted halfway across the universe."
The universe is much bigger than you think, Falcon.
Tony Stark: "Not worried about Thanos, as long as the Power Stone's blown to bits."
If Thanos can survive that blast, I'm pretty sure an omnipotent gemstone can, too. Tony's more worried about his latest project, and new subplot: rebuilding Arsenal.
Hawkeye: "Tony... I was wrong. He wasn't just a robot. This guy? He was an Avenger."
Tony Stark: "Hopefully, you can tell that to him in person, one day."
And as Tony is left alone in his lab with the remains of his pal....
Tony Stark: "And he owes me a game of catch."
The episode ends. Now let's review.