Since we had the privilege of seeing the first three episodes of What If…? early, we’ve been waiting to talk about Episode 3. Where the first revealed just how much charm one can put into the most straight-forward “What If?” concept, and the second illustrated the scope of what it means to put one character in a new position, this week’s show introduced a level of sophistication we did not expect from the show — a “What If?” which hides its own question.
The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) introduces us to a world in which a single Phase 1 week took place quite differently. In fact, he made it clear Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor all took place within days of each other. But in this reality, something shifted events so catastrophically that the initial Avengers never had a chance to form. Helping us through this strange reality is Black Widow (voiced quite ably by Lake Bell), who acts on orders from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to solve the sudden crisis emerging in this week of early Marvel movies.
It’s quite a fun mystery with a lot of blind alleys. In fact, it’s so fun, we’re loathed to spoil its surprise. But we will say framing the Phase 1 films as happening so close to one another not only strengthens the episode, but the films themselves in the end. Also, we’re happy to see Mark Ruffalo‘s Bruce Banner subbed into a number of The Incredible Hulk‘s big scenes.
Okay, we’re also going to talk around the episode’s resolution as it is a genuine surprise even if the clues are all there. It re-frames the question The Watcher was asking this week and offers such a tragic dimension to what happens in this universe, both before and after the story itself. That’s a genuinely appealing thing to see. What If…? could so easily stay contained in simpler questions like “What if Coulson was worthy to wield Mjolnir?” or retelling Thor: The Dark World with Darcy (Kat Dennings) in Jane’s (Natalie Portman) place. This week’s story proves the writers and producers are interested in taking the “What If?” concept to complex places and, hopefully, next week will see another level of complexity.
Or it could be something more simple, that’s the beauty of the show and it seems its makers get how big (or small) its central question can be.
What If…? streams Wednesdays on Disney+.