Warning: This review has spoilers for Marvel’s “What If...?” episode 7, “What If... Ultron Won?”
I was not prepared.
Marvel’s “What If...?” has been a series of one-off episodes that tell individual stories about separate characters across the multiverse. The main character of the series, you could argue, is the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), who oversees all the multiverse storylines and narrates the events to the audience. Throughout the show, we’ve seen Thor as an only child, Killmonger as an ally to Tony Stark, Peggy Carter becoming Captain Carter and so much more. All of these have taken place in a vacuum.
That was until last week’s episode, which ended on a massive cliffhanger. As Thor celebrated winning out the day, Ultron showed up, decked out in new armor and with the Infinity Stones. A shocking twist, to be sure. What I thought would be a teaser for Season 2 of the show turned into a Season 1 turning point, as that version of Ultron returned in “What If...?” Episode 7, “What If... Ultron Won?”
In this episode, we find Black Widow and Hawkeye together, living at the end of the world. They’re on the run from Ultron’s drones. We learn that Ultron — after he was created, as seen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” — ended up destroying the world by accessing nuclear codes, bringing about the end of the world as we know it. Then, when Thanos arrived, Ultron stole the Infinity Stones and became the ultimate power in the universe.
Ultron has gained so much power that he even interacts with the Watcher — a celestial being who can oversee the multiverse. And because of that, Ultron and the Watcher have a huge battle, that seems to be for the fate of the universe.
This episode started off with a simple plot — Black Widow and Hawkeye trying to stop Ultron. But it morphed into something bigger — the Watcher, a previously omniscient character, will now face off with Ultron, who is being built as a big bad to end the first “What If...?” season. The show’s season finale is next week, and the end of this episode left us with the Watcher uniting with Doctor Strange — the one who locked himself away from the universe — to bring down Ultron.
So it’s clear that the show has had a plan all along. These separate episodes, though one-offs when viewed separately, might be building toward something bigger. We may see the Watcher reach out to other heroes from the series — Captain Carter, Spider-Man from the Zombie Avengers world and more — to help bring down Ultron. Similarly, Ultron might visit some other characters, like only-child Thor, to help his cause. A trailer hinted that Thor and evil Doctor Strange would spend time together, so there’s clearly more development on the way.
What started as a series of throwaway, bottleneck episodes appears to be coming together for the season finale. We know that the last episode of the season will be ambitious, and will likely end with a big bang the way most Marvel projects do. But this last episode was proof that the show has had a plan from the beginning, and that it might require another run through to understand everything we’re about to see in the finale.