What If Doctor Strange Lost His Heart, Not His Hands?
** Warning! This review contains spoilers for episode 3of Marvel’s What If…? Series **
Our What If episode starts with Dr. Strange bringing Dr. Christine Palmer to the benefit he was going to when his car crashes in his origin film. Stephen doesn’t crash the car; instead, he’s hit from behind and knocked into a river and Christine dies. Strange is grief-stricken which drives him to the mystic arts. He still becomes Sorcerer Supreme and defeats Dormammu.
Two years later, Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to go back in time and save Christine. No matter what he does, she still dies. Even if he has her drive or avoids the benefit, she still passes away. The Ancient One visits Strange and tells him Christine’s death is an absolute point in time and must happen. If it doesn’t, Strange won’t become Sorcerer Supreme and defeat Dormammu. The Ancient One tries to stop strange, but he time travels to the Lost Library of Cagliostro and meets the librarian O’Bengh.
Strange learns he must get more power from other beings if he wants to break an absolute point. He summons a bunch of creatures and absorbs their powers, looking more and more demonic as he does. The Watcher makes a comment about Strange being on the wrong path, and Strange realizes he’s there. It’s the first time we’ve seen The Watcher interact with a character, even if Strange doesn’t have a conversation with him or see him.
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O’Bengh is dying because Strange was paused for so long, and tells him he’s only half a man because there is another Dr. Strange! An alternate Strange, who didn’t go back in time, is met by The Ancient One. She says she split him in half with dark magic during their fight, creating two Stranges in one universe. The Evil Strange summons the Good Strange, and he is looking very demonic.
Evil & Good Strange fight, as Evil wants to absorb his power and become whole again in order to undo the absolute point. Good seems to win and gets pulled into a dimension to see Christine. Turns out it is Evil Strange pretending to be Christine. They fight again, and Evil Strange absorbs Good Strange and undoes Christine’s death.
Christine is terrified by the way he looks, which is fair he looks like a monster. The world is getting torn apart around them and Strange sees The Watcher. He tries bargains with The Watcher. The Watcher says he would punish Strange, but he can’t interfere. The world collapses in on itself and ends.
This episode has the most ambitious ending for the What If franchise. The ending of the episode is the complete destruction of that universe due to Strange’s actions. It does give the Watcher and the concept of What If a bit more weight. We’re often told as viewers that “the fate of the universe is at stake”. Here it truly was, and we saw what happens when things don’t go the hero’s way.
Also, this was a great story about grief. Strange was conflicted about how to move on from Christine. One-half of him was able to move on and accept his role. The other half literally was willing to tear the universe in half for his love. If your man wouldn’t ruin the fabric of time for you, get a new man.
The fight scene between Good and Evil Strange is one of the best visuals we’ve received in What If so far. It is beautifully done and visually stunning.
It’s hard to find something to not like in this episode. There wasn’t a lot of Wong in this episode, and we always need more Wong. Some may not like the twisting of another hero into a villain after we saw that in episode three with Hank Pym, but I think it’s fine to double up. Strange is a villain out of love, while Pym is a man seeking vengeance. It has enough of a difference, but some may be annoyed by it.
Benedict Cumberbatch pulls double duty in this episode. He brings the usual gravitas to the Doctor Strange role and does a great job portraying Strange’s anguish with the loss of Christine. Cumberbatch also thrives as the evil Dr. Strange. While this iteration of Strange seems to die with his universe, I hope we see more of him in future What If episodes.
What If…? has episodes dropping every Wednesday on Disney Plus.
Evan Gomes is a freelance pop culture & sports writer. Follow him on Twitter at @ItsEvanGomes, and check out his two podcasts: Crossbody of Work and The Pop Capsule Podcast.