Read our previous reviews for Marvel’s ‘What If’ here.
There are spoilers for Marvel’s ‘What If’ episode four ahead!
Love can make you do the craziest things. The thought of mortality and possibly missing out on that love is enough to drive someone mad. Given a show like WandaVision, which examined the immense grief that someone can feel when losing a partner. But also the danger of that buried sadness when in the hands of a powerful being of magic. At that point, they want that piece of comfort back and don’t consider the people that those choices can affect. Anytime you unnaturally tip scales in your favor concerning time, there are negative consequences. Loki is another prime example of how amending timelines can lead to extraordinary circumstances for the MCU. Or, as we say, the multiverse.
In 2016’s Doctor Strange, we see Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a star doctor, but self-absorbed. know-it-all. He cares about little other than his accolades and praise. That attitude permeates through his relationship with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). In the movie, they have a love for each other, but because of the circumstances, settle for friendship. Strange gets in a horrible car accident and loses the ability to operate on anyone. From there, he goes on the journey to become the sorcerer supreme and perhaps get some wisdom that the world is bigger than himself.
The fourth episode enters with an immediate change. In the movie, Christine doesn’t oblige Strange on being his date to being a speaking conference. Here she accompanies him, and the feelings between them are very apparent. Unfortunately, the same car crash happens with the same result. Strange doesn’t lose his hands, but loses Christine. As the second anniversary looms, Strange looks upon the Eye of Agamotto, wondering if he can go back in time to change these circumstances. It was meant for him to beat Dormammu and become who he was meant to be. Knowing Strange’s personality, he just has to have it all. It’s a conundrum worth shouting down. Why can’t you both have power and love at the same time? Usually, one devours the other.
What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands? has a darker tone to it. For starters, Strange cannot stop Christine’s death from happening, no matter how many times he tries to divert it. So, you see her perish from so many perspectives. The sequence is heartbreaking and surprising, dripping with dread that you wouldn’t expect from a Disney + series. Even as Strange tries to figure out a way to stop this, The Ancient One (voiced by Tilda Swinton) informs him that Christine dying is an absolute point. If Strange undoes this somehow, he will destroy the timeline as a whole.
Although you feel sorry for Strange like we did with Wanda, his selfishness takes control. He has to get Christine back at all costs. This results in a battle with The Ancient One that causes a split within him, a search to The Lost Library of Cagliostro for spells, and a gorging on evil, mystic spirits. At the library, he meets O’Bengh, (voiced by Ike Amadi) another sorcerer of magic within the Marvel universe. Despite the constant warnings from O’Bengh, The Ancient One, and Wong (voiced by Benedict Wong), Strange moves ahead. There’s a poignant conversation that O’Bengh has with Strange on his deathbed after he uses centuries to harness the power of spirits (including Shuma-Gorath).
O’Bengh tells Strange that while he was doing all that, he just lived his life. While Strange begs to use the time stone to prolong it, O’Bengh reminds him that death is a certainty. There’s no way that anybody can escape it when it’s time. Towards the end of the episode, there’s a great fight scene between the split consciousness of Doctor Strange with some beautiful animation. Complete with cloaks, duking it out. In the end, the ‘evil’ Strange wins, but at what cost? While he gains Christine back for a moment, the timeline disintegrates. Thus, Strange’s crying out to The Watcher for help. However, he tells him, although he would love to punish him, he cannot interfere.
As head writer AC Bradley indicated, What If is canon in the MCU. We don’t see the ‘evil’ Doctor Strange die. Merely holding a dying Christine before she fades away. The next series of movies, Spiderman: No Way Home and Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness are going to be dealing with the repercussions of an ever-changing timeline. Doctor Strange’s character is going to have to be an anchor as the world and time itself changes.
This episode will make the audience sympathize with him a bit more than usual. Almost in the same way that we did with Wanda and Vision. However, Strange’s attitude continues to be his own downfall. He acted from the role of self-interest rather than where life has him now. Time may not heal all wounds, but surely remaking events will bring about new ones.
Photo Credit: Disney