Can ‘What If…?’ Ever Be More Than a Cartoon? Episode 7 Suggests So

Marvel Studios doesn't want their cartoon to suffer the same fate as Star Wars: The Clone Wars. They demand the eyes of every fan.
What If Episode

Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry explores What If…? Episode 7 and how the infinity stones will never allow us to have a happily ever after ending. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

Wait, what? That’s a very different question that passes through the big bald one’s lips. The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) can hardly believe it. Thor and Jane Foster, smiling and in each other’s arms. We’ve reached the climax of What If…? Episode 7, and everything is hunky-dory. That’s a first for the celestial being tasked with observing all of time and space.

As does The Watcher, we know that Marvel Studios doesn’t do endings, happy or otherwise. The franchise has been built on the promise of neverending. And it’s a contract that we’re cool with as long as the filmmakers keep providing unexpected twists and turns, and more importantly, new ways for our heroes to fail and grow from those failures.

The Watcher’s exclamation during What If…? Episode 7’s climax is one of relief. His time as a cosmic peeper is starting to weigh on him—the stress of seeing all pushing him into service. There is no happily ever after for Jane and Thor or any of us, and he must do something about it. Right?

Meet the New Ultron, Same as the Old Ultron

Ultron’s arrival silences Thor and Jane’s revelry. Cut to black. The animated Marvel series delivers its first proper cliffhanger.

Head writer A.C. Bradley can’t simply jump into the next adventure. What If…? is starting to unify its disparate parts. We can sense a multiverse Avengers assembling. And The Watcher will bring them together.

From somewhere other, Ultron touches down. His drones part like an ocean, and their waves make their crash upon Thor. The top shark is in the center of their swarm, but he doesn’t look like the one we know. Ultron’s face cracks open, and a hazy red visage blinks underneath. Centered in his forehead, the Mind Stone gleams.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron villain finally achieved his glorious Vision body, and in the process, picked up a few more Infinity Stones than the yellow one that gave him life. Pockmarked in his armor, we see the other six gems planted firmly. He shares the same purpose as Thanos, annihilation with the hope for a better existence to follow.

What If…? Episode 7’s Infinity Knight

Ever since we got our first look at the What If…? trailer and poster, we’ve waited for Vision’s Infinity Knight to materialize. As he stood gallantly upon the advert, Vision appeared like any other noble hero ready to guard against the darkness. The cliffhanger suggests something more sinister.

And why should we be surprised? There’s no escaping the Infinity Stones and their diabolical influence, which is a shame. If we want the Marvel Cinematic Universe to grow, we need to move beyond old threats.

The Loki series plopped the treacherous MacGuffins in the TVA’s junk drawer. This act was a brilliant storytelling change-up as it seemed to say to the audience, “Oh, you thought these were dangerous? Wait until you meet Kang.”

Attempting to achieve a shudder from the Infinity Stones once more is absurd. They no longer impress us. Our Avengers turned its power against itself, and What If…? ‘s multiversal Avengers will squash them even faster.

The What If…? Avengers

Ultimately, the Ultron/Vision Infinity Knight means far less than the cliffhanger proposes. He’s a fly, destined for swatting. The hand swinging the swatter is far more significant and speaks to where the MCU is heading in SpiderMan: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and AntMan and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Thanks to a Hyundai commercial, we know the What If…? Avengers will soon bring their collective might against Ultron’s horde. The threat this Ultron/Vision poses is immense, and he could achieve what Marvel’s Phase Two iteration could not: a cataclysmic event from which stronger sentience could sprout. He and Thanos are not that different philosophically.

Ultron/Vision will apply this cold arithmetic to all realities with the Infinity Stones at his will. Having recently watched an evil Doctor Strange snuff out his plane of existence, the Watcher might not be prepared to see another one go, let alone all of them. Through his investigations, he’s developed an intense fondness for life, and if life no longer exists, he’ll have nothing upon which to spy.

Validation Through Crossover

There are two What If…? episodes left in the season. So far, the series has operated as an anthology, complete with its structures’ inherent strengths and weaknesses. Some stories connect stronger than others, and the ones that don’t are easily forgettable and don’t percolate much disappointment.

If the show hopes to sell itself as a significant entry in the MCU, however, it has to do more than simply bring its many characters together for one epic showdown against Ultron/Vision. We must encounter an impact that stretches beyond its animated borders. What If…? must touch the greater MCU.

The Watcher connecting Captain Carter to Party Thor is one thing. The unification will solidify the anthology as a singular exercise. But if we don’t get a post-credits live-action stinger, then What If…? will forever be cast aside in the audience’s minds. What If…? will suffer the same fate as Star WarsThe Clone Wars and The Bad Batch. Some folks don’t do ‘toons.

If Captain Carter can step forth from the Multiverse of Madness and interact with Chris Hemsworth’s thunder god in person, then Marvel Studios will validate What If…? in the hearts and minds of live-action snobs. The Watcher assembling the What If…? Avengers gives hope that a more significant crossover can occur.

What If…? remaining in Toonland is an ending of sorts. And Marvel doesn’t do endings. The studio strives for the “Oh, damn.” They need their audience with their jaws permanently on the floor. The greatest What If…? scenario that can deliver this shock exists only in a live-action revelation. They either give it to us now, or we go full-Who Framed Roger Rabbit in Doctor Strange 2.

To wait would be foolish. Let’s place bets on a What If…? live-action stinger.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)