Let’s Talk about What If…? Episode 1-9
When is an anthology series not an anthology series?
I guess the answer is when it’s What If…?
After a series of seemingly innocuous standalone episodes, the penultimate show revealed an unexpected delight.
Marvel had a plan for season one, and it surprised fans. So, yes, we’ve been building to something.
Let’s talk about What If…? episode 1-9, the one with the Guardians of the Multiverse.
Still Hanging off the Cliff
Episode eight ended with a cliffhanger, as Uatu the Watcher called for reinforcements.
The show’s narrator became a part of the action when an Infinity Gauntlet-wielding Ultron broke out of his own universe, the one he’d destroyed.
Ultron attacked the Watcher beyond the wall and embarked on a plot to wreck all parts of the multiverse.
At this point, Uatu retreated to the pocket dimension where the evil Dr. Strange from episode four lived. They formulated a plan to work together.
Episode nine begins with the formation of a superteam. It starts when Captain Britain from episode one mimics part of the story from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Peggy Carter and Natasha Romanoff joke about Bernard from Accounting just before she battles Batroc, just as Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson had done.
At this point, the Watcher appears in the sky and informs “the soldier lost in time” that she has been chosen.
Next, we return to the Dairy Queen, where Peter Quill was about to meet his dad for the first time. T’Challa, the Star-Lord, saves him, only for Uatu to appear and summon him as well.
The third member of this new team demonstrates the problems with continuity errors.
Uatu wants Gamora on his team. He finds her talking with Tony Stark (in Hulkbuster armor) as they mimic a scene from Avengers: Infinity War.
Gamora seeks a device that will destroy the Infinity Stones. So, the Watcher deems her worthy of saving the multiverse.
The problem is that this episode never aired. Instead, Marvel pushed it to season two. As such, it’s somewhat confusing, which will cause later problems.
The Guardians of the Multiverse
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the team is Killmonger, the one we watched kill Tony Stark, War Machine, and others in episode six.
This idea reinforces Uatu’s belief that he needs all kinds of people to stop Ultron. From a storytelling perspective, it’s a nice swerve.
The action had started with Pepper Potts and Shuri heading toward Killmonger’s location, hinting that they would be members instead.
I liked this misdirect a lot. To a larger point, it heightens the intrigue about who will betray the team first, Strange or Killmonger.
Then, the comic relief arrives in the form of Vegas Thor, who really falls quickly for this town. He’s been there like two days but talks about it more than Asgard.
Anyway, the Watcher tries to add him to the team, but Thor’s too busy beating up everybody.
So, Uatu literally grabs him and takes him to a pub where Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter had hung out.
At this point, Uatu reveals the plan and the stakes. The people in this room have become the Guardians of the Multiverse.
Uatu swears that he scoured all time and space for this team. So, it’s pretty random that they’re all from within 100 years of one another on the same planet, save for Gamora.
After a few moments of interaction, we learn some stuff. For example, Thor trusts everybody, Gamora knows Killmonger will backstab them, and Strange is…tormented.
In fact, Strange describes his downfall with a single word, “love.” He says this to Peggy and seems genuinely remorseful about his actions. That’s interesting.
I guess destroying an entire universe does force someone to reconsider their actions. He must have had plenty of time to think while trapped in that pocket dimension.
The War for the Multiverse
The Guardians all engage on an otherwise abandoned planet, one that Ultron had previously conquered. That proves significant.
First, Thor has to do something stupid, alerting OP Ultron that this universe possesses life again.
Thor screams his battle cry, “Viva Las Vegas!” and the fight is on. Evil Strange knows some exceptional protection spells and uses them to protect the group.
Even Ultron’s complete Infinity Gauntlet isn’t powerful enough to penetrate these magical barriers.
I must say that this whole battle feels a bit undermined by that scene in Loki where one member of the TVA stores dozens of Infinity Stones in a drawer as paperweights.
Anyway, the purpose of this fight comes down to two things. First, the Guardians of the Multiverse must launch T’Challa into the air.
Remember that he’s Star-Lord the thief, not Black Panther, the heroic ruler.
So, he wants to get close enough to take a five-finger discount on an Infinity Stone.
Then, Gamora will use a device called the Infinity Crusher, something the Dwarf King Eitri has created in this universe instead of Thor’s Stormbreaker.
The plan succeeds well enough before it fails. T’Challa snares the Soul Stone, limiting Ultron’s power since he no longer has the full Gauntlet.
Another terrific callback occurs when Strange summons the zombie universe to swarm Ultron. They’re not the threat, though.
“It’s what came with the zombies.” Yes, Zombie Black Widow arrives and battles OP Ultron in a white-hot sequence.
The Guardians make their escape while the eternally tormented Wanda Maximoff distracts Ultron.
The Final Battle
Meanwhile, the one living resident of this planet arrives. Remember Natasha Romanoff from the zombie episode?
Yeah, she’s here and deeply confused that she’s not alone. However, Peggy Carter has a “BFF” just like her in a different universe.
The women quickly realize they’re allies. Carter sweetly states that Romanoff is one of only three she trusts to have her back.
That’s more good storytelling, as we’ve now had a callback to every episode from this season.
Remarkably, Nat plays a vital role in Ultron’s ultimate demise, too. Technically, she’s the only one without powers, but she’s, you know, Black Widow.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. First, the original plan has to fall apart.
The entire team battles Ultron, and just when they appear sure to lose, Strange goes full hentai with a tentacle explosion, allowing him to snag the Soul Stone.
While Strange and Ultron fight, Gamora’s Infinity Crusher does its job, and Ultron appears dead, only…
Yeah, the entire story for this season centers on how slight ripples can change everything. Eitri designed that Infinity Crusher for other Infinity Stones.
Ultron is fine.
Just as Strange’s wards start to fail, a new plan unfolds. Arnim Zola had previously helped Natasha.
The digital construct takes this opportunity to invade Ultron via an arrow that Natasha shoots into Ultron’s eye. Yup, it’s the mother of all computer viruses.
Eventually, Ultron succumbs, but the fight isn’t over. Killmonger takes this opportunity to betray everyone and acquire the Infinity Stones. Surprise!
Then, Zola decides he would like the power as well. So he inhabits Ultron’s former body, hilariously appearing like a TV screen in the stomach.
Evil Strange appears likely to get involved as well, but then he saves the day by sending Ultron and Zola to his pocket dimension.
Afterward, the Watcher thanks Strange for his sacrifice, which the arrogant magician dismisses through a sneer.
He claims it can’t be a sacrifice when someone has nothing to lose. Notably, he does refer to Uatu as his friend, though.
That’s the kind of thinking that has always gotten Reed Richards in trouble.
After the battle, the Guardians of the Multiverse earn their just rewards. They meet for a celebratory drink before Uatu reinserts them into their timelines.
Thor returns to Vegas and presumably sets up another drunken hook-up with Dr. Jane Foster, who really should pick someone with more brains and less brawn.
T’Challa and his new buddy, Peter Quill, fight crime together and presumably share a DQ Blizzard at some point.
Gamora rejoins Stark, which is a tale for season two of What If…?
The Happy Endings
Still, two heroes act hesitant to return. Peggy Carter believes she has earned her “happy ending.”
Honestly, this sounds too selfish for the character, deeply in love though she may be.
The Watcher assures her that her universe still needs a Captain Britain. So, she nods her respect to this Natasha Romanoff and returns to her timeline.
Speaking of Romanoff, her world is dead, just like Dr. Strange. The difference is that she saved hers while he destroyed his.
She refuses to return, which Uatu had obviously anticipated. So he inserts her into the universe from episode three.
In that story, Hank Pym, eternal jerk, killed most Avengers before the team could form.
The current “team” consists of Nick Fury, Captain America, and Captain Marvel. Fury happily welcomes a different version of his friend, Natasha.
Remarkably, this moment isn’t the happiest ending of the series. Instead, Marvel fittingly saves that for a mid-credits scene.
When Peggy returns home, her Natasha Romanoff reveals this universe’s version of the Winter Soldier. It’s the Hydra Stomper.
Yes, the inference is that Captain Britain reunites with her Steve Rogers.
Sure, they’ll probably fight at some point in season two, but then there will be dancing. Oh yes, there WILL be dancing.
This episode gets an A overall, but it gets an A+ at the end for sticking the landing.