The anthology series concluded its first season on high with a great mix of storytelling, action, and drama
The final episode of the anthology series ties in all of the episodes from season one and answers several pressing questions from the season. The finale follows up the events of the previous episode, breaking the cycle of the anthology and the episode in which the Watcher finally breaks his oath in order to save the multiverse.
The pilot episode of What if…? after all the hype leading up to its release, with the focus predominantly on the multiverse aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ended up being anti-climactic. However, the episode did gift the season finale an alternate version of Peggy Carter who replaced Steve Rogers as Captain America to become Captain Carter. Hayley Atwell essays the character effortlessly as if Captain Carter was always meant to carry the iconic shield.
The following episodes did fare better and did a thorough exploration of the concept of the multiverse. In fact, episode 4, What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands? was a perfectly crafted story with excellent character arcs and a captivating narrative. In retrospect, Doctor Strange from this episode is also the most important character of What if…? In fact, the finale seems to suggest that he is the most important character in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe - even more so than Iron Man.
Over the course of the season, the writers have explored some great ‘what if…’ scenarios that truly embrace the concept. Episode 5, titled What If... Zombies?!, was a perfect example of how to execute an engrossing alternate universe scenario. And quite surprisingly, it did not shy away from stretching the boundaries of the typical ‘MCU’ formula. It was a dark tale with heartbreaking moments, and with plenty of gore and violence - an ideal template for any zombie adaptation. The inclusion of a ‘zombie edition’ is becoming quite popular on television with TV shows such as The Simpsons, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Community pulling off some stellar standalone episodes featuring zombies.
Some of the other episodes that followed couldn’t maintain the lofty standards set by the fourth and fifth. The episode titled What if…? Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark attempted to shoehorn too many narratives and characters into a short 30-minute episode. The following episode centred around Thor was unintentionally funny and is easily one of the most poorly written stories from the MCU. Even though Chris Hemsworth returns to voice the character, he is written to be painfully cringeworthy. A huge departure from how God of Thunder was written for comic books.
The finale and the penultimate episodes were well paced with fascinating character arcs and offered great visuals. These are also the only two episodes that are directly connected to one another. The finale in particular has a perfect balance of excellent action sequences and a riveting storyline. Since the characters have been well established in the previous episodes, the 30-minute runtime didn’t prove to be a hindrance. The characters are merely required to execute the mission without affecting the pacing of the narrative or the need for proper character development. The Watcher's decision to break his oath to save the universe by assembling a group of individuals from several universes builds up great excitement. The team consists of Black Widow, Captain Carter, Doctor Strange, Gamora, Thor, and Killlmonger.
The cel-shading animation might require some time to get adjusted to, but it does deliver in some of the big moments in the series. The sound design offers nothing spectacular and the voice acting is a hit or miss. Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Doctor Strange and Jeffery Wright’s portrayal of the Watcher are the standouts. The primary antagonist of the series, the Vision/Ultron being, fails to recapture the elegance of Paul Bettany’s voice of the original Vision or the deep and rich voice of James Spader as Ultron from Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is one of the minor drawbacks of an otherwise excellent finale.
Despite a wobbly start, the first season concludes with a thoroughly satisfying finale. There were the odd underwhelming episodes in between where it would appear that the MCU writers overindulged in some of the formulaic elements from the larger cinematic universe. The finale also pays homage to the 2012 film Avengers when the newly assembled Guardians of the multiverse get in position for the final battle. There is a post-credit scene that hints at a possible follow-up season.