Thursday, May 28, 2015

Recap: Avengers Assemble "By the Numbers"

Before I recap the episode, allow me to share with you the episode’s description, courtesy of Wikipedia.

"The Avengers and the Cabal have a huge confrontation that leaves the team forever changed. Iron Man also learns that 'the stats' can't be trusted every time as there's no substitutes for human intuition."

Does he? Does he really learn not to rely too much on technology, Wikipedia?

Because I don't think the lesson stuck when he learned it in "The Serpent of Doom," "Blood Feud," "Super-Adaptoid," "In Deep," "Savages," and whatever other episodes I may have neglected to mention.

Seventh-or-so time's the charm...?
The episode begins with the Avengers in the training room. Well, all the Avengers except for Black Widow. A bit of trivia for you nice people; I was originally going to do a running counter of what Black Widow does in comparison to the other Avengers to show exactly how marginalized she was. Then I realized how many episodes she didn’t even show up for, which I think proves my point better than that running counter. The only thing that makes it a bit better is that Thor’s absent, too. So maybe they’re just off on a mission and will be back soon. And maybe Uncle Ben went to live on a farm.

Anyway, the training exercise commences. The exercise in question being dodgeball. Hawkeye and Tony dominate the other team, with Hawkeye nailing Hulk and Falcon in their respective faces and Tony using a missile to change the path of a ball to hit Captain America. Apparently, this is the eighth game in a row they’ve won. Naturally, Cap’s team isn’t too impressed with this teamwork exercise.

Tony Stark: “Well, that’s because this isn’t about teambuilding. It’s about teambusting.”

Since the Cabal started using Tony’s Pre-Play system, he went ahead and created a better one, which he dubs the “Stark Probability Engine,” or “SPE.” Naturally, he’s been using it to cheat at dodgeball.

Captain America: “You’re forgetting the human factor.”
Tony Stark: “The human factor’s in there, it’s just… insignificant. Statistically speaking.”

Let me tell you a story, readers. One day, about a hundred years ago, six people were assembled to kill Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. One of them chickened out at the last second, and another one threw a bomb at the Archduke’s car. It bounced off and Ferdinand’s car sped away. One of the leftover conspirators, Gavrilo Princip decide to give up and go get some food. When Gavrilo reached the café, he found the Archduke’s car literally right in front of him. The driver had made a wrong turn and was trying to back up. Gavrilo took the shot and killed the Archduke, leading to the arrest of the conspirators which led in turn to the July Crisis. Which led to war between Austria and Serbia. Which led to the first World War. People’s actions can be hard to predict. And the outcome can be even harder to predict.

Like Scottish music groups taking their band name from the incident.
“Insignificant” my foot, Tony.
Cap tries to illustrate this point with a rematch, but Tony wins that as well.

Tony Stark: “No more surprises.”

Suddenly, Hyperion crashes through the training room and takes the Hulk away with him.

Hawkeye: “Um, I’m surprised. Anyone else?”

I am. I'm surprised the writers remembered what a threat Hyperion actually is.
You’d think this would convince Tony that his new toy isn’t applicable to any and all situations, but all he does is admit that his program was “off.” The Avengers assemble into action, and that actually includes Thor and Black Widow, to my great surprise.

Maybe Uncle Ben is living on a farm.

He's just been growing rice this whole time.
Iron Man locks down the tower and they all fly off to follow Hyperion, with Tony’s Probability Engine doing its duty. Hyperion and Hulk are fighting at the bottom of the river, which is starting to cause some havoc for all the boats. Iron Man and Thor take care of that while JARVIS tells Iron Man that the Cabal isn’t anywhere NEAR the tower. Iron Man runs the odds of this whole thing being a distraction, and the results say that Attuma’s probably waiting to ambush Thor. And as we see, he is. So instead of their usual tactic, Iron Man has Falcon remotely pilot his wing pack to funnel the water out of the river with a giant whirlwind.

I'd mention how this was probably harming some indigenous wildlife, but this is the Hudson River. What wildlife?
With the river parted like the Red Sea, the heavy hitters begin laying a smack down on Attuma. Except for Hulk, who starts taking a few more shots at Hyperion. But Hyperion suddenly remembers that he has heat vision and uses it to burn a good chunk of the Hulk’s arm, following that up with a direct hit for good measure. But even so, Hyperion gets a holographic message from the boss to retreat and reluctantly does so while the Avengers take Hulk back to the tower for medical treatment.

The bad guys regroup in Red Skull’s submarine… which I’m pretty sure was already destroyed back in “Bring on the Bad Guys,” but whatever. Red Skull gloats about his plan working perfectly, and we soon see what he means over at Avengers Tower. As Tony briefs the team, a small robot bug crawls down Thor’s cape and into a computer drive. Tony tells the others that two minutes before the Cabal attacked, there was a distinct energy spike in Death Valley which turned the sand into glass instantly. And they’ve seen this energy before.

Captain America: “Tesseract?”

Hold on. Avengers Assemble generally takes Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as canon. Everything between Iron Man and The Avengers. So the Avengers’ familiarity with the Tesseract isn’t too jarring, despite this being the first time it’s even been mentioned in the series.

Here’s a question. Why did it just suddenly appear in the desert? If we are going by the logic of the movies, it should be locked up in Asgard.

Of course, the problem with that is that I was using the word "logic."
This question will never be answered. That coupled with the fact that the Avengers are unfazed by its sudden reappearance makes the episode feel like a sequel to something that we never saw. Which it kind of is, especially if you’ve never seen The Avengers.

It’s quickly put together that the Cabal was just trying to distract the Avengers. Tony tracks down the exact location of the Tesseract, which is followed up by the Red Skull’s submarine turning into an aircraft and flying out of the Hudson to retrieve the magic cube. Black Widow notices exactly how convenient it was that they took off as soon as Tony tracked down the Tesseract, finds the bug, and quickly destroys it. The Avengers hurry to the Avenjet and follow the Cabal, with Tony running the numbers on the way.

Falcon offers to fly ahead and track down the Tesseract, but Tony shoots him down. With a little prodding, the others get Tony to reveal exactly why he’s so obsessed with his Probability Engine. Besides the fact that he’s a technophile who won’t learn his lesson. Tony reveals that when the Red Skull got the Pre-Play software, he got everything. Strategies, secrets, you name it. Tony blames himself for that, so he’s taken it upon himself to try and set things right.

As Tony once again delivers the Aesop about moving past mistakes and relying on yourself, MODOK sends out the Super-Adaptoid to slow our heroes down.

Iron Man: “SPE’s got this. I hope.”

Well, looks like Cap’s little talk went in one ear and out the other. To the surprise of no one.

Adaptoid attacks, but Iron Man doesn’t give them any orders and lets the jet get wrecked.

Iron Man: “I didn’t want Skull to know we were ready for it.”
Captain America: “We weren't ready for it, Tony! You’ve gotta let us do our jobs!”

This advice goes ignored, and Iron Man orders Falcon to go get the Tesseract and gives objectives to the others, too. Over with Red Skull, he’s as cocky as Tony is as his monocle (which, again, he destroyed in “Bring on the Bad Guys”) is telling him that he has a 100% chance of success. Of course, that’s before the Avengers crash their jet into Red Skull’s bridge.

Did the writers just forget everything that happened in "Bring on the Bad Guys" apart from Hyperion?
MODOK deploys the Adaptoid to slow his aircraft’s descent as bats swarm the skies, providing enough shade for Dracula to go after Falcon. Skull’s aircraft lands as the Cabal and Avengers start going at it on the ground and in the air.

As an aside, does anyone else see Darth Maul's Sith Infiltrator in Red Skull's airship?
The Avengers and Cabal are stretched thin across the desert, and Cap lets Tony know it. But Tony’s faith in his Probability Engine lead him to ignore the larger picture and focus on winning each fight.

Captain America: “They’re setting us up.”

And indeed they are. Tony’s plan hinges on each Avengers defeating the Cabal member they’re currently fighting. Which is why the bad guys pull a teleport swap. Suddenly, the Avengers are off-guard and fighting enemies they’re not prepared to deal with. Falcon gets fired at by the Adaptoid, and Hulk now has to deal with Hyperion thinking he’s General Zod.

Hyperion: “Kneel before me.”

Iron Man manages to knock Red Skull out of the sky and starts bragging about how he was counting on Skull’s little teleportation trick. He damages the Arc Reactor in Red Skull’s suit and gives his heroic speech.

Iron Man: “Checkmate.”

Tony, stop pretending that anyone on this show knows how to play chess.
He leaves the now-powerless Red Skull on the ground for now and heads off to grab the Tesseract before one of the others can snatch it. But when Tony reaches the coordinates his computers gave him, there’s no Tesseract to be found.

Iron Man: “Skull didn’t just steal our coordinates, he replaced them with false ones.”

He tells the Avengers to converge on Red Skull, but it’s too late. Each Avenger has been defeated, and Red Skull has what he came for.

Red Skull uses his new cosmic powers to shoot Tony out of the sky as the SPE shows Tony his 0% probability of winning.

Red Skull: “A true genius manipulates the odds. He does not let them manipulate him.”

"Which is why I was slavishly following the instructions of a device that told me the odds! ...wait."
The defeated Avengers are brought before the Red Skull, and the other Cabal members are very excited to end their lives. But Red Skull has a little seizure, cluing MODOK and Iron Man in that the Tesseract isn’t entirely stable. On the one hand, as MODOK points out, the Red Skull is risking his master plan by stopping to destroy the Avengers. But as Hyperion points out, leaving them alive means that they’ll be around to foil their evil plans later. So instead, Red Skull decides to activate one of his many contingency plans by firing some missiles in different directions.

Red Skull: “Two missiles. Los Angeles, Las Vegas.”

"Double jeopardy."
They can either save a single city or let both blow up to chase after Red Skull. And as the Cabal flies off, Iron Man’s calculations confirm that it would be impossible to save both cities.
Captain America: “That’s why you have a team.”

Captain America splits the Avengers up into equally fast and powerful teams and they head off to destroy the missiles. Long story short, they succeed. And Hawkeye even gets to wear one of Iron Man’s repulsors to do the job.

Hawkeye: “Can I keep this?”

Later, at the tower, Stark is going over the simulations again and again as Cap asks for an update on the Tesseract. The Cabal managed to shield its distinct signal which means they can’t go find him.

Tony Stark: “You know this is bad.”
Captain America: ‘Tony, we can handle ‘bad.’ We’re not numbers.”

And as Tony looks at the projected 100% chance of failure, he agrees.

Tony Stark: “We’re Avengers.”

And with that, the episode ends. Now let's review. The question of the day... will the lesson finally stick?

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