Can u show us more of your favourite moments from AA?
nonny, trust me when I say I’ve been thinking about this ask every day since you’ve sent it (which is probably like, at least 2 weeks now?). I’ve literally got post-its all over my desk with half-finished lists of my favorite AA moments because it was so hard to choose something to talk about
with that said, after re-watching several of my favorite episodes, I want to talk a little bit about Tony’s relationship with praise. Specifically: the gradual change in the way Tony accepts praise from Steve over the course of the series
Or, alternatively named: “why The Age of Tony Stark continues to be the best AA episode that ever aired”
So: as we all know, Tony has a complicated relationship with his sense of self-worth. That’s just a multi-versal constant. While he may be handsome, selfless, and a literal genius, he’s always expecting more of himself. Telling himself to be better, pushing himself beyond his limits, putting himself at risk if it means saving the world or sparing others. If he ever fails, Tony is his own worst and harshest critic. As such, it comes as no surprise that he’d be uncomfortable accepting praise and encouragement from others…especially from someone who he sees as a role model; someone who he believes is inherently better than him.
Enter Steve Rogers. It’s no secret to us that AA!Steve thinks the world of Tony. If Steve believes in anything in this new-fangled 21st century world, it’s Tony Stark. Not only that, Steve has no shame in expressing these feelings in what we all lovingly refer to as his inspirational Speeches™. The first instances of one of these speeches is “In Deep,” where Steve tells Tony he’s more than just his armor. However, what I’d like to point out is Tony’s expression while Steve is, in essence, praising him:
It’s no mistake that the animators chose to show us Tony’s face at the tail end of Steve’s speech. It’s clear as day how uncomfortable he is: his head is ducked, eyes averted, eyebrows furrowed, and he’s biting his lip. It’s as if Tony is physically shying away from Steve’s genuineness. Instead of accepting the praise, what does he do?
He deflects. He tries to lessen the gravity of Steve’s words with humor and false arrogance, though it comes out relatively bare. Steve, of course, maybe sensing that he needs to pick his battles, quips back “can’t you just take a compliment,” which ironically hits the nail right on the head.
Cut to the end of season 1, in “The Final Showdown,” where Tony has expended all his armors and is left with nothing to fight against the Cabal. Once again, Steve reaffirms his utter confidence in Tony’s abilities:
And again, just like in “In Deep,” Tony deflects, berating himself:
To which Steve replies:
“Billionaire genius philanthropist! You’ll think of something!”
As sweet as that is, what interests me again is Tony’s expression as Steve runs back into the fray:
Everything about his posture screams defensive. His arms are crossed, and he has a pensive, slight frown on his face. Unlike in “In Deep” however, where Tony had literally no where to hide after Steve gave his speech, Tony now has a chance to digest Steve’s words privately, as the latter had thrown himself back into battle right after saying them. It’s not for long, but Tony actually gives himself a second. Reflects.
Now comes “The Age of Tony Stark,” which in my opinion is when everything changes. Not only do Steve and Tony spend a significant amount of time together in this episode, but they also have to fight Red Skull with Tony at his most vulnerable. After all, not only has he regained the physical limitations of being a child, but he also has to re-confront many of the insecurities he had as a child due to a father who held the “perfection” of Captain America over his head. Many truths come out, but by the end of the episode, Tony finally breaks down:
In this moment, Tony finally expresses what he constantly keeps bottled inside as an adult. He’s scared: that he’s not good enough, that he’s not strong enough, that he won’t be able to save the world when it needs him most. Not only that, he confesses this to Steve, who he looks up to, who he feels the need to prove himself in front of. The person who he felt he couldn’t be weak in front of.
But of course, Steve never thought Tony was weak. Tony never had to prove himself, because Steve already believed that Tony could do anything:
In that moment, Tony finally let down his walls and let Steve in. In a way, I think this is when Tony truly starts trusting Steve, because he realized that even though Steve had seen him at both his highest and his lowest, his confidence in him never wavered. How do I know this? Well, after “The Age of Tony Stark,” the next Speech™ that Steve really gives is the one we all know and love from “The Ultron Outbreak”:
And how does Tony react?
He smiles. He glows. He lets Steve’s confidence in him reinforce his own, and then he goes to save the world.