A wave of high-tech crimes breaks out when the circus comes to town.
|Characters: Peter Parker/Spider-Man; Richard Raleigh/The Ringmaster; Gwen Stacy; Miles Morales; Cirque des Merveilles (eight members, including Mary Stenson); Dr. Otto Octavius; Max Modell; Aunt May; Harry Osborn; Anya Corazon; Randy Robertson; Robbie Robertson
Close on the hands of THE RINGMASTER as they place the fragments of a cuneiform tablet together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle; O.S. he recites the prices of each, in millions of dollars. But there is a piece missing from tablet. Still O.S., KATE BISHOP asks what it will be worth when it is fully assembled. "Priceless" is the Ringmaster's reply.
Dissolve to a piece of cuneiform in the shape of the missing piece, housed behind glass. PETER PARKER, GWEN STACY, and MILES MORALES are studying it but talking about their own personal money woes: Peter says he got a note to come in to talk to Max Modell about his tuition, which his Aunt May is late paying. Gwen suggests he take the scholarship that Norman Osborn offered him—Miles interrupts to ask if she's trying to get rid of Peter—and Peter says he doesn't want to rely on Norman for charity by moving to OASIS. But, he admits, it would put him back in a classroom with his best friend. They walk as they talk, at one point bumping into RICHARD RALEIGH, a distinguished-looking man (maybe resembling Ronald Colman?), who accepts their apology with a smile only. Gwen suggests Peter take a job as a tour guide at the museum so he can help them find their way around. Peter, confused in turn, asks why she thinks they're lost, as the exit (he points) is right over there.
As if on cue, into the room fly acrobats: tumblers, a strongman, a midget, a lariat artist, all of them in full-body stockings that even mask their heads. They fly and hurl each other about the museum as patrons yell and scatter, but they cause no damage, only surprise—until one catches Peter and tosses him at the ceiling. Peter catches onto it and sticks to it in a crouch. He and Miles lock eyes, and Peter gasps as he realizes that Miles has caught him exhibiting his Spidey-powers.
Peter's moment of crisis interrupted by the appearance of The Ringmaster, who is dressed out in a classic circus ringmaster ensemble of colorful trousers, tails and a top hat. But his face is hidden in a mask, embedded in the left eye of which is a monocle. The Ringmaster promises the museum patrons wonders, mirages and miracles at Madison Square Garden, courtesy of the Cirque des Merveilles. As Peter gapes, he and the acrobats vanish in a blinding flash of light.
Miles is rubbing his eyes and gaping at the spot on the ceiling where Peter was perched, but which is now empty. Peter appears behind him (scaring him), affecting nonchalance, and saying he doesn't know what Miles is talking about when Miles says he saw Peter hanging from the roof: the room was full of crazy stuff, Peter says; um, like, he thought he saw a floating cow. Miles looks doubtful, but accepts that his eyes were fooling him.
At the school, Miles says he'll see Peter in class: he's got a sudden idea that maybe he can rent his new robot prototypes to the museum as security 'bots. Peter waits briefly outside Modell's office, listening to raised but muffled voices. DR. OTTO OCTAVIUS comes storming out, shoving Peter aside. In the office, MAX MODELL apologizes for Otto's behavior; Peter says the genius was actually acting more polite than usual. Modell further explains to Peter that Octavius is upset on account of money: Because the damage done to the school by the Lizard and the Spider-Man, they are having to make budget cuts, and Octavius's project is going to be losing some money. Modell then tells Peter that he's going to need a down payment on this month's tuition by the end of the week; he doesn't like making the demand, but he says that he knows that Peter can move to OASIS if money is a problem—yes, he heard about Norman's scholarship offer. Peter exits the office in time for Miles to run past: "Watch out! Bug in the software!" A security robot chases after him, calling for the intruder to halt.
At home, Peter tells AUNT MAY that he wants to transfer to OASIS because he can get a scholarship there. She tells him it is up to him; if he wants to stay at Horizon she'll find a way to pay for it. An unhappy Peter goes upstairs to call HARRY OSBORN, who tells him he was about to call: He wants Peter to go with him and ANYA CORAZON to see the Cirque des Merveilles. Peter agrees.
The Garden is crowded with well-dressed people when Peter, Harry and Anya arrive; Peter grumbles about being underdressed, particularly next to the tuxedoed Harry and Anya in a stylish dress. He turns at his name, and is gestured over by RANDY ROBERTSON, his old friend from Midtown, who confides that he's going to try to sneak some video of the performance. Peter asks "Why 'sneak'?" and Randy tells him all photography and video of the Cirque is strictly forbidden; but his dad's boss, J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle, has offered a rich cash prize for any footage, and he's put a drone on a camera and is going to remote control it from inside. Peter turns again at another hail: Miles and Gwen. He asks if they are there on a date. No, they're not, the scandalized Gwen says while Miles gets a rictus grin. Peter suggests that they all sit together with Harry and Anya, but Gwen tells him not to be silly: she and Miles aren't there on a date, but Harry and Anya are. Peter is shocked: Are Harry and Anya going together? Gwen tells him that Harry doesn't know it yet, but yes they are. The three friends go in together.
Inside the hall, Peter splits his attention between Harry and Anya, and the stage, where some mild acrobatics are being done. Miles, bored, says he'd rather be home kicking alien butt on his game console. But the lights suddenly go down, then flash back up as The Ringmaster takes the center stage. He promises the crowd marvels as have been never seen before, and as he speaks waves begin radiating from his monocle. The colors turn phantasmagorical; the glow plays over the joyfully entranced faces of Peter and his friends.
Cut to Oscorp. Across the street crouch a half-dozen figures in full-body stockings. Using arrows shot across with ropes attached, knives flung into masonry and used as ladders, tumbling acrobatics, and other moves they swarm across the street and onto the face of the skyscraper. Inside, one figure looses snakes that slither across the floor and under doors; electronic eyes fail and the stockinged figures come through the duct work, using more tricks to disable additional security. Cases are opened and rifled of gear. Laden with sacks, the thieves exit the windows as, high on a rooftop opposite, the Ringmaster watches. The camera rises to show Madison Square Garden, fully lit, some blocks away.
The next day, in class, Miles, Gwen and Anya are buzzing about the circus, each one citing a different part that they liked best; Anya, puzzled, observes that she doesn't remember seeing what Miles and Gwen saw; Miles says he doesn't remember seeing what Anya saw, but that's probably because there was so much going on all at once. They fall silent as Octavius enters with a frown. He returns test papers while making snide remarks—"Fail. Fail. Do better next time. Were you even trying?"—as Miles sinks lower in his chair. To Gwen, Octavius says, "The only student to pass" as he lays a paper before her. To Miles: "Just embarrassing." Miles furiously compares his paper to Gwen's, then calls Octavius out: How come he marked a problem wrong on Miles's paper while marking it as correct on Gwen's? Gwen backs Miles up, and asks Octavius to mark her score down. Octavius accedes: "Minus ten points for getting the problem wrong. Plus fifteen points for being honest about it. Congratulations, Miss Stacy. Now you're the first student to ever get a B on one of my tests." Miles grumbles to her: Why does he like you so much? Peter rushes in, breathless, apologizing for being late. Octavius retorts that he's not just late, he's absent, and points at the door. Peter's expression craters, but he exits.
Back in The Think Tank, Peter skypes Randy, telling him that he got kicked out of class so he can look again at that footage Randy shot. It's from inside the Garden, showing the performers arrayed on the stage. "Now watch," Randy says, "because here is where the act started." But instead of performing, all the acrobats, including the Ringmaster, leave the stage. The footage fast-forwards until the acrobats return to take their places: "That's an hour later," Randy says. "They missed the whole show. But we all saw them on that stage, didn't we?" Peter asks what his dad said about it. "I haven't shown it to him yet. It's too weird." He begs for Peter's help. Peter says he'll download the footage and study it. He runs the footage back and forth until he isolates a flash emanating from the Ringmaster's monocle: some kind of electromagnetic pulse. Peter concludes a direct investigation might be better; and he's got the next two hours free, until Octavius's class is over, he glumly adds to himself.
Spider-Man (wearing Peter's backpack) swings and runs over rooftop. His path takes him past Oscorp, and he pauses when he sees multiple helicopters hovering near the face of it. Wondering what's up, he calls Harry, who is in his lab repairing the hoverboard. No, Peter isn't interrupting, Harry says. His dad is fit to be tied on account of a major break-in last night; lots of valuable high-tech gear got stolen; but what's up? Peter stammers that he was just checking in on account of, um, Gwen said that Harry and Anya were dating? Harry is silent a moment, then says that he wishes Gwen would do a better job keeping her mouth shut. Peter apologizes and says he'll talk to her about it, and talk to Harry later. He hangs up, and observes that he should do a better job keeping his own mouth shut. He takes off toward the Garden.
On the roof, he removes his backpack and from it draws a small drone with a video camera attached: it's a good thing they've got this kind of off-the-shelf equipment at Horizon, Peter observes to himself, because he'd never be able to afford it otherwise. As it lifts into the air, he orders it (like a pet) to keep an eye on things for him.
Inside a spacious suite with a view of the city, the Cirque is assembling tech with the Oscorp logo on it. There's an argument, with some wanting to sell the tech after "tonight's job"; others want to save it for future jobs; but isn't tonight's job the last one? the first faction ask. The Ringmaster—his mask resting on a table but his face turned away from us—asks why any of them would want to retire. Some pythons are dozing on the back of a sofa, but they lift their heads to gaze up at a ceiling duct. Their trainer—MARY STENSON—notices and peers up at the duct too. "Guys," she says, and that's all she has time to say before the duct explodes and Spider-Man bursts in with a "guess I'm busted". The Ringmaster grabs his mask as Spider-Man shoots webbing around. He dodges some blows, but is caught in a wave from the monocle. The scene momentarily freezes, then resumes with the Cirque charging him simultaneously from all directions. Peter has to dodge hard, and his webbing dissolves upon hitting his attackers; they grow and distort, and the snakes turn into a Hydra. "Wait," Peter says, and he freezes. A thrown punch passes through his face. "This is an illusion, like last night." As he says it, the mass of attackers vanishes, and he finds himself plunging headfirst into the canyons of New York toward a street below.
Only fast web work pulls Spider-Man out of his dive, and he bounces off a couple of walls as he recovers himself and skids to a stop. He runs to the edge of the roof and finds himself blocks away from the Garden. He rushes back, but the room he had found is empty of both the Cirque and the tech. He rubs his head, whistles through his fingers, and the camera-drone charges in, breaking a window. "Let's see what you got," he addresses it. "See if almost breaking my neck was worth it."
Cut to video footage of the fight, with an angle on the masked Ringmaster. Peter is viewing it on his laptop at Horizon, and he scrolls the footage back and forth until he finds a flash. He opens another screen, which fills with numbers. Peter gasps: "There's nine hundred exabytes of information in that flash. He downloaded a complete illusion straight into my brain!" He turns to scratch the drone, which is hovering by his ear, under the lens. "But he didn't fool you, did he?"
Miles enters—"Is that my drone you're playing with?"—and Peter hurriedly closes the laptop and asks Miles if it uses the same AI as his security robot. Miles says it isn't, as he had to take the AI out of the robot because it kept trying to kill him. Gwen comes in, and Peter tells her that he told Harry that she said he and Anya were dating; is that okay? She gives him an even look and says of course it's okay, as long as Peter's okay with her telling Otto that he (Peter) copied off her on their last quiz. She storms out. Miles asks the flinching Peter if he's not sure that "your own personal AI isn't trying to kill you. How dumb can you be?"
In his bedroom that evening, Peter is fiddling with some lenses inside the eye patches of his Spider-Man mask when his Aunt May looks in to tell him that dinner is ready; she asks if something is wrong. Peter sighs and says he got in an argument with a classmate, then in a rush says that he doesn't understand why science can be so easy but people can be so hard. She replies: It's because you can't just push buttons to make people do what you want. Peter mumbles that that's probably for the best. She smiles and turns. Over her shoulder, she says: "For instance, I wouldn't want to push one of your buttons by asking if it's a girl you had a fight with." Peter winces.
In the dark, Spider-Man races over rooftops; POV shots, showing readouts as though displayed on a screen. Peter observes that the new lens system in his mask should filter out the Ringmaster's signals while also providing better overall visual information. It should also allow him to locate and trace the signal from the Ringmaster's monocle. He activates the lenses, and is surprised to see that there are two such signals.
The rooftop of a building: the Cirque, in their body stockings and holding the gear they stole from Oscorp, surrounds the Ringmaster, whose monocle is sending out waves. Why this target? one of the Cirque asks; weren't they hitting the museum? The Ringmaster says there's been a change of plan. The new target will give them the money they need to get out of town, now that they've been discovered. Go to it, he says; they swing into action as he watches.
Cut to the museum. The Ringmaster, his monocle active, strolls nonchalantly through the darkened museum past a guard who ignores him. He casually opens up the case holding the cuneiform shard, setting off every alarm in the place. The guard only yawns and checks his watch. The Ringmaster strolls out past him.
On the rooftop where the Cirque had been, Spider-Man perches and watches. "You've got to be kidding!" he exclaims. "What do they think they're doing?" Cut to inside a bank, where the Cirque are elaborately disabling security systems and setting explosives on a vault. Outside, Spider-Man reaches over to the Ringmaster's mask, which is hanging on a cell phone aerial, and deactivates the monocle. Across the street (reverse angle) is a police station. Cut to inside the "bank," where the bank setting fades to be replaced by the inside of the police station where officers, pistols drawn, are watching incredulously as the Cirque try to rob it. The Cirque gape, then put up their hands.
Dissolve to: Spider-Man, at a distance, webbing across the city. The camera pulls back to show it's footage on a cell phone: Peter (out of costume) is standing in a newsroom. Randy Robertson hands the phone back to Peter: "That's great, man," he says. "But you shot it. You should be the one to sell it." He calls to his dad, and ROBBIE ROBERTSON comes over to study the footage, then tells Peter to come with him into the publisher's office. "Don't let him scare you, kid," he advises Peter. "And don't take less than a thousand for it."
Cut to Spider-Man, again running across a rooftop. V.O., he says he's got himself a part-time job, maybe, as long as he can keep supplying the Bugle with good camera footage; and he's pretty sure he knows how to get some any time he wants. (He trips, calls "Cut!", and the drone drops into view.) The Cirque is in jail, except for the Ringmaster, and the funny thing is that none of the Cirque can even agree on what he looks like for the wanted posters.
Peter calls Harry: "Gwen's still mad at me," he says. "Can we hang out?" Harry, on the other side of the call, says he's busy with Anya. "That's okay," Peter says, "as long as we're still friends." "Always," Harry assures him.
Dissolve to a small airplane, jetting across the sky. Richard Raleigh—our Ronald Colman lookalike from earlier—screws a monocle into his eye and places the stolen cuneiform fragment into the puzzle that lays in his lap. "Ten years work complete phase one," he murmurs. "Now to commence phase two."
Commentary: "A Ringside Seat"
Next: "S01E05 "Ghost in the Machine""