Once again, a Marvel movie is rewritten by the Watcher.
Some fans have asked why What If hasn’t tried other scenarios, like what if Hulk battled Wolverine or Spider-Man stuck to pro wrestling, but the producers wanted to concentrate on the MCU movies for now. They’ve already proven one detail can change a lot, and this week is no exception.
It centers on the fateful car accident that led to Stephen Strange being the Sorcerer Supreme. Here,’ he wants to change the past, but it leads to the darkest ending yet.
The episode centers on the fateful accident that led to Strange losing his hands but becoming the super-sorcerer we know. In this universe, he drives to a big event with his girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel MacAdams). A rear-end accident kills her, and he spends the rest of the episode trying to change the past. He still has his hands to learn mystical skills, and he beats Dormammu just like in the movie, but it’s not enough.
The great thing about this episode is Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job expressing the personality of Strange with his voice as well as in live-action. So does Benedict Wong, who makes an appearance. The story, though, is very dark, and also ground-breaking. More on that later.
Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto (Time Stone) to save Christine, but her death keeps happening, even when he decides to break his date with her. That’s when the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) tells Strange that Christina’s death is an Absolute Point, an event that must occur and can’t be reversed. It’s like the plot from the Doctor Who movie, “Waters of Mars”. Her death led to his journey to being the Sorcerer Supreme and Avenger in this universe (not the Sacred Timeline, since there Christine wasn’t dating Stephen any more). It must happen, no debate.
He vows to change the past, and the Ancient One fires some mystical magic at him. He wakes up near the Library of Cagliostro, named after someone who allegedly broke an Absolute point. O’Bengh (Ike Amadi), an attendant, warns Strange about what he’s trying to do. He says that love can break a heart but also shatter one’s mind. Fans of WandaVision would agree with that.
Strange learns he can get more power by absorbing other creatures. He starts with a Shuma-Gorath (the thing Captain Carter spent 70 years fighting in the premiere), but figures it’s too big. He starts small with a Dark Elf, the gets lots of other beasts before eventually absorbing the Gorath.
Then something strange happens. The Watcher comments that he could interfere, but he would make things worse. He even doubts Strange would listen.
Then Strange acts as if he heard the Watcher.
That is BIG. Maybe Captain Carter would like to ask the Watcher a few things, like if she’s a Variant.
It’s then revealed Strange has been doing this for decades without aging, while O’Bengh has become old and lived his life. If that’s not a metaphor for the need to “move on”, what is? He also tells Strange that his need to break the AP lead to the creation of another Stephen Strange, one who has moved on.
The Ancient One used magic split to Strange in two, Stephen and Strange Supreme. Stephen decides to let Christine go, and he sees Strange Supreme’s obsession literally destroying reality.
This leads to one intense battle between Stephen (who knows keeping his world means accepting Christine’s death) and Strange Supreme (who is willing to lose the world to get her back).
Compare this to how Wanda was trying to deal with losing her brother and Vision. He turned a town into her own TV Land, but it was her way to grieve. As Vision told her, “what is grief, if not love persevering?” She eventually released the town after battling Agatha Harkness, and Vision was brought back. However, it led her to reading the Darkhold when she realized her true power as a Nexus being. So, she might be another version of the Strange Supreme, but we won’t know that until next Spring.
But back to What If…
Stephen tries his best, but the Strange Supreme is acting more like the beings he absorbed than the man he used to be. In the end, Strange Supreme wins. He has the power to bring Christine back from the dead, but he is not Stephen Strange. He is a monster, and his universe is still melting away.
That’s when he sees the Watcher again, and begs for help. The Watcher says he can’t, because it’s too late.
It is. This universe is no more, all because of one choice, one decision.
Consider this the non-X-Men version of the famous What If issue where Dark Phoenix destroys everything.
This episode was meant to scare us, about how one change can end it all. It clearly succeeded.
Would it lead the Watcher to interfere eventually, if an event in another multi-verse threatens everything else? Maybe, or why have this episode at all?
Again, it’s great the original Dr. Strange cast was there for this episode, and it did a fine job.
Next week, we find out how The Walking Dead merges with the MCU.
What If airs news episode every Wednesday on Disney Plus