Written by David Holland
Throughout this season of “What If…” we have been following the guidance of The Watcher. Comics fans will remember Uatu, a member of the race of Watchers, immortal beings of great power whose duty is to observe events, but never intervenes. In this episode, however, The Watcher not only observes events but finds himself participating when Ultron threatens the existence of every universe. The Watcher becomes a character rather than simply a narrator, and must decide whether or not to violate his Prime Directive.
Last episode we ended with Infinite Ultron crossing over from his universe to crash Party Thor’s mellow universe, much to the surprise of the Watcher. In this episode, we take a step back to see how this could have happened. It all starts with the question that serves as the title of the episode: “What if Ultron won?”
In this universe, Ultron completed his upload into the body that would otherwise have gone to Vision. With this unstoppable form, he defeated the Avengers (including Captain Marvel, with the help of the Infinity Stones of course), launched nuclear Armageddon, killed Thanos, and took the other Infinity Stones, and brought his version of “peace” to his universe. Of course, those quotation marks are doing a lot of heavy lifting. We follow a desperate Clint and Natasha as they search for anything that could help them undo Ultron. With zero help from an increasingly emotionally invested Watcher, they stumble across the location of Arnim Zola’s last backup. Since he was never connected to the internet, Zola was the only AI-ish program on Earth not to be infected by Ultron. The pair plan to infect an Ultron bot with Zola, who could then infect Ultron’s root programming. It’s the closest thing the Avengers ever come to pulling a “Goldblum”.
The Goldblum goes off the rails when Zola reports that Ultron is nowhere in the known universe. The Infinity Stones have opened Ultron’s mind to the existence of the multiverse. He even hears the Watcher’s narration and puts the power of the Stones to work unlocking a way into the Watcher’s vantage point. From there, he understands the vastness of the multiverse and concludes that every universe needs the same “peace” he brought to his own. He battles the Watcher, who at first fights only in self defense before fleeing. The Watcher realizes that he will need help defeating Ultron, and in his desperation, he turns to one of the most powerful creatures we have ever seen – Evil Doctor Strange. The first thing Stephen makes the Watcher do is articulate his intention: He will violate his oath of nonintervention in an effort to save the multiverse.
This is the first of what appears to be a two-part episode. In the follow-up, we should expect The Watcher and Alternate Strange to travel through the other universes we have seen so far, and recruit a team to fight Infinite Ultron. If this is the case, I hope for a strong uncanny valley feel. As the Watcher pulls together his team, I expect that we will see some scenes that remind us of the first Avengers, in which a group of superpowered individuals with almost nothing in common spend more time arguing than fighting evil. After all, this isn’t just Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, this is Captain Carter and a demonic Stephen Strange!
But enough looking ahead to next week, let’s focus on this week. This episode brings the multiverse to the front and center, not just focusing on a single alternate reality but putting us at the center of a fragile web of universes. Not only that, but The Watcher holds his own against an Ultron equipped with all of the Infinity Stones, something no other single individual in the MCU has been able to do. This lays the groundwork for The Eternals, the introduction of Celestials, and a new range of characters with power levels beyond even those of the strongest characters we have seen yet. But even with all of this power, it remains to be seen exactly how the Guardians of the Multiverse will stop Ultron from bringing about “peace in our time”.
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