What If…? Plot analysis, recap, and what to expect.

What If…? is Marvel Studios‘ entry into the animated segment. This series is can be considered as a tribute to the diehard fans of Marvel Cinematic Universe who follow the films and their characters keenly. What If…? is available to stream exclusively on Disney+.

The series focuses on the events from the main timeline in Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and then takes the viewers into the wild ride of unexpected twists and turns. For those of you who are new to this space (I highly doubt that), Jeffrey Wright plays the role of ‘The Watcher‘ who narrates through the events in this show.

Fair warning, spoilers ahead!

Episode 1 : What If… Captain Carter were the first Avenger

The first episode in the series is probably the least adventurous of the lot. This episode follows the plot of the 2011 movie ‘Captain America: The First Avenger‘ and makes some minor changes to the events in the film.

Captain Carter in What If...? Episode 1
Captain Carter in What If…? Episode 1

When Steve is about to get the Super Soldier Serum made by Dr. Erskine, there occurs a shoot-out. Steve gets injured in the process, making Peggy the only other person eligible for the serum. She volunteers and comes out of the process as Captain Carter in this timeline.

Episode 2 : What If… T’Challa became Star-Lord

The second episode ponders the question of what would happen if Ravagers abducted T’Challa instead of Peter Quill. Unsurprisingly, T’Challa is a much better version of the Star-Lord compared to Peter Quill.

No treasure is worth as much as the good that can be done with it.

T’Challa as Star Lord

T'Challa as Star-Lord with the Ravagers, Thanos and Nebula
T’Challa as Star-Lord with the Ravagers, Thanos, and Nebula

He makes Yondu and the Ravagers more sensible. He had such a positive influence that he even made Thanos leave his plan of wiping out half of the population in the Universe. Since the Infinity Saga was based around Thanos’ drive to bring balance to the universe, the change that T’Challa brought in him rewrites everything that we knew.

Episode 3 : What If… the World lost it’s mightiest Heroes

Episode 3 of What If… Is a head-scratching whodunnit episode with Nick Fury in its center. All the members of the Avengers initiative (except Captain America) are taken down one by one even before they’re recruited into the team.

Natasha and Fury in What If
Natasha and Fury in What If…? Episode 3

In the center of it all is Hank Pym who is driven by his revenge to destroy Nick Fury and everything he cares about. The reason behind all of this is Hope (yes, with a capital H).

Episode 4 : What If… Doctor Strange lost his heart instead of his hand

Episode 4 is one of the darkest episodes in the series. This episode pits Dr. Strange against Dr. Strange in an episode for the ages. We see Stephen Strange from the days before his life-altering accident that happens in the main timeline.

Dr. Strange vs. Strange Supreme in What If...?
Dr. Strange vs. Strange Supreme in What If…?

In this timeline, it is Christine Palmer who is to be sacrificed for Dr. Strange to embark on his journey to become Sorcerer Supreme. On his quest to save Christine, Dr. Strange tries to change an Absolute Point in time and what we see next is painfully beautiful.

Episode 5 : What If… zombies!?

This episode explores a reality where Hank Pym’s quest (from Ant-Man and The Wasp) to extract his long-lost wife (Janet Van Dyne) from the Quantum Realm goes awry. Janet is infected with quantum zombie viruses. Upon seeing Hank, she attacks him and infects him in the process. Both of them escape the Quantum Realm and wreak havoc. The Avengers are summoned to contain the spread of this zombie plague.

Surviving Avengers in What If...? Zombies
Surviving Avengers in What If…? Zombies

As soon as they arrive on the scene, most of them get infected immediately and it is up to the surviving ones to find a cure to this mess. They receive a tracking signal from Camp Lehigh which may or may not have the cure. They have to try and reach there with almost a Train to Busan-like ride. I’ll suggest you wait till the end of the episode because the big bad is here and boy oh boy, doesn’t he take the breathe away!?

The Finale Arc :

Episode 6 : What If… Killmonger rescued Tony Stark

It’s 2008. Tony Stark is in Afghanistan to give a demo of his Jericho missile to the US Army. He is attacked on his way back by the Ten Rings. Seems familiar so far, right!? The story makes a twist from here. Just as Tony Stark comes face to face with a bomb of Stark Industries, Killmonger comes out of nowhere and saves him.

Erik Killmonger saves Tony Stark in What If...?
Erik Killmonger saves Tony Stark in What If…?

This change prevents Tony’s journey of becoming Iron Man. Killmonger gains Tony’s trust and kicks off a bromance between them. However, his true intentions are to make Wakandan and US Govt. go at each other and him become the Black Panther after killing T’Challa. This episode vividly shows how deadly and devious Killmonger can be.

Episode 7 : What If… Thor were an only child

This episode puts the ‘god of Thunder‘ on the focus. It explores what would’ve happened to Thor if there were no Loki to challenge him growing up. Odin returns Loki to Laufey in this timeline and we see Thor being his only child. He is even more doofus in this timeline compared to the one we had seen in the original timeline. We meet the frost giant version of Loki and it is really heart-warming to see how these ‘brothers from another mother’ have grown closer in this timeline.

Thor and the frost giant version of Loki
Thor and the frost giant version of Loki

Our ‘party prince‘ Thor leaves for Earth as soon as Odin goes into Odinsleep. He parties at different places on Earth and destroys almost everything in that area in the process. S.H.I.E.L.D. wastes no time in summoning Captain Marvel (‘Party Pooper’ as Thor calls her) to contain the damage caused by the ‘Party Prince’ Thor and his mates. Most of this episode shows the brawl between the two heavyweights of the MCU, Captain Marvel, and Thor, going at each other. It is a treat for those fans who have longed to see both of them fight.

Episode 8 : What If… Ultron won

It is for the first time in this series that we get to see a cliffhanger from the previous episode paying off in the next episode. Ultron is hell-bent on wiping out the sentient life. This time though, he has other Infinity Stones in his aid. Upon his arrival on Earth, even the big bad ‘Thanos’ gets equally sliced into 2 (perfectly balanced, as all things should be) by Ultron.

Ultron slices Thanos in half
Ultron slices Thanos in half

Ultron obtains the rest of the Infinity Stones from Thanos and takes over the world. The only human survivors from Ultron’s nuclear holocaust are Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff. It is up to them to find a way to take down Ultron and they try to make the AI copy of Arnim Zola found in the HYDRA Base useful for their purpose. Clint even sacrifices himself to take down Ultron. Despite all the efforts, they fail because for Arnim Zola to take control, Ultron must be present in the same universe.

Clint against the Legion of Ultron
Clint against the Legion of Ultron

Ultron goes on a rampaging spree and destroys every planet that has life on it. After being successful at what he set out to achieve, he feels lonely and unsatisfied. With all the Infinity Stones at his helm, he realizes the presence of The Watcher and the fact that there are countless other Universes like his, waiting to be destroyed. He attacks the Watcher and despite giving a good fight, the Watcher cannot keep up with Ultron and is forced to break his oath.

Ultron against the Watcher in What If...?
Ultron against the Watcher in What If…?

Episode 9 – Season Finale: What If… The Watcher broke his oath

We often hear the Watcher saying “I do not, can not, will not interfere” in this series. But the all-powerful AI with a near invincible body makes him change his decision. He, with the help of Strange Supreme (only the second being after Ultron to feel the presence of the Watcher), sets out to assemble the ‘Guardians of the Multiverse’.

The Watcher assembles the Guardians of the Multiverse
The Watcher assembles the Guardians of the Multiverse

He picks Captain Carter, ‘Star-Lord’ T’Challa, Strange Supreme, Erik Killmonger, ‘Party Prince’ Thor, and ‘Thanos killer’ Gamora for the fight against Ultron (Gamora is the only character in this group whose backstory is not given in any episode).

After some breathtaking fighting sequences, the Guardians separate the Infinity Stones from him. They take help from Natasha of that Earth (from Episode 8) and successfully infect Ultron with Arnim Zola’s AI. The Ultron is, after all, defeated by AI Zola. But Erik Killmonger and Arnim Zola, true to their natures, betray others and fight with each other to claim the Infinity Stones.

Strange Supreme seizes the opportunity and traps both of them in a pocket universe, preventing them from causing further damage to this universe. He makes the ultimate sacrifice by not returning to his own timeline and vowing to keep an eye on Ultron-Zola and Killmonger so that they don’t escape. Thus trapping himself with them till the end of time.

Strange Supreme trapping Ultron-Zola and Killmonger in pocket universe

Strange Supreme trapping Ultron-Zola and Killmonger in a pocket universe

What to expect

If you are a true Marvel nerd and a fan of the animated shows, you are in for a treat. This show pays its respect to the original timeline while making changes that redefine the events, the characters, and eventually the stories. What stands out the most to me is the screenplay. Each and every scene in this show is beautifully visualized and is a feast for the eyes.

Season 2 of What If… is already in development and we will get to see more of these alternate storylines in the next season. Some of the storylines, like that of ‘Thanos killerGamora, could not be completed in time due to COVID-19 and had to be pushed into season 2. According to reports, Kevin Feige has stated that season 2 will deal with the movies of phase 4 in MCU. If the first season was any indicator, then you can safely bet that the second season will be breathtaking. There is still some time for season 2 to arrive and while we wait for that, keep yourself updated with the latest Marvel offerings and ponder the question ‘What If…?’.

Swaham Mohanty

I am just another socially awkward human-being, trying my hands on writing.

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