I have seen most, if not all, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in theaters. From Iron Man to Black Widow, I followed every twist and turn that Marvel threw at us. This summer, I called up my dad to discuss the implications of every episode of Loki on Disney+. In other words, I’m invested in the MCU. That’s exactly why What If…? episode 1 is such a welcome detour.
Spoilers for What If…? episode 1 follow, so come back later if you haven’t watched it yet.
A quick summary of What If…? episode 1
In case you didn’t hear, What If…? is the first animated show from Marvel Studios on Disney+. As the name suggests, the show explores what would have happened if some of the most iconic moments in MCU history had turned out differently. For example, in the first episode, Peggy Carter is injected with the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. She proceeds to bash her way through World War II, becoming Captain Carter in the process. Steve is still along for the ride, donning the HYDRA Stomper suit created by Howard Stark. So we get to watch proto-Iron Man and female Cap kill Nazis.
At the end of the episode, Carter sacrifices herself by pushing herself and a giant tentacled monster through an interdimensional portal. She winds up in the present day, with the monster having been sliced up and Nick Fury and Hawkeye waiting to meet her. Fury lets her know that it’s been 70 years since WWII ended. At the same time, the show sets up its inevitable climax, during which all of the disparate stories told throughout the season will come together to form a cohesive narrative.
Reaction to Marvel’s What If…? episode 1
All in all, I’m torn. On one hand, following the overwhelming emotional fallout of Avengers: Endgame, I do not mind Marvel making a pit stop. Marvel’s other Disney+ shows haven’t added much to the MCU, despite trying to inch the plot forward between movies. (Save for the Loki finale). WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier suffered because they tried to have it both ways. Both shows tried to shift the focus to underserved characters, but all the internet seemed to care about was how the events of the shows would affect the next Spider-Man or Doctor Strange entries.
Meanwhile, What If…? is telling stories that definitively never took place in the universe we’ve been following. That gives the show plenty of freedom to take chances the other shows can’t. But in the end, Marvel can never veer too far off of the MCU path. I just hope that when this show links up with the MCU, it does so gracefully. I love animation, and while the pacing is rushed and the lip-syncing is bizarrely out of whack, What If…? knows how to sell action. Marvel’s Disney+ shows have struggled to ride the line between discrete entities and cogs in the MCU machine. After one episode, I’m cautiously optimistic that What If…? can chart a better course.