The finale of the experimental first season of What If… ? delivered a sense of resolution to the series and the Ultron arc that began last episode. While it was exciting to see pieces and characters of the multiverse come together in such a direct and desired way, the episode, unfortunately, felt shallow by completely ignoring the Sacred Timeline implications the series—and the multiverse as a whole—have on the main MCU timeline.
The collection of the Guardians of the Multiverse is obviously the stand-out aspect of the episode. While the episode title implies that the Watcher really gets involved, he actually just, essentially, forces certain hand-selected heroes to fight Ultron for him. It’s unclear where the battle-involved Watcher of the previous episode went, but it was a noticeable absence.
Included in the Guardians of the Multiverse, of course, are characters highlighted throughout the season. Captain Carter, Party Thor, Strange Supreme, Star-Lord T’Challa, and Killmonger all are selected by the Watcher. The newly-introduced Gamora, Destroyer of Thanos, is also part of the squad and lone survivor Natasha from Ultron’s original universe eventually joins the fight. Killmonger’s inclusion realistically makes little sense other than to set up a double-cross and make him a villain once more, which is exactly what happens.
It is fair to say that Captain Carter was immensely more enjoyable in the finale than she was in the premiere episode. Whether it was her modernization into the Winter Soldier era or the watering down of the corny perfect soldier theme from her solo episode, she’s more down-to-Earth and more energizing and compelling as a character. Her return to future seasons of What If.. ? or live-action films feels more organic now. The episode also gives the character space to explore her relationship with her own Natasha and a set-up for her future stories via Steve’s return in the post-credits scene.
Strange Supreme essentially felt like the Hulk of the team considering he was vastly more powerful than everyone around him. He protected everyone from crazy-powerful Ultron while landing some of the biggest blows against the villain, including multiplying Mjolnir and going wild with that. He also purposefully turns himself into some of the monsters he consumed in his episode, which is in a move so unfamiliar with respect to our regular Doctor Strange.
Episode 8 Natasha also received special treatment from the episode and the Watcher specifically. In maybe his most uncharacteristic move of the series, he allows her to enter the universe where nearly all of the original Avengers were killed, rather than return to her own barren wasteland.
The episode was definitely one of the best—competing only with its immediate predecessor—when it comes to action, big superhero battle battles, having meaningful stakes, and embracing the full series. The Guardians of the Multiverse debut is a fun companion to Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame, and the Ultron battle is first-class. We even see the zombie universe pour in, with a brief dramatic zombie Scarlett Witch set-up for fight.
The battle was massive, explosive, and probably worthy of a live-action battle—it certainly puts Avengers: Age of Ultron to shame there. It was exciting, and it definitely felt like this is what we’ve been waiting for from What If… ?. It almost felt like the excitement of Phase One where the various pieces are finally brought together for one epic story. All of this is great until Ultron is cheaply defeated by the unrealistic simple answer of an Arnim Zola virus corrupting the multiverse’s most powerful and intelligent being.
This episode could have so benefitted so much from an extended runtime. There’s not too much of a problem with rushing through the character introductions—it’s not clear how much we would have gained from that—but the battle could have been much more exciting and entertaining if it wasn’t so condensed. The frantic pace is both a blessing to the episode by bestowing upon it a certain amount of intense energy, but it is also a curse in that it didn’t allow great moments to fully shine.
The end of the series very much had a Nick Fury end-of-Avengers speech vibe. All of our heroes go back to their own lives, but there’s a strong sense that they will come back together when the multiverse needs them to.
The only major lingering situation is Strange Supreme having guardianship over the pocket dimension he created that trapped Zola Ultron and Killmonger in the midst of their fight over the infinity stones. While this also seems like a rushed and unearned resolution, the prospect of dark and internally-tortured Strange obsessing over this potentially catastrophic mini-universe while in his own void pocket dimension is intriguing. It leaves the door open for those two villains to return, though they aren’t that exciting compared to the Ultron we just lost. It also implies that Strange Supreme might have a continuing role and presence, and it could be deadly. He seems to possess a dry sense of humor and a more peaceful acquiescence of his situation than he did in his own episode, but there is still something menacing about how he looks at his pocket universe of power.
There is, honestly, a pretty solid amount of humor in this episode given the high stakes and dark intensity of the mission. Party Thor no doubt had a major hand in it, but quite frankly Strange Supreme in his dark broodiness deliverers well in this department too with some signature Strange dry humor. This aspect of the episode strongly distinguishes it in a positive way from the tone of the previous Ultron episode.
Unfortunately, the episode fell short in terms of meeting expectations and hopes that the finale and the season would connect in some way at some point to the Sacred Timeline, or even provide greater answers to the multiverse conundrum. Knowing that Captain Carter is likely going to make a live-action debut in the future and that Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are set to heavily feature the multiverse, it would have been awe-inspiring to see some of those connections teased. While the series was not necessarily created with the sole purpose to connect heavily to our familiar universe, it still would have made sense—and would have been extremely exciting—if something related to the Sacred Timeline made any appearance or was acknowledged at all.
So while ultimately the finale was rewarding in the sense that the character team-up felt long-awaited and tied the series together in a fairly smooth way, it was also disappointing that we did not get more of how this series will impact our main MCU. It really lost an opportunity for an explosive ending. Still, the Guardians of the Multiverse are the animated versions of strong competitors for best team-up, best battle, and best villain in the MCU at large. The episode was exciting and pulled together the entire season in a very satisfying way. We’ll see soon enough how Season 2 will build on what this first season has accomplished.