In the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, we see a young Peter Quill taken by the Ravagers. He learns their ways and proceeds to engage in a mostly selfish lifestyle. He steps up with some newfound friends to be a (somewhat) selfless guardian when the galaxy eventually has need of him. he has a lot of growing to do in order to get to that place.
What if… the Ravagers picked up the wrong kid? What if, just what if… they picked up another young character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a character who was already selfless, and that character spread that selflessness to the entire galaxy? The second episode of Marvel’s What If…? plays this scenario out, having the Ravagers accidentally pick up T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) instead of Quill.
***WARNING: From this point on, there will be spoilers for Episode 2 of Marvel’s What If…? If you have not watched yet, then turn away.***
The episode begins in familiar territory — we’re on Morag, and we’re revisiting the now-famous opening scene of Guardians. A Star-Lord figure grabs the orb, but when Korath (Djimon Hounsou) enters and asks this person who they are, he doesn’t ask “who” when the figure says that he is Star-Lord. Korath knows exactly who Star-Lord is, because he’s a huge fan.
Star-Lord is T’Challa, and as the episode says, he “steals from the powerful, gives to the powerless.” T’Challa spars with Korath, and then ends up recruiting him. On leaving, T’Challa is faced with more enemies, but he says, “a Ravager never flies solo.” Out zooms Yondu’s infamous whistling arrow, and in comes Yondu (Michael Rooker).
“No treasure is worth as much as the good that can be done with it,” T’Challa says, and Yondu… agrees with him? What if… T’Challa changed Yondu and the Ravagers into a selfless force for good?
The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) clues us in as to what’s going on. In this timeline, Yondu outsourced the nabbing of Quill to Kraglin and Taserface. They picked up T’Challa by mistake in 1988 Wakanda. As the Watcher says, “What you call destiny is just an equation… right place right time, or in some instances the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Instead of sending him back, Yondu decides to show T’Challa the galaxy. We cut to 20 years later, and T’Challa’s effects on everything and everyone are plain to see. There’s no better proof of this then having Thanos (Josh Brolin) enter the space bar where T’Challa and his crew are celebrating. They defeated him years back, and T’Challa taught him that there were better ways to reallocate resources.
Nice Guy Thanos says, “I’m a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong,” but does add, “I still assert my plan was not without its merits.” Kraglin points out that it was genocide, as many other characters do throughout the episode. Thanos may still like his plan, but he didn’t go through with it. T’Challa convinced him not to, and just like that, most of the MCU as we know it ceases to exist. Old Navy Thanos has no need for infinity stones.
Nebula (Karen Gillan) shows up too. She’s got long blonde/white hair and calls T’Challa “Cha-cha.” She seems much healthier, though she’s still estranged from Granola Thanos. T’Challa has been trying to get them into counseling. In case anyone was wondering, it’s also said that Yondu looked into returning T’Challa to Wakanda years back, but it was destroyed.
Nebula has a job for Cha-cha, and it is stealing the “Embers of Genesis” from the Collector, who has filled the “big bad” void left by light-side Thanos. The entire Black Order now works for the Collector, so T’Challa and the gang have to work their way around them in order to pull off one hell of a heist. On Knowhere, T’Challa fakes selling the Morag orb to get in while multiple parts of his team spring to action. The Collector’s collection is truly immense, and it includes a dark elf and Howard the Duck. T’Challa frees Howard so he can show him where the Embers are. Howard says, “When you’re outta luck, always go duck.” What if... that line haunted our dreams?
Also in the collection is a Wakandan ship, which carries a message from T’Challa’s father. Wakanda is not so destroyed as T’Challa was led to believe. Before T’Challa can process that, Nebula betrays them all and the whole team ends up in prison.
Yondu tries to explain his Wakanda lie by saying, “The past ain't nothing but a prison.” The Collector comes to interrogate T’Challa, but it backfires. “Where I come from, history has never looked kindly on those who lock men in cages,” he says, right before the Collector orders him dissected. Not gonna happen, because what if… Nebula faked her double-cross?
It was all a part of the ruse, and now everyone is free and Nebula has the Embers. T’Challa ends up fighting a seriously roided out Collector, who uses Hela’s weaponry to fight him. Thanos selflessly holds off a ton of troops, and Nebula calls him crazy. His response: “Not crazy. Mad.” Nebula’s feelings on him change, and she ends up saving his life using the Embers. Yondu does to same for T’Challa, using his arrow to cripple the Collector in a dire moment.
The Collector gets kicked into a cage, and his assistant Karina sets his vast collection loose on him. T’Challa, Yondu, and Cosmo the Space Dog escape on the Wakandan ship. Yondu begins to apologize, but T’Challa tells him there’s no need. That said, he doesn’t know where he belongs now. “On any planet, among any people, there ain’t no place in this galaxy where you don’t belong,” Yondu tells him. “Where you wanna be, that’s the question ain’t it?”
We cut to Wakanda, where T’Challa reunites with his father (alive) and the rest of his family. As his entire extended space retinue is also with him, he says, “let me introduce you to the family I made along the way.” The Wakandans and the Ravagers have a merry meeting, which includes Vegan Thanos telling a member of the Dora Milaje, “No no no, because it’s random, and I might add, efficient.
All might seem well, and galactic war seems averted entirely, but the Watcher reminds us of some other consequences. “From one family reunion to another,” he says, and we cut to Peter Quill mopping a Dairy Queen. In comes Ego (Kurt Russell) and he asks Quill if he has time for dear old dad.
The Watcher says it best: “Too bad this might spell the end of the world, but that’s a story for another day.” T’Challa made the entire galaxy a better place, and averted war (and several movies) by convincing Thanos not to pursue his obsession. The problem here is that Peter Quill, the child of a celestial, was left on Earth. He had no character growth at all, and as far as we know he has no family or crew. If Ego makes him the same pitch that he makes him in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, then everyone is in serious trouble.
As much fun as California Thanos and a jacked Collector were to watch, the obvious highlight of this entire affair is Chadwick Boseman's final Marvel performance, as he recorded his dialogue before his death last August. At the end of the episode, the screen reads, “Dedicated to our friend, our inspiration, and our hero Chadwick Boseman.”
T’Challa evokes pure goodness because that’s who Boseman was, and that’s what Boseman brought to the role. Seeing that goodness spread across the galaxy, changing minds and hearts, is a gift. The entire rest of this series can be about Ivan Vanko choosing different candy bars from a vending machine, it doesn’t matter. It’s all worth it for this episode alone.New episodes of Marvel's What If...? stream on Disney+ every Wednesday.