Carterpocalypse? Last ‘What Ifs..?’ of 2023 ring in the changes…

From the end of 2023 to the start of 1602... there's some genuine ambition in the final three alt-histories...

Episode Seven (What If… Hela Found the Ten Rings?) is, once again, an entry that doesn’t immediately scream as being on any fan’s immediate wish-list of alternative scenarios, but it’s all played out interestingly enough. In this scenario, Odin (voiced by Jeff Bergman) doesn’t banish Hela (Cate Blanchett in fine form, as ever) to rule Hell, but makes a similar decision to that of Thor in the main continuity – banishing her to Earth/Midgard and not allowing her to reclaim her powerful crown until she has learned mercy. She crash-lands not in the Mid-West but in Feudal Japan where she encounters Xu-Wenwu (Feodor Chin), wielder of the Ten Rings. Both survive their first encounter and it seems that a union might even be possible, but Hela is in no mood for any kind of team-ups and eventually escapes… thanks to a hairy Hundun (‘Not the first time I’ve followed a talking arse into battle…‘ she notes).

As in the Shang -Chi movie, we (and Hela) navigate a very aggressive protective forest (‘I’ve not survived a thousand years of war to die at the hands of foliage!’) and eventually find ourselves in the mythical enclave of Tao-lo, beyond the site of Idris Elba’s Heimdall. She’s still concerned with vengeance against Odin for her trials and tribulations and uses a twisted logic to learn new mystic powers (noting that if the enclave’s remit is to protect the world from threats from the underworld and she’s a danger, why not teach her to be better?). Unfortunately Odin recognises the threat of the Ten Rings and it puts he and Hela on track for another godly confrontation…  it’s all Crouching Hela, Hidden Dragon or even Dark Phoenix in reverse, but it works well.

Marvel Comics die-hards (and I include myself here) will immediately be intrigued by the eighth episode’s remit and its ties to a classic comics’ epic. In 2003 Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert spun 1602, the story of a Marvel continuity that had some familiar heroes (and villains) making their debut centuries earlier, in Elizabethan times and in the fledgling days of the New World. There were clever doffs of the hat to elements of their origins, but it was not until the final issue that we knew the whys of how it happened.

What If… the Avenger Assembled in 1602? is the What If..? series’ tribute to that – not quite the same (here is it Captain Carter – snatched from the end of Episode 5 – rather than Captain America that is the fulcrum?) with Carter aware of The Watcher (from last season’s adventure) and breaking the fourth (or is it the fifth?) wall? by hearing his narration. It’s also set in England, rather than America. But the intrigue of the source material and the series’ fun with dialogue (for instance, 1602‘s Tony Stark is an inventor bewitched by Carter’s modern technobabble) is delightful.

The largest assembling of Avengers actors outside the films (Hayley Atwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Jon Favreau, Paul Rudd, Sebastian Stan and Benedict Cumberbatch… alongside Mark Wingert’s Stark and Josh Keaton’s Rogers and able support from regular voice-artists Terri Douglas and Robin Atkin Downes) makes this something special and there are lots of moments: this era’s Steve Rogers ‘shielding’ alongside Carter, Loki performing Shakespeare, Banner shouting ‘Hulk, Smite!’ along with the general swashbuckling nature and the wholesale redesigns of major characters (while honouring their key factors). It’s the sort of story you wished could be done with live-action – one that would combine past successes with a new angle. It’s all quite satisfying and, as now obligatory, a final scene that seems to be setting up the season finale.

There’s not quite the multiverse of voice-actors involved that you might expect. However, alongside Jeffrey Wright’s Watcher, Atwell is ever-present, Benedict Cumberbatch is always Strange and, as expected, we get to see more of Kahhori (Devery Jacobs) and her power-set. Cate Blanchett reprises Hela with Clancy Brown having a few lines as Surtur, Stanley Tucci briefly returns as Doctor Erskine from The First Avenger and once again Josh Keaton voices Steve Rogers.

The finale – a little like the first season’s denouement – likely depends on your enjoyment of ultimate slugfests. What If… Strange Supreme Intervened? offers a similar dynamic with a threat to the entire multiverse and the Watcher finding himself not so much actively involved but helping move some pieces where they need to go. The series has now fully recognised Captain Carter as a fan-favourite and a lynchpin of its success to the extent that I can’t be the only person presuming we’ll see a live-action version of her soon enough (one that doesn’t sucuumb to the ill-fated cameo factor of Multiverse of Madness). Here she levels up and accessorises to the Nth degree – at various point getting access to the Infinity Stones, Hela’s Headress, Thor’s Hammer and a multitude of weapons given to her as heroes and villains from other dimensions sacrifice themselves to give her the power to face a demented Sorcerer Supreme. It’s the kind of thing that would break a live-action budget, but not the animated route limited only by imagination and time. That’s one of the factors that still irks a little: the whole premise of Stephen Strange being driven mad is the loss of Christine and the idea is that she is doomed to die whatever he does. Yet we know, from the feature films themselves that that ‘absolute’ isn’t remotely true: she survives the Doctor Strange movies fully intact (and, indeed, we see Christine existing in a universe without Stephen Strange at this episode’s end). So, the drama is effective visually and as a way to drive the plot in the moment, but never feels quite the imperative it should do. That being said, it’s the distinction that Peggy Carter, however much she misses her Steve Rogers, would never go as far as Strange does to bring back her lost love (and, again, we know from Endgame that there’s a universe out there where Peggy and Steve are together).

With a Season Three already confirmed – and maybe arriving sooner than expected – the final tease is that Captain Carter is taking ‘the long way home’ and visiting with the Watcher as they gaze out and see… what looks suspiciously like the image of the Norse World Tree Yggdrasil that was formed at the end of Loki. Given the multiversal plans Marvel has (even if they’ve been thrown into chaos by the Jonathan Majors verdict), it does seem that Marvel and Disney are attempting to tie things in, howver loosely and it will be interesting to see if their plans and schedule hold together for the next few years.


Season Three preview:



'What If..?  S02  EPs 7-9'  (Disney+ review)
'What If..? S02 EPs 7-9' (Disney+ review)
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