The fourth episode of the brand new Disney+ and Marvel Studios’ original series, What If…?, takes the viewer on a journey revolving around Benedict Cumberbatch’s (Sherlock) character, Dr. Stephen Strange battles his demons with a darker alter ego. In addition to Cumberbatch’s return, the episode also witnessed Benedict Wong (Marco Polo) as Wong and Rachel McAdams (True Detective) as Christine Palmer. Through various rewinds from Dr. Strange on the second anniversary of his girlfriend Dr. Christine Palmer’s death, he attempts to rearrange history by providing different forms of reliving the night of her death. The original story is the cause of a deadly car accident and he begins to find alternate realities where he redirects Palmer and his night. One results in a deadly dance where Palmer collapses while another sees a pizza date go awry with a gunman or another where Christine is killed in a deadly accident at the banquet after Dr. Strange fails to show up on purpose.
After numerous attempts at altering the course of his history of that night, he is approached by the Ancient One, voiced by the returning Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer). The Ancient One explains that the death of Christine is an absolute point in time that he cannot prevent or alter in the end result. Without her death, Dr. Strange does not seek out the extensions and secrets of the mystic arts according to the Ancient One. Following his refusal to accept her loss, he arrives at the library of the lost books in order to seek out a way to escape an absolute point. After freezing himself for centuries to learn this obstacle, he returns to his original goal, yet due to his frozen nature, a new Dr. Strange exists on his timeline and cannot accomplish this goal without the help of the other.
In the midst of this transformation, the viewers witness the original Strange devolve into a one-track-minded individual, desperate to save Christine his true love. Borderline mad-man, he sets back to utilize the new Strange addition to his universe while jeopardizing the state of the universe that they both now occupy. The new Strange adhered to the advice of Wong to avoid meddling with time and Christine’s death, ultimately arriving at the understanding of his inability to change the past.
Following an epic battle exchange between the two Strange’s, the evil and original version of Stephen Strange remains, saving Christine and damning the universe in the process. In a last-ditch effort, Strange pleads with The Watcher to help him change his poor decision before Jeffrey Wright’s (Westworld) character condemns him for his actions and allows for the universe to cease to exist.
In one of the darkest moments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fourth episode of What If…? delves into what heartbreak and death can do to compromise a human being’s psyche. Dr. Strange, a good-natured character, is destroyed from his inability to accept time for what is, as well as the possibility of saving a nexus event in his timeline from occurring. The episode demonstrates a human moment that nearly everyone can relate to, the loss of a loved one and the desire to do anything in their power to bring them back. The episode travels from altruism and heartbreak towards despair and greed.
The episode does lend itself to a basic build-up and the clashing of main key figures that comes along with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In this episode, the clash is between two of the same character. Yet, the climax and ending of this Dr. Strange standalone feature places emphasis on the MCU’s obsession with altering time combined with solidified superheroes, in a reverse form. Transforming a dignified Avenger into a self-centric and evil version of himself, What If…? blends Marvel’s definition of hero out of despair and heartbreak.
What If…? has engaged with these hypothetical situations through the incorporation of The Watcher and infinite timelines within the story worlds. The first three episodes have engaged with the traversal of familiar storylines, yet this episode has engaged the series with a unique new form of the MCU. The episode employed elements of the gritty DC Comics with a darker depiction of an otherwise light-filled cinematic franchise. There has been caution mentioned concerning timelines with the MCU, yet they have rarely ever seen the ultimate destruction and damnation of the actions caused by the characters, making this installment of the series quite unique.