Let’s Talk about What If…? Episode 1-2
“Not crazy. Mad.”
While the Captain Carter episode understandably drew most of the pre-release focus, What If…? fans eyed something different.
Word leaked in the aftermath of Chadwick Boseman’s death that he had recorded audio dialogue for the show.
This wasn’t just any episode, though. Instead, it would rewrite the lore of the MCU, turning T’Challa into Star-Lord and thereby altering his fate.
Did this story live up to the hype? Oh yes. Oh yes, oh yes, oh, yes. Let’s talk about What If…? episode 1-2, the one that tugged on our heartstrings.
Written in the Stars
After only two episodes of What If…?, I’m fascinated by the decision-making. These stories don’t modestly retell existing MCU plots.
Instead, Marvel has deftly and bravely thrown caution to the wind by blowing up everything as needed.
To wit, T’Challa’s new origin story mirrors that of Peter Quill, only one with one significant change.
When Quill encountered Korath for the first time, the Kree Pursuer had no idea who Star-Lord was.
T’Challa’s conversation goes…differently. After just a few moments, this episode provides strong hints that this version of Star-Lord is superior.
In fact, Korath recognizes him at first sight…and is a fan. These sorts of surprises lead to ripples in this particular universe. Big ones.
We learn this when T’Challa chooses to save Korath and thereby befriend him. However, What If…? drives the point home when Yondu appears.
This version of Yondu doesn’t threaten to eat children or generally act like a jerk.
Instead, Yondu and T’Challa are allies, with one in charge of the ship. The other holds the most sway in deciding its missions, though.
In this section of the multiverse, the Ravagers aren’t the mercenary scum we know from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
T’Challa’s earnestness has gradually pulled them into the light. Here, they’re a group of Robin Hoods who help those in need.
The writers put a lot of thought into the subtle ways that T’Challa would impact others, and at least one of them is genuinely shocking…yet plausible.
Still, the most crucial development occurs when T’Challa is young. He goes to retrieve a weapon, only to encounter an alien ship just beyond Wakanda’s shield.
At that moment, the fates of Wakanda and the Ravagers both change forever. One group gains its moral compass, while the other loses its future king.
Ripples Small and Large
Marvel clearly wanted its earliest stories to show off the format as much as possible. So, part of the game here is to spot the changes.
Sometimes, the dialogue spells them out. In other instances, attentive viewers receive Easter eggs as rewards.
To wit, several Ravagers have better teeth now. A running joke in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise is that none of them has good teeth.
Yondu, Kraglin, and even Taserface must have befriended a good dentist in this realm. I joke, but the underlying explanation is that T’Challa keeps them out of trouble.
The kind-hearted diplomat is so good at resolving conflict that none of them got their teeth punched out. I guess Peter Quill was the opposite, constantly getting them in bar fights.
Still, without mentioning the specifics of the episode’s shocking twist, T’Challa possesses a way with words that can force anyone to reevaluate a position.
The ripple effect here is that Nebula somehow becomes a sort of femme fatale, closer in spirit to Jessica Rabbit than a killer cyborg.
Nebula suggests a mission for the crew that will take her to a dangerous place, The Collector’s base at Knowhere.
Apparently, Tivan the Collector is in possession of the Embers of Genesis, seeds that could terraform planets.
For T’Challa, these seeds could allow him to “eradicate hunger across the galaxy.”
This is the moment when fans of Chadwick Boseman admire that his final story seems so fitting for such a marvelous human being.
Star-Lord: The Job
At its core, this episode is a heist, basically a Leverage episode using MCU characters.
The Collector employs the finest possible security staff, the Black Order. You remember them as Thanos’ top-tier henchmen in Avengers: Infinity War.
Yes, Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, and others appear as antagonists. So, that’s a ripple right there.
Without Thanos’ cause to bring them together, the members of the Black Order turn into mercenaries. They’re hired guns for rich villains.
I love that contrast to the Ravagers finding purpose thanks to their Star-Lord.
Like every other heist story, the situation turns south for a while, as one of the crew turns on the rest.
Meanwhile, T’Challa searches for the seeds but discovers some Wakandan gear along the way. These artifacts include a message from his father, the king.
Just like that, the story turns into a debate about nature vs. nurture. Then, it juxtaposes that concept with the debate about the family you have vs. the one you meet along the way.
Is someone as innately decent as T’Challa really meant to be a Ravager? That seems unlikely, right?
Still, sometimes fate chooses us more than we choose it. T’Challa experiences that epiphany as he tries to overcome The Collector.
Along the way, the Star-Lord meets, sees, and/or interacts with several Marvel characters.
I presume that YouTube will be swimming in Easter egg videos soon that explain who’s who.
The gist is that T’Challa must decide how to marry his past and legacy with his present and lifestyle choices.
Because he’s an Avenger (in theory, not in this particular story), he somehow finds a way to do both AND save the galaxy.
Final Thoughts on Star-Lord
This episode features so many surprises that I chose to be vaguer than usual.
However, I want to emphasize that this is more than a brilliant episode. It’s a fitting exclamation mark on the career of Chadwick Boseman.
Marvel has unintentionally created the perfect tribute, an uplifting tale that shows that heroes possess unbreakable spirits.
No matter T’Challa’s origins and backstory, he’s still a person who will find a way to make the world a better place for his loved ones and countless strangers.
Like Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers last week, T’Challa finds a way in impossible circumstances.
As the symbolic leader of the Ravagers and their allies, the Star-Lord leads a ragtag bunch (including Taserface!) to an impossible achievement.
This accomplishment isn’t one that Peter Quill would have managed, as his insecurity and character flaws would have prevented such a union.
Interestingly, the story hints at the impact on Quill, though. A surprise cameo hints that Quill’s origin will change in tandem with T’Challa’s.
Is that next week’s episode or one that we’ll get in a season or two?
Other than an upcoming zombie story, we actually have no idea what else is in store for this series. I would love it if some episodes occasionally connected like this, though.
Those are side topics from the main one, though. The second episode of What If…? celebrates the life of Boseman while delivering plenty of surprises and fun.
For the second straight week, I give the episode an easy A+. What If…? is absolutely terrific so far!