The doors of possibility in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been blown bloody well off, and the first animated entry in the ongoing sprawling saga is here. Marvel’s What If…? has begun, and the first episode shows just how much can change based on one simple choice.
Episode 1 revisits the events of Captain America: The First Avenger, where things go down a different path for Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Steve Rogers (played here by Josh Keaton). As the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) himself says: “Time. Space. Reality. It’s more than a linear path. It’s a prism of endless possibility, where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities creating alternate worlds from the ones you know.”
What is the “single choice” in the first episode, and what new kind of reality branches out from it?
**SPOILER WARNING: From this point forward there will be spoilers for Episode 1 of Marvel’s What If…? If you haven’t watched yet, what if… you stopped reading, watched it, and then came back?**
Steve Rogers is about to get the super soldier serum, and everything is proceeding just how we remember it. The difference comes when Peggy Carter is asked to leave the room. The Watcher notes that Peggy, in this scenario, does not do what we saw her do in the film.
“When asked to leave the room, Margaret 'Peggy' Carter chose to stay,” he says.
Peggy choosing to stay in the room changes everything. The HYDRA agent blows the place sooner than he does in the movie, and he shoots Steve Rogers. Steve cannot go through with the experiment, so Peggy jumps into the chamber herself. The experiment is successful, and Peggy receives the super soldier abilities. Steve’s bullet wound was not fatal, so he’s still around. He remains tiny in stature, but that doesn’t mean he no longer wants to serve.
Colonel Flynn (Bradley Whitford) from the Marvel One-Shot short Agent Carter appears in this episode, serving once again as an anti-Peggy douche. He wanted a super soldier, but as he says, “…instead I got a girl.” What if… Colonel Flynn took his misogyny down a few notches?
The Tesseract is still in play here, and soon enough Peggy decides to defy Flynn and intercept it. Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) provides her with a suit (which was going to be her USO outfit) and also a shield. He’s made some upgrades. Peggy wastes no time in taking on the convoy.
She was made for this, and relishes all of her new abilities as the animated action soars. She’s finally able (and/or is being allowed) to be what she has always been: a premium kicker of a**. She can barely believe how great it feels, saying, “That was brilliant! Let’s give it another go!” She also falls for her shield, saying, “Where have you been all my life?”
She delivers the Tesseract back to the SSR, and tells them in terms of her name, “Captain has a nice ring to it.” Steve may not have had the bulky glow-up, but he and Peggy flirt like there’s no tomorrow, and all of the talk about dancing and partners is still here. Soon enough, Captain Carter is storming a HYDRA base to free the 107th, which includes Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough). “Steve Rogers sent me,” she says, adding, “The name’s Captain Carter.”
As if on cue, Rogers himself blasts in wearing a Tesseract powered proto-Iron Man suit that Howard Stark created for him. Steve will find a way to serve no matter what. He asks his one true love (doesn’t matter what strand of the metaverse it is, they’re always meant to be) what she thinks of his “new dancing shoes.” She responds, “…we better start dancing!”
By that, she means kicking names and taking a**, because Captain Carter and the “HYDRA Stomper” start giving what for to all of HYDRA and Schmidt himself, played here (as he was in the last two Avengers movies) by Ross Marquand. He’s not worried, because soon he’s going to summon “the true champion of HYDRA” from beyond the stars.
Whatever, Captain Carter and Steve continue to connect, with Peggy saying, “I’m no longer screaming to be seen, to be heard, to be in the room.” Steve mentions respect, and they are about to kiss when Howard ruins it. It’s time for them to go after Schmidt (now turned into Red Skull) on that train in the snow, and that’s when we get worried. Someone isn’t coming back, because it’s that train, and it’s that scene.
Bucky survives, because Peggy saves him. “You almost ripped my arm off,” he says as she tosses him up after a near-fall, and we all laugh with joyous mirth because we’re used to Bucky having his arm coming on and off. It’s quite a merry moment, until the entire train sequence is revealed to be a trap. It’s not intended to capture Captain Carter, it’s intended to capture the HYDRA Stomper. It works, as the train explodes with Steve inside. Everyone else has to flee to escape an avalanche.
A captured Zola (Toby Jones) tells Carter about Red Skull’s summoning plan, which he can now make possible as he has regained the Tesseract. She storms into his HYDRA Castle and lays everyone out. What if… these glorious animated action sequences never ended? “Who needs a plan, I have a shield,” she says, though Red Skull opens a portal and out comes his champion. It’s a giant tentacle thing, and it is very reminiscent of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD Season 3.
The monster kills Red Skull (whoops) just as Bucky finds Steve, who is still alive. Steve demands to be put in his suit, which will still work (somewhat) without the Tesseract. The tentacle monster spreads, and will eventually cover all of Europe. Howard has to science a way out of this, and Carter’s classic sci-fi advice is, “Transpose the polarity and reverse the suction.”
She then grabs a sword to fight the monster, references actress/genius Hedy Lamarr, and ends up having to personally push the tentacle beast back into the portal. Howard and Steve are left alone. The portal does open again, but it is 70 years later. Captain Carter (and bits of tentacle) emerge to find Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who tells her that the war ended 70 years ago. Is she going to be okay? “Of course,” she says. “We won the war.”
Just like that, Captain Carter is the person who is now out of their time. As the Watcher notes at the end, “Her one choice gave birth to a whole new history, and gave the multiverse a new hero.”
Thankfully, this isn’t the last time we’ll see Captain Carter. A recent press junket confirmed that she is one character who will have her tale continue, and she will appear in every season of the series. We love this because it means more of Hayley Atwell in the role, playing notes that she never got to play in the films. Much like Peggy herself, Atwell is staying in the room.
What if… Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter fought a giant tentacle monster with a sword and shield? We can answer that one: We’d love it and we’d want more. Thankfully the MCU metaverse isn’t done with Captain Carter.
Marvel’s What If…? streams new episodes on Disney+ every Wednesday.