Oh, Jesus, take the wheel. This scene is probably one of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITES in this mess of a movie. Because this is the day after. Tony has absolutely fucked everything up with Pepper to a level that’s just impossible to really talk about.
Because, okay. Something that not many people address - at least, not meta I’ve seen - is that Tony? Is a functioning alcoholic. And Pepper has had to deal with this on a one to one basis for over ten years. Ten. Years.*
Now, something that was lost with the axing of the original opening (if you haven’t seen it, FIND IT ON YOUTUBE RIGHT NOW) is the set up for Pepper’s emotional arc re: Tony apparently losing his shit. In the opening, we get info that Tony’s behavior has been increasingly erratic and Pepper has OBSERVED THIS and COMMENTED ON IT. And while the audience knows that Tony’s freaking the fuck out about having X amount of time to live, PEPPER DOES NOT KNOW THIS. All Pepper knows is that Tony is falling down the addiction rabbit hole again.
Which, let me make this completely and utterly clear, is what she thought would happen when she turned him down for a romantic relationship at the end of the first movie. Because Pepper? Has dealt with Tony’s alcoholism and hedonist behavior for TEN YEARS, and she’s ridden this roller coaster ride enough times to know that untreated addiction - hell, even TREATED addiction and addictive behaviors - inevitably leads to backsliding. And as different as Tony came back - even with the enforced detox - there wasn’t treatment. Tony didn’t really look like he was addressing the underlying problems that helped create and DRIVE his alcoholism (and, presumably, sex addiction and/or narcotics addiction.)
And you know what? One thing that can never, ever, EVER be said about Pepper? Is that she’s stupid or unprepared. This woman has researched that shit that was going down with Tony. She may not have been in a position to do much (SHE WAS HIS EMPLOYEE. EMPLOYEE. EMPLOYEE.) but you can bet everything you own that she knew what the fuck was going down, and had researched ways to mitigate/help him as much as she could. She lived with, dealt with, and experienced Tony’s erratic behavior in ways that NO ONE ELSE EVER can understand. Stane was there and actively courting/encouraging that behavior. Rhodey was there, but could leave, or let other people deal with the real day-to-day fallout of Tony’s shit.
Pepper? Was paid to deal with all of it. She helped usher one-night-stands out. She organized clean-ups and cover ups. Tony flat-out said that she’d walked in on/seen him doing destructive shit. And while she had to put up with it, let herself put up with hit, while she was Tony’s assistant? In this scene here? Right here? She doesn’t have to anymore. She doesn’t. Because he’s not her boss anymore.
And the point needs to be made, needs to be CLEAR, that Pepper’s reaction above? Is healthy. It’s CORRECT. She still doesn’t know that he’s dying, and that his behavior is being driven by a different illness than usual (alcoholism) and terror. All she knows is that he went back on his implicit promise of reforming, of doing better, and destroyed his own home, PUBLICLY, and made her life fifteen times harder than it already was. And Pepper’s life? Ridiculously hard already.
Because hey. Let’s look at the shit going down in her life. First and foremost, she’s just been made CEO of a multi-national company. Stressful enough in itself because while Pepper was shown to be very competent, and likely acting in Tony’s stead in business decisions for years, she went from being a personal assistant to a CEO. A FEMALE CEO of a former weapons manufacturing company. And even though the people in active business circles probably know that she’s been doing this, and well, for a very long time, to the outside world? To other companies who, let’s face it, are pretty fucking misogynistic in their higher levels? It looks like she’s been fucking the boss and got promoted. And yeah, she’s dealing with it, but THAT IS REALLY FUCKING STRESSFUL. And on TOP of that, we’ve got Tony’s implementation of a very public, very necessary exposition that is expensive, huge, and a lot to deal with ON TOP OF the fact that the company’s going through a massive reorganization of mission statement and direction.
And then Tony goes and loses his shit in a very public, very painful, very HURTFUL way. For all intents and purposes shitting all over the work that Pepper’s done FOR HIM and FOR HIS COMPANY, and destroying the house that she helped him decorate/care for.
The Pepper we see in this scene? This is a Pepper who’s at the end of her goddamn rope. She’s exhausted and hurt and so fucking done with all of this. And Tony walking in with strawberries? I don’t know about you, but if a man I’d worked with/for for 10+ years walked in to ‘apologize’ with something that I’m allergic to? (Which YOU KNOW HAS COME UP AT LEAST ONCE BEFORE. FOOD ALLERGIES DO.) Would be the biggest, worst, most hurtful “Fuck You” that I could imagine.
Seriously. Take a minute to think about that.
So, yes. People got crabby about how Pepper treated Tony in this scene. Why? Because the movie is framed around Tony. The audience - omnipresent in his life as we are - knows that Tony’s dying. They KNOW and have seen all the stuff that built up to his incredibly disastrous birthday party. We know that he’s dealing with a bucket full of daddy issues and dying and trying to leave a legacy and MISSING Pepper - who, let’s be honest, was a constant in his life FOREVER, and is now gone, if for good reasons and reasons that TONY arranged - and still dealing with the fallout of PTSD from being tortured in Afghanistan, and being betrayed by Stane AND Rhodey (because Rhodey STOLE THE THING TONY HAD BUILT TO PROTECT HIMSELF). The audience has SEEN that.
But Tony? Is shown at being very, very bad at seeing the world from other people’s perspectives. And Pepper? Has been through all of this with him, and in HER perspective, he just shit all over that, and can’t see why she won’t forgive him. It doesn’t occur to him that her anger, her pain, her frustration and hurt aren’t just focused on the birthday party, or the way he acted there. They’re built on a very solid foundation of stress and frustration and fear and of him not seeing how much she needs his help too.
In the first Iron Man movie, Pepper tells Tony that he’s the only person she has too. But the difference between Tony and Pepper and their situations is that while Tony has Pepper to rely on, to HELP HIM, Tony is not doing the same thing for Pepper. He’s not there to help her.
And in the scene above? Natalie is. Natalie is helping PEPPER. She’s giving competence and care and is helping her. And Pepper isn’t being selfish or a bitch in this scene. She’s being an adult that’s so far past her tolerance level and set boundaries that she’s pretty much spinning like a top and the number one thing she needs? Is to be away from Tony. She needs time to process and re-evaluate and give herself some care and love. And because she doesn’t have much in the way of a Team Pepper, she’s letting Natalie do what she can. And that? Isn’t bitchy, it’s healthy.
So. Because of all of this, I have basically ZERO tolerance for anyone who hates on Pepper in this scene. ZERO. For all that this movie had problems (and it did), this scene and Pepper’s reactions during it? Were not any of them.
*And yes, the argument can be made that she could have left, found another job, etc, during that time, but she DIDN’T, so we’re not even going to touch that.