This past Sunday, Red Skull ascended to a higher plane of existence in “Exodus,” and to get there the latest episode of “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” continued to advance the themes and plotlines that have been defining the narrative all season.
Finally taking the fight to the Cabal, the Avengers’ sense of control rapidly degenerates in the wake of Falcon being critically injured. Tony Stark in particular takes it hard and shrinks away from the team. Without any other choice, Captain America takes the reins. While the Avengers act effectively at first, they quickly find themselves at a dangerous power inbalance, two teammates down, facing the Cabal.
In today’s “The Avengers Hold Cort,” Supervising Producer Cort Lane discusses the Hulk’s desire to lead, the tragedy of the Cabal, the Avengers’ new clothes, and even more.
Don’t worry about becoming omnipotent. This chat is open to those with or without their own Tesseracts.
Cort Lane: No, no. It’s just that the team is more pro-active, has gotten more proactive than they were at the beginning of the season. They’re actively going after the Cabal because they know that [the Cabal] has the Tesseract, so there’s a ticking clock.
However, even with making that choice the Cabal seems to be able to defeat them at every turn; the heroes get a small victory but the Cabal is still moving forward with their plans.
Marvel.com: In some ways, Tony’s arc in the episode is kind of a microcosm reflection of his arc through the season. Can you walk us through what happens to Tony after his strategy gets Falcon injured early on?
Cort Lane: Without getting too psychological about it, [Tony] has a crisis of confidence in the teaser and what really hits it home for him is Falcon, his young protégé, is really injured. They’re not sure if Falcon’s going to make it, and he’s taken on so much responsibility with this team. So what he reverts to is “genius Tony” instead of “super hero Tony.”
In doing so, he looks at the situation from every different side and [as] he uses his brain he discovers a weakness in Red Skull. Actually, he doesn’t discover a weakness in Red Skull or his plan. He realizes that Skull is planning a double cross. Because of that, he’s able to outthink the Red Skull and that confidence in his own intelligence is what gets him back into the game.
Marvel.com: With Tony stepping away from the team in light of that injury to Falcon, Captain America has to step into the role of team leader. As we’ve talked about several times this season, Cap is the heart, but Tony is the leader and yet, the team seems to do very well with Cap in charge. Does that change that perspective—that one is intended to lead, the other to inspire—at all? Should Iron Man step down or, if not, what does make him the better choice for leader?
Marvel.com: To speak to Red Skull’s leadership, I found myself surprised by how quickly that betrayal occurred. We’ve been talking about it here for a while, but I guess expected more of a slow degeneration of the Cabal’s teamwork over the course of the episode instead of Skull’s sudden treachery. Creatively, what was the thinking to make that turn comes so suddenly?
Cort Lane: I think all along we looked at the Cabal’s arc as convenience. For the Red Skull the issue was that he could not defeat the Avengers without any help, without a team that was as powerful and perhaps much more dangerous. Just as Iron Man had troubles with leadership but was able to work though that, Red Skull had struggles with leadership and honestly sucked at it. He’s not truly trying to lead them here, he’s using them as pawns.
What’s fantastic about the episode is that the Cabal are really tough and they have the Avengers on the ropes throughout much of the episode. If Red Skull can just trust them, he will probably win, but he doesn’t. Iron Man, on the other hand, trusts his team to go out and fight the Cabal while he works through his crisis and works on a solution. There’s just such a difference between the two of them.
Marvel.com: : Part of Iron Man’s role while he’s out of the field is he’s overseeing the Falcon’s recovery. When Wilson wakes up, Tony introduces a new suit for hm. It’s pretty clear Tony has a fairly strong bond now with Falcon that is not just Falcon idolizing him. Is that something that just occurred naturally in the writing of the episode or was that a planned for development?
Cort Lane: That was definitely intentional. We’ve tried to evolve a lot of the relationships over the course of the season in interesting ways. Particularly one of my favorites is Black Widow and Hulk’s relationship, how that evolved. Also, Hawkeye and Falcon’s relationship.
For much of the season, Falcon did idolize Tony. But in this [episode] you get a lecture from Falcon where he tells Tony to, basically, command and lead the team. It’s nice because that relationship has changed too. It rattles Tony, Tony actually listens to him. That’s not something that would’ve happened at the beginning of the season because Falcon didn’t have that confidence level to say that and Tony wouldn’t have listened.
Cort Lane: We wanted a little bit of everything. We wanted bright, we wanted the classic original suit, we wanted a Hulkbuster suit, we just really had fun with it. There wasn’t too much strategy.
Marvel.com: Can fans expect the new Falcon suit to hang around or is this a two-episode visitor kind of thing?
Cort Lane: No, no. We’re going to keep the suit. It’s going to be the look for him. It’s pretty cool, especially in battle, with the sort of beak-like clear visor that he has. We have fun with it. We think it is that beefed up…we think it reflects his change in character as well.
Marvel.com: Similarly, will we see Tony stick with that his new suit with the brown and gold armor or will be go back to type with the more classic, traditional color scheme?
Cort Lane: Well…I can’t answer that question. You’ll have to wait and see what happens with a potential next season because this is the episode before the last one. What Tony will or will not wear after that is not something we’re going to give away right now; not just yet.
Marvel.com: Still on the theme of transformations, we see Skull absorb the Tesseract and truly ascend to Cosmic Skull for the first time. Obviously, we know this gives him a ton of power, but could you give viewers an idea of what the scope of that power might be?
Cort Lane: The team will truly learn next episode. I can tell you that there are two main things with the Tesseract that make it so threatening. It has the sort of control over reality that usually exhibited in terms of dimensional portals, but I can tell you the control of reality goes beyond that.
Also it’s a tremendous source of energy, beyond anything we could imagine. If wielded by someone who has the ability to not be destroyed by it ,it would make you pretty much omnipotent.
Marvel.com: Well, that’s a pretty good tease.
Cort Lane: Oh yeah.
Marvel.com: We haven’t talked about much yet, but we do have a tradition of talking about the humor of the episodes here as well. This time out, Hulk clearly carries the load with his jockeying to be the leader. Do you have any favorites amongst his observations? I thought he actually became very wry over the course of this episode.
Cort Lane: Yes, and it’s a function of [the fact] everybody’s evolved this season and we want to make sure we capture that in different ways. In particular, Hulk’s attitude is more relaxed and funny around his team so when he says, “Maybe I should be leader.” He’s really only joking but that’s not something he would say in the beginning of the season. He didn’t even want to be around them at the beginning of the season, but now he’s joking that he should be leader. So that’s a conscious effort by us too.
Black Widow has loosened up a lot too. She has great lines in this episode. When she takes on the big robot, she has a line about “this is how you take down a big robot” and she has a line to the effect of “For guys named A.I.M., you sure are lousy shots.” So this is a lighter Black Widow than we got at the beginning of the season. We talked about [how] Falcon and Iron Man have evolved, but we’re trying to touch on that with all the characters we can.
Marvel.com: So…is there any chance a theoretical second season would see Hulk as the leader of the team?
Cort Lane: I don’t think Hulk really wants that job. I think he’s happy he gets to be a guy who hits because this is still a really challenging group of personalities and patience isn’t his strong suit.
Cort Lane: What a good question. You know what I particularly like? As we discussed before, the Cabal become more effective as a team and they actually seem to work well together, which, considering how they treat each other most of the season, is sort of surprising.
That’s the tragedy of this thing and leads us into the next episode. They really trusted Red Skull and worked effectively together. If Red Skull was a proper leader to them, they would be unstoppable.
One thing you get to find out next episode is: So what does the Cabal do about that? It’s not the main point because this is an Avengers story but [the Cabal] has a question to answer themselves. Their leader turned on them, what the hell are they going to do about it?
Marvel.com: Based on that, they’ve developed relationships with each other separate and beyond their relationships with Skull. Is there any chance we’ll see those explored in any more depth?
Cort Lane: Yes. Yes. We’re not done with the Cabal or the methods of the Cabal or their relationships with each other.
Marvel.com: In general, I want to keep details pretty sparse for next episode, as I am sure you also do, but can you give us an indication where it picks up in relation to this one?
Cort Lane: We go immediately to literally one second after this episode ends. We are faced with Red Skull, who is basically omnipotent, and all the heroes and all the villains are nothing more than ants to him.
Marvel.com: Before we go, is there anything else you want to mention about the season finale or have you gotten enough details out there?
Cort Lane: Just that it is an extremely satisfying end to everything we’ve set up through the season in terms of all the character relationships, the Cabal’s motivations, Tony’s role as a leader and the cohesion between the Avengers…all that plays out in the finale. I was really happy with how we started on this path and played it out in every way that we wanted to in the finale.
Catch the special event episode of "Marvel's Avengers Assemble" this Sunday at 8:00 a.m. ET inside Marvel Universe on Disney XD!