Plot summary: The Watcher recruits a team of heroes from different realities to form the Guardians of the Multiverse in an effort to stop Ultron.
Episode Title: ‘What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath’
Air Date: October 6th, 2021
Directed: Bryan Andrews (9)
Written: A.C. Bradley (5)
News broke ahead of the series premiere that the intended ten episodes for the first season had been reduced to nine due COVID impacting progress on one episode that would instead move to the second season. This explains why ‘Gamora the Destroyer’ gets treated the same as the other recruits despite this being her first appearance.
Arnim Zola’s face appearing on the stomach of an Ultron drone is a nod to his wacky comic book design, which was not dissimilar to Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There was actually a blueprint for it in a movie as an Easter Egg.
Captain Carter launches a mission to infiltrate the Lemurian Star, but her battle with Batroc the Leaper is cut short when The Watcher appears to recruit her. The same happens to T’Challa, Gamora, Killmonger and finally Party Thor, who has to be physically dragged away…
… to a cosmic pub conjured by Strange Supreme. The Watcher fills them in on the Ultron Infinite situation and asks them to become the Guardians of the Multiverse.
They camp out and go over their plan to use The Infinity Crusher, a device forged under Gamora’s supervision that can crush Infinity Stones to dust.
Killmonger fiddles with a stray Ultron drone head, but Strange Supreme interrupts with an atrocious toast. T’Challa takes over and of course does a much better job.
Unfortunately, Thor’s exuberance attracts Ultron Infinite prematurely. Strange powers everybody up for the battle, which Thor kicks off with a lightning bolt that does absolutely nothing.
Strange creates dozens of duplicates of Mjolnir and enhances Peggy’s shield, creating enough distraction for T’Challa to pickpocket the Soul Stone. They escape through some portals, dumping the Zombie universe on top of Ultron to keep him busy.
The group reconvene and ready to insert the Soul Stone into the crusher, but the Black Widow of Ultron Infinite’s native universe intercepts. Peggy is able to broker an alliance due to her friendship with her own Natasha.
Ultron appears and he and the heroes play hot potato with the Soul Stone for a while until the murderous robot freezes them all with the Time Stone… but Strange still has the one from his own universe, so cancels it out. Handy.
Everybody unleashes their strongest attacks to keep Ultron pinned down so the Infinity Crusher can do its thing. Unfortunately, as the Crusher was built to destroy the stones from Gamora’s universe, it’s useless against Ultron’s. Sigh.
Widow readies a final Hail Mary: the arrow containing Arnim Zola’s program, which she and Peggy fire off with a flourish, hitting him perfectly in the eye.
It works, with Zola overwhelming Ultron, shutting down his body. Killmonger seizes the opportunity, absorbing Ultron’s armour into the head he was fiddling with earlier, bringing the Infinity Stones with it.
The Zola-infested Ultron body revives and tries to take the Stones back, resulting in a Cosmic tug of war until Strange Supreme realises this was The Watcher’s plan all along, trapping both villains in a pocket dimension, the stones suspended between them.
The Watcher entrusts Strange Supreme to play warden to the two imprisoned villains and then thanks the others for their help, sending them back to their various homes… except Natasha, who gets sent to Episode 3 to join the battle to liberate earth from Loki.
A montage of reunions later, and Peggy’s mission from the opening resumes, with her and her Black Widow uncovering The Hydra Stomper, with “someone” still alive inside…
The usual disclaimer here that I will be reviewing the series as a whole next week, so will focusing on this episode in a vacuum for the most part.
COVID delays can’t be helped, but given the giant window Disney had to play with between Loki and Hawkeye, could they not have pushed What If…? back in order to try and get Gamora’s episode finished? Every second she’s on the screen is jarring, even if she does have the fewest lines of the ‘Guardians of the Multiverse’. Ah well, it is what it is now.
This ended up being exactly what you might have predicted the season one finale would be, with all of the individual episode leads coming together to battle the Big Bad before heading off on their merry way. Arguably, the pressure was lower than any of the individual episodes because it was just combining everything they set up in previous weeks, but it also hampered its ability to surprise. Sure, there are fake-outs, reveals and cliffhangers, but it was very paint by numbers.
As I’ve said in previous weeks, action and environmental backdrops are the show’s biggest strengths, and the one versus many battles contained some of my favourite little flourishes, in particular Peggy and Natasha pin-balling Ultron’s head in with their respective shields before delivering a high/low takedown. Tremendous. Strange Supreme got to cut loose once again, and came across as ludicrously overpowered, at times taking on Ultron by himself and repeatedly saving the other heroes from certain death. The Legion of Mjolnirs and sleight of hand antics were fun too. They were also able to do the comically over the top destruction thing in a slightly less nauseating way, with Kirby Dots EVERYWHERE.
I’m in two minds about the interpersonal dynamics between this cavalcade of eccentric weirdos. They went all in on the Peggy/Natasha relationship, book-ending events with Captain Carter’s version of Winter Soldier, and that worked relatively well, but how do you not devote a few minutes to T’Challa and Killmonger having a quiet chat? Robbing the audience of such a scene but still acknowledging that they’re cousins is about as big of a missed opportunity as I can imagine given which major actors they did and didn’t get. Gamora sinks completely into the background, not given a memorable moment of any kind or significant dialogue. This might have been deliberate editing due to them realising her solo episode would be pushed to Season 2, but it doesn’t make it any less bothersome.
I dunno. There were fun moments, but it also whiffed on what potential had been built up in the last eight weeks. There’s nothing outright bad, but it’s not one of the ones I’d champion.
Most Marvellous Player
I wouldn’t say anybody changed my assessment of their work earlier in the series. Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and in particular Lake Bell were good. Hayley Atwell, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Hemsworth were disappointing. Actually, Hemsworth might have been a smidge better due to Party Thor picking his spots and yelling out “Vegas” rather than carrying an episode.
I think Ross Marquand would be my choice due to the other strong performers not getting as many lines. He wasn’t leaps and bounds better than last week, but Ultron appearing from thin air to shit-talk the heroes was a great moment, and I enjoyed him running his mouth throughout the episode, mocking their plans and shrugging off their biggest shots.
We weren’t offered much of an opportunity to judge Cynthia McWilliams who replaces Zoe Saldana as Gamora, given she barely has any lines. Fitting given the character’s treatment in previous films, I suppose.
I’m not entirely sure why they bothered paying Kurt Russell and George St-Pierre…
Devoting the penultimate episode to Ultron Infinite significantly helped build him up as the final threat, much as Infinity War did so much work to elevate Thanos. The results here aren’t as good, but given it’s a 30 minute cartoon of middling quality and audiences likely came in with negative feelings towards Ultron, I think it was for the best. He mostly stomps the heroes, several of who are laughably outmatched, and while the outcome was never in doubt, it did seem perfectly plausible he could kill one or more of them.
As predicted last week, Arnim Zola immediately attempted to make a bad situation worse once he was uploaded into Ultron’s body, but luckily the ever-traitorous Killmonger cancelled him out and the decision to leave both of them locked in Chekhov’s Pocket Dimension gives them options for future seasons. It is a little weird that The Watcher knew everything Killmonger did and recruited him anyway, but hey, omnipotent beings get a free pass, I guess. For the greater good and all that.
Batroc the Leaper made an unlikely return for the second time this year and added very little beyond Black Widow joking that Peggy was crushing on him. Ego got a blink and you’ll miss him moment too, making it even wilder that they secured Kurt Russell to reprise the role.
Next week is the What If…? season review and then a little break before Hawkeye in which I may drop a column or two depending on life drama.
Check out The Matt Signal Beyond, in which I recap episodes of Batman Beyond every Saturday and Sunday. This weekend the big four villains are completed with the debut of Curare and the return of Inque.
There Will Be Movies continues each Wednesday, as Ben Phillips and I talk about 25 of our favourite movies from the 90s. This week the movie that launched a thousand bank robberies and movie imitations, Heat.