Disney+’s What If…? is both Marvel’s first attempt at playing in the multiverse sandbox, and the first animated show set fully in the MCU. But What If…? doesn’t seem interested in being a placeholder for the live-action shows, it’s got stories to tell, and some of them might end up being as interesting as the ones we originally saw. Episode 1×02 focuses on Starlord, except Starlord isn’t Peter Quill. No, this Starlord is none other than T’Challa. And this Starlord, well …everyone knows his name. Even Thanos. And I totally mean that in a good way, believe it or not!
A show with so many characters and perspectives felt like it required more than one voice. SSo, I’m teaming up with my friends Lyra and Lynnie to review What If…? Join us each week as we rejoice, commiserate, and hopefully enjoy the show. Let’s do this!
Lizzie: There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, starting with the fact that Peter Quill is useless. USELESS. Or maybe T’Challa is just that amazing a human? Fine, let’s go with number two. Because T’Challa literally saved the universe a couple of times over, with the help of the Ravagers. And he did it by changing who they were, the culture around him. Who said there was no hope for some people? No one told T’Challa that, apparently. And there’s something that hits so very hard about this message, especially considering Chadwick Boseman, whose voice is so recognizably his in this, is now gone. And also was I the only one who teared up at the dedication?
Lyra: You weren’t the only one that teared up at that dedication to Chadwick Boseman. He continues to be such an interesting and powerful force when it comes to acting and this What If…? was no different. Also, leave it to T’Challa to change the world in such drastic and amazing ways to the point where core things (the Snap) and characters (Thanos) never happened, making for a world of endless possibilities born out of T’Challa’s curiosity, hope, and kindness. Whatever comes next for T’Challa in the What If…? verse because you know he’s going to make the world a better place by just being in it, Boseman will always be there; a legacy that will never be forgotten.
Lynnie: I don’t think you could have T’Challa in any universe not want to make things better. Peter was funny, I suppose, but T’Challa was too. He had a calm, centered humor that was rooted in his big heart and his ability to draw in people to him simply by listening, by communicating, by opening doors to possibility. It was moving that this was part of Chadwick’s legacy – that kindness and love can absolutely revolutionize the universe and make it better. All it takes is a strong center, imagining a different way through, and leading with that love.
The dedication at the end was moving, but somehow I feel like the character they showed me here was a tribute to Chadwick as well, which made the entire episode feel equal parts sad for him being going and lovely for the light he shone while here.
Lizzie: Maybe my favorite part, after T’Challa, and the whole Yondu thing, which pretty much goes the same way it would have gone with Peter, cause apparently Yondu is deep down a softie, is Thanos. THANOS! The way he kept explaining his idea to everyone and absolutely everyone was like “that’s genocide” is the kind of self-awareness I appreciate. I do think they overdid it, cause genocide jokes? But in general, I understand what they were going for, I guess. Plus, I adored Nebula. She got the raw end of the deal in the movies, she should have had a much bigger role, and more to do.
Lyra: I still can’t believe that Thanos, out of everyone in this episode, might’ve been my favorite character. And I’ve never liked Thanos or his stupid plan. And I really love that in this world, in this telling, Thanos was convinced by T’Challa to seek a different path. In turn, I kind of felt for Thanos’ character and wouldn’t mind seeing more of him, especially if it means that the bond between him and Nebula is explored even more. Throw in some Gamora and I’m set for life when it comes to What If…?
Lynnie: I don’t know if Thanos was my favorite part, but it was part of that whole leading with love thing. T’Challa was able to talk a mad tyrant out of his genocidal plans, show him a way to restore balance to the universe through direct action that actually helped beings across the galaxy, and Thanos, through T’Challa’s ability to reason with anyone, listened. It’s a sublime example of leadership, love, and power through decentering yourself from other people’s issues and showing them a new way to be simply by existing and doing.
But Thanos was pretty fun, too, and I appreciated the father-daughter dynamic that mirror T’Challa’s and Yondu’s father-son dynamic.
Lizzie: One thing I will say was noticeably different was …The Collector’s voice. Yeah, you don’t sound like Benicio del Toro at all. I did enjoy him as the kind of criminal mastermind with a collection. That was sort of the light part of the episode, because when T’Challa found the ship and he realized that his family back in Wakanda always wanted him …yeah, emotional again. I feel like, in this case, the episode let Yondu off the hook way too easily, because he took T’Challa from a loving, happy environment just because he wanted a companion. But I guess he wasn’t horrible to him so we gotta forgive him? The ending of this episode does play the kumbaya card.
Lyra: The end of this episode does play the “let’s all just get along” card but weirdly enough I don’t mind. Why? Because T’Challa would be the one to explain what happened, where he went, and the world that he was able to explore because of Yondu. It isn’t perfect, still a bit messy, but if there’s anyone that’s going to convince his family that this was all ok, it’s going to be T’Challa.
Lynnie: It might have been a little too easy, but I think that it’s that easy because T’Challa and Yondu have a mostly solid relationship built on love and trust. T’Challa finds it easier to forgive him because Yondu saw into the heart of T’Challa’s wanderlust and gave him the opportunity to come back to his kingdom with an eye for the suffering of others. T’Challa’s father might have built a son in this universe that was scared to reach beyond his borders. Yonda gave him the opportunity to see the good he could do, not only for Wakanda, but all of earth and even the galaxy. I think T’Challa recognized that and so the forgiveness was easier to find.
Yondu should have told the truth, of course, but they did a good job of building the strong, loving relationship the pair shared, so the lie always felt like something they could move beyond once it was out there in the world.
Lizzie: What would have been your perfect What If…? for these characters? This was fun to explore, but I wouldn’t want T’Challa as anything other than the Black Panther. It’s less that I’m emotionally attached to Peter Quill as Starlord, and more that I like the story we got with T’Challa in Wakanda so much. I wouldn’t want to change that. And hey, that’s a rarity for the Marvel universe, because trust me, I’d change a lot.
Lyra: I want T’Challa in all the stuff. What If…? is basically fanfiction and if we’re going to go and do fic on such an icon, let’s keep going! He has endless possibilities and the heart to pull all of these characters off and then some. He’ll always be Black Panther, there’s no doubt about that, and in a world of endless possibilities he can sweep the entire universe off their feet.
Lynnie: I actually really liked this version of it because the work he did saved the galaxy a hundred times over. It makes me want to see a show that’s just about that – soft and kind and full of rogues saving the galaxy through stealing and shenanigans. T’Challa and Chadwick were perfect for that role, for the soft leadership and strong vision of rightness that made the universe a softer, less deadly place. I’d take fifteen seasons of this show and a couple of movies to go with it if I could.
For now, I’ll settle for this wonderful episode and imagine the show in my head and all the things that T’Challa would improve in the Marvel universe if left to continue his Starlord work.
Marvel’s What If…? is available to stream Wednesdays on Disney+.