Episode #40 - Mandarin's Quest
Original Airdate - February 29th, 2012
Mandarin is back and needs Tony’s help to claim the eighth Makluan ring. Tony refuses, but when Mandarin says he can discover the truth about Tony’s father, they join forces!
“Mandarin’s Quest” revisits a common plot from season one episodes.
As in “Ancient History” or “Tales of Suspense,” Tony Stark and Gene Khan – who, you may recall, are Iron Man and the villainous Mandarin, respectively – visit an exotic location (this time Egypt) to face an esoteric challenge and recover one of the Mandarin’s rings.
For many reasons, this is a smart way for the creators of Iron Man to reintroduce us to the Mandarin and his slow-burning plot to collect all 10 of the Makluan rings.
Tony’s just spent the last 13 episodes dealing with stolen armor, corporate espionage, Titanium Men and Iron Mongers – pretty much everything but Gene Khan.
Meanwhile, Gene’s been shunted off into little vignettes that show him collecting a ring, often with the help of a captive Howard Stark.
Obviously, the Mandarin’s going to play a role in the bottom half of this season so it behooves the creators to remind us of his importance to the overall story. There’s only one problem: Gene Khan tends to fluctuate between boring and obnoxious and the series became much stronger when it put him on the sideline.
And while this isn’t as good as any of the season two highpoints, “Mandarin’s Quest” is a much stronger story than either “Ancient History 101” or “Tales of Suspense,” which (as I said before) treads similar ground.
One thing this episode does well – it’s plotted thoughtully and doesn’t suffer from the ludicrous holes in logic that sometimes mar the show. You may be reading this review wondering, why would Tony ever help Gene? He’s pretty much already admitted to killing his father.
Well, the episode gives a legitimate enough reason to rope Gene and Tony together one more time, and it doesn’t do it such a way that makes Tony look like a gullible schlub.
It also lays out where our heroic trio of Tony, Rhodey and Pepper stand on Gene. Rhodey and Tony want to light him up but Pepper thinks he can still be saved. While that conflict doesn’t make for any big moments in this episode, it will undoubtedly play out in later episodes.
“Mandarin’s Quest” also tries to make Gene a more sympathetic character by reminding us that he loves his mother and honestly thinks what he’s doing is right. The trick doesn’t quite work because the “nightmare sequence” in which we see this doesn’t really show us Gene’s pain – just his anger. (They cut this scene short so they can remind us one more time that Tony doesn’t like his technology being used as weapons.)
But, while not everything in this episode works, I can certainly appreciate and respect what the creators tried to accomplish here.
If nothing else, I suspect “Mandarin’s Quest” is setting us up for the long play. Character bits that were introduced (or reintroduced) here will matter later; and that, in itself, may be enough.
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