What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark? takes advantage of its freedom and the flexibility of the series to focus almost exclusively on upgrading an existing supervillain. It pairs with the Doctor Strange episode in terms of establishing a singular powerful villain as the overarching goal. The episode returns to previous What If… ? form by heavily tracking sacred timeline stories, though with dramatic alterations here. It’s an obvious mash-up of Iron Man and Black Panther, with hints of Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and even a touch of Avengers: Infinity War—as a result, Episode 6 truly emphasizes how interconnected the existing MCU is in ways not obvious from the films alone.
Michael B. Jordan continues his iconic and powerful role as Erik Stevens AKA Killmonger, and the episode gives the role proper respect and recognizes his overall merit as a character. He is eight steps ahead of virtually everyone he encounters and completely dominates the entire plotline with hardly any difficulty. He continues a trend in the series of eliminating major characters and superheroes from the main MCU—in this case, Killmonger swiftly takes out Tony Stark, T’Challa, and James Rhodes.
Overall, though, Episode 6 falls flat. While it definitely explores more of Killmonger, it comes across as a kind of standard remix to our known universe’s plot without much more depth or even a solid grasp on what Killmonger’s bigger picture might be. His motivations—which are one of the strongest aspects of the character and what, along with Jordan’s portrayal with them, makes him as interesting as he is—are noted more heavily towards the end of the episode, but they are glossed over compared to their treatment in Black Panther. While Killmonger is given his due as a powerful character, it a fairly surface-level take on him.
The episode hones in on the general premise that one small change in a hero’s story can dramatically change the course of everything we know to be true. As our friend the Watcher reminds us, heroes are made, not born. If they miss their opportunity to “make” themselves, they merely become pawns in someone else’s story. Killmonger rescuing Stark—as a Navy Seal involved in an undercover operation with the Ten Rings—is all the grease Killmonger needs to succeed where he failed in Black Panther. Apparently, he already had plans for a weaponized automated drone called the Liberator, and Stark’s technology and help seals the deal to create these machines in contrast to the Iron Man suit.
In terms of performances, the voice acting in this episode is solid across the board. Michael B. Jordan is unmistakably great. Don Cheadle is quality, and Jon Favreau is very true to Happy. Andy Serkis is absolutely phenomenal and honestly gives one of the best performances of the series to date. Chadwick Boseman’s talent goes without saying. Mick McGill is decent as Tony Stark—the writing and his performance definitely capture the character well, but it’s near impossible to not stand out as not being Robert Downey Jr. in that role.
Episode 6 also continues a growing trend in the series of ending on a very obvious cliffhanger and/or generally being an unfinished story. Earlier episodes always left the door cracked for future implications, but this episode and the immediately preceding zombie episode very much leave the door wide open for their respective stories to continue. It certainly implies that What If… ? is building to something bigger and something that likely involves interconnecting episodes.
Even so, the Watcher—who certainly acts as a connector—does not involve himself whatsoever, leaving the Doctor Strange episode as the sole exception to his general narrator-only role. He does, however, look noticeably unhappy and disturbed as a giant head in the sky at one point. While Killmonger certainly rules the day in this episode as he makes his way to become the Black Panther, the Watcher does cue that heroes—specifically our classic heroes—never die as they live on in those they inspire. Perhaps we will get to see later in this season or further down the line what Shuri and Pepper have to offer against Killmonger in this universe.