Episode #50 - Dragon Seed
Original Airdate - July 11th, 2012
Pepper Potts finally gets her own suit of armor! Thrilled, Pepper decides to call herself RESCUE. Meanwhile, Iron Man discovers where the Mandarin is, tracking him via Satellite. Iron Man, War Machine and Rescue fly to China and attack but discover more than they bargained for when the Temple Guardian shares new information which rocks them to their very core.
Directed By Stephane Juffe and Phillipe Guyenne
With three episodes left in its run, “The Dragon Seed” finally makes Gene Khan – the teenaged Mandarin – worth watching.
Gene’s been a problematic character from episode one. Too much of his dialogue depended on villainous clichés and his motivation consisted of vague claims about “destiny.”
He was neither fun nor interesting. We didn’t empathize with him or even love to hate him. We just wanted him off screen.
He was Poochie, Pierce Hawthorne, X-Pac.
But “Dragon Seed” does a fantastic job of remediating the character by, one, elaborating on his “destiny;” two, calling him out for his obnoxiousness; and, three, making us sympathize with him.
It does the first by elaborating upon Khan’s backstory. The episode opens in a flashback with Khan’s mother telling her son that he is destined for great things. Even more important than her words, the mother’s love for Gene is palpable in this scene.
Suddenly, Gene’s not just a smug jerk. He’s a mama’s boy whose mother probably spent a little too much time telling her son that he was special. Moreover, his temper tantrums aren’t just because he’s a brat; it’s because he’s an Oedipal mess who is secretly terrified of disappointing his mother.
That’s a lot more interesting than a guy who keeps making overbearing threats to Tony and Howard Stark.
Now, as per the second point: In “Dragon Seed,” Gene finds out the history of the Maklua… Machlu… power rings. It involves alien overlords and isn’t really important to my point.
What does matter is that the guardian of the rings – an alien guy who stole the rings from the alien overlord – doesn’t think Gene deserves the rings because “there is much darkness in (him.”)
Yoda paraphrasing aside, this creates a wonderful moment that allows us to both hate Gene and feel a little bad for him.
He has spent the last 49 episodes talking about how he deserves the ring – how they’re his destiny.
Then, at the last possible minute, he’s told that he doesn’t deserve them. Imagine the shame and anger that would make Gene feel. (After all, this would mean his mom is wrong.)
When Gene lashes out at the alien and tells him that the rings are his destiny, for the first time, it doesn’t feel like a cliché.
(Sidebar: if the creators had wanted to go a completely different way, Iron Man: Armored Adventures could have been a fascinating look at super-powered teenagers with a sense of entitlement. Tony Stark, Whitney Stane and Gene Khan all have pretty big chips on their shoulders; and it would be interesting to analyze how this chip can turn someone hero or villain.)
But the best rehabilitative work they do with Gene in this episode consists of a short exchange with Pepper Potts – who, by the way, finally gets her own armor suit.
If you remember, Potts had a crush on Gene back in season one; and Gene, despite himself, thought of Potts as a friend.
When Potts and Gene meet here for a super-powered smackdown, it’s Gene who pulls the punches in the name of their erstwhile friendship.
It gives Gene – maybe for the first time ever – something like the moral high ground. And it makes him, maybe if you squint a little, likeable.
So, to summate, “Dragon Seed” does great character work with Khan – promoting him from charisma black hole to fascinating Oedipal mess/adolescent demigod.
Too bad it comes so late in the show’s run.
(By the way, this episode was credited to comic writer Sean McKeever who penned Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, which is in my teen hero pantheon with Vaughan’s Runaways and the Perez-era Teen Titans.)
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