Hurst Hot Take: Marvel’s “What If?”

Hurst Hot Take: Marvels What If?

Emma Coppolo, A&E Editor

***Spoiler Alert***

The Marvel miniseries “What If?” takes a closer look at alternate realities in the multiverse. A mystical being called the Watcher explains that he governs the realities to maintain order but can by no means interfere.

In each reality, the timeline is an altered version of a canonical Marvel reality. As episodes like the first demonstrate, a split-second decision can entirely alter the course of a reality. There are nine episodes in this series, so I will only go into deep detail on a few and give a short summary of others. The kickoff episode of this miniseries is entitled. “What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” In this timeline, an incident leaves Steve Rogers unavailable to receive the serum that transforms him into Captain America.

In a split-second decision, Peggy Carter courageously gets into the chamber and accepts the serum in his place. As happened to Steve in another timeline, Peggy has a massive physical change and becomes a Super Soldier. Unlike Rogers, Peggy is not worshiped and marveled at. Instead, she has every door shut in her face because she is a woman. Through determination, Peggy overcomes the patriarchal government forces attempting to silence her and becomes Captain Carter while Steve is merely her sidekick and love interest, appeasing many fans of the pair’s relationship. I will say, this is my second-least favorite episode (we will get to number one later). However, I think it did the job of the first episode well; it established the premise of the series and showed viewers how it would be structured. Also, this made way for Episode 2 to be a surprise hit.

Episode two, “What If… T’Challa Became Star-Lord?”, is one of my favorite episodes. In this timeline, a young T’Challa is kidnapped by Yondu and the Ravagers rather than Peter Quill, who canonically becomes Star Lord. I think that this episode highlights the key character differences between T’Challa and Quill. One of the most infuriating moments in the Marvel Uni-verse is when Quill allows his anger to get the better of him and subsequently frees Thanos from the other Avengers, leading to “the Blip.”

In this universe, T’Challa is the perfect Star Lord; in fact, Thanos is part of his gang. Thanos explains that T’Challa had a reasonable conversation with him and showed him the problems with his plan. T’Challa and a very different Nebula have an interesting and close relation-ship, which I personally never would have predicted and loved.At the end, T’Challa returns to his family triumphantly and they all get closure knowing their son is home. This series was Chadwick Boseman’s last appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), so this episode was bittersweet. However, I think they honored the character and the actor as they should have.

Episode three is “What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?”. The Avengers, prior to being the Avengers, are being mysteriously killed off one by one. There are many red herrings and tricks that Natasha has to maneuver as she tries to find the killer. Essentially, Hope Van-Dyne/Wasp died in a Shield mission. To avenge her, Hank Pym (the original Ant Man) put on the Yellow Jacket suit and began murdering SHIELD’s finest. This episode was fine, but it was not one of my favorites. I will say, the surprise twist of Hank Pym being the killer was some-thing I never saw coming. Other than that, it did not really stand out.

Episode four, entitled “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”, was a very different pace than we’ve seen in prior episodes. In this timeline, Dr. Strange is with his love interest, Christine Palmer, when he crashes his car. While his hands are his main concern in the original timeline, the woman he loves is now laying dead next to him. As in the original movie, he pursues sorcery and becomes a Magician.

As he begins to understand how to warp time to his benefit, he tries time after time to create a scenario where Christine lives. He is told by the Ancient One that he will never succeed because Christine’s death led to Dr. Strange becoming a hero, which was a necessary event in the timeline. This episode is very intricate and confusing, so I guess the major takeaway is that Strange becomes a dark creature called Strange Supreme. He morphs into a terrifying monster and resurrects Christine, who is absolutely horrified. She quickly disappears as the entire universe collapses. The Watcher uses this as an opportunity to remind the audience of the importance of a single action.

“What If… Zombies?!” was such a crazy episode start to finish. This was another of my favorite episodes. A very unlike-ly crew of Avengers are forced to team up as everyone else on Earth has been infected with a Quantum Virus that Janet Van-Dyne contracted in the Quantum Realm, turning them all into zombies. The team is made up of Bruce Banner, Hope VanDyne, Peter Parker, Hap-py Hogan, Sharon Carter, Kurt Goreshter (from Ant Man), Bucky Barnes and Okoye. As members of the gang get picked off by zombies as they try to reach Camp Lehigh, Hope gets infected and ultimately sacrifices herself to save the rest of the team. The team is excited to meet Vision and the disembodied head of Scott Lang, who Vision cured, but could only salvage his head.

In a very twisted chain of events, it is discovered that Vision has been preserving T’Challa and cutting him apart piece by piece to feed a zombified Wanda. As the few left living try to escape, Bruce sacrifices himself to fight zombie Wanda, and the Hulk saves him at the last minute. Peter, Scott and T’Challa, the final living Avengers escape to Wakanda on a Quadjet with the Mind stone as humanity’s only hope. What they don’t know is that a zombie Thanos and his undead army wait for them with the remaining stones. I thought this episode was fun but also weirdly dark. I audibly gasped when T’Challa was discovered and seeing Peter Parker sad always makes me sad. But I thought it had sort of a twisted charm to it that I enjoyed.

“What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” is undeniably my least favorite episode. Basically, Killmonger finds Tony in the desert after the attack seen in the first Iron Man film. As a friend put it, the episode is essentially the plot of Black Panther. I honestly am not going to go into detail because I think this episode really let the series down and was more of a filler than good content. Especially with Killmonger and Tony’s respective political backgrounds, the episode had a ton of potential to be great. It just didn’t happen that way.

Episode eight is entitled “What If… Thor Were an Only Child?”. This was an okay episode; it definitely felt out of place with the others. In this timeline, Loki was never adopted by Odin and Thor never had the character development that Loki gave to him. Thor is a huge partier in this episode, and he throws an out-of-control rager in Las Vegas to impress Jane. Very long story short, Jane calls Thor’s mother to get him to stop the party that is have disastrous consequences. This episode is mostly little jokes and very lighthearted. However, that just could not compete with other episodes with intricate story lines.

“What If… Ultron Won?” is a crucial episode that begins typing the previous six episodes together. In this reality, Ultron was able to take over Vision’s body and acquire the Mind stone. Thanos arrives and attempts to collect the stone, and Ultron effortlessly kills him, collecting the remaining stones. He subsequently becomes the most powerful being in existence and decides to figure out who is controlling the multiverse. Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Clint Barton/Hawkeye are the only two Avengers left alive. They decide that the only way to win is to install a virus in Ultron; the only virus powerful enough is the electronic consciousness of former Hydra agent Arnim Zola.

They put Zola’s virus on an arrow tip and attempt to hit Ultron. In a treacherous escape, Clint sacrifices himself. This is a nod to Natasha’s sacrifice for Clint in Avengers: Endgame. Ultron, in the meantime, has left the universe to con-front the Watcher. The two battle epically throughout universes. The Watcher narrowly escapes and asks the now evil Dr. Strange for help, breaking his oath. As this happens, Ultron takes control of the multiverse.

The final episode is “What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath?”. A character from each of the first six episodes is removed from their timeline and told by the Watcher that their help is needed. The Watcher forms a team called the Guardians of the Multiverse, consisting of Thor, Gamora, Killmonger, Dr. Strange, T’Challa and Captain Carter. The Natasha Romanoff from the Ultron’s timeline also joins the six on their mission. This episode is absolutely epic. It honestly was such an interesting mirror to the Avengers’ battle with Thanos. I was stunned at how good this episode was. When The Guardians of the Multiverse defeat Ultron using Zola’s virus, Killmonger betrays them and tries to steal the infinity stones. As Zola tries to steal them back, they float midair. Dr. Strange captures this in some sort of magic crystal cage and vows to monitor it for all time to ensure that the pair doesn’t escape.

The heroes return to their timelines, but Natasha refuses to remain in her ru-ined timeline. The Watcher places her in a timeline whose Black Widow died, and she immediately begins fighting with her new team.Peggy’s return is bittersweet as she wishes that she could be returned to a timeline where Steve is alive. Natasha from Peggy’s reality brings her to a room with a frozen Steve Rogers in it, once again defying the odds of the universe to bring the two together. This episode did a great job of unifying seven seeming to be distinctly separate episodes. This episode was like a mini version of Endgame with a different cast.

I personally loved the series as a whole. I think the concept is so unique, and I like that they heavily relied on the comics to produce the alternate story lines. I really enjoyed getting to see such drastically different sides of some characters and seeing the heroes be switched around. I think that the series was very easy and fun to watch, unlike certain series like “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” that required some effort. Episodes are only a half hour long, so they are perfect for a quick watch. If you are a stickler for canonical story lines, this certainly is not the series for you. Those people excluded, I think this series is a great watch.