paying too much attention

An Embarrassingly Close Reading of the Downton Abbey Clips in Iron Man 3

Photo: Marvel and PBS

Maybe you did not walk out of Iron Man 3 and immediately think, Hey, the hit PBS show Downton Abbey was in that movie! (Truth be told, Vulture’s first thought was more like, Hey, is Guy Pearce married?) But maybe you’ve been thinking about the movie a bit, and you’ve answered all of the big Iron Man 3 questions, and now you’ve moved on to stuff like, “Why was Happy so into that particular Downton plotline?” He only watched Tom and Sybil clips — season two, before things got really dark — and they’re not even the third best couple on the show. Was there a particular reason for this choice? Was Shane Black trying to tell us something? Some absurd guesses, in order of probability:

1. Happy (Tony Stark’s personal assistant, played by Jon Favreau) is in love with Pepper and therefore identifies with Tom the chauffeur.
This is the most literal explanation, and it’s also a nod to the comics (in which Happy and Pepper get married). Happy roots for Tom and Sybil because he, too, is a chauffeur who is in love with a woman above his station; he wants Pepper to renounce her rich overlord (Tony) and move to Ireland with him. The first scenes in Iron Man 3 even support this theory, in the sense that Happy is super threatened by Guy Pearce’s character. (Though, who wouldn’t be?)

2. Happy is a political radical who secretly hates Tony Stark and is plotting to overthrow him.
This is your anti-capitalist interpretation, which lends itself nicely to a spinoff movie — maybe Favreau didn’t want to direct because he’s too busy finishing the script for Happy Warrior, which would of course be the name of his suit. You can imagine Happy attempting Tom’s Soup Urn of Terror trick, but with a chai latte or whatever. (Then Happy gets banished to a sad island and Tony lives to headline another bonkers-successful Marvel movie.)

3. Bad things are coming for Pepper Potts.
Out of all the love stories it could have shown — a rich heiress caught in bed with a dead Turkish diplomat; a jailed cripple and his blushing bride; a spinster sister and an amnesiac burn patient — Iron Man 3 chose the bullying chauffeur and his supportive wife. If this choice is supposed to help us understand the movie’s central relationship (Tony Stark and Pepper), then uh-oh, Gwyneth Paltrow, you’d better go shopping for a new franchise. You heard what happened to Sybil, right?

Close-Reading the Downton Clips in Iron Man 3