Marvel’s What If…? has pulled out all the stops for its season finale! The Watcher has finally decided to quit watching and take action…and that action is running around the multiverses collecting people to do the action for him.
But he collects VERY WELL.
We open with Captain Carter’s take on The Winter Soldier! In this world, she and Natasha are BFFs, and Nat’s teasing her about dating. She faces off with Batroc (The Leaper!) who is just as ridiculous and great here as he always is.
But then! The Watcher shows up and tells her she’s been chosen before she’s done beating Batroc up.
The Watcher skips across multiverses like a stone, visiting a bunch of worlds we’ve seen—and one we didn’t—collecting heroes as he goes:
Ego’s absorbing Peter Quill in the Dairy Queen, Star Lord T’Challa saves him;
Gamora’s melting down the Infinity Gauntlet with Tony in Hulkbuster armor, in this world she killed Thanos;
Pepper, Shuri, and the Dora Milaje are just about to take Killmonger when the Watcher whisks him away;
Thor is pummeling Ultron’s drones, furious they interrupted his date with Jane Foster
They all meet in a tavern. Or, more accurately, an illusion of a British pub Doctor Strange created for Peggy’s sake. He’s behind the bar, and bemusedly creates a beer at Thor’s request.
Strange and the Watcher tell the heroes that they are the last hope for… well, reality itself, and explain the situation as quickly as they can. (But not quickly enough for Thor, who requests a break for Chinese food halfway through their strategizing.) All the heroes are in, and they work surprisingly well together! Gamora developed an “Infinity Crusher” that can destroy the Stones, so they concoct a plan to wrestle the Soul Stone away from Ultron long enough to weaken him, then attack him with the Crusher to defeat him. The Watcher drops them off at a planet devoid of life, and Thor promises to attract Ultron’s attention.
Peggy has A Moment with Strange, asking what happened to him when he lets a tentacle slip. He replies that it’s the same thing that happened to her: love. Gamora tries to have A Moment with her fellow warrior, asking Thor if he trusts Killmonger, to which Thor happily replies, “I trust everyone!”
Strange magics drinks for everyone and toasts about the importance of facing death until T’Challa interrupts him, yelling “To The Guardians of the Multiverse!” and Thor’s premature lightning blast does, indeed, attract Ultron, well before they were ready for him.
The battle is actually pretty tense and fun because the show does a decent job of giving everyone different fighting techniques. Plus, Thor’s new battle cry is “Viva Las Vegas!”, which confuses the shit out of Ultron, and tentacles occasionally pop out of Strange’s cloak.
Peggy and T’Challa try a modified version of the tactic she used to use with Steve in the Hydra-Stomper: T’Challa flies her up to Ultron, she leaps off his back to whomp him with the Shield, and it seems like T’Challa is disoriented and in freefall—but no, he’s just snatched the Soul Stone! This results in a few minutes of what can only be described as “Keep Away with the Infinity Stone” until Ultron uses the Time Stone to freeze them, and then Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to snap them all out of it. And then he opens a portal to the Zombie Apocalypse World, and millions of writhing zombies fall onto Ultron. Ick. And as if that wasn’t enough, one of the zombies is Zombie Scarlet Witch, who is enraged and then intrigued to see a floating man who looks like Vision.
The Guardians run through a portal to another world—the one where Natasha was left alone after Ultron killed everyone else. They have a brief stand-off with her until Peggy Carter wins her trust, and they prep the Infinity Crusher. They’re ready for Ultron when he follows, but, to make a long battle short: the Crusher doesn’t work because these Infinity Stones are not quite the same as the Stones in Gamora’s original world.
Ultron mocks the Guardians, wondering why the Watcher didn’t tell them. But as he’s blasting them with terrible energy, Widow sees her bike, and… the Zolarrow! She and Peggy break off for one last gambit, and Peggy manages to jump onto Ultron’s back and yank his head up just as Natasha shoots the arrow into his eye.
Arnim Zola easily overthrows Vision (he’s excited to have legs again!) and, of course, the second Ultron has collapsed onto the ground Killmonger takes the Stones and starts in on his argument about how this is a great opportunity and each hero can use the Stones to fix their worlds. T’Challa appeals to him, calling him “Cousin,” which does not put Killmonger in a listening mood, and the only thing that saves everyone is Zola standing up in Ultron’s body and yanking the Stones back. The two are immediately locked in a stand-off. Strange realizes that this was the Watcher’s plan all along, and bubbles them in the same type of purple crystal magic universe that he’s spent so much time in.
He agrees to watch the fight to make sure they never break out, and the Watcher leaves him, back in his own bubble. This Doctor Strange has now sworn his own oath, and at least has a purpose again.
The rest of the Guardians are back in the pub, and the Watcher says goodbye to them as, one by one, they rejoin their worlds in the moment when he collected them. Only Peggy hesitates, wondering if she hasn’t finally earned her “happy ending,” but the Watcher says her world needs their Captain.
Natasha flat out refuses to go back to her empty world. She berates the Watcher for, well, watching, for standing back and observing their real lives and pain like they were so much TV. She asks if he popped popcorn while all of her friends died.
The Watcher replies “Your stories are everything to me,” and drops her off in a world that lost its Widow. She’s just in time to kick Loki in the head and take his Glow Stick of Destiny. Nick Fury, utterly unfazed, says “You’re not my Widow, but you have her spirit!”
We watch as each hero returns to their world:
T’Challa fights beside Peter Quill, still in his DQ uniform;
Gamora’s back with Hulkbuster Tony;
Thor and Jane embrace in Vegas
The Watcher sends us out by intoning: “Every single story is my home and I will protect it to the end”—which is very cool but maybe he should have thought of doing that sooner? And just when you thought What If…? was a wrap, we get an after credits scene! Since Peggy was dropped back into her time, Batroc was able to land a punch, but Nat knocks him out, and leads Peggy inside the ship. You see, somehow, the Hydra-Stomper is in there, and there’s a person inside the suit.
Let me start by saying that this worked for me as a finale! I enjoyed watching how all the heroes fit together, and I thought the writers did a damn good job of balancing heartfelt moments and gags with action sequences. However! I will say, just as I did with Doctor Strange’s episode, and “What If Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark,” that these episodes simply don’t have the running time to tackle larger themes.
Killmonger gets slotted into the “predictable double-cross” role because they don’t have enough room to give his arguments nuance. Zombie Witch clearly has A Moment with Ultron, but we just cut away from that so we can get back to the plot. The Watcher himself remains passive aside from collecting all of his heroes like so many Infinity Stones. And yes, he chooses… wisely, and the idea that Killmonger has to play this role so he and Zola can keep each other in check makes sense. But I kind of wanted him to DO more after all the musing on his role as an observer in last week’s episode.
Also! I want the episode where I get to see Gamora kill the crap out of Thanos! Where is that episode? Is Nebula okay there? How did Gamora and Tony team up?
I enjoyed Comic Relief Thor a whole bunch! And I LOVE this version of Doctor Strange. I feel like Benedict Cumberbatch is inhabiting his snarkiness way more than he has in his live-action outings, and I’m really hoping this carries over into Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Multiverse of Madness.
Another thing that made my heart grow a couple sizes was seeing the relationship between Peggy and Natasha, and how their love crossed the multiverse.
Which leads into the other thing I thought the show pulled off well: we really did get some fabulous pay-offs in this episode. Seeing that T’Challa had come back to Terra to deal with Ego, and save poor hapless Peter Quill? GREAT. Strange accessing the Zombie World as a tactic against Ultron? FANTASTIC. The Guardians ending up in Natasha’s empty world, so after her long, terrible fight, she’s not only able to get justice but also have a shot at a new life? ALMOST MADE ME CRY. This version of T’Challa, who was able to talk Thanos out of genocide, turning on the charm for Killmonger and being confused when it doesn’t work? DEVASTATING BUT EFFECTIVE. And of course, ending on the possibility that after all these decades Peggy might get to thaw Steve out was a nice touch.
I think my favorite thing, though, was simply that after this season the two stories that got to end the show were Nat’s and Peggy’s. I had issues with the Fridge-athon that was “What If Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” and while Party Thor! was fun in an ’80s frat movie kind of way, that episode also left Jane Foster, Frigga, and CAPTAIN FREAKING MARVEL running around like so many shrewish moms, mad at the teenage boy who won’t clean up his room. So it was rewarding, after watching this whole season, to see that the story wrapped back around to two women who are heroic and funny and the stars of the show.
And once again I want to give special attention to Jeffrey Wright, who continues to be THE BEST as the Watcher. He imbues him with so much emotion and heart, and I want him in everything.
Watcher, as he collects Gamora: “Not you, Stark.”
Thor, who had a date: “I was gonna shower and do my hair! Nobody messes with Vegas!”
Doctor Strange: “You aren’t just the best hope to save one universe.”
Watcher: “You are my last hope to save all of them. You are… The Guardians of the Multiverse!”
Doctor Strange, on the eve of battle: “In that spirit I propose a toast! A wise sorcerer once told me that to face death is part of the plan. To face death is to conquer one’s greatest fear of the unknown, of nothingless space, of the end of all ends, the senseless nothing, and the vast opening of infinity to your—”
Peggy: “You sure about this?”
T’Challa: “Of course not!”
Widow: “Tell me, did you make popcorn while Ultron murdered my friends and burned my world to the ground?”
The Watcher: “You are more than that to me.”
Widow: “Are we?”
The Watcher: “You… your stories. They are everything, to me.”