How Marvel's What If…? changes the course of the MCU: Episode 9 recap
After the season finale of Loki blew up the MCU's Sacred Timeline in order to introduce us to the multiverse, Marvel's new Disney+ series What If. . .? explores how a single choice can turn the reality we knew on its head.
Based on the long-running comic series and narrated by Uatu the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright, who's doing comic-double duty as Commissioner Gordon in 2022's The Batman), each episode of this animated anthology series explores an event in the MCU from an alternate universe where the characters we know and love are forced into new circumstances and their actions change the course of history. Check out the recaps for episodes 1-5 here.
Episode 6: Killmonger to the rescue?
If there was any flaw with 2018's Black Panther, it was that Michael B. Jordan's instantly iconic villain Killmonger was dead at the end of it. Since the MCU has long had a lack of compelling villains, Killmonger was one of the few whose complexity begged for more screen time. We finally get more of Killmonger in the sixth episode of What If…? which asks the question of what would happen to Tony Stark if he was saved by him in Afghanistan at the start of 2008's Iron Man. Not only would Iron Man not exist but it would change the history of Wakanda forever.
It's in Killmonger's capacity as a Navy Seal that winds up saving Tony Stark (Mick Wingert) once he comes under attack but being saved from injury sets Tony off onto an entirely different trajectory than the one of personal heroism and sacrifice that culminated with him saving the world from Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. Without the life-threatening injury caused by his own weapons, Tony doesn't realize the error of his ways with Stark Industries and Killmonger uses Tony's genius to further his own revenge against Wakanda through the creation of a vibranium-powered, anime-influenced drone. Pepper Potts (Beth Hoyt) remains suspicious but there isn't much she can do while Tony is fully enamored with his new military buddy.
Through a series of double-crosses in order to obtain enough vibranium to power his drones, Killmonger kills T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), and eventually Tony himself while engineering the United States into a war with Wakanda. After Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) gets him to Wakanda's border, Killmonger kills Klaue and uses him as a peace offering to get an audience with the still living T'Chaka (John Kani). T'Chaka recognizes the eyes of his brother in his nephew and since T'Challa is dead (and seeing his coffin here is just a brief glimpse of what 2022's Wakanda Forever might bring), Killmonger is in the perfect place to assume the role of Black Panther. His position is almost assured after he helps defeat his own drones in a dynamic battle alongside Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the rest of the Wakanda army.
As he goes through the ceremony to become the next Black Panther, Killmonger has achieved everything he wanted but on the ancestral plane, the spirit of T'Challa warns him that "Power, unearned, can be a very volatile force, cousin. It'll get the best of you, eventually. On your plane, or on ours."
While the United States military prepares to attack Wakanda, Pepper gets confirmation that Killmonger killed Tony in a surprise visit from a young but still brilliant Shuri (Ozioma Akagha), who knows that this new Black Panther also killed her brother. As the Watcher notes from above, "Heroes are never really gone. They live forever. As do the ones they inspire to carry on the fight." So it's up to Pepper and Shuri to stop this war and Killmonger's mad grab for power along with it.
Episode 7: Party on, Thor!
The MCU has spent quite a lot of time examining how having a brother like Thor affected Loki, but the seventh episode of What If. . .? explores what would happen if Thor grew up an only child. And it turns out that despite all the trouble Loki caused Thor growing up, having the God of Mischief as a brother might have actually been a good influence in the long run. Because in a timeline where Odin returned baby Loki to the Frost Giants, Thor never becomes anything more than the Party Prince of Asgard and causes his own kind of chaos.
After a series of rather heavy installments, this episode is mostly a light-hearted romp fueled by a very funny vocal performance by Chris Hemsworth, who excels at turning Thor's naturally dopey exuberance up to 11. After promising his mother, Frigga (Josette Eales), that he will stay home and study while she's out enjoying the solstice, Thor heads directly to Midgard to get his party on in (where else?) Las Vegas. And he's brought a lot of alien guests from the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) to Korg (Taika Waititi) to various Guardians of the Galaxy and even some Kree. His earthly arrival gets the attention of Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Darcy (Kat Dennings) who eventually get sucked into the fun. While Darcy winds up marrying Howard the Duck (Seth Green) in a ceremony led by an Elvis impersonator, Jane can't seem to resist the similarly besotted Thor. She parties all night but the hangover is quite a doozy when S.H.I.E.L.D. comes knocking at her hotel door looking for chaos-causing Thor.
It seems what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas as the party atmosphere is spreading all over the globe with even the Pennsylvania Dutch getting in on the party action (rumspringa for everyone!). Since Nick Fury got knocked unconscious during the Vegas shindig, acting director Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) calls in Captain Marvel (Alexandra Daniels) for help in corralling Thor, who is now partying in Paris with the shockingly well-adjusted Frost Giant version of Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It seems that being brothers from another mother worked out well for Loki who has none of the "kneel before me peasants" energy his Asgard-raised variant had. He's positively charming.
But once Captain Marvel crashes the party, it's the battle of the blondes as she tries to get Thor to clean up his planet-wide mess and go home. They wind up knocking down Stonehenge and fighting in the desert but Captain Marvel is pulling her punches, so to speak, since at full power she's like 10 nuclear bombs. Jane gets an idea of her own and with Darcy's help she manages to contact Frigga while Captain Marvel isolates Thor in Siberia. Before Captain Marvel or S.H.I.E.L.D. can drop the literal bomb on him, Frigga contacts him and like all mad mommies basically tells him he better clean up this mess before she gets there. After some pleading and several rounds of threatening thunder he gets his friends to help and pretends to be running a study group in Florence when his mother arrives. She almost buys it until she sees that Mjolnir looks like it's been through Mardi Gras.
Before Frigga can drag Thor back home, Thor finds Jane and chides her for ratting him out to his mom but still asks her on a date. His plan to take her to a planet full of unicorns gets interrupted when an Ulton version of the Vision shows up in the desert with all the Infinity Stones in his possession. It looks like the party is definitely over.
Episode 8: Ultron forces the Watcher to act
If there has been one main frustration with the storytelling of What If…?, it's been ending every episode on a seemingly unresolved cliffhanger. But that finally ends with the penultimate episode of the season when we see how the Vision-powered Ultron from the conclusion of episode 7 came to be and how it affects the entire multiverse going forward.
Though Avengers: Age of Ultron was a big comedown after the original Avengers team-up, it provides the basis of the story here, where Ultron wins after subsuming Vision (here played by Ross Marquand instead of either Paul Bettany or James Spader) and obtaining control of the Mind Stone. Most of the Avengers perish in the battle save for Black Widow (Lake Bell) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who must live as the last humans in the nuclear winter Ultron has caused. Evan Thanos is no match for Ultron, who simply splits the Mad Titan in half and steals the rest of the Infinity Stones.
Thanos' appearance gives Ultron a clue that there are other planets within this timeline and he destroys every single one of them, wiping out many of the intergalactic characters we have met during the MCU. Captain Marvel tries to stop him by shoving him into a planet's core but even her enormous power is no match for him. Having created ultimate peace by destroying everything, Ultron ascends to another plane and to the Watcher's alarm can now sense the multiverse as well.
Though the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright finally getting more to do) gave a sacred oath only to observe these worlds, this crisis forces him into action in order to protect them. As Natasha and Clint search the files of the KGB for the Russian location of Armin Zola's (Toby Jones) artificial brain, Clint's will to live is running on empty. The Watcher tries to urge him on but it's Nat who finds the needed file. Clint manages to upload Zola into one of Ultron's sentries but since Ultron is off-world, Zola can't disable the hive mind. This time it's Clint that sacrifices himself to save Natasha.
But the real action is between Ultron and the Watcher, who battle across the multiverse. Ultron almost destroys the Watcher but he has one desperate option remaining. Having no choice but to break his oath in order to save these worlds, the Watcher enlists the help of Doctor Strange Supreme, who has been hanging out in his collapsed universe all this time. It's against everything he swore to uphold, but if he doesn't do this there will be no more multiverse to watch over. Strange's reappearance suggests that all of these universes we've visited will finally collide in the season finale and hopefully, it will be worth the wait.
Episode 9: The Watcher brings together the Guardians of the Multiverse
After bouncing around the multiverse for the past eight episodes, the first season of What If…? comes to a satisfying conclusion in a story that manages to tie up many loose plot strings while introducing a few new ones to unravel next season.
With the fate of the multiverse hanging in the balance and unable to defeat Ultron (Ross Marquand) himself, the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) breaks his oath to bring together what he deems the Guardians of the Multiverse. This team-up consists of Doctor Strange Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Star Lord T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), Party Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Gamora (Cynthia McWilliams instead of Zoe Saldana). Save for Gamora, who makes her first appearance this season while in possession of the stone-destroying Infinity Crusher, the Watcher plucks each of these characters out of the storylines we've been watching, resolving some of the cliffhangers left dangling in the process.
After being pulled out of her own time in the season premiere, Captain Carter has become BFFs with her universe's Black Widow (Lake Bell) which comes in handy later on when she comes across the Black Widow living in the Ultron-destroyed nuclear winter and needs to procure her trust. It's just one example of how the events of one multiverse can affect another for both good and ill and overall this new team-up allows characters who never shared screen time together in the original MCU to finally get a chance to work together. Party Thor continues to be a dopey delight even if Doctor Strange Supreme has his doubts about why the blonde lunkhead has been added to the team. The only character who seems to get the short stick at first is Killmonger, who remains in the background fiddling ominously with the head of one of Ultron's sentries until he's required at a key plot moment.
Once the Watcher assembles the team, it's not too long before Ultron finally locates them and the battle begins. As with previous MCU team-ups, it's fun to see how everyone's powers work together as they try to pry the Infinity Stones from Ultron and T'Challa's experience as a sticky-fingered Ravager comes in handy here as he plucks away the Soul Stone. Doctor Strange Supreme's powers remain a visual feast for the dynamically staged animated battle against Ultron but even in combination with the others, Ulton proves hard to match. Zombie Scarlet Witch and a horde of zombies barely make a scratch before they are destroyed.
As the Soul Stone is treated like a hockey puck, eventually they all wind up battling in the dystopian world we saw in episode 8 where Black Widow joins the fight after a little coaxing from Peggy. Together they eventually pry all the Infinity Stones from Ultron but since Gamora's Infinity Crusher was made for the stones on her world, they don't work on the ones in this one.
They have one last chance to stop Ultron and that's thanks to the Arnim Zola-infected arrow Black Widow still has. With some help from Peggy and Doctor Strange Supreme, Natasha manages a clean hit on Ultron and the Zola virus starts to overrun the Vision programming that is powering Ultron's body.
But Killmonger hasn't been noodling in the background for no reason. He uses the sentries' helmet to combine the Infinity Stones and Ultron's suit into his Black Panther one. Killmonger believes the Watcher owes them the right to fix their worlds and he appeals to the rest of the team, but before he can get very far Zola rises in the Vision's body. Killmonger and Zola start to wrestle for possession of the Infinity Stones as the others look on in horror. Doctor Strange Supreme realizes what they were truly meant to do was separate the stones from Ultron's body and helps enclose both Zola and Killmonger in a pocket dimension. The Watcher then returns both the pocket dimension and Strange to the universe the sorcerer has been trapped in until now. The Watcher needs, um, someone else to watch this particular dimension and since Strange has got nothing but time, he agrees.
As for the rest of these Guardians of the Multiverse, they all return back to their own universes though Peggy asks the Watcher before she leaves, "Haven't I earned my happy ending?" She misses Steve but the Watcher reminds her that she's needed in her universe and the episode's tag will show just exactly why when she discovers that her Steve might just be alive within the HYDRA Stomper she's found (did he become that universe's Winter Soldier?).
Black Widow refuses to return to her decimated universe and she's angry with the Watcher for letting Ultron murder all her friends as he simply watched. He's not as unfeeling as all that and tells her, "You, your stories, they are everything to me" and brings her to a world that lost their Widow. As she watches Captain America and Captain Marvel fight on top of a helicarrier, she jumps into battle and saves Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) from Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Fury knows she's not his Widow but he senses she's got his Nat's spirit and welcomes her to the team.
As a montage of these Guardians returning home shows, order is returning to the multiverse and the Watcher reclaims his position as its observer. He vows that "The Multiverse, every single world, every story is my home and I will protect it to the end." And as he demonstrates through the season finale, no oath will stop him.