REVIEW: ‘What If…?’ Episode 4

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What If Episode 4 - But Why Tho

What If…? Episode 4 continues the series’ tradition of flipping the Marvel Cinematic Universe on its head, with what is perhaps the most tragic episode yet. “What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands?” reinterprets the events of Doctor Strange, with Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) managing to survive his fated car crash with his hands intact. However, he loses the love of his life Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Despite warnings from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto’s time travel powers in an attempt to save Rachel’s life. This eventually leads to a dark path that threatens the fate of reality—and Strange’s soul with it.

In the same vein as turning T’Challa into Star-Lord led to a different version of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Strange losing Rachel leads him to do things he normally wouldn’t do. This includes breaching the fabric of space-time multiple times in order to try and save Christine’s life and embracing darker forms of magic that end up changing his appearance. Showrunner AC Bradley, who penned the episode, actually takes great pains to humanize Strange in this episode. His love for Christine grows into an obsession that has dire consequences, fueled by his innate arrogance. It also shows the danger of living in the past, as both Wong and the Ancient One point out that reality itself could unravel if Strange changes time-and it comes to pass.

This episode, much like “What If…T’Challa Became A Star-Lord?” has a large number of MCU alumni return to reprise their roles. Chief among them is Cumberbatch, who has a chance to show off the many facets of Strange’s character. He perfectly captures Strange’s descent into madness, which is amplified by a layer of grief and genuine anger at his loss. Swinton is a font of wisdom as the Ancient One, even in death. And it’s always great to see more of Benedict Wong, though I feel that the episode could have used more of him. Surely it would have been fitting for him to either try and stop Strange or fall at Strange’s hands.

The element that makes What If…Episode 4  a standout from previous installments is the increased presence of Uatu the Watcher (Jeffery Wright). As ever, Uatu serves as the narrator and an omnipresent observer. Yet he contemplates breaking his sacred vow and interfering to stop Strange from destroying his universe. And as Strange grows in power, he even becomes aware of Uatu’s presence-leading up to a confrontation between the two at the end of the episode.

Director Bryan Andrews digs deep into the world of magic, presenting all manner of mystical creatures and locations. As Strange slips further and further into darkness, his appearance begins to change. His skin grows paler and more clammy-looking, his eyes begin to glow red, and his Sorcerer Supreme garments take on a more demonic appearance including a cape that looks like something that Dracula would wear. A fight between two different versions of Strange also has great visual flair, with both Masters of the Mystic Arts flinging different spells at each other and even using their respective capes in combat

What If…? Episode 4 delivers an escalating series of tragedies, showcasing what would happen if Doctor Strange gave in to his darker impulses. Time will tell if future episodes will get as dark as this one, but the ending will definitely sit with me. And given his role in Spider-Man: No Way Home, as well as his upcoming sequel, the multiverse isn’t quite done with Doctor Strange.

New episodes of What If…? will be available to stream on Disney+ on Wednesdays.

What If...? Episode 4
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

What If…? Episode 4 delivers an escalating series of tragedies, showcasing what would happen if Doctor Strange gave in to his darker impulses. Time will tell if future episodes will get as dark as this one, but the ending will definitely sit with me. And given his role in Spider-Man: No Way Home, as well as his upcoming sequel, the multiverse isn’t quite done with Doctor Strange.