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 1×04 focuses on Dr. Strange and the consequences of him losing his heart instead of his hands.
A show with so many characters and perspectives felt like it required more than one voice. So, I’m teaming up with my friends Lyra and Lizzie to review What If…? Join us each week as we rejoice, commiserate, and hopefully enjoy the show. Let’s do this!
Lynnie: This episode explores grief and the power of the past – how it holds on to us well after the people we love are gone. For Strange, he figures out a way to make the grief catastrophic thanks to his ability to manipulate time and space. He watches the love of his life die over and over again, unable to save her in a way I think a lot of us would like to think we could. It was interesting how they showed his descent, how it was rooted in love, and how his fall was because of pain he refused to let go.
But, also, way to destroy an entire reality, dude.
Lizzie: I actually really enjoyed this episode, ironically, because it was probably the saddest one. I liked how it didn’t let Strange off the hook, and I enjoyed the fact that it dared to explore the destructive side of grief, which is something TV often overlooks. There’s a level of sympathy for Strange, because I’m not sure any of us wouldn’t take the same chance, if in his position, but there’s also a level of “WTF, dude!” to it, because obviously he took it too far, and ended up even more alone than at the beginning. Talk about irony.
Lyra: I love that this episode went big and didn’t magically make things better. It was messy, fucked up, and there was no sweeping superhero who came in and knocked sense into Strange. It was just destruction and grief in a way that WandaVision explored and that I’m glad Marvel is continuing to touch on. Honestly, the previous episode of What If…? could learn a thing or two from this episode and the manner in which it explored life, love, and loss.
Lynnie: The absolute point in time is an idea that frustrates me a little because it means that we have no say in our lives, that everything is fate, but I also like that Dr. Strange’s greatest enemy is destiny. He’s the sorcerer supreme, so his enemies have to be powerful and maybe a little esoteric.
Ultimately, the destiny of his greatest love dying is tied to him being a superhero that saves the world, which means there’s no one to save him but himself. I like that they show this dichotomy of the Strange who was obsessed with the past against the man who let it go. The obsession ultimately wins out, as he faces the worst of himself and ruins himself, his love, and his reality.
Lizzie: I don’t particularly like the idea of fate, but in a world where the multiverse is in play I feel much less removed from the suffering. Oh, so an entire universe is gone. Too bad. There are a bunch of others, though! Takes the stress off the table entirely. I can imagine a world I like, always.
Like Lynnie, though, I really appreciated they showed us two versions of the same Strange, because the second one, the one who didn’t make the decision to save Christine, feels so much like the Strange we know. And yet …well, grief blinds you, doesn’t it? And grief plus arrogance, something Strange always possessed a great amount of …bad, bad combination.
Lyra: This episode of What If…? honestly made me look at Strange with new eyes. I’ve never experienced his kind of grief but I always felt like there was a disconnect between me and him that made it so I never invested in him or cared for his story. This episode made go, “Ohhhhhh!” and like I need to watch his movie again. That’s something big for me.
Lynnie: “Death is part of the plan” is a hard lesson to express well, particularly in superhero fare where the deaths of women often feel like ice-boxing characters for the hero’s growth.
I think that because the stakes were higher, it made sense to kill Christine, though it still irritates me that not killing a woman to propagate a hero’s journey destroyed an entire reality. Despite this, I appreciated that they used it as an opportunity to show that changing the past isn’t possible and that carrying your loved ones with you and letting that love guide you to kinder choices is the better option in grief.
What about you? Did you like this lesson? Do you think they managed it well?
Lizzie: I enjoyed the message. I, however, liked the reality where Christine didn’t have to be killed to further Strange’s journey, and where he lost something personal and had to learn a lesson about arrogance via his own pain, much more. The last two episodes have given us what if scenarios that I would 100% pass on. I’m good with what happened in our reality, thank you. As much of what this show does, though, as a thought scenario, and for 30 minutes, I kinda liked seeing them explore the bad, ugly part of grief, the one that listens to no one.
Lyra: Lynnie is absolutely on point with the comment about women paying the price for the men in their lives and their journeys. It’s absolutely unfair, happens way too often, and now is making me rethink this episode even though there were bits of it that I enjoyed. Combine that with Lizzie’s words, and now I want to watch Doctor Strange all over again.
Lynnie: Personally, I’m not much into time travel, or even Dr. Strange, but I feel like they did a really good job of making the story and the time travel feel personal and necessary to his character’s unraveling. The lesson of grief and acceptance is powerful, and I like that they show how love can live well in a person and grow thorns within that same person.
So, I wouldn’t mind seeing Dr. Strange again, though maybe with less time travel. Would you like to see more of this sandbox? What would you want to see? Is there anything to see since he, you know, destroyed his reality?
Lizzie: My favorite part was that the end of the lesson was that reality dissolved around him and yet …he didn’t die. He was still there, just more alone than before. I think that really drove home the message the episode was trying to send. Because we’ve all had the “what I wouldn’t give” thought, but there are limits to that. Strange went way past those.
I don’t know that I want to see Strange Supreme again, though I do enjoy Strange a lot more than Lynnie does, and wouldn’t mind seeing other versions of him explored in this show.
Lyra: Time travel is my jam. Has been since I was a kid and it remains so to this day. This episode of What If…? absolutely showed the timey wimey goodness that comes with complicated tales. It’s the stuff that I like and that keeps me going when entering worlds like this. When it comes to ending, it was kind of fucked up but refreshing and something I wouldn’t consume more than a half an hour of. Complicated I am, but this girl still ultimately loves her happy endings.
Marvel’s What If…? is available to stream Wednesdays on Disney+.