What If...?: …the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?
August 25, 2021 7:14 AM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Nick Fury struggles to launch The Avengers when candidates are targeted by a serial killer.

The pre-release synopsis was "What If Loki presented himself to the governments of Earth as king of Asgard using all his diplomacy." Disney/Marvel is playing spoiler games again, though to be fair it does happen… eventually.

In the middle of the MCU's Phase I Nick Fury's Avengers Initiative hits a setback as the treatment for Iron Man's palladium poisoning turns out to be deadly, then Hawkeye's finger slips and he fatally shoots Thor during the fallen god's first attempt to retrieve Mjolnir. Clint dies in his cell and Black Widow is unable to save the Hulk from a heart attack during the Ross fiasco. Natasha herself falls to the mystery person coordinating all of these "accidents" as Loki Laufeyson turns up with the Casket of Winters and the Asgardian army to demand vengeance for his brother's death. Following Natasha's final clue, Fury enlists Loki's help to take down the assassin—Hank Pym, who blames Fury for Hope's death on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission. After dispatching Hank, Loki decides to stick around and conquer Midgard rather than waste a trip. Fury finally gathers his last names on the Initiative roster, looking over a frozen shield and greeting Captain… Marvel.
posted by Karmakaze (50 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Watcher does not highlight it, but presumably, the point of divergence is Hope Pym deciding to join SHIELD rather than stay with her dad. Her last mission in Odessa is likely the one Widow mentions in the prime timeline during which she encountered the Winter Soldier.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:19 AM on August 25 [6 favorites]


I think this one was my favourite so far! Took the chance to make some big changes instead of a job-swap. I liked the graveyard fight scene and the reveal there too.

Wasn't so sure about the plausibility of Loki taking over the Earth. With Thor out of the way I'd have thought he'd be after the big prize of Asgard rather than hanging out in the sticks. Maybe he's planning to use it as a power base to get Asgard next somehow.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:27 AM on August 25


He also namedropped himself as the rightful ruler of Jotunheim rather than Asgard. He might have felt that he'd get too much resistance during the mourning period for Thor and can just wait for Odin to come out of the Odinsleep to have Asgard handed to him as the only remaining candidate. Having Midgard makes for either a solid backup or the chance for an empire.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:32 AM on August 25 [4 favorites]


Unexpectedly funny for such a grim premise. I found myself fan-casting replacement Avengers: Rhodey for Iron Man, of course (presumably Fury will help him with Whiplash), Jane Foster for Thor, Betsy Ross for (She-)Hulk (or maybe the Harpy or Red She-Hulk), maybe Fury finds Yelena Belova and figures out how to de-program her, maybe (depending on what we find out in her series) Kate Bishop gets cued up early. Maybe even someone gets to use the Pym particles... Fury finds something in Pym's files with Scott Lang's name on it? And, of course, the two Caps.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:34 AM on August 25


This episode proves that Ant-Man could have killed Thanos by flying up his butt.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:42 AM on August 25 [35 favorites]


i'm assuming Fury was playing nice or stacking up his priorities because the ending with Loki claiming rulership AND Nick visibly not being mind controlled makes me think I've missed something. Though tbh I do like the mix of grim and comedy, so if it is as I've understood it, well...!
posted by cendawanita at 7:50 AM on August 25


Needs the Crossfit tag.
posted by orrnyereg at 7:52 AM on August 25 [4 favorites]


Loki doesn't have the power to control minds, in The Avengers he was using a staff given to him by Thanos that contained the Mind Stone to do that. In Loki he was impressed by Sylvie's ability to enchant people.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:45 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I assume it was something like "Oh you want to rule Midgard? Okay here, stand on this stage in front of all our world's leaders and make a big speech. I'll just be over here, definitely not calling my old friend who can kick your ass off our planet in about five seconds."
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:49 AM on August 25 [8 favorites]


OMG, yes. "Oh, you've got a couple of little knives? Cute, cute. Hey, just let me set up the angle--OK, there's the moon. It'll make a nice backstop."
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:56 AM on August 25


I know it was done for suspense and an element of surprise and mystery, but was anyone else annoyed that Natasha didn't just say to Fury, "Hey, it's Hank!" instead of being all cryptic with "Hope. It's all about hope."?
posted by wasabifooting at 10:41 AM on August 25 [7 favorites]


He had more than a couple of knives. He had the Cask of Ancient Winters. It makes sense to wait until Loki reverses global warming with it before kicking him off the planet...
posted by Karmakaze at 11:04 AM on August 25 [6 favorites]


I was going to write “there aren’t cemeteries in San Francisco”, but decided to factcheck myself, and there’s one in the Presidio which fits.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:48 AM on August 25 [4 favorites]


I was a bit confused by the Pym/Fury battle, and how much of that was Fury, how much was Loki, and how much was, I dunno, other Asgardian soldiers? Natasha was at a solid disadvantage trying to fight someone who could turn tiny in the dark, but whoever Pym was fighting could effortlessly swat him out of the air despite the fact he can keep all his kinetic energy when he turns tiny. Is Loki really that strong? Was Fury borrowing some Asgardian doodad that beefed him up? I feel like if after Loki revealed his mischief Fury had been revealed to be wearing gauntlets from Asgard that would have done enough to explain how he managed to go toe to toe with Pym.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:54 AM on August 25


They really did take that fan poster of Ant-Man diving towards Thanos's hinder and saying What If...? and ran with it. I do like meta-acknowledgements like that, sorta how Peter Quill was just The Worst in last week's episode.

Also weird to see Ruffalo in scenes of a movie he wasn't actually in.

Finally? COULSON'S PASSWORD! I wonder how much fun Clark Gregg had with that? All the fun.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:57 AM on August 25 [9 favorites]


BTW, kind of OT but not really since it deals with the MCU Multiverse: the trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home. Has less than what's been speculated about regarding the contents of the movie, but still whets the appetite.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:44 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Is Loki really that strong?

If Loki Season 1 (which I really liked) proved anything, it's that Loki's fighting abilities and powers are whatever the plot requires at the time.
posted by Gary at 2:53 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


I really enjoyed this one. It had Fury, it had Coulson, it had a nice little mystery, and it had Natasha doing what she does best instead of the over-the-top explosion stuff of the Black Window movie. And Hank Pym as a broken, off-his rocker murderer was a much more interesting villain than What If The Collector Was Really Buff.
posted by Foosnark at 6:03 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


If Loki Season 1 (which I really liked) proved anything, it's that Loki's fighting abilities and powers are whatever the plot requires at the time.

True. Sometimes he can will a falling building into standing up again, sometimes Hulk can pick him up by ankles and rag doll him on the floor a dozen or fifteen times.

I think he could take Hank Pym.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:45 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


The tone was different from previous episodes and I feel the What If stories rely a bit too much on dialogue and plot from the "main timeline," but it still workes.

A grim episode, but easily the funniest so far.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:07 PM on August 25


I feel the What If stories rely a bit too much on dialogue and plot from the "main timeline,"

In this case, I felt like the dialogue from the main timeline was way better-written than the dialogue written for this episode specifically.
posted by gauche at 7:28 PM on August 25


I just watched it, having not watched the first two episodes. As a fan of the comics in the 70's and 80's, I was pleased to see bad/insane Pym, and rather delighted at how it caught the spirit of those issues of What If I used to buy, hoping for an amazing story. So it sure pushed my buttons.
posted by vrakatar at 10:47 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


In general the point about Loki's varying power level in the series is a good one, but:

Sometimes he can will a falling building into standing up again, sometimes Hulk can pick him up by ankles and rag doll him on the floor a dozen or fifteen times.

These things aren't really contradictory in the Marvel lore. A sufficiently angry Hulk has usually been treated as a terrifying prospect to almost any character in the pantheon. The position has generally been that his strength increases exponentially with anger, with no upper limit.

There are some really great bits in the MCU where you see just how terrified other characters are of an angry Hulk. They know their best bet is to either talk him down, or deflect his attacks until he gets tired.

When Loki gets ragdolled by Hulk, it's because he makes the mistake of goading him.
posted by automatronic at 3:55 AM on August 26 [4 favorites]


friend of mine was extremely excited to talk about this one after I watched it, for reasons that basically boiled down to really just numerous variants of HULK FUCKING EXPLODES

separately I must acknowledge that I laughed out loud at the Rock Band icons on the coffins. SHIELD’s graphic design budget is way out of whack
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:33 AM on August 26 [8 favorites]


I know it was done for suspense and an element of surprise and mystery, but was anyone else annoyed that Natasha didn't just say to Fury, "Hey, it's Hank!" instead of being all cryptic with "Hope. It's all about hope."?

Logical Sense: Natasha had, like, just discovered that Hope had logged into the system after supposedly being dead for two years. There are a few different scenarios that could imply, and as Natasha is calling out to Fury, she doesn't necessarily know which one it is yet, except that this all has something to do with her death (or "death.")

Narrative Sense: I'm not looking at the episode titles for these before starting them up each week, the more to be delighted by the unexpected, but I was lucky enough in this case to have just finished a background binge of Phase One a minute before. So this episode's timeline specifically takes place during the same week* in which Iron Man 2 happens. Which means that everything about this episode is steeped in "Phase One" mythos until the name "Hope" comes up, and I can't speak for anyone else, but it took my wife and I a good few minutes to remember where we knew the name "Hope" from. That's a real nice trick to put us in empathy with Fury in that moment before the Hank Pym reveal.

So that choice, which normally feels hacky in most other instances of it (see: almost every conversation in Lost) actually worked really well for me here.

*That Iron Man 2 all happens in a week is absurd, but taken from the text, and is only like the 5th most absurd thing in that text, so whatevs. This episode makes it clear that the events of Thor (previously implied to be taking place around the same time or immediately following Iron Man 2 AND The Incredible Hulk are concurrent with that Crrrrrazy Ass Week, which means that the Stark Expo blowing up over and over again in Queens was happening at, like, the same time as the Hulk was leveling Harlem. Just some food for anti-thought.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:10 AM on August 26 [4 favorites]


Seems to me the three narratives all happening within seven days is explicitly termed Fury’s Big Week in a tie-in comic.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:40 AM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Loki was pretty much always stronger than a human of his size/build should be in the movies, though it was less noticeable because he was so often standing next to Thor. The TV show either downgraded that or upgraded the timekeepers and enchanted humans.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:45 AM on August 26


Seems to me the three narratives all happening within seven days is explicitly termed Fury’s Big Week in a tie-in comic.

Well maybe some of us haven't read the tie-in comics and didn't even see the MCU aside from a random movie or two on planes until the pandemic hit and then maybe those some of us have seen the MCU like ten times in its entirety since then and are going a little nutty and are pleased to be making these connections now. Those some of us.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:48 AM on August 26 [4 favorites]


This episode was really more in the spirit of the What If? comics I used to read, in that the alternate stories almost invariably came out way worse than what happened in the Sacred Timeline, ranging from the deaths of beloved heroes to the destruction of all Eternity. The premise would be something anodyne like "What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?" and the ending would be something like Galactus slaughtering every superhero alive and eating the Earth.

I would pay $30 for Disney+ Premier Access just to listen to the recording session in which Jeffery Wright did fifty subtly different dramatic readings of the phrase "…What If…?" for the opening titles.
posted by ejs at 8:08 AM on August 26 [8 favorites]


I think it'd be fun to hear different takes of the opening narration by different performers. Like, "What if ... Jerry Seinfeld narrated this thing?" Or "What if ... Gilbert Gottfried?" Or "What if ... John Mulaney?" ... (they kind of all occupy a similar vocal timbre and cadence now that I think of it) Or "What if ... Emma Thompson?" Or "What if ... oooooh Phoebe Waller-Bridge?"
posted by wabbittwax at 8:47 AM on August 26 [5 favorites]


Ok now I'm imagining a version of this in which the Watcher is walking around in the narrative Fleabag-style and making all these knowing glances at the camera and it may be all I want in this life.
posted by wabbittwax at 8:49 AM on August 26 [5 favorites]


Also weird to see Ruffalo in scenes of a movie he wasn't actually in.

Ruffaton. Nortalo?
posted by Kyol at 10:44 AM on August 26 [2 favorites]


I'm still hoping for the episode on "What If... Age of Ultron was a Musical?"
posted by Navelgazer at 10:52 AM on August 26 [3 favorites]


"What If... Cats! were in the MCU?"

Anyhow, better than the previous ones, because right, straight up character swapping is only sort of interesting, but you gotta make it pay off in the road not taken route, and both of the prior ones were more about what had happened and not what hadn't.
posted by Kyol at 10:59 AM on August 26


I enjoyed this, but the animation style is wearing thin for me, specifically the facial expressions, which are in the uncanny valley for me, especially when they're trying to do anything more subtle than rage.

The "isn't Thor distractingly good-looking?" thing was funny--up until he was dead, and then they kept going with it for some reason. Agent Coulson taking delight at the smell of Thor's corpse is just creepy AF.
posted by skewed at 11:12 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]


I like the way the animation style is meant to look like the house style they use for comic books nowadays, but the lip sync is just heinously bad
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:21 PM on August 26


separately I must acknowledge that I laughed out loud at the Rock Band icons on the coffins. SHIELD’s graphic design budget is way out of whack

I thought the same thing. Some graphic design intern got tasked with coming up with logos for all these not-actually-official-Avengers-yet and sticking them on flags to be draped over coffins like they're representing their own little fiefdoms.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:33 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Also weird to see Ruffalo in scenes of a movie he wasn't actually in.

What if... we had Ruffalo cast from the outset like we originally wanted?

There’s probably a good FPP to be made taking about onscreen series where recasting issues get largely ignored and ones where they get retconned with new performers dropped into roles and having to redo scenes their predecessors did. In Seinfeld, say, Jerry Stiller was the second actor to play Frank Costanza. However, he made such a large impression that the scenes shot for the character’s first appearance with John Randolph were reshot for syndication and hone video. On the other hand, it’s not like we see Daniel Craig flash back to some previous incident in Bond’s life and he now says the same lines that Connery or Dalton or whoever did originally.

The MCU has done a bit of recasting: Rhodes, e.g., transforms into Don Cheadle second time around and they lean on the fourth wall a bit with his dialogue in the first scene he’s in. And of course Stark and Romanoff and Ross (père et fille) all have new voice actors this time out.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:52 PM on August 26


oh also was I the only one who misheard the phone message as "it's Hulk" rather than "it's Hope"
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:32 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


I had to rewind (archaic term) and watch with subtitles to make sure. I figured it was hope, just because it was supposed to have a double meaning based just on context. But damn if it didn’t sound like hulk.
posted by skewed at 7:54 PM on August 26


I thought Coulson came off pretty poorly in this one, including with the creepy corpse sniffing and basically standing around like Pinky asking the Brain what their plans were for the evening. I know it is the What If alternative universe, but that's not the Coulson I wanted to see.

When Coulson and Fury were chatting over the coffins, I almost expected the conversation to take a swing down to the magical place that is Tahiti. I mean, if we're in a universe where Coulson is alive but the Avengers are dead, it would make for a kind of sense.

Again, as with previous episodes, I was surprised by the voices I didn't recognize. Clint sounded off to me and since he visually didn't look very much like Renner, I wasn't expecting to see the actor's name in the credits.
posted by sardonyx at 8:21 PM on August 26


+2 (me and my wife) for hearing "it's Hulk".
posted by The Tensor at 12:57 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


What if... we had Ruffalo cast from the outset like we originally wanted?

I started a rewatch of the Edward Norton Hulk movie (I want to finish it before I see Shang-Chi, because Abomination), and while I usually like Norton, the movie itself isn't that compelling--a few too many scenes of Banner looking at Betsy Ross from afar with a hangdog expression, coming off a bit stalkerish. For all of the action in the movie, it seems like everyone more or less ends up where they started.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:42 AM on August 27


it seems like everyone more or less ends up where they started.

If you squint, The Incredible Hulk is about Banner trying to get control of his anger, repeatedly failing, and eventually with the final shot embracing his anger and his Hulk-itude. You actually see the payoff for this in The Avengers, i.e. “I’m always angry.” I’ll also argue that there is more continuity between The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers than you would think at first glance, with Ruffalo making a serious effort to base is performance on Norton’s, at least for that one film.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:00 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Loki fights Thor hand-to-hand in the first Thor movie (and Thor defeats everyone else almost effortlessly, including the Destroyer), so he definitely ought to be able to swat Hank Pym like a fly. The dude is a Frost Giant who has been feasting in Asgard for about a thousand years.

Of course Thor spent a big chunk of that thousand years hearing his mom and dad say, "Thor, stop smiting your brother." "But mom! He..." So it's possible he wasn't fighting Loki with quite the same vigor he brought to bear against giant frost beasts and Agent Coulson's highly trained professionals.
posted by straight at 10:09 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


looking over a frozen shield and greeting Captain… Marvel.

I especially liked that because just at the moment when I started rolling my eyes at Fury finding a frozen shield and making unjustified leaps for the sake of a catchy episode-closing line--they cut to Carol and I grinned. I love it when something that seems like bad writing turns out to be actually good.
posted by straight at 10:17 PM on August 27


Loki fights Thor hand-to-hand in the first Thor movie (and Thor defeats everyone else almost effortlessly, including the Destroyer), so he definitely ought to be able to swat Hank Pym like a fly. The dude is a Frost Giant who has been feasting in Asgard for about a thousand years.

Yeah, in retrospect I think Loki ought to be able to handle Hank Pym, especially if he knows what to expect. Any self-respecting magic user has a couple spells to buff their physical offense and defense, especially someone like Loki who has roughhoused his bother Thor in the past. I suppose this also explains Loki's relative weakness in his show, he either was somewhere that negated his magic or in a situation where he wasn't prepared to duke it out. In this show he also had access to Asgardian armor and magical equipment, so it's probably safe to say he was handling most if not all the fighting for Fury.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:57 AM on August 29


This episode proves that Ant-Man could have killed Thanos by flying up his butt.

This episode had real "Tell me you think Ant-Man could kill Thanos by flying up his butt without writing a story where this specifically happens" vibes.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:56 AM on August 31 [6 favorites]


Coulson is sure obsessed with sniffing (even dead) Thor, and then there's the password "stevestevesteveIheartsteve." Weird guy, that alt-Coulson.

This was a pretty depressing idea to execute, really.

I nth that it sounded like "Hulk."
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:54 PM on September 7


The AV Club really hasn't been the same since the great Dissolve exodus. Sam Barsanti's review of this episode:
The Hulk sequence is where the episode starts to get sweaty for me, since I can maybe buy that Iron Man 2 and Thor happen within one day of each other, but the Edward Norton Hulk movie? It all happens in the same week?
Dude. Suspension of disbelief for a literal comic book movie is a sort of minimum requirement, especially when they are all stapled together (explicitly by post-credit sequences and news coverage on TVs onscreen). Really, this is like reviewing TV shows in the CSI franchise where there is a crossover between different series and being astonished that "the characters from one series just happen to visit a different city during the course of an investigation and just happen to talk to these characters in the other show. That's the craziest thing I ever heard!"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:29 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


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