Monday, July 15, 2024

What If…? Episode 8 Cracks the Multiverse Open

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What If…?’s penultimate episode diverges from the previous narrative structure of the series and splits its time between two stories. There is the story of the alternate timeline that each episode usually follows, but we are also finally given more insight into who Uatu The Watcher really is, and what he’s even supposed to be doing while watching the stories of the multiverse play out.

Ultron (in Vision's body) in What If S01E08
Ultron (in Vision’s body) in What If…? S01E08

What If Age of Ultron Actually Ended with an Age of Ultron?

What if…Ultron Won? starts out by showing what happens in that exact scenario. Ultron’s successful transfer to Vision’s body opens the door for the Avengers to be defeated, allowing for the nuclear annihilation of all life on Earth. 

While basking in the destruction, Ultron is met by a version of Thanos who has managed to collect the rest of the Infinity Stones. “Fascinated” by this, Ultron promptly murders Thanos (which makes main timeline Vision look kind of pathetic) and takes the stones, building them into a set of armor for himself. 

Gifted with the power of all of the stones, Ultron realizes that there is life beyond the Earth that needs to be eradicated in order to keep the universe truly peaceful, and he goes on an Infinity Stone powered quest to destroy everything. Asgard, The Sovereign, and Sakar are all destroyed, and when Captain Marvel appears to try and stop Ultron from destroying Xandar, she is only able to hold him off for a few minutes before he manages to overpower her and destroy her and the planet.

Once Ultron is able to create a universe devoid of life, Uatu begins to narrate the end of the story of this universe, but it is clear that like Doctor Strange Supreme in episode 4 of What If…?, Ultron is able to hear Uatu’s voice. Uatu’s narration is even leading up to stating that Ultron’s new heightened state of consciousness means that he can sense The Watcher, but he is cut off when Ultron realizes that the multiverse exists.

Ultron hears Uatu
Ultron hears Uatu from beyond the bounds of his universe

Paper Files! The Bane of Skynet’s Existence

Troubled by the notion that Ultron has the potential to destroy all life in every universe outside of his own, Uatu shifts his view back to Earth, where Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff are the sole survivors of Ultron’s wrath. The two were in the air when Ultron nuked the planet and managed to stay alive amongst the radioactive ruin of everything. 

Natasha and Clint are digging through the KGB’s old files to see if there’s anything that could stop Ultron, and much to Uatu’s relief, they are able to find something that will help them without his interference. The copy of Arnim Zola that was stored (and destroyed) at Camp Lehigh was not the only one in existence, and there is another copy of his brain in the facility that was in charge of the Winter Soldier.

The two convince Zola to help them defeat Ultron and launch into a plan that culminates in them uploading him into a sentry drone so that he can access the Ultron Hive-Mind. When Zola is unable to access the Hive-Mind, Clint and Natasha try to outrun the sentry drones, with Clint ultimately sacrificing himself (in a way that mirrors Natasha’s death in Avengers: Endgame) so that Natasha and Zola can escape.

Zola tells Natasha that he tried to connect himself with Ultron’s network, but he wasn’t anywhere in the known universe. This is because while Natasha and Clint were trying to find a way to stop him, Ultron was finding his way to Uatu.

Hawkeye sacrificing himself in What If...? S01E08
Hawkeye sacrificing himself in What If…? S01E08

Not Gonna Lie, This Is Not Looking Great for You Guys

Having broken into Uatu’s extra-multiversal realm, Ultron attacks him with the power of multiple Infinity Stones, but Uatu is only slightly affected and hits back with equal force. Despite Ultron seeming a bit surprised at the level of power Uatu has access to, he isn’t deterred and hits him so hard that he is launched into one of the many universes he spends time watching.

Ultron admonishes Uatu for just sitting by and watching the suffering of so many worlds, and Uatu shoots back that he took an oath to never interfere with the events of the places he watches over. The two then start fighting again, and Ultron manages to overpower Uatu after punching him through approximately 15 different universes.

After beating down Uatu, Ultron finally attempts to kill him, but Uatu manages to use the last of his strength to disappear himself somewhere else in the multiverse. He ends up in the multiversal prison of Strange Supreme, and somewhat reluctantly asks him for help in stopping Ultron’s conquest.

Uatu and Ultron in the realm between universes.
Uatu and Ultron in the realm between universes.

The Friendship We Deserved

What if…Ultron Won? continues the trend of great episodes that have been coming in the back half of What If…?’s last season. The episode isn’t weighed down by its two diverging plotlines, and the show finally getting into the logistical side of who Uatu is and what he does is hopefully the start of a very interesting story.

In regards to Clint and Natasha’s storyline, there could be an argument made that one of the other Avengers should have accompanied them to try and stop the launch of every nuclear warhead on the planet, but it makes sense that the more physically powerful Avengers stayed behind to try and ensure that they even made it into the air. There was a running joke around the time of the release of Age of Ultron about howClint and Natasha were basically useless in the situation because of their lack of any extra-normal skills, but this episode makes it clear that they are perfectly capable of holding their own without the help of anyone else.

As previously stated, Clint’s death was a clear visual reference to Natasha’s in Endgame, but the episode did a really good job in the lead-up to it. Clint outright says that his “will-to-live meter is flatlining” while searching the KGB archives for a way to stop Ultron, and his general demeanor screams depressed person.

There is the question of what the plan was for Clint and Natasha once they did manage to defeat Ultron. There are no other survivors of his massacre mentioned or implied, and given that Thanos has all of the other Infinity Stones, it’s unlikely that they had a plan to bring any of the people who died back. Regardless of this, the episode was still a nice glimpse into the relationship between Clint and Natasha that never got any deeper development on the big screen.

Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton in What If...? S01E08
Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton in What If…? S01E08

The Beginning of the End for What If…?

Knowing what the promotional materials for What If…? have shown us, it is clear that Uatu’s interference will lead to the formation of a sort of multiversal Avengers team with the goal to stop Ultron once and for all. Like the oath he takes in the comics, Uatu is forbidden from interfering with the worlds he watches over, but that is not a philosophy he completely subscribes to in the source material either.

In the comics, Uatu is notorious for showing up when something crazy is about to go down and serves as a sort of omen for what is to come. Even that act is considered something that is against his vows, but he always seems to have a moral obligation to those he watches over that his fellow Watchers do not.

This episode of What If…? opens the door to what we can only hope will be a captivating crossover of a finale. As interesting as it was to see all of the new universes and how the characters of the MCU interact with each other in them, it can only be even more interesting to see people from different universes come together for a common cause.

Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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