Written by David Holland
The new MCU show on Disney+ is called “What If…” and the first episode dropped a couple weeks ago. Based on the comic series of the same name, each episode makes minor changes to established MCU lore and then examines how the universe would be different. The first episode asks “What if… Captain Carter were the First Avenger?”
This episode mostly takes place within the timeframe of “Captain America: The First Avenger”. Instead of waiting until after Steve Rogers has become a super soldier, the assassin strikes early. Erskine is killed, Rogers is too wounded to go through with the experiment, and the lab is at risk of exploding before he can recover. Quick-thinking Peggy Carter climbs into the chamber and allows herself to become the first Super Soldier, adopting the less-than-subtle moniker Captain Carter.
From here we see a mix of new and familiar moments from “The First Avenger”. Carter captures Zola and recovers the Tesseract, which Howard Stark uses to power the first Iron Man suit, piloted by Steve Rogers himself (and named the “HYDRA Stomper”). The infamous train sequence features a callback to Bucky’s fall, but this time it is Rogers who dies without actually dying. Red Skull regains the Tesseract and uses it to open an interdimensional portal, believing he is summoning HYDRA’s champion but actually summoning a giant squid that immediately squishes him. Let the record show that on the list of evil plans, Giant Interdimensional Squid is always a bad one.
In an effort to prevent Space Squid from destroying the world, Captain Carter forces it back through the portal and sacrifices herself in the process. Of course, she promises Steve Rogers to be back for a dancing lesson before she goes. Seventy years later the Tesseract pulls her back from space, and while no time seems to have passed for her she learns that the war is over and she has missed her chance for a dance with Steve, unless she pulls some Time Travel nonsense. But no self-respecting hero would do something so self-serving, right?
There is a trope in movies and literature in which The Chosen One is a male who gets trained by a female sidekick hero who probably could have done the job just as well. I mentioned this in my Ant-Man recap and it is worth pointing out that Peggy Carter already has many of the exact qualities that Erskine says make Steve Rogers uniquely qualified to be a Super Soldier: selflessness, a desire to make the world better, and the perspective of a person who has been perpetually underestimated. This episode of “What If…” shows us that what we were told in “The First Avenger” wasn’t entirely true. Steve wasn’t unique, and Peggy was more than capable of taking on the job of Super Soldier.
I thoroughly enjoyed this episode and I am looking forward to the rest of the series. I think the animation style is perfect for the MCU’s goal with this show, which is to have fun asking the sorts of questions that comic book nerds sit around and debate. Many of the actors reprised their original roles, which gives the series a more immersive feel. I like the anthology style of standalone episodes. and I think exploring these different elements of the multiverse fits in perfectly with Phase 4’s exploration of alternate timelines.
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