For once, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) speaks for all us — at least in part. We’re growing tired of What If…?
Despite a strong start in the first handful of episodes, the program answered too many of its What Ifs with “the end of all things.” And though it’s true to the spirit of the comic book, it does not necessarily create compelling television. In the case of this week’s question, the program’s tendency for apocalyptic solutions blunts the impact of what should be a monumental episode.
Picking up from last week’s tease, the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) examines a world in which Ultron (voiced here by Ross Marquand) not only acquired the synthezoid body, but decisively won. Seemingly, only Clint and Natasha Romanoff (voiced once again by Lake Bell) survived the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and struggle against the sentries Ultron made after he took possession of the other Infinity Stones. We will say this for the episode: it was a pleasant surprise to see Ultron aim for Thanos’s head immediately upon the Mad Titan’s arrival. But having brought “peace” to the world, Ultron seeks larger horizons and discovers, much to the Watcher’s horror, the Multiverse.
This should be a pivotal event in the series and in the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse overall … and yet it feels underwhelming. We’re immediately going to blame the repetition of universe-ending results on this show as part of the problem. Nothing Ultron does here is all that new — although the destruction of Ego looked cool — even his one-over on the Watcher was teased last week.
Alleviating this sense of repetition, though, is the Watcher’s genuine shock in Ultron’s behavior and ability to reach into the space between realities. Also, we have to credit Wright with bringing a lot of internal conflict to the Watcher (or should we start calling him Uatu?) as circumstances make it increasingly clear that he will have to break his vow of non-interference. That’s the good stuff and, to an extent, something the show sorely needed. To modern eyes, the Watcher’s voyeurism is not entirely innocent and if there is to be any character growth on the show, it can only happen with the Watcher and his greater understanding of what it means to watch the Mutliverse.
We also give credit to the show (and Ultron) for pointing out that Uatu’s watching is creepy.
Meanwhile, Nat and Clint still have a mission to accomplish, but it ultimately feels like wasting time as they are not only unsuccessful, but inconsequential to the episode as a whole. Of course, we’ll hold off complete judgement on that until next week as it is still possible the Watcher will call on Nat and the Zola android (Toby Jones) for aid. Nevertheless, some viewers will walk away from this episode wondering why the two survived at all.
Our weariness with What It…? may be another case of our biases showing. We’re less interested in seeing the end of the world right now and the show’s love of barren landscapes and cities laid waste is far less appealing these days. It’s clear the threat of Ultron is meant to move the Watcher forward as a character and establish a sense of hope as, presumably, characters from across the Mutilverse will band together to fight him next week. But sometimes, shows need to get to that hope a little quicker, especially ones which delight in the darkness the way What If…? does. All that said, we’re ready to reserve final judgement until next week’s finale.
What If…? streams Wednesdays on Disney+.