The first episode of What If…? showed us Sharon Carter as the super-soldier of World War II. The second, a bit darker, had T’Challa as Star-Lord. Now, things get much, much darker as the MCU takes a major shift starting from the events of Iron Man II. That world went on to see the creation of the Avengers. The one we see this week, well… again, the title is a clue, “What if The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” This one has a lot of twists and turns and I don’t see a way to do this otherwise, so there will be spoilers below. Be warned.
The idea had been floated before that several events in the early MCU were taking place at about the same time, so much of this shocking episode takes place over a week. As we see the title card Monday, the memorable “Exit the donut” scene from Iron Man II plays out. This time, it goes horribly wrong, and the injection Natasha gives Tony to counter his poisoning kills the genius, shocking everyone.
The Watcher pops in to do some narration, linking the events of Iron Man II, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk. I’m not sure how much of Iron Man II would still happen, considering much of the motivation for the bad guys is either outshining or getting revenge on Tony Stark, and he’s gone now. That’s just one of many ripples to consider in this different world.
On Tuesday, Coulson checks in from New Mexico, where Thor’s hammer landed after Odin cast it, and Thor himself, out of Asgard. While Coulson and Fury banter, Rumlow, later revealed as a Hydra agent and still later the villain Crossbones, takes Black Widow to a holding facility, since she’s been arrested for murdering Stark. She and Fury have some words, and she promptly escapes, to np one’s surprise but Rumlow’s. Once again, familiar events play out differently as Thor breaks in to the SHIELD facility, plows through the agents, and gets to his hammer. This time, however, Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye, ends up shooting Thor dead before the god can regain his power. No one is more surprised by this than Barton, who says he didn’t shoot, even though his arrow is in Thor’s chest. Coulson and Fury try to puzzle out the strange results of Thor’s medical exam, and then Fury moves on to question Barton. He, too, is dead in an isolation cell that no one went into.
It’s been a busy, and bad, week, and it’s not over yet. On Wednesday, Black Widow makes her way to a college campus in Virginia to meet with Betty Ross, daughter of General “Thunderbolt” Ross and love interest of Bruce Banner, AKA The Hulk. Widow gets Ross’ help with analyzing the injector that killed Stark, and things get curiouser and curiouser. The results of the test are puzzling to say the least, and then things kick up and go off track again. One of the big fight scenes from The Incredible Hulk plays out, but something is very different, and Bruce has a completely unforeseen reaction that actually ends the Hulk’s rampaging forever. Widow also gets the news that Barton is dead, and handles it about as well as you’d expect. She tries to do some research from a library computer, arguing on the phone with Coulson about getting access. He finally shares his unusual password, Natasha begins figuring things out, and then runs afoul of the same shadowy assassin. The Avengers, not that they exist yet, are having a bad week. She does manage to get a warning off to Fury. The man himself is busy as Loki appears with the hosts of Asgard, demanding payback for the death of Thor. After a lot of posturing, and Sif playing peacemaker, Loki and Fury come to an agreement.
There are some very cool visuals of the Watcher throughout this episode, and we see him in the background on Thursday as Fury goes to a grave that seems to be the explanation behind this world’s turning point and all these horrific deaths. Fury has a graveside showdown with the killer, and little is as it seems. The deaths are explained, and the killer is someone it’s easy to overlook but can be incredibly deadly with the right motivation. There’s a big final fight with some great twists, and the villain is defeated. Unfortunately, several of Earth’s greatest heroes are dead, and there’s a new threat to the planet. Fury takes some steps to bring together a new team, and that’s where we leave this world.
What I Liked: This was a well-done story with a different setup then the previous two. The divergence point isn’t revealed until near the end, making this a sort of murder mystery in the alternate world. I’m impressed with how many of the original actors they get to come back for these, and how well they cover the ones that didn’t (Iron Man/Downey, Widow/Johansson most notably). This one really pulled no punches, and it showed how far a brilliant mind with an underestimated power can go, and how dangerous they can be.
What I didn’t: These do seem to be getting steadily darker, a trend I hope changes soon. I get big names have commitments, but it would have been nice to have all the talent return to do the voices. It took me a second viewing of the scene to understand what had happened to the Hulk, but I think that’s on me.
Dark, but well executed. I’m giving this a 4 out of 5, and am glad there are many more episodes to look forward to.