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…? Doctor Strange went evil after suffering the loss of Christine Palmer that puts the universe at risk. This week’s episode continues to push the boundaries of storytelling in the MCU, mixing darkness and emotion in what is without a doubt the best episode of the latest Marvel series yet.
With each week, What If…? has become more ambitious in the stories it is telling, but this risk continues to pay off with excellent storytelling that gives Marvel fans something they have yet to find in the MCU. Avengers: Infinity War ended on the shocking note of our heroes failing to save the world, but this episode of What If…? poses an even darker scenario: what if one of the Avengers turned evil. And that is exactly what we see as an alternative version of Doctor Strange goes down a dark road to save the love of his life. Taking the emotion of Chadwick Boseman’s episode and the darkness of the assassin episode, this week’s episode delivers yet another story that you will not see in an MCU film. It is dark, emotionally charged and has moments that will break your heart. And this is everything the fans want from What If…?
Don’t get me wrong, I love the MCU films and think for the most part they are all excellent. But, it’s nice to see Marvel taking a risk and telling a story that is darker and for the diehard fans versus the masses looking for a fun Marvel film. And with Doctor Strange being the central character, it gives us an insight into the true extent of the reach of his abilities, helping fuel the rumours that are flying around after seeing Doctor Strange’s involvement in breaking the multiverse in the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer that premiered last week. While there was no doubting that Doctor Strange was powerful, this episode shows the true potential of his powers with the proper knowledge, and combined with the Spider-Man trailer last week, we can only question whether Doctor Strange is the perfect protector of the universe from mystical threats we thought him to be? While we all assumed that he would be protecting the MCU from Wanda in his next film, there could be a much darker path beginning to unfold for him, which is only teased in this week’s episode.
The other interesting aspect of this week’s episode is the role of the Watcher. For the first three episodes, the Watcher has merely narrated the episodes. However, he has a more active role this episode, which only raises the question: can we trust the Watcher as a narrator, or is he manipulating other universes for a sinister purpose. Only time will tell what the Watcher’s larger role in the MCU is, but let’s jump into the events of the episode.
And into spoiler territory we go. If you have not seen this week’s episode of What If…?, stop reading now. If you have, keep on reading to find out what we learnt in this week’s episode…
The episode opens with Stephen Strange picking Christine Palmer up in his car for a dinner reception at which he is set to revive an award from. They end up driving on a dark, windy road…and we all know what’s about to happen. This is the night that Stephen’s car crashes and he loses movement in his hands. The crash happens…but Stephen survives with only minor scratches. However, Christine Palmer is dead.
Stephen is grief stricken over the loss of Christine, which sets him on his quest for answers in the mystic arts. Following the events of the film very quickly, we see Stephen training with the Ancient One, the Ancient Ones death and Stephen stopping Dormammu. However, two years to the date of Christine’s death, Stephen is still mourning her death, and despite Wong telling him to join him for a hot beverage so he’s not alone, he uses the Time Stone to go back to the night of Christine’s death.
While using the Time Stone, Stephen tries changing what happens that night by driving in different lanes, in different directions, having Christine drive, not picking up Christine and skipping the reception all together. But no matter what he does, Christine always dies. It’s a heart wrenching sequence as you see Stephen trying to save the woman he loves, knowing that he will never succeed. On the last attempt with Christine driving and the car goes off the road, a portal opens and the Ancient One appears to confront Stephen.
The Ancient One tells Stephen that she is here to help him. Stephen pleads with the Ancient One to help him bring Christine back, but the Ancient One says she cannot. She explains that Christine’s death is an absolute point in time, that no matter what you do, Christine’s death will always happen and it cannot be changed. Christine’s death was the critical moment for Stephen that set him on the path to defeat Dormammu and become the Sorcerer Supreme. However, Stephen wants more power to save Christine, and will stop at nothing despite the Ancient One’s warning. Seeing this, the Ancient One tries to use her powers against Stephen, but he opens up a portal and escapes.
The portal takes Stephen to a jungle, where Stephen sets out to find Master Cagliostro’s Lost Library, which he believes holds the knowledge to gain the power to save Christine. He quickly finds the library, but with no door, he opens up a portal to get to one of the balconies. As he walks into the structure, runes illuminate on the floor before the floor disappears. Stephen drops into the building and is met by the librarian for Master Cagliostro’s library: O’Bengh. O’Bengh beckons for Stephen to follow him and he takes him into the library.
The library is full of books, and Stephen is committed to learn all he can to save Christine. However, he soon discovers that to gain the power he needs to save Christine, he must absorb the necessary energy from other beings. Not wasting any time, Stephen summons a squid like creature (which is presumably the same one we saw Captain Cater face off against in the premiere episode), but the tentacles grab Stephen and knock him out. O’Bengh helps Stephen recover and tells him that mystic beings will not bargain with a man, while questioning whether Christine is worth all the suffering Stephen will face to bring her back. He then tells Stephen that there is a fine line between devotion and delusion and warns him that love can shatter a man’s mind.
After being healed, we see Stephen summon more mystic beings to absorb their power. The creatures start off small, with an evil looking garden gnome, and eventually grow in size as Stephne absorbs their power. One creature is a beetle with a cape, which Stepehn takes from the beetle and gets his new cape. As this is happening, the Watcher comments on the dark path that Stephen is heading down and that he could intervene to bring stability to this universe, but it would risk the stability of every other universe to do so. However, Stephen hears the Watcher talking and calls out to this voice, but the Watcher does not respond.
By the time Stephen has amassed the power he needs, it has been centuries. He discovers a dying O’Bengh and realizes how long it has taken him. Stephen immediately tries to use the Time Stone to save O’Bengh, but O’Bengh says it was his choice to live and wishes to pass naturally. Stephen won’t accept that, though O’Bengh says that death was always part of the plan and that maybe the other Doctor Strange will understand that. He then tells Stephen that he’s only half a man living half a life, that he is not the only Doctor Strange living in this universe…
Cut back to the New York Sanctum. It is the same scene we saw earlier, two years from the date of Christine’s death. Wong is asking Stephen (the good version of Doctor Strange) to join him for a hot beverage so Stephen is not alone, and this version of Stephen joins him. However, this good version of Doctor Strange exits the Sanctum, and sees the world around him begin to dissolve due to the evil Doctor Strange’s amassing of power to save Christine. A portal opens in front of him, and an echo of the Ancient One appears. She tells this version of Stephen that it is the end of the world and there is not much time left for this universe. She informs him that another, evil version of himself is causing this and that she drew power from the dark dimension to split the timeline to allow for two versions of Doctor Strange to exist in the same universe. She warns him that if the evil Doctor Strange succeeds and reverses Christine’s death, that it will result in a temporal paradox that will destroy the universe. After hearing from the Ancient One what he has to do to save this universe, Stephen discusses it with Wong. Before disappearing, Wong asks Stephen if he has it within him to stop the evil version of himself as it means letting Christine die again. Stephen says he has to put his feelings aside as he has to do this to save Wong and the universe, just as the evil Doctor Strange opens up a portal below the good Doctor Strange.
The portal transports the good Doctor Strange to the Lost Library. The evil Doctor Strange tries to plead with the good Doctor Strange for his help to save Christine, but the good version says he cannot as the world is being destroyed as a result. The evil Doctor Strange says he has the courage to sacrifice everyone in the universe to save Christine, but only together can they save her. The evil version then grabs the good Doctor Strange and pulls him through a portal transporting them both to the night that Christine dies.
The good Doctor Strange still refuses to help the evil version, claiming that it is not love but arrogance driving the evil Doctor Strange. A fight breaks out between the two of them. At one point during the fight, the evil Doctor Strange conjures up Christine in an attempt to emotionally break his good counterpart, but the good Doctor Strange continues to see the world disappearing around them and continues to fight. The evil Doctor Strange eventually defeats the good and absorbs his power, giving him the power to save Christine. And that is exactly what he does…
Christine awakes in the evil Doctor Strange’s arms, however she wakes to a monster holding her. All the power has transformed the evil Doctor Strange into a hideous monster, causing Christine to retreat from him. As she does, she gets caught up in the world disappearing and vanishes herself. Realizing he has lost, the evil Doctor Strange sees the world around him collapse, as the camera frames begin to squeeze him to the centre of the screen. He then screams out to the Watcher, who has now appeared, asking him to fix what he has caused. The Watcher tells him that he was warned, even though the evil Doctor Strange now admits that the world should not pay for his arrogance. Refusing to fix the situation as he is not allowed to interfere with reality, the Watcher tells the evil Doctor Strange that he should have known the consequences of messing with time and events only leads to more destruction, as the world completely collapses and the screen goes to black.
A crystal orb then appears on screen. Inside the orb, the evil Doctor Strange is holding Christine in his arms. Christine is beginning to disappear, and all he can say to her is “I’m sorry”. Christine sees Stephen and asks him “what did you do?” before disappearing entirely.
The Watcher’s voiceover closes out the episode. He says that one moment and choice can destroy an entire universe.
As with previous episodes, the MCU references are fairly obvious. We get references to the first Doctor Strange film and the characters in it, with Benedict CUmberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton and Benedict Wong reprising their roles. However, there is one MCU Easter Egg that you could potentially miss because it’s only on screen for a matter of seconds. It is the return of Christine Everhart, voiced by Leslie Bibb who is reprising her role from the first two Iron Man films. Christine Everhart is seen on a television screen giving the news report detailing Christine Palmer’s death in a fire in one of Stephen’s attempts to save Christine’s life in the first half of the episode. It’s a fun throwback to the beginning of the MCU, and one that long time fans will enjoy for the brief seconds it takes up in this otherwise excellent episode.
Moving to yet another universe and story in next week’s episode, we will see Thor being banished to Earth, but in a universe where he is still worthy of his mantle after banishment. What good will Thor accomplish or trouble with his powers after being banished on Earth? And will the Watcher also communicate with Thor and potentially interfere in that universe? Don’t miss my next recap of What If…? to find out the answers to these questions.