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For eight episodes now, Marvel's What If...? has told stories that were largely self-contained. All of that changed in Episode 8 when the Watcher himself (Jeffrey Wright) had his bottom handed to him by Ultron (Ross Marquand). He took over the show and booted the Watcher to the curb.
The all-powerful narrator had to turn to the alternate (and depressing) Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help. How does that alliance turn out? Do any other alternate heroes we've seen join the fight? The season finale of the animated Marvel Cinematic Universe series answered the question.
Did the Watcher finally get involved? What if... we jumped into the episode and got down to business? Viva Las Vegas.
***WARNING: There will be spoilers ahead for Episode 9 of Marvel's What If...? If you do not want to be spoiled, what if... you went and did anything else?***
The finale was written by A.C. Bradley and directed by Bryan Andrews, with the title, "What If... The Watcher Broke His Oath?" This alone puts the Watcher's pact of non-interference front and center. The question of whether or not other multiverse heroes would join the fun is pretty much answered in the opening credits.
Bringing the season full circle, we start with Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) who is about to attack the Lemurian Star. The scene is similar to what we see at the start of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with Black Widow (Lake Bell), Agent Rumlow (Frank Grillo), and Batroc the Leaper (Georges St. Pierre) all in the mix. As before, Romanoff is multitasking and trying to set Cap up. Carter has no interest in "Bernard in accounting" because nothing good ever follows that phrase.
Carter is mid-fight with Batroc when the Watcher appears in the sky. "Captain Carter, the soldier lost in time, you have been chosen," he says. In a flash, we're at the Dairy Queen where Ego (Kurt Russell) shows what happened after he met his son at the end of Episode 2. He's wreaking havoc, but Star-Lord T'Challa swoops in and saves Peter Quill. The Watcher appears and recruits T'Challa.
We're off to Nidavellir next, where an Infinity Gauntlet is being crafted. Tony Stark (Mick Wingert) is present, and asks a fully armored Gamora about... good lord... putting a suit of armor around the galaxy. The Watcher arrives and recruits this version of Gamora (Cynthia McWilliams), one we haven't met yet. Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) is next, and the Watcher recruiting him stalls the justice that Pepper Potts and Shuri have planned for him.
Who's left? Party-boy Thor, who is fighting Ultron drones in Vegas. "Nobody messes with Vegas!" he shouts, angry that his date with Jane Foster has been delayed. The Watcher appears to him and after multiple attempts at getting his attention, he is recruited.
This is our "save the multiverse" squad, and they gather in a pub created by Doctor Strange. The Watcher says that their new mission is necessary "for the continuation of life as you know it." He was going to go with a single hero, but realized that he needed a team. "You are the Guardians of the Multiverse," he says.
They get briefed, they order multi-dimensional Chinese takeout, and our new Gamora reveals the Stone Crusher, a device that will destroy Infinity Stones. Captain Carter takes the lead, and the plan is to get the Soul Stone to Gamora for crushing. "It's showtime, my friends," the Watcher says while opening a portal. "Good luck."
On a planet in a desolate universe, the team gets to know each other. When one of Dr. Strange's dark tentacles pops out, Carter asks what happened to him. "Same thing that happened to you. Love," he says. Instead of curling up to Radiohead for the rest of the day, he tells her that in his universe Steve Rogers got the serum instead. She says that "would be a sight to see." Gamora is wary of Killmonger, who is really interested in the Ultron tech. Thor doesn't care, because this version of him trusts everyone.
Thor erupts with lightning after a toast, and Ultron appears in the sky just as the Watcher usually does. The plan was to get his attention the following day, but how about now? Strange uses a "non-compliant spell" to bulk up the team's protection, and they put their plan into action. Thor is ready to deal with "party pooper" Ultron, but his powers (and battle cry of "Viva Las Vegas") have no effect.
The protection spell comes through in a big way. The team kicks it up, and soon Captain Carter is smacking Ultron with her shield while a magical swarm of Mjolnirs pummels Ultron. T'Challa nabs the Soul Stone thanks to his "sticky fingers" and Strange opens a portal above Ultron and an almost endless supply of zombies (from Episode 5) falls on him. Zombie Scarlet Witch is there too, and she's pissed off.
The team portals into the universe where Romanoff is the only one left (from Episode 8), and she nabs the Soul Stone away from them. Captain Carter talks her onto their side just as Ultron blows in, and it's a mad, magical, butt-bashing scramble for the Stone. Ultron almost retrieves it thanks to the Time Stone, but tentacle Dr. Strange has a Time Stone too. He goes berserk on Ultron, unleashing every bit of the magic he acquired while endlessly trying to save Christine Palmer.
Ultron is down, Gamora puts her Stone Crusher to work, and bing bam boom the day is won? Not really. The voice of Ultron pipes up again boasting, and Gamora (wielding the big propellor blade weapon we've seen Thanos use) realizes that her device was designed to destroy the stones on her world, not his. Somewhere in here may be the reason why the TVA over on Loki has a whole drawer full of useless Infinity Stones, but we'll put a pin in that for now. Ultron returns with a full array of stones and is fully powered. Not great, Bob!
Ultron realizes that taking out Strange is the key to defeating the Guardians, but what if... Romanoff found the arrow laced up with the analog Arnim Zola program from the previous episode? She cycles up to a good position and fires it at Ultron's eye ("This one's for you, Clint") while Captain Carter holds the eye open. It hits the mark, and now Ultron is infected with Zola (Toby Jones). Ultron finally goes down, but we're not done. What if... Killmonger used his Stark nanotech to fuse with the Ultron body and take the Stones? He does that.
"Cousin, what are you doing?" T'Challa asks. "The Watcher owes us this," Killmonger responds. "With these stones, we could fix our worlds, our lives." He tries to bargain with the team, but T'Challa isn't having it. Killmonger puts on the light show and here we go again. What's left of Ultron's Vision body stands up with Zola in its stomach, and he tries to nab the stones. Every stone is now caught between Zola and Killmonger. Strange sees it and has a realization: "We were never meant to win. We were here to separate the stones from the body." He begins to encase them both in a prism, and the Watcher puts the finishing touch on it.
The multiverse is saved. Strange accuses the Watcher of foreseeing every beat of the battle they just had, including Killmonger's betrayal. The last part of this plan is for Dr. Strange to watch this new pocket universe/prism forever, to make sure that Ultron/Zola/Killmonger don't get out. He's got nothing but time, so he agrees.
The Watcher returns all of his Guardians to their respective homes at the exact moment they all left. Captain Carter hesitates after seeing a photo of Steve Rogers, and the Watcher says, "You'd rather return to another time." She asks him, "Haven't I earned my happy ending?" She has, but the Watcher says, "Trust me, that world, that time, needs Captain Carter." She leaves, but the Romanoff whose world was destroyed has nowhere to go. She refuses to go back to the desolate wasteland she left, and she lashes out at the Watcher.
"We're just stories to you, we're not real," she spits at him. He counters, "You, your stories, they are everything to me." What does he do with her? He brings her to the world where almost every Avenger died in Episode 3, "a world that lost their Widow." Steve Rogers and Carol Danvers are holding the line on the deck of a helicarrier, and Nat jumps in to save Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) from Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
"You're not my Natasha, but something tells me you have her spirit," Fury says before the Watcher takes back his mantle of narration. "That's it, isn't it? All creatures searching for a place to belong. To call home," he says. "As for me, I am the Watcher. The Multiverse, every single world, every story is my home, and I will protect it to the end."
What if... there was a mid-credits surprise? Captain Carter finds out that her version of the Lemurian Star has some special cargo. It's the HYDRA Stomper, and her Nat tells her, "...there's someone inside."
So ends the first season of this series, and we're done asking the titular question for now. Did the Watcher break his oath? He put together his own team of heroes, so that feels like getting involved. He also moved one Widow to a different universe. He got involved. Because he got involved, we got to see every episode of the season represented here. It was a great way to wrap up our first animated foray across the multiverse, and we can only guess what mayhem the team has in store for Season 2.
Until then, we have been the Watcher and the Writer of Recaps. Every story is our home. Join us next season where we may continue to ask the question... what if?
Season 1 of Marvel's What If...? is now streaming on Disney+.