Marvel's 'What If...?' Has a Major Ending Problem
Uatu the Watcher continues to gaze into the infinite -- which presumably also includes every time a Marvel character goes to the bathroom. More like Uatu the Leerer, right? In any case, this week's episode of Marvel's What If…? found most of the Avengers Initiative candidates being bumped off one at a time, like an Agatha Christie novel that features Norse gods and a giant green monster.
Arguably the most awkward part of the series so far (other than some iffy voice actor substitutions) has been the endings of each episode. Even though What If…? purports to offer bite-sized glimpses of alternate histories, each episode still strives to mirror the structure of Marvel's feature films, wrapping up on a note that tees up future installments. While that strategy works well in the movies, it's arguably far less effective in an anthology show that has been compared to The Twilight Zone.
The first episode ended with Captain Carter taking Steve Rogers' spot in the modern-day Avengers, while the second found T'Challa returning to Wakanda followed by an unresolved beat/Dairy Queen commercial with Quill and Ego. Even if these characters are brought back in future episodes, this show sold itself as a journey into unexplored realities beyond the Marvel universe we already know -- but each story so far has surrendered that promise out of some stubborn need to leave its characters in a place that is both open-ended and easily recognizable to viewers.
This problem was most glaring in this week's "What If ... The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?" An episode that literally opens with a hungover Tony Stark being murdered in a donut shop should get pretty damn dark by the end. But despite the episode's body count, we still get a tacked-on scene where Loki tries to take over the Earth -- but don't worry, Nick Fury finds Steve Rogers encased in ice, and Captain Marvel shows up to remind us that she's a character too.
If there is a happy ending to be found, isn't it just the reminder that this isn't our prime reality? Tony Stark died saving the universe, not in a vinyl floor stained with dried coffee and powdered sugar. And if anything is going to kill Thor right now, it's saturated fats, not a super-powered assassin.
Not every What If…? story needs to end with the Avengers being formed because we've already seen that. And it's not like the original What If comics weren't often huge bummers. The issue "What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?" begins with Logan murdering Bruce Banner and ends with Magneto forcing him to impale himself with his own claws. Yikes.
These shows have the potential to go to uniquely strange places, but instead, they insist on ending in a place of comforting familiarity -- which kind of defeats the entire premise of the show.
Top Image: Marvel Studios