Friday, July 19, 2024

What If…? Episode 2 Takes T’Challa to New Horizons

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Regardless of what you thought about the first episode of What If…?, there is no denying that the second episode did everything and more to solidify the foundations of the show and expand upon its creative possibilities. Titled What If….T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?, this week’s episode followed a timeline where a young Prince T’Challa is abducted by Yondu and his Ravagers instead of Peter Quill, and their version of the universe is all the better for it. 

T’Challa looks up as the Ravagers’ ship descends on the outskirts of Wakanda.

What if Star-Lord was a Good Person?

In contrast to Peggy Carter’s episode, the change in the timeline that leads to T’Challa becoming Star-Lord happens very early on in his life, well before when audiences initially met the character in Captain America: Civil War. The change happening 20 years before the main section of the story takes place means that there was plenty of time for multiple major events to be changed. For one, T’Challa’s Star-Lord is a revered hero in the galaxy, and the Ravagers are a well-known and loved force for good that seems to have saved millions of people many times over.

When T’Challa goes to Morag to collect the Power Stone, he is stopped by Korath the Pursuer the same way Peter Quill was in Guardians of the Galaxy, but Korath knows who he is and is a huge admirer of T’Challa, even asking to become a part of the Ravager’s crew. 

T’Challa watches as Yondu explains to the Ravagers that the child they kidnapped is not, in fact, Peter Quill.

While the distinguished turning point of the timeline is Yondu sending Kraglin and Taserface to collect Peter Quill instead of just going himself, T’Challa’s inherent goodness is the major factor in the differences in this timeline. Not only is he recognized by Drax as the man who saved his family and homeworld, but it’s also well known throughout the galaxy that T’Challa talked Thanos down from his plan of eliminating half of the population of the universe and even got him to join the Ravagers on their quest for good.

Much of T’Challa’s motivation for bettering the Galaxy comes from his presumed loss of his homeland, with Nebula correctly assuming that because he lost his home, he works to save everyone else’s. If T’Challa’s morals were not such an important part of who he was, he easily could have become disillusioned and gone on to be very similar to the Star-Lord that Peter Quill was when audiences first met him. Instead, he uses the tragedy of Wakanda to try and keep the rest of the galaxy from suffering the way his people did. 

Nebula in What If…? S01E02

Another major change comes in the form of Nebula. Her relationship with Thanos still has the same toxic and abusive past, but because he’s been somewhat reformed for a significant amount of time, the consequences of that relationship are lesser than they are in the timeline audiences are familiar with. Nebula still sports her eye modification, but her long blonde hair indicates that she wasn’t subjected to the massive amounts of cybernetic enhancements that the Thanos we know best put her through.

An additional result of Nebula’s changed past is that her personality is closer to that of the Nebula we saw in Avengers: Endgame than the Nebula we are initially introduced to in Guardians of the Galaxy. She generally seems like she’s happier, and she and T’Challa have a cute flirtationship, which is a nice touch that serves to round her characterization in What If…? out a little more.

Nebula is much more open with her personality and dialogue, and despite her tumultuous relationship with Thanos, she’s the one who asks to work with the Ravagers. Thanos does note that she generally prefers to work alone, which is reminiscent of the Nebula audiences are familiar with from the main timeline of the MCU.

Nebula and T’Challa discuss their plan to steal the Embers of Genesis in What If…? S01E02

A Solution to the “Thanos Problem”

Nebula’s mission for the Ravagers is straightforward: help her steal the Embers of Genesis from Taneleer Tivan, the man more commonly known as The Collector. The Embers of Genesis hold the power to terraform entire planets, which opens the door to eradicating any potential for a galactic hunger crisis (and that begs the question: did this exist in the main MCU timeline, and why didn’t Thanos just use them instead?). With Thanos out of the game, The Collector’s power in the galaxy’s underworld had room to grow, and the Black Order has been employed by him as security in the wake of Thanos’s recent penchant for good. 

Despite Yondu’s misgivings, he is eventually convinced to take part in Nebula’s scheme, and the group attempts to fool The Collector and the Black Guard. Despite their initial success in the mission, the Ravagers are betrayed by Nebula and captured, but not before T’Challa finds out the truth about Wakanda’s fate. In a scene that is the clear emotional heart of the episode, T’Challa learns that the secluded nation is still alive and thriving, and his father started sending out unmanned spacecrafts searching for T’Challa at some point in his 20 tenure as a Ravager.

Much like how Yondu lied to Peter Quill about his father in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, he lied to T’Challa about Wakanda’s destruction, though this lie is significantly more selfish than his lie about Ego. Regardless, he and T’Challa still see each other as family, and the entire family dynamic of the Ravagers is way healthier than the dynamic they had with Quill. 

The Collector being punched in the face by T’Challa in S01E02 of What If …?

In the end, the Embers of Genesis are collected, the Collector is defeated at the hands of T’Challa and Yondu (and the help of Carina, the Collector’s unwilling servant), and T’Challa and the Ravagers make the long-awaited return trip to Earth to see the family that T’Challa thought that he had lost for so long.

While the reunion scenes only take up about a minute of the episode, it’s really interesting to see characters like Okoye and Shuri interact with Thanos, Nebula, and Kraglin. The thought of Wakanda achieving long-distance space travel before 2008 combined with T’Challa’s Star-Lord being a universal force for good means that there’s a lot of potential for a future in this timeline where Wakanda is an established presence extraterrestrially. 

Yondu and T’Challa in a Wakandan spacecraft.

What If…?‘s Ever Expanding Potential

What If…?’s second episode very successfully worked to improve some of the shortcomings that were present in the show’s debut. The “quippy and clunky” dialogue that was noted in last week’s episode is nowhere to be found this week, and the animation is already becoming more refined as the season progresses. With the change in the timeline happening so early on, the story of T’Challa as Star-Lord didn’t need to follow the story of Guardians of the Galaxy at all, and that creative freedom makes it a stronger story than that of Peggy Carter taking the super-soldier serum.

There’s even a bit at the end where Peter Quill, having never been abducted by Yondu and the Ravagers, comes face to face with his estranged father Ego, with Uatu the Watcher stating that their meeting in this timeline “might spell the end of the world.” That not only adds a nice layer of detail to the story of this alternate timeline but leaves room for a follow-up episode in the future that could follow that story as well.

T’Challa in What If…? S01E02
The Start of a Bittersweet Farewell

Among the improvements from the series’ first episode is the voice acting, and the highlight of the episode is the late Chadwick Boseman’s performance. What If…? will be the actor’s final project, show’s head writer and director — A.C. Bradley and Bryan Andrews respectively — both spoke about how excited Boseman was to help bring this new iteration of T’Challa to life. They all came to agree on the thing that holds the second episode of What If…? Together: “The galaxy doesn’t change T’Challa; T’Challa changes the galaxy.

This version of T’Challa will easily come out of What If…? as the fan-favorite character. He is the same at his core as the T’Challa audiences saw in Black Panther, and his confirmed appearances in future episodes of What If…? will certainly keep fans of him and the show coming back for more.

Images Via Marvel Studios

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