What If…? is back this week after what was a dark and intriguing previous episode. This week’s episode features our favorite Bleecker Street magician, Dr. Stephen Strange, seeing his origin retold and reshaped in this alternate universe. The Watcher’s eyes are set on him, as we ponder the question, What if… Doctor Strange lost his heart instead of his hands? More importantly, is this slight deviation in origin enough to carry its own episode? The answer is yes in a very twisted way.
Although slightly different, the essence of Strange’s origin is still present. Strange lost something – in this case, someone – and will do anything he can to try and get it back. It leads him to the path of magic, just as it did originally, but there is a slight deviation. This deviation is what makes the episode so compelling in its own right and provides the highlight of what was a dark and tragic story.
The premise for this episode of What If…? took some time in gaining momentum. At first, it seems like nothing is really different in this universe but quickly we find out that just one decision, one moment can change the fate of a universe. The episode is filled with lore that Doctor Strange fans will love, as well as offering some connective tissue (Shuma Gorath anyone?) for the first time in the series. The tone for the overall episode is dark and somber, something fans may not expect. The fact is that it works really well with this story and offers the series’ boldest entry yet.
The episode serves as a great dissertation of what makes Strange work as a character. Although very selfish, he sacrifices his personal interests for the greater good always. There are two perspectives in this episode regarding that, but even by the end with Strange Supreme, you feel as if the essence is still there. Some will enjoy it and some will find it daunting, but for me, it worked perfectly given the nature of the characters and story that is being presented.
The core four from 2016’s Doctor Strange all lend their voices to the episode and it was great to hear. It was especially great to hear Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One again, seeing as to how I didn’t expect her nor Rachel McAdams to lend their voices. They all did a great job, with Benedict Cumberbatch being the standout due to the variety he had to work with. It was a nice touch and definitely added a touch of familiarity to characters that exist in an alternate universe.
As a tremendous fan of the character, I really can’t express how satisfied I was with this episode. It did a phenomenal job using its animated platform to show how amazing the mystical side of the MCU really is while giving fans some more insight into a relatively unknown character. This episode serves as a perfect example of the ability What If…? has in terms of making characters more compelling although they’re not the same version we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.
This episode represents exactly the type of stories that What If…? should continue to explore. It found a way to add dimension to a character while taking various risks. These risks will not be for some and there will definitely be sides taken with this episode. It shouldn’t matter though, because that’s the purpose of the show. To explore the various stories that are either too bold for some or just plain weird for others. I for one am all in and thought this was a perfect example as to how to execute a show of this type.
Overall, this fourth episode of What If…? is superb in every way. It explores the essence of Doctor Strange perfectly while delivering a deviated story that is dark, tragic, and intimate. The returning cast makes for a great addition to the familiarity of it, but it may not be enough to make it stand out for some viewers. Some people will simply find this episode to be… strange and that’s just fine as well. – Kenneth Colon
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