This review contains spoilers for Marvel’s What If…? episode 9
In the season finale of Marvel’s What If…?, ‘What if… The Watcher Broke His Oath?’, we discover what happens when The Watcher finally intervenes in the MCU’s escalating multiversal madness.
As some of you may have assumed, the Guardians of the Multiverse do indeed assemble to stop Tony Stark’s godlike, universe-slaying murder bot, with Doctor Strange helping to pull Ultron’s strings as the team’s de facto leader.
There’s a lot to enjoy in the episode, but it stops short of greatness through no fault of Marvel’s own. Due to pandemic-related constraints, the season is missing a pretty essential Gamora and Tony Stark-centric installment that helps set up the whole ‘Guardians of the Multiverse’ vibe in the finale. We will likely see it all play out in Season 2, but that might be quite a while away from hitting our screens.
Our What If…? reviews adopt a different kind of format – more of a breakdown that we hope will satisfy die-hard Marvel fans but still help bring those less familiar with the MCU up to speed.
With that in mind, let’s dig deeper into ‘What if… The Watcher Broke His Oath?’
For this season finale, you’ll need to have seen pretty much all of the previous eight episodes to make full sense of these events. It also helps to have seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier at some point!
Jeffrey Wright is our Watcher, Hayley Atwell is Peggy Carter/Captain Carter, Lake Bell (Harley Quinn) is Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Frank Grillo is Brock Rumlow/Crossbones, Georges St. Pierre is Georges Batroc (the Leaper), Chadwick Boseman is T’Challa/Star-Lord, Michael B. Jordan is Erik Killmonger, Chris Hemsworth is Thor, Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange, Toby Jones is Arnim Zola, Tom Hiddleston is Loki, Kurt Russell is Ego, Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury, Mick Wingert is Tony Stark/Iron Man, Ross Marquand is Ultron and Cynthia McWilliams (Bosch, Marvel Heroes) stands in for Zoe Saldana as Gamora.
In an altered version of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier opening, Captain Carter, Brock Lumlow and Black Widow begin their hostage rescue mission on the pirate-captured SHEILD ship the Lemurian Star. We discover that Peggy and Natasha have become BBFs in this branch timeline, with Natasha still attempting to play Cupid to a lovelorn Cap.
Peggy begins to scrap with Batroc the Leaper onboard the Star, but is interrupted by The Watcher, who tells her that she has been chosen for Doctor Strange’s new Ultron-stopping multiversal superhero team.
Meanwhile, as Star-Lord T’Challa rescues Dairy Queen Peter Quill from Ego, The Watcher recruits him too. We then hop to Nidavellir, where an alternate duo of Tony Stark and Gamora are helping Dwarf King Eitri melt the Infinity Gauntlet. We’re told that Gamora is a “survivor of Sakaar” and a destroyer of Thanos, but sadly we never got to see any of this transpire. The Erik Killmonger we saw take over Wakanda is also picked up, along with Las Vegas Party Prince Thor.
The Watcher and Doctor Strange explain the Ultron mission to their team – get the Infinity Stones away from Ultron and destroy them in Gamora’s crusher MacGuffin – even as Killmonger starts making some mental chess moves to betray them all. It turns out that his dark nature is built into their overall plan, so it’s fine I guess. Also, it turns out that Stephen isn’t as good as Cap or T’Challa at performing a rousing speech (which tracks) but thankfully he is really good at doing protection spells.
Ultron soon discovers the newly-assembled Guardians of the Multiverse thanks to Thor’s blundering, and a terrific fight ensues as the Guardians face off against him in the universe from the penultimate episode where Black Widow was the human race’s lone survivor. The aforementioned crusher doesn’t work in this timeline (whoops) but Strange captures Ultron and Killmonger in a pocket universe after Cap and Black Widow upload the Zola brain program into Ultron using Hawkeye’s trusty USB arrow.
How does it work out?
The Guardians of the Multiverse are all returned to the timelines from whence they came, except for Black Widow, who The Watcher takes pity on and drops off in the middle of an alternate universe that is missing a Natasha. We see her fighting Loki aboard a SHIELD helicarrier and saving the day in an Avengers team that includes Captain Marvel, and we can assume that this is the world from episode 3 where Hank Pym took out all of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes apart from Captain America. It’s nice!
In a post-credits scene, we see BBFs Natasha and Peggy discover the Hydrastomper in the Lemurian Star’s cargo, and it’s teased that Steve Rogers might still be alive inside.
I really loved seeing Captain Carter running the Lemurian Star mission with SHIELD! I feel a little robbed of seeing Peggy and Natasha’s banter in live action, as it felt like they had so much chemistry together. I did see Twitter explode with some mini slash fic after this episode began streaming, and if I were to, say, have a secret Captain Carter fan fiction blog that I regularly update, which of course I don’t and you shouldn’t try and find that because it absolutely doesn’t exist, then I could perhaps imagine some romantic stories for these two coming to life there, in that 100% imaginary and not real blog. Anyway, yes. Move over Steggy and Stucky, there’s a new MCU portmanteau in town: Pegasha. Nateggy? Eh, it’s a work in progress.
The finale also gave us one last Chadwick Boseman performance as T’Challa, and it was great to hear his voice here in a new little adventure with Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, even if he still couldn’t get through to him when the stakes were even higher.
The animation and design was top notch, and there were lots of little Easter eggs to enjoy from past episodes, including the zombie-vomiting portal and Strange producing countless Mjolnirs instead of the copies of himself we saw in Avengers: Endgame. We also got an Alexei mention from Peggy, and the return of The Little Arrow That Could. I’ll admit it’s a little hard to swallow ‘HYDRA to the rescue’ as an MCU concept, but needs must where the Devil drives.
I’m looking forward to checking out Season 2 of the show in the future, and possibly seeing the continuation of some of the Season 1 stories. But by the time these arrive, the implications of the Marvel multiverse will have hit the MCU in a major way through the likes of Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Hopefully, those won’t take any of the fun out of seeing alternate versions of the characters we’ve come to love.
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