Written by David Holland
I definitely felt a lot of things during the second episode of “What If…”. There’s plenty going on in the episode itself, but most importantly this show was Chadwick Boseman’s last performance. He contributed his voice on several episodes, but it seems likely that this will be the one that will centralize T’Challa the most. I wrote about how much I admire Boseman in a tribute to him and in my Black Panther recap, but needless to say his work speaks for itself. Obviously I will get into it more as we go, but Boseman’s work in “What If…” is equally as exceptional.
The second episode asks “What if T’Challa had become Star Lord?” The mix-up of Quill and T’Challa is explained by the Ravager crew, who confuses the signals given off by Wakanda’s vibranium for Peter Quill’s celestial blood. Then we jump to the familiar scene on Morag from the first Guardians of the Galaxy, except from there we see a different MCU entirely. For starters, T’Challa is famous as Star Lord. The Ravager crew have become Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. T’Challa has a natural desire to help those in need, and he’s willing to commit dangerous crimes to pull it off. Most impressively of all, this Star Lord averted The Snap by persuading Thanos of the error of his ways and convincing him to join the Ravager crew.
This episode becomes an Oceans Eleven style MCU-heist. The mark is The Collector. In our MCU, The Collector doesn’t seem all that scary, but remember he is a Celestial, of the same class as Ego. It’s not a huge stretch to see his obsession with collecting cause him to become an intergalactic crime boss. T’Challa wants to steal an item from the Collector that will allow him to terraform planets. He and a less-traumatized Nebula hatch a plot that will wipe a debt she owes to the Collector at the same time. Things nearly go sideways when T’Challa learns that Wakanda wasn’t destroyed, as he had been told by Yondu. In fact, Wakanda still searches the stars looking for its lost prince. Only when he accepts that he has two families, one on Earth and one among the Ravagers, is T’Challa able to defeat the Collector and return to Wakanda as the galactic hero, Star Lord.
I was initially skeptical of the premise of this episode. I knew from the previous episode that the animation style would be cool and that the voice acting would be on point, but the premise “What if hero X was hero Y instead?” seemed like one that could go wrong. I thought T’Challa-Star Lord would be unrecognizable as one or the other. Either he would be the justice-minded hero of Wakanda or the wisecracking intergalactic outlaw. But this episode blends both identities into something both new and recognizable. Turning Star Lord into a Robin Hood lets him remain a criminal while still maintaining the Black Panther’s good heart. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch to think of Thanos being convinced of the wrongness of his position by sound reason and evidence. Anyone who has ever argued with someone on Facebook can attest to that. But we get to see a new side to the Mad Titan, just as we see something new from T’Challa. I think that’s really the best part of “What If…”. It gives us a chance to see fuller versions of these characters we love so much because everything unfolds slightly differently.
As I said in the last recap, the fact that so many familiar characters are voiced by the same actors is such a treat. That is certainly true of Chadwick Boseman, to whom this episode is dedicated. The opportunity to hear him in the role of T’Challa one more time is a gift, and it makes a fun episode even more impactful.
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