If you don’t understand the point of WHAT IF… you simply just need to read more comics (or stop watching comic book-related projects). The ability to explore the multiverse and its limitless potentials and scenarios opens the door up to risks you just can’t take on the mainstream MCU continuity and provides us with endless possibilities for different and sometimes darker stories to tell. We saw that with last week’s excellent episode. And we see it again with Episode 4 of the series, WHAT IF DOCTOR STRANGE LOST HIS HEART INSTEAD OF HIS HANDS?

For this episode, we are treated to a haunting vignette of loss and grief, and the power it has to potentially corrupt an individual; particularly one unwilling to take a step towards acceptance. The episode takes the worst traits established in the film versions of Stephen Strange – arrogance and recklessness, and a potential proclivity towards obsessive mania – and uses those as a springboard to showcase the theme that sometimes even the best of us can get lost to our own emotions. This makes the one-shot story incredibly compelling, and also very tragic. In some cases, it’s a bit of a companion piece to WANDAVISION in the sense that they’re both stories about desperation in the face of grief. Which is especially ironic given Elizabeth Olsen is supposed to appear in the next DOCTOR STRANGE film. Perhaps this episode is hinting at more than we think? Who knows.

In addition to diving into insightful and daring thematic depths, the episode also features some visually arresting action scenes, which, admittedly, I think would have looked astonishing in live-action. Though the character animation is so-so (the highlight being a pretty convincing animated Cumberbatch, and the lows being a terrible non-Rachel McAdams-looking Christine Palmer), the production design and art direction for the various spell sequences is absolutely terrific! It also features the welcome return of the entire cast of 2016’s DOCTOR STRANGE, from Benedict Cumberbatch to Tilda Swinton and Rachel McAdams – who all turn in fine performances. However, one major occurrence within the episode is that it’s also the first episode where we see a specific character play more of an active role in the events of the story. This is a huge step forward for a series, hinting that we may see more of said character in several iterations to come and/or the actual films. All potentially exciting stuff!

In any case, this episode is the closest the MCU has ever gotten to anything resembling a horror movie. And it pays off because of the risks it’s willing to take to tell a tragedy about love and loss. WHAT IF… really allows the studio to go as unchained as it wants without affecting the live-action stories we love on the big screen (and some small-screen endeavors as well). And as such, we get to explore different sides of these characters, different scenarios, and richer stories. It’s the shot in the arm the state of comic book stories is asking for. Here’s hoping the momentum continues!

WHAT IF… is streaming now on Disney+

Mike Manalo

Born a Slytherin. Baptized into Marvel. Bitten by a Radioactive DC fan. And raised a Jedi, Mike Manalo is a silent guardian, a watchful protector… a Dark Nerd!

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