Well. This episode’s mostly cheap, rather badly written (Matthew Chauncey gets the credit), rather badly acted, and the entire thing is just a setup for a cliffhanger with a very special guest star. The episode’s ostensibly about Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Lake Bell showing Scarlett Johansson is actually better at this part than some people would be) as the last two humans fighting all the Ultron drones. There’s no big do-over on Age of Ultron scene because it’s one of the cheap episodes. The entire Renner and Bell plot-line is cheap. There’s a more expensive subplot, but the main plot is back to the series’s inability to work well within its budget.
Now, if James Spader had come back and actually given a good performance as Ultron, who knows what the episode could’ve been. Unfortunately, Spader’s failure in the movie to chew it up—I mean, it’s Joss Whedon’s fault but still—dashed hopes the MCU would ever get a great villain. They did years later, but it was a long stretch of blah bad guys.
Spader does not appear. Ross Marquand fills in for the part. Marquand’s awful. He’s so bad he makes Jeffrey Wright seem good. The B-plot is Ultron discovering the multiverse because he reads about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in Variety and realizes the multiverse isn’t just Wright’s secret anymore. Okay, not really, but it’d have been better. And cover some significant plot holes. Though the episode quickly reveals itself to just be a giant plot hole, with the occasional substantive material going down the drain. There’s one good movie reference, thanks to the voice actor (no spoilers, it’s a cameo, well, sort of). However, there are multiple movie references in the episode, and the rest of them are terrible because Renner’s got no time for the script. He sounds distracted through the whole thing, whereas Bell over-exerts.
The bad performance isn’t even her fault. Even if she essayed the poorly written dialogue better, there’d still be director Bryan Andrews’s terrible decisions for the character.
It’s a tiring, tedious twenty-some minutes (I think it’s the shortest episode, but I’m not willing to put the time in to check). Though doing a crappy setup for a two-parter (or three-parter, since next episode is the last of the season) is not an un-comics thing to do.
As for Wright, who gets more to do this episode than ever before… he’s a lot worse in the middle than at the end. He’s not good at the end, but he definitely is weathering the bad episode better than anyone else. Except maybe Toby Jones.
Thank goodness “What If…?” slowed its improvement roll. I was getting worried I’d have to be more bullish about it.