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The endgame of Marvel’s What If…? Season 1 is becoming clear. The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), usually unflappable, was surprised when Ultron/Vision (Ross Marquand) showed up at the end of Episode 7. If something unsettles the Watcher, then it’s bad news for the entire multiverse.
What kind of awfulness can a successful Ultron being bring to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Plenty, and his “age” in Episode 8 of this show definitely lasts longer than the couple of days that he was around in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
***WARNING: From this point forward, there will be spoilers for Episode 8 of Marvel’s What If…? If you haven’t watched yet, what if you stopped reading and watched the episode instead?***
“What If… Ultron Won?” was written by Matthew Chauncey and directed by Bryan Andrews, and starts off with the world looking fairly trashed. “We’ve seen this before. A universe in the final days of destruction,” the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) says. “But this particular story, this, this one breaks my heart.” His heart isn’t the only part of him that breaks, but we’ll get to that.
Natasha Romanoff (Lake Bell) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) fight some Ultron drones in Russia as the Watcher narrates. “The end of the world began with one man’s dream,” he says, and we see Tony Stark (Mick Wingert) giving his “suit of armor around the world” talk. Stark created Ultron, who in turn wants to create Vision as a body for himself.
“In your universe, the Avengers stole the Cradle and used it to create the hero, Vision,” the Watcher says. “But in this universe, Ultron got his wish. With the infinite power of the Mind Stone, Ultron began to lay waste to the planet.”
Ultron kills Tony (almost a required beat for this show now) and sets off nukes. His “age” begins, and Thanos struts out through a portal to greet him. Even though Big Purple has a gauntlet almost full of Infinity Stones, Ultron slices him in half with one beam shot from his Mind Stone forehead. He takes the rest of the stones for himself and updates his look. He sees everything, including “worlds beyond” his own. “Worlds that need… me," he says.
He may not see the multiverse yet, but he does see plenty of other places to ruin, including Asgard (he blows it up), the planet of the Sovereign (blows it up along with the Guardians), Sakaar (boom), and Ego (bye Kurt Russell). He assaults a Xandar that looks perfectly fine (despite Thanos having the Power Stone), but Carol Danvers (Alexandra Daniels) shows up to hinder him. “Listen Skynet, I’ve seen the killer robot movie and I gotta say, I really don’t think it need a sequel,” she says.
She nails him straight through to the core of the planet, and it looks like she’s gonna beat him. Not to be, sadly, because he rallies and Xandar (and many other surrounding planets) explode. Carol does too. Standing in a ruined MCU, Ultron realized that his work is done. The Watcher appears, remarking that this realization almost breaks the machine. “With his mission complete, Ultron was now just a program without a purpose. The victor without a war, sentenced to spend all of eternity alone,” he says.
“Who… who said that?” Ultron responds, hearing the Watcher’s narration. What if… whaaaa? The undeterred Watcher is a professional narrator, so he keeps going. Ultron has ascended “to a previously unattainable level of consciousness.” As Ultron turns, the Watcher says, “He became aware of another, he became aware of…” and he gets cut off. Ultron sees the Watcher, and realizes there are universes beyond his own.
The Watcher, now fully in color, freaks out. “I have seen everything that has ever happened. Ever will happen. Ever could happen. And yet, what the hell is this?” He’s just as thrown off as he was when Ultron showed up at the end of Episode 7. He cannot fathom the horror that would ensue if Ultron was unleashed on the entire multiverse, so he’s glad he has one last hope: Natasha and Clint, still in Russia. Great plan.
Nat and Clint go through the KGB Archives by hand (with Nat finding what looks like Red Guardian’s shield) and the Watcher is right there, watching closer than he ever has. He is desperate to intervene, but he doesn’t. Even when busted Clint gives up right before finding the right file, all the Watcher does is continue his breakdown.
Nat finds the right file. Since no digital A.I. can stand up to Ultron, she’s gonna go with an analog one: the uploaded consciousness of Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones). “They really did it. There’s still hope,” a relieved Watcher says, right as Ultron bursts into the Watcher’s home of multiverse mirror. He blasts the Watcher and intends to spread his “purpose” to every timeline.
In Siberia, Nat and Clint look for Zola, and Nat mentions the Zola A.I. that she and Steve Rogers found in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Zola fans everywhere can breathe easy because there’s a second terminal that HYDRA used to supervise Russian’s Super Soldier program.
Nat finds and boots up the second Zola terminal, and Zola’s first action is to expose Clint’s middle name, which is Francis. They threaten Zola enough that he agrees to help, so Clint loads his program into an arrow while Nat lures an Ultron drone to their location. This zany scheme works, and Zola successfully implants himself into a drone.
He can’t upload to the main Ultron hive, so they have to fight their way out. Clint ends up hanging on to Nat on the edge of a precipice with tons of drones below him, and this time he’s the one to let go. He falls and shoots an explosive arrow into the horde he’s falling into as his final farewell. Fans who wanted him to take the Vormir plunge in Avengers: Endgame may get a little consolation from this. A little, not a lot.
Outside, Zola says that he’s unable to connect to the Ultron hive because wherever Ultron is, “it does not appear to be within the observable universe.” Yeah, he’s still battling the Watcher, who keeps saying that this “should not be possible.” Ultron counters, “Oh, but anything is possible in a multiverse.”
He kicks the Watcher out of his realm and mocks him for only just watching. The Watcher is usually a cool customer, but he’s entirely off of his game now, babbling about his oath and not exerting his will on the natural order. “You lack the will to stop me,” Ultron says, and it seems like he’s going to actually destroy the narrator of this entire show before the Watcher explodes with a power we haven’t seen yet and says, “You cannot compute the power of my will.” They break through several timelines, a giant Ultron takes a bite of a universe, and the Watcher tumbles to a city street in a timeline where Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) is president. Ultron starts pounding the Watcher again and the timeline changes with each punch.
The Watcher barely escapes. Ultron has dominion over his realms, and our defeated narrator finds himself within the purple crystal which contains… the sad and broken Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) from Episode 4 of this series. “That thing has left me no choice,” the Watcher says.
“Been there. Been living the dream alone in a prison of my own making ever since. Are you ready to break your oath?” Strange asks.
“You want me to say it?” the Watcher says, and yes, this Dr. Strange is gonna need to hear it. The Watcher complies.
“I see now. I need your help.”
With that, we cut to credits, and are left with only one episode left for this season. We were waiting for all of this to connect to the end of party boy Thor’s story (and it still may), but reconnecting with crazy Dr. Strange is much more satisfying. If the Watcher is going to gather his favorites, he may call in Captain Carter, too. It bears mentioning that we've also seen another version of Ego (Kurt Russell) is in at least one timeline, and he may not like other versions of him being blown up.
One way or another, the season finale looks like it will feature a crazy Dr. Strange helping the Watcher save the multiverse and keep his role as narrator. What if… he loses? What if Ross Marquand’s Ultron narrates everything from this point on, union rules be damned? That would definitely be a choice, but we’re fairly certain that the Watcher will find a way. If the Watcher doesn't, then Jeffrey Wright will.
The final episode of Season 1 of Marvel’s What If…? premieres next Wednesday on Disney+.