Each week, Darren from @darrenmoviereviews will be recapping the most recent episode(s) of What If…? and the show’s overall connection to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What If…? Peggy Carter received the super serum instead of Steve Rogers? The series premiere of the latest Marvel television show has fan favourite Hayley Atwell returning to the role of Peggy Carter and taking on the mantle of Agent Carter.
The latest Marvel series is the first time the MCU has been animated, and after watching the premiere episode, I am truly blown away by the animation. Instead of being animation akin to the Pixar and Dreamworks films, What If…? looks like a comic book brought to life. There is a clear foreground and background with the animation, and the characters have the distinct hadn drawn quality to them while appearing in three dimensions. It felt like you were reading a comic and that the images jumped right off the page and came to life right in front of you. I truly hope that Marvel keeps this animation style for the MCU animated shows that are in development as this was a visual breath of fresh air in the world of animation.
As for the film’s plot, it is largely a retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger with Peggy playing the lead role of the super solider. In terms of what was to come, if you are familiar with the film, you can guess the majority of the episode. However, for a diehard Captain America fan like myself, I took no issue with this and thoroughly enjoyed the episode. Atwell was wonderful as always as Peggy, she truly is one of the best casting choices within the MCU and I love that Marvel keeps finding a way to bring her back for more and more projects. The announcement this past week that she will be a central figure in all seasons of What If…? Promises more fof Atwell in the future, and hopefully she will make a live action debut as Captain Carter at some point too!
The episode is full of references to Captain America: The First Avengers as scenes are recreated with a twist, jokes about the USO Tour musical number “Star Spangled Man” from the film, and of course Steve and Peggy’s dance. Adding into the Marvel nostalgia (I’m totally saying that because the film is 10 years old and I still remember seeing it opening night in an almost empty theatre because it was days after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 opened and before Marvel took the world by storm the following year with The Avengers) are returning MCU cast members voicing their characters such as Sebastian Stan, Stanley Tucci, and Dominic Cooper to name a few. It’s a nice touch to the series, though Chris Evans missing as Steve Rogers was definitely a little disappointing because there is no one else who can play Steve Rogers for me after his wonderful performance over the past decade. The show does differ enough in the action sequences from The First Avenger, giving Captain Carter different heroic acts to perform which is a nice deviation as she is her own hero and should not be repeating what Steve did for the most part. Pulling everything together is a good musical score from Laura Karpman which was not afraid to reuse bits of Alan Silversti’s score from The First Avenger, which added that heroic feeling to some of the episode’s more dramatic moments.
And into spoiler territory we go. If you have not seen the premiere episode of What If…?, stop reading now. If you have, keep on reading to find out what we learnt in the season finale…
The series opens with a voice over from Jeffrey Wright’s The Watcher as audiences are treated to a visual look at all the characters existing in the multiverse. The Watcher talks about space, time and reality being more than a linear path but a prism of endless possibilities, that with a single choice can branch out into multiple realities.
We then see Steve Rogers in the machine about to receive the super serum. As in Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy is asked to leave the room. But we get the decision that creates the new reality: Peggy does not leave the room and go to the viewing station, but remains on the floor with Steve and Howard Stark. Peggy sees the briefcase with the bomb planted by the Hydra agent and sees him about to detonate it. She attempts to stop him, but the bomb goes off and in the confusion the Hydra agent kills Dr. Erskine. Steve, being the brave soul he is, jumps out of the machine without the serum trying to stop the Hydra agent, but he is shot. The facility is going up in flames and the serum is about to go to waste, and Peggy makes the decision to jump into the machine herself. Stark initiates the process, administers the Super Soldier serum to Peggy, turning her into the first Super Soldier.
As in the first Captain America film, the US Army is not impressed with the results of the experiment. Dr. Erskine is dead and they have no way to recreate the serum. Plus, they’re not happy that the serum was administered to a woman and refuse to view Peggy as a real Super Soldier. This causes frustration within Peggy as she knows she is everything the army wants more. While discussing it with Steve, Steven jokes that it could be worse and she could be performing on a USO Tour, making a slight joke to the musical number from Steve Roger’s USO Tour in The First Avenger. The conversation then moves to Bucky as he has just deployed with the 106. Steve tells Peggy that she will be the one to end the war, before they get to their iconic dance line in which Peggy says maybe Steve has never found the right dance partner.
The episode then cuts to Johann Schmidt and Hydra attacking Tonsberg, Norway and retrieving the Tesseract from its hiding spot. The Allies are aware of the attack, and Stark wants to send a team to recover the Tesseract. Peggy volunteers to go, but Colonel Flynn says it’s a waste of time and troops to recover a glorified battery. Afterwards in the bar, Stark gives Peggy a box containing an upgraded costume of what she would have worn on the USO Tour, with a shield containing the Union Jack on it.
H.Y.D.R.A. is in London, transporting Doctor Zola and the Tesseract. Peggy, wearing her new Captain Carter outfit, engages the convoy transporting Zola. She flips one of the trucks, stops another with her super strength and takes out all of the men. One laughs at the fact that she’s a woman, but Peggy punches him in the knee, breaking it and taking him out in three blows. Having taken care of the convoy, Peggy captures both Zola and the Tesseract and turns them over to the Allied Forces and Colonel Flynn.
Using the Tesseract, Stark begins running tests and asks Steve if he is ready to join the war effort. While running his tests, Peggy and Steve decide that they need to go behind enemy lines to rescue Bucky and the rest of the 106 from the Nazis. Knowing that he can’t go, Steve says he owes Peggy one. But Peggy responds saying he owes him more than one, but in fact he owes her a dance.
Peggy descends on the Nazi Base holding the 106, easily breaking in and rescuing Bucky and the 106. As they are escaping, Steve shows up in a large Iron Man-esque suit called the Hydrostomper powered by the Tesseract, and with Peggy and the 106, they defeat the Nazis and escape the base. We then get a montage of Captain Carter and the Hydrostomper stopping Nazi forces across Europe, with Colonel Flynn taking credit for the entire idea, despite him being against obtaining the Tesseract in the first place.
At his base, Schmidt is questioned by Hitler’s men as to what he’s doing and the waste of resources he is now that he has lost the Tesseract. Schmidt promises that his champion from beyond the stars is about to be summoned, before killing Hitler’s men and having his troops all Hail Hydra.
Back at the bar over a glass of whiskey, Peggy and Steve admire each other and their accomplishment. Steve says that Peggy has always been a fighter, and that the serum has allowed the outside to finally match who she is on the inside. Peggy confides in Steve how it’s nice to not have to fight to be seen anymore and how she is allowed in the room with the men of the army now. But Peggy tells Steve that he too is more than his Hydrostomper suit, but that he is her hero. Steve returns the compliment, telling PEggy that she is his hero. As they’re about to kiss, Stark and Bucky interrupt as they have just stolen a Jeep and want to go joy riding with Peggy and Steve.
We then cut to the mountain train attack from The First Avenger. Any good Marvel fan knows that this scene is not going to end well. As Peggy and the Howling Commandos use a zipline to get onto the train, Steve flies ahead and looks inside. He finds explosives rigged to blow, and as he yells out to warn Peggy and the Howling Commandos, the explosions are set off. The train explodes, causing the ground to fall out from underneath it and an avalanche to bury the remains. Steve is lost in the explosion, with Peggy and the Howling Commandos managing to jump off the train and save themselves.
Back in London, Stark and Colonel Flynn are arguing over the Hydrostomper suit as it was supposed to be indestructible. Stark assures Flynn it is, but Peggy yells over them telling them that his name was Steve and he is gone, not caring about the suit that was lost but about the man who was inside it. Emotionally upset over losing Steve, Peggy leaves the room and goes to Zola. While Zola tells her she will never get any information out of her, the scene cuts and Peggy now knows all of Hydra’s plan.
Schmidt’s plan is to unleash an inter-dimensional force to lead Hydra to world domination. Peggy says it is up to them to stop Schmidt and Hydra by burning his base to the ground. The Howling Commandos quickly agree that this needs to be done for Steve. We are then in the Black Forest in Germany with Peggy, the Howling Commandos and Stark infiltrating Schmidt’s base. Peggy quickly takes out all of the guards, before the team splits up with the Howling Commandos going one direction and Peggy and Stark going the other direction. At this moment, Schmidt is using the Tesseract to open up an inter-dimensional portal to summon his champion. Turns out that Hydra recovered the Hydrostomper suit and the Tesseract from the avalanche.
While searching the base, the Howling Commandos find the Hydrostomper suit and Steve still alive. They help Steve power the suit using a generator so he can help Peggy take out Schmidt, however the suit only has a limited supply of power.
Elsewhere, Peggy and Stark see the flashing lights of the portal that Schmidt is opening. They run off in that direction, while Schmidt is successful in opening up the portal with tentacles coming through it. During the scene’s progression, we see more and more of the inter-dimensional monster that Schmidt is bringing through the portal, and it looks very similar to the monster and it looks very similar to Abilish, the inter-dimensional monster that the Guardians faced off against at the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
As Peggy and Stark enter the room, Schmidt tells them that they are too late to stop him, but the tentacles grab Schmidt and crush him. Stark then runs to the control panel, trying to close the portal while Peggy battles the tentacles. Steve quickly joins the fight, hitting the tentacles with a laser blast, but using half of the suit’s power to do so. The base begins to collapse and Steve flies the Howling Commandos off to safety as Peggy battles the tentacles with a sword. She begins pushing the tentacles back through the portal as Stark cannot close the portal. As Steve returns, he hits the tentacles with another laser blast, depleting his suit of all energy causing it to fall to the ground.
Steve exits the suit, crawling on the ground yelling at Peggy to stop, as he knows she is about to sacrifice herself and go through the portal to save the world. Peggy tells Steve she has to do this, but that he still owes her a dance. Steve tells her Saturday night, in a beautiful and emotional call back to Peggy and Steve’s farewell in The First Avenger. Peggy manages to push the tentacles through the portal, which collapses after she does so, leaving the Tesseract lying on the floor and Steve without Peggy.
We then cut to a familiar room in which a portal opens, with Peggy and severed tentacles bursting out of it. The room is the S.H.I.E.L.D. base from the opening of The Avengers, with Nick Fury and Clint Barton in it. They immediately recognize Captain Carter and inform her that she won the war for the Allies, but that she has travelled 70 years into the future. Much like Steve in the main MCU timeline, Peggy is now a soldier out of place after sacrificing herself to stop Hydra’s evil plan.
We then cut back to space, with the Watcher ending the episode with another voice over. In his voice over, he discusses his watching over of all the events, but his refusal to interfere in any of the events he witnesses.
That’s it for this week’s recap, there are no huge Easter Eggs hinting at the future of the MCU within this show. This was just some good old fashioned Marvel fun with nods to the original Captain America film, The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Check back next week to find out… what if T’Challa was taken by Yondu as a child and became Star Lord?