Avengers, “Gamma World I+II”.

05Dec10

Going into this set of episodes, I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. Why was this getting two episodes and Wakanda only got one? Wouldn’t it have worked better in reverse? Turns out that the answer to that is a definite “no.” Don’t get me wrong, Panther’s Quest might have worked better as two episodes. But while there was too much for one episode in there, there was also not enough for two of them, so it could have felt like a waste of time to give it another 22 minutes. Gamma World, on the other hand, managed to find a much better balance.

The cold open is a great example of that. While it’s a bit ridiculous, it’s entertaining, and re-introduces us to Hawkeye in an effective way. We don’t actually find out the main plot until after the cold open, but it’s nice and simple-out at one of the ruined super villain prisons, known as the Cube, there’s a green energy dome that’s turning people into gamma monsters. And why does SHIELD, super secret yet openly known spy agency, want the Avengers to handle it instead of doing it on their own? Well, the video evidence shows SHIELD agents transforming into monsters too, so it makes sense to throw some super powered people at the problem before wasting more SHIELD personnel. That’s more of a cynical take than the show was probably going for, but it’s hard to resist that interpretation.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye has followed the Black Widow to a HYDRA base. This is a nice B plot that sets up Hawkeye’s presence in the second half of the story, but it builds entirely off of one of the mini episodes, where Hawkeye discovered Widow was a HYDRA agent, and then got framed by her for her own crime. Still, it’s got entertaining fights, and helps solidify the idea that Hawkeye is a force to be reckoned with without hitting us over the head with it.

The rest of the episode consists of Hawkeye destroying the HYDRA base, while the Avengers try to sneak into the Cube with Doc Sampson and some SHIELD agents, and fail badly. They manage to prevail in the end, even though almost everyone who goes in gets transformed into a gamma monster too, so everything’s fine, right? Well, it is until the Leader reveals this was just him testing if he this would work, and creates another dome that envelops everyone at the scene, changing them all but Sampson and Thor. This is the point where the A and B stories intersect, as Hawkeye brings the captive Black Widow to the Avengers-or intends to, anyway, until he pulls aside to avoid the second green dome.

It’s the kind of cliffhanger that works well with a character like the Leader, who’s superintelligent-it makes sense for him to have a more intricate plan. And using the first episode as setup for the main action gets all the pieces in play fairly smoothly. We get a heavy dose of comic book science in that the radiation is not regular gamma radiation, but some form of energy deliberately designed to transform people…and when the Leader finally appears, it’s while using a headband that lets him control anyone so transformed. Highly unrealistic, yes, but it’s quick and gets out of the way of the story, which is more important.

Unusually, the second episode was shown right after the first, so we get to see Hawkeye deciding to find the Hulk/Bruce Banner for help on this problem, while Thor is captured and beaten up for the Leader’s amusement, as the only member of the Avengers who’s immune to the radiation normally. There’s more comic book science as Banner gives Hawkeye an “inoculation” against the radiation before they go down to Las Vegas to stop the Leader, alongside Thor, who stops playing possum to start wrecking things. Things smash good…and surprisingly, the Hulk seems to rejoin the Avengers, along with Hawkeye, even after he initially declines because of how easily the Leader beat them.

“Gamma World” isn’t a great story, but it has a good mix of plot and action, a great villainous performance, and wonderful character moments. Most importantly, it’s entertaining throughout. After the disappointment of “Panther’s Quest,” it’s nice to see the possibility that it was an anomaly instead of a general slide downward in quality.

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