What If… Ultron Won? is another lovingly dark episode that scoops up the scraps of the multiverse and the varied multiversal seeds the series has been planting throughout the season. While Ultron’s presence is certainly in the spotlight—and he’s definitely a class-act villain—he comes across as more of a vessel to tell the Watcher’s own story through. Impressively, Episode 8 manages to tell a two-pronged story throughout its short runtime.
First, it explores the classic What If… ? story of what would have happened on the sacred timeline had Ultron been able to assume Vision’s body. The result is that he is able to quickly laser Thanos in half, acquire all of the infinity stones, and destroy the entire universe piece by piece. He even takes on Captain Marvel, who once again returns as a wildly powerful being that can drive Ultron into the inner core of a planet but it’s not enough. It’s a story that the Watcher uncharacteristically states breaks his heart—which is somewhat interesting considering he also watched Strange Supreme destroy his entire universe for love and due to overwhelming grief. Either way, generally everything and everyone we would know from our universe is wiped out, and almost no hope remains.
But enter that sliver of hope: Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton as the last remaining heroes alive fighting Ultron and his sentries. The episode absolutely paints the two “lamest Avengers” as, frankly, pretty damn cool. Natasha is up to her usual skillset for the most part, but Clint really seems to get an upgrade. Apart from a metal arm, his archery skills are nearly perfect and his arrows are wild.
Still, Clint stands out as having a particularly human dark moment that hit even amongst the total universal destruction. He mentions throughout the episode that he feels tired and as though there’s no point in fighting anymore. While Natasha and the Watcher hold out hope—and hope appears to arrive in the form of Arnim Zola—Hawkeye eventually actually gives up because he no longer wants to fight. It’s a stunning shot of him leaping into a pit of sentries in an obvious nod to Natasha’s own death on Vormir in Endgame. Honestly, even if you hate dark episodes, you have to love it for its realistic take on post-apocalyptic life and human (or superhuman) imperfections. Despite the entire premise of this first layer of story being “hope survives”—a message we’ve encountered before in the series—this episode is a brutal but wise reminder that sometimes it dies.
The other side of the episode involves the Watcher more personally. While we have seen him somewhat more involved emotionally, we have never peered behind the curtain until now. The Watcher already toyed with interfering in Natasha’s and Clint’s affairs, but was able to stay out of it. But, when all seemed saved, Ultron gained the power to see beyond his own universe, recognize the multiverse, and find the Watcher.
The Ultron-Watcher showdown is a genuine spectacle of solid animated action and visual enhancement. At first, the Watcher was surprised that Ultron was able to see and locate him, but he also seemed scared. The turnaround into him being an incredibly powerful cosmic being was definitely rewarding, particularly considering that we have only seen him hovering around. Still, Ultron is ultimately the powerhouse he always should have been, and he ultimately defeats the Watcher with some bonkers moves like taking a Galactus-esque bite out of a galaxy.
Once the Ultron-Watcher battle starts, What If… ? really begins feels like the work it did in building the season piece by piece will pay off in a compelling and rewarding way, rather than just attending to fan service in exclusively one-off kernels of easter eggs and mini-stories. The two literally punched their way through numerous universes throughout the fight, with Ultron seemingly taking the wheel on most of it. And yes, we did see a universe where Steve Rogers becomes president.
The result was stunning—combine it with the visuals of where the Watcher resides amongst all the shards of time prisms, and we have a very different visual and spatial concept of the series and the multiverse itself. It’s much more Doctor Strange than any other comparison, but the unique elements at play (and the animation) certainly distinguish it from anything we’ve seen before. Any live-action adaption of this type of imagery and movement—looking at you, Multiverse of Madness—will likely be a sight to behold.
Speaking of Doctor Strange, the Watcher ends up in Strange Supreme’s tiny universe bubble we saw at the end of Episode 4. Luckily, the two have briefly met before, and there’s already a buddy-banter dynamic. Which does interestingly call into question Strange Supreme’s personality—he was certainly “Dark Strange” before, but he was fairly jolly here. Either way, he gets the Watcher to admit he needs to intervene and get help. While we know from teasers and trailers who many of these “Guardians of the Multiverse” will be, the finale will undoubtedly keep a few surprises or twists up its sleeve to finish the season strong.
The penultimate episode of What If… ? definitely delivered in terms of setting up a larger crossover that spans the entire season. Now that we’ve finally seen the Watcher in his fullest, we have a greater sense of how the multiverse comes together and how to view it on a macro-level rather than bit by bit as we have been doing. The episode certainly sets up an exciting finale and it is another strong take on dark themes that the series has toyed with so well in the past.