‘What If…?’ season 1 showed us the magic of the multiverse (and I want more)

What If…? season 1 has come to a conclusion, and getting to see the magic of the multiverse was worth every second.

When Marvel announced their animated anthology series What If…?, I was intrigued by the premise. The original comics went in some weird and wonderful directions, providing inspiration for the series, with the show acting as more of an interpretation that an adaptation (as most MCU properties tend to do).

The nine episode season contains one-off stories about various realities in which something is different from our own universe. A single choice can create an infinite number of fractures in the timeline, and within these stories, we can find an entire multiverse of possibility.

In one reality, Steve never made it into the chamber, and so Captain Carter was born. In another, Thor never grew up with Loki and therefore never learned the lessons necessary to lead Asgard. In a third, the Avengers turned to zombies and the whole world fell into ruin.

What If…? had a tall order to fill. Not only did this show need to nail each and every individual episode, but it had to make us stick around for the entirety of the season. And considering What If…? season 2 is already in the works, it also had to leave us wanting more once this one was over.

Thankfully, the series knocked it out of the park—almost effortlessly so. Not only did they provide us with clean stories, exciting animation, and a roster of recognizable voices, but it also presented us with a season-long arc that sent my brain into overdrive.

‘What If…?’ season 1 enters the multiverse

Endless possibility

The premise behind What If…? begins with endless possibilities. Whether it’s characters, plots, or interesting story arcs, there is really no wrong answer. So far, we’ve gotten episodes centered around the original Avengers, as well as some major new characters that have entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last 10 years.

Each twisted tale has pulled from the familiar, giving us animated versions of our favorite movie scenes and lines of dialog, but found a way to make these moments fresh and new. In a way, it’s like seeing some of these moments again for the first time because we get to view it from a new perspective. Fan fiction writers conduct these same thought experiments all the time, and now we get an official version of that same concept.

What If…? season 1 also placed the spotlight on new characters—or old characters in a new way. Peggy Carter wasn’t relegated to the background. Killmonger got to stand shoulder to shoulder with Tony Stark. Nebula got to have hair!

The beauty of this series is that Marvel can pull any characters from any film and change something about them. The worlds they see, the villains they fight, the lessons they learn are infinite in nature. It’s an unlimited, untapped world. Season 1 may be over, but we’re just getting started.

Even though I enjoyed some of these episodes more than others—that’s the nature of any television show—I found myself wanting more. I wish we could go back to some of these characters in What If…? season 2, but at the same time, I can’t wait to meet a new roster of heroes.

All of space and time

While I loved that each individual episode, up until “What If…Ultron Won?”, was self-contained and therefore viewable in any order, I was also surprised—and delighted—that What If…? season 1 had an overarching story. Unbeknownst to us, episodes 1 through 7 provided us with the origin stories to the Guardians of the Multiverse, much like Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man, and Thor prior to The Avengers.

In hindsight, the series comes together beautifully, not only providing us with backstory on the Guardians, but also on the Watcher and how the multiverse operates. The series provides us the best of both worlds, simultaneously taking a magnifying glass to each story in turn, and then pulling back to allow us to see the bigger picture.

I’ll admit that I tend to lean toward blind optimism when it comes to my viewing experiences. I love to give movies and shows and storytellers the benefit of the doubt, and while I’m sure What If…? season 1 will experience some criticism, I don’t mind saying that I enjoyed every minute of it.

My only complaint—if you can even call it that—is that Gamora and Iron Man’s episode had to be cut from the first season due to COVID production issues. While that means Gamora was shoe-horned into the What If…? season 1 finale, we also know her episode has only been delayed, not cancelled.

What If…? season 2 will incorporate this episode, which means there will be some through-line between the seasons. Plus, if you stuck around for the What If…? season 1 after credits scene, you know there will be another connection between the freshman and sophomore runs, as Peggy and Natasha discovered the long-lost Hydra Stomper.

No end in sight

That brings me to my next point, and the one that has me most thankful and excited for this series: We’re only just getting started.

As season 1 is completely, but not entirely, wrapped up, we know some plot points will carry over into season 2. And now that we know how the multiverse works and what kind of powers and limitations the Watcher has, we can also skip the small talk and jump straight into new episodes.

Moving Gamora’s introduction to season 2 is not ideal, but it’s also not the end of the world (well, maybe it is, we don’t know yet). Perhaps they can use her episode to lead us into the next leg of the journey.

We know from an interview with Hero Nation, a Deadline podcast, that What If…? season 2 will be weirder and wilder. It’ll have a different tone from season 1, and according to executive producer A.C. Bradley, the training wheels are coming off.

This will certainly be interesting, as we’ve already seen various types of episodes throughout season 1, and if the structure is mostly the same (individual episodes that lead to a larger, connected finale), they have to answer one important question: What’s bigger than saving the multiverse?

Multiverse of madness

As a fan of Marvel’s interconnected storylines, I can’t help but wonder whether What If…? will affect any upcoming live-action movies. As the Watcher can see every reality from his perspective, it’s not a leap to think he could find his way to our timeline, too. After all, Bradley stated in the podcast above that they showed What If to the people making Doctor Strange 2. That’s gotta mean something, right?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would be the perfect arena for the Watcher to showcase his abilities. Even if he only made a cameo, it would be enough for fans to lose their minds. The MCU would enter a whole new dimension (pun intended), and there’d be no limit as to where it could go.

Is that a good thing? I’m not sure. We’ve already explored alternate realities in Loki, with Doctor Strange 2 furthering the concept when it hits theaters in March 2022. But as anyone who’s read the comics knows, these timelines get confusing. Will the MCU suffer if it decides to cross this threshold?

Only time will tell, but this isn’t even my number one concern, as I trust Marvel to do what it does best—enthrall and entertain.

No, what I’m most looking forward to is whether or not Marvel will take an even bigger leap. In the What If…? season 1 finale, the Watcher dropped Natasha Romanoff into a reality that had lost their Black Widow. That’s…kind of a big deal.

If the MCU decides to follow those same rules of logic, it doesn’t just mean we might see variants of all our favorite characters. It might also mean we could be seeing some characters who have been dead and gone for quite some time now.

I’m not naming names, but considering how poorly they treated a certain billionaire playboy philanthropist throughout the first season, it seems only fair that we get a quick cameo of him thriving in a different reality.

What did you think of ‘What If…?’ season 1?