Note: We are trying a slightly different format for this episode recap to make it a bit more streamlined, now that we are four episodes in and are starting to see the larger story at play here. Let us know in the comments if you like this changed format!
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) does whatever it takes, including immersing himself in dark magic and committing unspeakable acts, to save the love of his life, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).
You cannot reverse an absolute point.The Ancient One
There is a fine line between devotion and delusion. Love can break more than your heart–it can shatter your mind.O’Bengh
Required MCU Viewings:
- Doctor Strange: This episode takes the plot of the Sorcerer Supreme’s first solo film and condenses it essentially into the first 10 minutes or so.
- What If…?: Not critical to watch, but understanding the Watcher’s (Jeffrey Wright) role in this series is important for the twist reveal at the end of the episode.
- Avengers: Endgame: If not the whole film, at least watch the part where the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) explains the timelines and timeline splits to Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).
- Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer: Dr. Strange plays a critical role in the trailer for Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) third solo outing in the MCU. There are similar plot points between the trailer and this episode, and one key theory derives from Dr. Strange’s appearance in the trailer.
Defining “What If” Moment: Christine Says Yes:
In the movie, Dr. Strange invites Christine to join him at a banquet, but she declines, stating that another fancy dinner where she has to sit and listen to people give lectures is not her idea of a romantic evening. Therefore, Dr. Strange is alone when his car crashes, and he loses the use of his hands. In this episode, Christine decides to come with him, and instead of Dr. Strange injuring his hands, Christine dies during the car crash.
This is the darkest episode of What If…? by far, and it is also one of the absolute best episodes of not just the anthology series, but of all Marvel’s efforts on Disney+ and Netflix thus far. Everything comes together harmoniously in this episode–the pacing, the set-up, the voice acting, the visuals, the twist ending. It all just works. The best thing the episode does is that it redeems the relationship between Dr. Strange and Christine, which admittedly in the movie fell a bit flat. Watching Christine die over and over and over again, regardless of what Dr. Strange did to try and save her, was heart breaking. Cumberbatch’s performance lent so much weight and emotion to the situation and truly made it believable and utterly sad.
And that ending. It’s rare (Avengers: Infinity War aside) for a superhero project to end on such a losing note, but when it is executed as effectively as it is here, it is haunting and almost beautiful (in a depressing sort of way). Bravo to the writers and creative team for committing to the dark and tragic ending.
Watching the Watcher:
Through each episode, the Watcher has been showing himself more and more, culminating in the end of this week’s episode with him actually talking with the evil version of Dr. Strange and even looking conflicted about intervening and helping out. This is the most we have seen or heard of the Watcher–his presence has increased with each episode. In the comics, he lives by the same code of not interfering, but breaks it often. It looks like What If…? is moving in that direction.
Changes from the Established Story:
- In the most obvious change, Christine’s decision to get in the car with Dr. Strange resulted in her eventual death. In the film, Christine is still very much alive.
- Dr. Strange still finds his way to Kamar-Taj, but instead of being mentored by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), he is mentored by O’Bengh (Ike Amadi).
- The Cloak of Levitation still comes to Dr. Strange, but in this episode, he steals it from an ancient being before deciding to not steal it’s life force because it was a bug.
- The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) still dies in this episode, but it is not clear how or why. In the film, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) kills her.
- Shuma-Gorath, the tentacled monster, makes a return to What If..? after featuring in the very first episode of this season. This marks the first time a character, other than the Watcher, has appeared in two episodes.
- Reporter Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) makes her return to the MCU after having appeared in Iron Man and several marketing pieces leading up to various other films.
- In the comics, O’Bengh also goes by another name: Cagliostro.
- The initial car crash is shot-for-shot the exact same as it is in the movie.
- The scene with Dr. Strange learning how to use the time stone on an apple is also lifted directly from the film.
- The way the end of Dr. Strange’s universe is depicted in this episode is very similar to the way Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) reality disintegrates in WandaVision, except in this episode it looks like everything is turning into ink because it is an animated show.
- In Avengers: Infinity War, Dr. Strange uses the time stone to investigate the future and see all 14 million possibilities of the outcome of their battle against Thanos, discovering that there was only one outcome in which the Avengers won. I think that this episode of What If…? is a visual representation of what Dr. Strange said he did in Avengers: Infinity War. He lived out each of those outcomes to try and find one where they won.
- In the trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home, many people are saying that Dr. Strange is acting out of character when he is helping Spider-Man by using magic to erase the memory of Spider-Man’s secret identity. And then there is a shot of Dr. Strange seemingly battling Spider-Man on a train. Take a close look at the good doctor. He is wearing the same costume he has worn in his previous appearances in live-action; however it is completely black, and he is still wearing the Eye of Agomotto around his neck. This is odd because, first of all, his costume is all black and secondly, the Eye of Agomotto’s purpose was to house the time stone. But that was destroyed in Avengers: Endgame, so there is no reason for Dr. Strange to still be wearing it. Unless… this is the evil version of Dr. Strange from What If…? in live-action and he plays a larger role in the multiverse-shattering Spider-Man sequel.
Mark Pereira is a staff writer for Boss Rush Network. He loves all video games, but his top three favorites are Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D World and Batman: Arkham Asylum. You can find him on Twitter where he’s usually talking about Nintendo, video games, movies, and TV shows.