After a nine-week run, Marvel Studios' What If...?'s first season has come to an end. Over the course of that time, audiences were introduced to new worlds and universes, all of which had unique heroes and villains to watch unfold.
The show even got its own big bad in the form of Infinity Ultron, who came from a timeline where he successfully transferred his consciousness to the body that audiences know as Vision. Thanks to that simple change, Stark's murder bot ended up completing his goal of cleansing the world.
For something that seemed like only a fun deviation at first, What If...? introduced a bunch of new concepts to the MCU, and even gave fans The Watcher.
There's just one thing though: the show was riddled with problems. Thankfully, there might be some solutions for Season 2 that could help improve the future of Marvel Studios' first animated show.
Let's go over four of the biggest problems that plagued the show, and four things that could enhance the second season.
Problem: Rushed Storytelling
This is the complaint that is on the lips of nearly every single person who watched the show, in regards to at least one of the episodes. Head writer A.C. Bradley and co. are simply trying to cram too much into too little a space.
The very first episode featured Captain Carter going through the events of Captain America: The First Avenger in record time. A lot of subtlety and nuance was lost, and it simply felt like a race to the finish line, with it relying too much on the simple character swap being enough.
Some of these stories being told were on such a massive scale and had so many things they wanted to do. Because of trying to cram it all into 30 minutes, most of the installments failed to pack their intended punch.
Even worse, this rushed storytelling leads to sloppy choices. The best example of this would be how Ultron acquired the Infinity Stones—by simply lasering Thanos in half, who simply stood there and let it happen.
Thanos was a soulless, unmoving vehicle to get the Infinity Stones to Ultron in the quickest fashion, so that the writers wouldn't have to worry about how Stark’s creation would get his hands on them.
What If…?’s director Bryan Andrews came out with a response to the critics of the controversial Thanos moment, saying that the multiverse is full of endless possibilities—how there was bound to be one where Thanos didn’t have his things together.
If Thanos had five Infinity Stones, he’d have to be just as competent as what fans saw in Avengers: Infinity War. The choice was made by the writers because they came to the conclusion that they didn’t have time to either explore that fight between the two or find a more organic way for Ultron to find and seek out those Infinity Stones. With a bit more thought, more creative scenarios could be conjured up that would get the writers from point A to point B while still carrying enough weight for the audience.
The Multiverse is great. But it shouldn’t be used as a get-out-jail-free card, or an excuse to get from one point to another in the sloppiest and most unsatisfying of ways. The journey matters just as much as the destination.
After all, in what world would Thanos, with five Infinity Stones, get bitten by a zombie, let alone lasered in half by Ultron? Yes, there are infinite possibilities––but that doesn’t mean all of them are satisfying.
Solution: Let Them Breathe
The obvious fix to the problem of rushed storytelling is to simply increase the length of all the episodes—that, or let stories carry over multiple installments.
Yes, this is easier said than done, especially on the back end. It would exponentially increase the price and production time for the show; but what’s more important: quality or quantity?
Something that people called the show out on was how many episodes ended at their particular stories’ most exciting part. While mysterious open-ended conclusions are good sometimes, here they truly felt like the story was just about to start.
With more time, those stories can actually get to that exciting part, and audiences can watch them play out. Everything would have more time to unfold and breathe.
More importantly, it would be an opportunity for writers to avoid making sloppy, lazy, or simply unsatisfying choices only to beat a running clock. A Thanos shell getting lasered in half was undoubtedly going to be unfulfilling for some.
Problem: Attention To Details
It’s the little things. They matter. Of course, the big things do as well, but it’s all of those little details that elevate something from good to great.
This show either failed to include a lot of little things or simply got things wrong. Things such as, say, continuity.
Why was there a bunker to hide in for Vision at Camp Lehigh? The last fans saw it was when it was blown up in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. None of that should have been able to take place if the sole change in that universe was Janet contracting the Quantum Zombie Virus.
This became a clear problem in “What If… Ultron Won.” There are countless examples of things that don’t line up. Xandar should have already been destroyed, Gamora should have been dead, and Ego would have been dusted a year prior to Ultron’s creation.
These may all seem inconsequential, but they add up. If Marvel Studios is going to have Kang the Conqueror be the main bad guy of the MCU going forward, keeping timelines straight is literally one of the most important things for Marvel to do—that and keeping all the rules associated with the Multiverse consistent. Of course, it would be great for What If…?’s quality as well.
What If…? is canon. It doesn’t matter if it’s animated, it has been branded as within MCU continuity. Any mistakes the show makes are now a potential problem down the line. Any established concepts or big events matter; they are interwoven in the tapestry that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has been weaving since 2008.
When it comes to the stories this show tries to tell, they can get pretty complicated. However, instead of thinking through all the details to make the unfolding events more interesting and make sense, even on the smallest levels, many times things are added or thrown in simply to get the story moving.
For example, what in the world is an Infinity Crusher, and why is the lazy plot device so fixated on the Soul Stone? Was it simply introduced to give the Guardians of the Multiverse some excuse for a chance against an Ultron who seemingly forgot he had all six Infinity Stones to fight with?
Solution: Do The Homework, Take the Time
The solution is simple, and that is to slow down. Take the time and look at the story being crafted, and how things could be tweaked or adjusted to elevate the material. Think things through before including them simply for either shock value or saving time.
Do the homework properly this time. The continuity hiccups in Ultron’s episode were incredibly easy to avoid, yet somehow they still got in there.
Compare the work in this case with What If…? against previous and future MCU projects. The key example to this would be holding it up against the final product of Loki to make sure everything lines up.
Loki seemingly established that if the Stones are outside of their timeline, then they cease to function—or at least that’s what fans interpreted it as. However, according to What If…?’s head writer A.C. Bradley, as long as the person using the Stones is from the same universe as them, then they can be used across the Multiverse.
A few days later, her explanation was directly contradicted by Killmonger in the show’s finale as he went to try and use them against his former teammates.
The Infinity Stones, and their place and abilities within the context of the Multiverse, are incredibly important. These are some of the most powerful weapons in the universe. How they function, especially in the way depicted in this show, needs to be explained clearly to the audiences—and limitations in reference to the Multiverse have to be expounded upon.
Then there was the concept of Absolute Points in time, which was introduced in Doctor Strange’s big episode, which has huge implications. Yet, the writers admitted that the Strange story was written before Loki even started; but somehow no one ever thought to make sure the two lined up by the time they got out of the door?
Absolute Points in time don’t exactly break anything when it comes to established rules, but it certainly confuses things. It’s not a lost cause, and can easily be explained against everything else when the time comes, but that kind of sloppiness is what leads to broken continuity.
Problem: Missed Opportunities
This problem is a product of all the other ones which show up in the many installments of What If…?. There are so many missed opportunities within the show, a lot of which simply don’t happen because the writers have their sights set on something else, and don’t realize the gold mine right in front of them.
Again, going back to that silly Ultron and Thanos confrontation; those are two of the biggest threats the MCU has ever seen. Watching the two do battle over trying to acquire the Infinity Stones could have easily made for one of the best moments of the show.
Even better, how cool would it have been to dedicate an entire episode to watching the two of them competing against each other to try and gather the stones? In the end, Ultron would win, and Infinity Ultron would be born. However, this time, his journey getting to that point would have been far more satisfying.
Then there’s Party Thor. It’s hard to imagine how this concept even made it to the final stages. The question being asked is a fantastic one: “What If… Thor Were an Only Child?”. The resulting episode the writers came up with was arguably one of the dullest of the season that simply saw a God of Thunder, who was honestly not much different than the prime MCU one, throwing a huge banger in Las Vegas.
Sure, there were some fun moments to be found; but there’s so much potential to be found in that question, yet the writers hardly even scratched the surface of the differences that would have come to be if Thor and Loki weren’t brothers.
Solution: Don’t Retread
The obvious thing to adjust is to simply not just redo old movies. Captain Carter played out Captain America: The First Avenger, Killmonger’s episode played out Black Panther a decade early, and the finale of the show was notably in the same vein as Avengers.
While Carter’s episode was understandably a simple and shallow exploration of the show’s concept, it was the first installment and the introduction to the wild concept of the Multiverse. So that can be given a pass, but simply re-doing what the MCU has already done with a slightly different coat of paint is the opposite of what the show should be.
Truly switch things up. Character swaps are easy, but say, maybe instead of doubling down on Killmonger being evil, why not create a universe where he has a redemption arc? It’s certainly more intriguing than witnessing Erik go through the same beats he did in Black Panther.
Truly take advantage of the concepts that are in play. With Infinity Ultron, aside from his non-existent big fight with the Mad Titan, his potential was simply never realized.
You have a villain who can tear through the multiverse at a whim. Use it. Show audiences what he is truly capable of, and actually, have him utilize the tools at his disposal. Remember the battle on Titan? Or how Thanos stomped on everyone as he arrived in Wakanda?
The writers were moving a mile a minute trying to squeeze as much as they could into one episode, and they consistently failed to see all of the potential that could have come out of the work they created.
Problem: Inconsistent Premise
At the beginning of each episode, The Watcher leads audiences to the moment in a different timeline where something diverges from the events that audiences have known for over a decade now.
In the first episode, this moment is when Peggy Carter goes to the viewing booth, which leads to her getting the Super Soldier Serum instead of Steve Rogers. In Episode 6, the change occurs when Killmonger rescues Tony Stark from his inevitable capture. For Infinity Ultron’s birth, it was when his body transfer was successful.
The problem, however, is that nearly all of these stories were not products of one choice; one difference in the timeline. Things were different long before many of these title moments or choices occurred.
For example, in “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands”, the Stephen Strange and Christine Palmer pairing that viewers watch unfold is not a product of one different choice. There were likely quite a few things that would have had to go differently to get to that point—after all, a love that strong is absolutely not how it came off in Doctor Strange.
The concept of the show is supposed to show the intriguing domino effect that one action/choice/moment causes. That’s completely lost if those dominos were in a different order from the get-go.
Solution: Be Clear
It’s completely fine if these stories and different timelines are going to vary wildly from what audiences know. Several events could have already played out differently off-screen, or a certain character could be less powerful, or the universe itself could simply have different laws of physics. The show just needs to make that clear.
Things like that shouldn’t be assumed. Otherwise, it will come off as poor writing, and leave a sour taste for those watching. If something is drastically different off-screen that has affected this alternate story that audiences are supposed to connect with and contrast against the MCU’s prime timeline, then it needs to be seen.
This isn’t a problem for all the episodes. For example, T’Challa’s journey started because the Ravagers searched the wrong part of the world, which spiraled out into what was seen decades later—though, the writers may have forgotten about Thanos’ power levels.
Another instance of this would be with “What If… Zombies?”. While some felt that the quality of the episode wasn't that great to begin with, the story being witnessed unfolds because of one thing: Janet contracted a zombie virus. There aren’t other offscreen developments; the dominos fall accordingly.
If the alternate story being told can’t just be traced back to one thing, let it be known.
What If... There's Hope for Season 2?
For many, What If…? was one of the biggest disappointments of the MCU's Phase Four so far. It’s a shame too, because the concept is so great, especially following the events of Loki.
Hopefully, the writers and other creatives behind the show are taking reactions to heart, and using that feedback to better the second season.
Fingers crossed that, despite being originally slated for the show’s first season, Gamora’s episode will be all the better thanks to the delay; though, it will still no doubt feel awkwardly placed.
As for when fans will get the second season, all that’s known is its tentative 2022 release. Thankfully, there’s an endless number of Marvel Studios projects to focus on until then.