“Where are the ladies?” Maria Hill teasingly asks at the Avengers Tower Gala in Age of Ultron. Thor explains that Jane Foster is off lecturing the world about the science behind the Convergence. Tony Stark, less convincingly, says that Pepper is off running a company. Why is it I buy Thor’s excuse more than Tony’s? Because at the end of Iron Man 3 Tony and Pepper were very happily together. I can see Jane putting her relationship with Thor on hold for her career. But having been with the MCU since Phase 1, Tony without Pepper is like eating pancakes without syrup: it’s still edible and delicious but it’s not complete. No discussion of Tony’s character is complete without including her (but let’s face it, my last Iron Man post was already pretty crammed). If anything, Pepper’s absence was one of the many reasons Age of Ultron felt “off” to me as a fan.
All comments about Gwyneth Paltrow’s contract/availability aside, where is Pepper Potts? What’s her status in the MCU?
If you remember my Iron Man post from last fall, I speculated that Tony had invested personally as well as otherwise in the Insight program. When Insight failed, he realized that he couldn’t rely on SHIELD to protect the world for him. And then, perhaps taking the cue from Captain America, he built a new Iron Man suit as well as the Iron Legion and assembled with the Avengers. But how is Pepper taking this? Because at the end of Iron Man 3, Tony blew up all of his suits and removed his arc reactor, and we’re under the impression that he did it partly for Pepper. What changed?
Sad as it sounds, and indefensible as this theory may be, this is the vibe I’ve been getting: the superhero stuff and Avenging may have finally gotten to be too much for Pepper. I think they broke up. A part of me just misses seeing her in the MCU, and maybe with Civil War coming out maybe I’ve taken on the mentality of “well everything else is going to crap”. But there might be a reason we never see Pepper again.
Tony: A few tears for your long-lost boss?
Pepper: Tears of joy, I hate job-hunting.
Tony: Well, vacation’s over. Back to work.
When Pepper was still just Tony’s secretary he already drove her nuts. When he came back from Pakistan with bullet holes in his armor that took her stress to a whole new level. And then Obadiah losing his mind and his violent and explosive battle with Tony (which made everyone wonder how Pepper was able to run for her life in those heels) must have frazzled her enormously. In-between the first two Iron Man films, she had to put up with him being a superhero on top of everything else. Then Tony made her CEO of Stark Industries, but for the first little while after her promotion, she followed him around trying to make sure he didn’t get himself killed or die or whatever. After the fiasco at the Stark Expo, she tells him she’s officially done. And then he kisses her. In spite of how much he drives her crazy, she accepts his love. I think it’s true love when your relationship blossoms in spite of everything else being imperfect. But it only lasts if you’re willing to work with those imperfections, and everyone—especially Pepper Potts—has their limit.
It looks like Pepper was okay being Iron Man’s girlfriend for a while in spite of the craziness. But then the Chitauri invaded. Pepper watched the news and missed an important phone call. And then Tony got PTSD and didn’t deal with it very well. By Iron Man 3, their relationship may have already been on the rocks no matter what amends Tony tried to make. Tony being a superhero and risking his life stresses Pepper out. And Tony getting stressed about being a superhero also stresses her out.
“Am I gonna be okay?” “No, you’re in a relationship with me, you will never be okay.”
Something else happens in Iron Man 3. Pepper briefly gets to wear the Iron Man armor. And then she gets her body flooded with Extremis. In a literal blaze of glory she kills Aldrich Killian. She tells Tony that she understands why he’s a hero, why he wears the suits and does what he does. She was capable of becoming a superhero in her own right, and she would’ve been great at it. But she chose to continue living a normal, quiet life. I think that’s what I like about Pepper. The entire MCU is about how extraordinary people figure out how to balance normality with their other traits, but Pepper Potts is an extremely striking example. She wants to be normal, and not only that she wants Tony to be normal. I think she’s caught on to the fact that he’s happier when he’s not doing something out of the ordinary. And Tony knows that and he loves her for that.
So I don’t think after the events of Winter Solider that Pepper blamed Tony for going back to the Avengers, but their relationship must have taken a back seat. She wants to distance herself from all of the supernatural and strange things in the world. After what happened to her in Iron Man 3, who would blame her?
The Avengers being back together was supposed to be temporary. That changed after Ultron. Tony changed after Ultron. Why aren’t Tony and Pepper together in Civil War? I mean, aside from the fact that the movie is already crowded with beloved characters?
I commend Tony for wanting to do the right thing and make up for his past mistakes, to try and bring some order to the chaos he helped create. But there might be something wrong with the way he’s doing it—why else would Captain America be fighting him? And it may just be bad timing for superhero regulation to come about. Tony listens to Pepper. He doesn’t always do what she says but he listens. Pepper Potts has the rare ability to tell Tony Stark NO and make him stop. In fact, rumor has it…
…well, you get the idea.
This might be a stretch, but what if it’s more than just a joke? Did Tony do something, related or not related to Ultron or the buildup to Civil War, that made Pepper turn away from him permanently? What if Civil War is happening partly because Tony and Pepper broke up and he had nothing better to do? Or maybe she gets killed offscreen in one of the incidents related to the film? Or, better yet, she breaks up with him for fighting Captain America. Rumor has it that Christine Everheart, the conniving reporter from the first Iron Man film, is going to be back for Captain America: Civil War. Is Tony Stark involved with her again?
Let me make something brutally clear: I like Tony best when he’s with Pepper. Her absence in Age of Ultron pained me, and it will make me less inclined to support Tony in Civil War.
I could easily stop writing there, but that wouldn’t be a very happy note to end on. So let me talk about the ways Tony and Pepper are a great couple (aside from the fact that they have the most perfect ship name ever). Other women fall over themselves to get a piece of Tony Stark. But Pepper Potts gets all of him. Pepper was his personal secretary long before their romantic relationship started. She knows him, she knows his attitudes and she has a high tolerance for the crap he gets himself into occasionally. So she doesn’t take any excuses from him. So Tony has to have a sharper wit in order to impress her.
Tony and Pepper’s relationship hearkens back a little to Petruchio and Katharina in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. I studied this play in the Shakespeare class I took at BYU. Petruchio and Katharina’s witty banter was more than just entertainment or a way to get back, it was a game. If you can impress your romantic partner with smarter retorts to their smart remarks, then you can stay together. It’s a win for both parties. Wordplay is romantic chemistry. Tony Stark, of course, is already a master of wit. Pepper keeps up with him the way no one else can. Remember their scene together in The Avengers?
- Give yourself 12% of the credit
- An argument can be made for 15.
- 12% for my baby?
- I’m going to pay for that comment about percentages in some subtle way later, aren’t I?
- Not gonna be that subtle
(After Coulson arrives)
- I thought we were having a moment?
- I was having 12% of the moment
He makes her a cutting remark, and she uses it to cut back at him. They know how to step on each other’s toes but they enjoy it at the same time. I like Tony and Pepper’s relationship not because it’s romantic but because it’s fun to watch them together. And of course, because Tony cares about Pepper, we fans care about her too. We care about them being together. Their literal trial by fire in Iron Man 3 gave us more reasons to love them than ever.
So it’s heartbreaking to think that after all this time, after all they’ve gone through, they may have fallen apart. With those thoughts, enjoy your Valentine’s day.