BY MATT TUCK
Following a wild eighth episode, What If…?’s season finale coasted to the finish line in what was an average episode.
WHAT IF....THE WATCHER BROKE HIS OATH?
After an eight-episode buildup, the Guardians of the Multiverse come together to wrap up the first season of What If…?. The most memorable part of Episode 9 will ultimately be the final voice appearance of Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, who once again takes up the Star-Lord mantle to protect the universe.
In the end, Episode 9 brought the season full circle in terms of theme. Rather than “What If…?,” the show’s real question was, “What does it take to be a hero?” Each episode answered that with, “Heart.” Earlier in the season, we saw what happened when Doctor Strange lost his heart, and he tore apart his universe as a result. The season finale gave him a chance at redemption, and he earned the heart of a hero by helping to defeat Ultron and save the Multiverse.
“ALL TOO EASY”
The episode itself was average in most respects. There was the same mix of action and comedy, and the showdown with the Infinity Ultron seemed too easy for them. After all, this version of Ultron powered by the six Infinity Stones had been ravaging entire universes at will, dismantling numerous versions of each hero along the way. Yet, these seven managed to take him down without losing even one squad member? It left Episode 9 feeling more like a video game boss battle set on easy than the culmination of great storytelling.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH GAMORA?
One of the more confusing moments involved Uatu’s recruiting. In Nidavellir, he comes across Gamora wearing Thanos’ Endgame armor, which was an impressive visual. She has apparently defeated the Mad Titan and is there to melt down the Infinity Gauntlet. Alongside her is Tony Stark, who once again gets a cameo rather than a full episode. This time, he is wearing his Hulkbuster armor, and we learned from a Lego set that he became one of the Grandmaster’s champions in that timeline.
It leaves a gaping plot hole about the circumstances leading to Gamora and Iron Man destroying the Infinity Gauntlet, and the word is that we will see that episode next season. Reportedly, there was a slowdown in production due to the pandemic, and the season was cut short by one episode, explaining why there’s no backstory for these characters.
THE GRADE: B-
Overall, this episode was hindered by being a bit too lighthearted. From the Watcher and Strange’s bantering about their picks for the Guardians to Thor being an idiot, the gravity of the situation was lost. Episode Eight worked so well because it presented Ultron as bordering on a horror movie villain. It had a distinct “Thanos Wins” comic quality, and when Ultron discovered Uatu, it was like watching Michael Myers find Laurie hiding in the closet.
Here in Episode 9, the emotional stakes were lower. Although there was still the godlike Ultron with the six Infinity Stones, no one seemed afraid of him. After what the Watcher had endured and witnessed, you would think that he would have conveyed the true scope of the terror induced by Ultron. Instead, the superteam treated it like another day at the office, dropping one-liners and quips along the way. The tonal shift undercut the magnitude and drama of the previous episode.
RANKING THE SERIES
As a whole, the first season of What If…? was a delight, though it could have benefited from longer episodes that would allow for complete stories. The short time frames meant skipping important details that could have built toward better character arcs. The entries themselves seemed to stray in tone from being whimsical and silly one moment to dark and brooding the next. Still, dealing with a topic that spans multiple universes, it allows for a variety of tones for the episodes.
Where does Episode Nine stack up against the rest of the season? By far, “What If...Ultron Won?” was the landmark entry that hit on all cylinders, and “What If...the Watcher Broke His Oath?” ranked well below that. Here’s how I rate the entire season.
1. What If...Ultron Won?
2. What If...Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?
3. What If...Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?
4. What If...Zombies?!
5. What If...the Watcher Broke His Oath?
6. What If...the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?
7. What If...T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?
8. What If...Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?
9. What If...Thor Were an Only Child?
What does the next season have in store for us? We know we’ll see a deeper dive into Sakaar with Gamora and Iron Man, but past that is anyone’s guess. After a wonderful first season, fans will be expecting the world and then some, but I imagine A.C. Bradley and the rest of the What If…? showrunners will have plenty more surprises in store for us.
Personally, I am crossing my fingers for either Old Man Logan or Age of Apocalypse.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.