What If...?: What if Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?
September 1, 2021 7:20 AM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Doctor Strange tries a new diet.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia (50 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Truly, the darkest timeline.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:28 AM on September 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


This episode went SO dark. Also, kudos for that extremely accurate and brief episode summary.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:29 AM on September 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


Poster Notes:

- Christine survives in the "sacred timeline" version of events, so it's interesting that in this version her death is absolutely required. Maybe on some level Strange could sense that.
- Obviously the lesson this Strange learns is not known by Strange as seen in the No Way Home trailer, who blithely wades into mucking with time.
- The number of times that the Ancient One has to show up really highlights how few supporting characters there are for Strange. He should really go make some more friends, especially folks powerful enough to tell him to quit it when he goes down the wrong path. Maybe the Scarlet Witch needs to swing by and kick him in the balls every so often, not that she isn't also obsessed with her own time shenanigans.
- Excellent use of Kirby Dots for Evil Strange's attacks.
- Showing up and gloating apparently doesn't count as interference for The Watcher.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:30 AM on September 1, 2021 [10 favorites]


Other than showing Uatu starting to get up in people's business, I'm not sure what the point of this episode was. It wasn't a particularly compelling scenario.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:30 AM on September 1, 2021 [6 favorites]


I don't think the "What If?" series is necessarily supposed to have a point. It's kind of the beauty of the enterprise. It's just, "hey. what if this happened?"
posted by wabbittwax at 7:43 AM on September 1, 2021 [15 favorites]


The interesting thing for me about this ep was that it has a certain class of event in time that doesn't want to be changed, and seems destined to happen anyway, with space and time itself breaking if something or someone tries to force it; that's a similar concept to a certain Stephen King book. We'll see if that carries over to the big multiverse thing that's being worked up as the current franchise arc.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:53 AM on September 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


It's just, "hey. what if this happened?"

I guess I'm just looking for something way more bonkers than this.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:55 AM on September 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


I'm quite happy with what we're getting, but oh for a single What The...?! episode per season. Especially one set on Earth-200500.

With respect to this episode, I thought we were going to find out that the "absolute" event wasn't Christine dying but Strange losing something he can't bear to lose, whether that's his lover or his hands, prompting him to rewrite this timeline to one near-identical to the core MCU. And technically I guess that's still possible; if nobody was familiar with his regular origin, it would be quite the leap of logic to say "hey, quick suggestion, what if you tweaked things so she doesn't die but you suffer irreparable nerve damage?"
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:03 AM on September 1, 2021 [10 favorites]


I have that issue of the comic, and honestly, it's not that great. The divergence point, IIRC, is that Leonardo da Vinci is taken seriously as an inventor, so the world has interstellar travel by the 1940s, which is a neat concept, but the story itself is pretty meh.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:03 AM on September 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


Am I literally the only person for whom, whenever one of these drops, it lands with a sickening, dull thud?

"Hey, guys, I've got a great idea for a What If? Like, in Dr Strange, I think we can all agree Christine Palmer is a bit underserved, so What If... instead of that, we fridge her? Like literally, an Antarctic-sized fridging. That would be awesome!"
posted by Grangousier at 8:11 AM on September 1, 2021 [14 favorites]


Am I literally the only person for whom, whenever one of these drops, it lands with a sickening, dull thud?

I am okay with the What If... ? conceit in general. This one I thought was crass. Fridging a female love interest over and over again — showing us, essentially, that the mainline MCU setting where she survives the evening is the aberration — seems pretty tone deaf.

I will give it a couple of points for the shadowy glimpses of the eldritch abomination that Dark!Strange had become.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:31 AM on September 1, 2021 [10 favorites]


"City on the Edge of Forever" only with more Kirby power dots and fewer mutterings about "attempting to make a sophisticated mnemonic circuit out of stone knives and bear skins."

The sequence of summoning and eating creatures needed him eating some other Disney property, like absorbing the powers of Chip and Dale.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:29 AM on September 1, 2021 [7 favorites]


Now more than ever, Rachel McAdams Deserves to Time Travel.
posted by Gary at 10:32 AM on September 1, 2021 [7 favorites]


Uatu's shadow has turned up in other episodes, indicating that he's watching. The difference here is that Strange is powerful enough to see him, not that the Watcher has decided to show himself.
posted by Karmakaze at 11:08 AM on September 1, 2021 [6 favorites]


Separate from the extremely valid discussion of fridging, I think it does bear mentioning that in this episode Dr. Strange consumes a demonic garden gnome in order to steal its dark powers.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:25 AM on September 1, 2021 [22 favorites]


Awwwwww yeah. This was good stuff. I don't fully grasp how there could be an unchangeable point in time when there's a whole multiverse that both relies on the existence of divergent timelines and literally provides the basis for the very show that we are watching, but I presume we're supposed to wonder about that, given that the multiverse is the foundation of the Christmas tentpole.

I was beginning to think this show was a bit of a dud -- with the extremely good Black Panther ep a fluke -- but I'm on board with it now.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:37 AM on September 1, 2021


Fridging a female love interest over and over again — showing us, essentially, that the mainline MCU setting where she survives the evening is the aberration — seems pretty tone deaf.

Yeah, this really boiled down to "What if Doctor Strange's origin story was a villain origin instead of a hero origin?" Interestingly, it seems like people are more willing to tolerate a love interest getting fridged if it's a villain. Consider Mister Freeze, who was mostly a one-note joke before he was given a tragic past in Batman the Animated Series by very, very literally fridging his wife. I'm sure folks have spoken about it, but my impression is people largely consider his revamped characterization one of the strongest in the Batman rogues gallery.

The more I think about it, the weirder the plot point of Strange being split in half and having to fight and consume himself is. What sense does that make? The Ancient One straight up sent Bad Strange exactly where he needed to go to obtain the power he sought, and fully relied on Good Strange to do the work of stopping him? Again, I wish there were more characters in Strange's world. No other heroes available to attempt to stop him from making this bad decision?

I was a bit relieved that Strange went around eating demons or whatever instead of people, for a moment it really seemed like he was gonna have to start taking power from other heroes, or other sorcerers.

I don't fully grasp how there could be an unchangeable point in time when there's a whole multiverse that both relies on the existence of divergent timelines and literally provides the basis for the very show that we are watching

I suppose it's just something that didn't come up in the explanations of what we know about the MCU timeline, since the TVA wasn't overly concerned with these fixed points. Presumably the Sacred Timeline would have to take these points into account, but that's not the concern of the rank and file, just the nexus events that attempt to jump off the track. Now that the multiverse is free, these fixed points become more important since they're the foundations that the whole thing rests on, events that have to be the same in every timeline.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:46 AM on September 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


Darktor Strange and the Sliding Doors
posted by sixswitch at 12:30 PM on September 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


Is this the first onscreen appearance of Kirby dots in the MCU?
posted by sixswitch at 12:38 PM on September 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


I took it to mean that it was a fixed point in Steven's timeline, not a fixed point for the universe in general. He can't obtain the power to undo Christine's death without having experienced Christine's death. It's the old "you'd never have invented a time machine to change things if something you desperately wanted to change had not happened" paradox, but for some reason they did not want to just use the word paradox. Theoretically, someone with access to the Time Stone who does not care about Christine, Steven or whether Dormammu succeeds in popping in for a visit could do it.

Arguably the TVA does not care about this timeline because it self-pruned.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:08 PM on September 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


I love that every week is a new MCU movie that can be pruned down to 30-ish minutes because they don’t have to bother establishing the characters.

Also loved that sequence of Dark Strange eating all the demons. It helped counteract the fact that this animated episode was otherwise less visually inventive than the live action movie.

That chilling Twilight Zone-esque ending made me wonder if Dark Strange’s destroyed universe is going to show up as a new Infinity Stone in a future story. (I’d be happy if it didn’t.)

I haven’t sought it out, but I think I’ve heard that the What If episodes are going to interact? Shuma Gorath (I assume) returning from episode 1 certainly seems like they’re going for it.
posted by ejs at 6:53 PM on September 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


Yeah, mixed feelings. Loved the Kirby dots, and the general idea of Misguided Strange summoning various demons and consuming them. And the bad ending.

But I wish his motive had been better, and the "oh, I secretly split you in two so you can fight yourself" reveal felt really awkward.
posted by Foosnark at 6:56 PM on September 1, 2021


To me this felt like probably the weakest episode so far, possibly just because it felt like it would have benefited from being 30–50% shorter. The premise was… okay, I guess, but the execution was kind of "Babe Ruth pointing his bat to the shortstop, rather than to the bleachers" I guess? No real surprises as it just kind of goes down the path that was made pretty clear early on.

The animation style continues to baffle me — it looks great in still shots, because they're simulating the house style for actual comic books, and the shots tend to be framed really well too, but the facial animation really needs work. The lip sync remains hilariously bad (distractingly so, in fact — anime-style open-close-open-close would draw less attention to itself) and when Carol Cheryl Christine is talking to Strange in the car at the beginning, it feels like she's just kind of looking straight into the camera.

Other thoughts:
• Loved the use of Kirby Dots as a way to take advantage of the animated medium

• "Oh so we're just doing the ending of Matrix Revolutions then? Well okay, then, I guess"

• The "I split you into two" thing felt like a weird copout — I thought that he'd just been sent back in time, and so now, in the present, there was just an additional one of him that the sent-back-in-time one caught up with. Being split into Good and Evil Twins makes somehow even less sense than that?

• I was genuinely surprised to see Benedict Cumberbatch's name in the end credits, because much of the time he sounded like someone else doing their best "Benedict Cumberbatch doing a Dr. House voice" voice

• Barely acceptable ⁶⁄₁₀ Twilight Zone Ending; narrator could have been used to greater effect to inform us, the audience, of what Steven Strange's story tells us about the human condition
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:14 PM on September 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


Dr. Strange grinds to level 99 because he heard a rumor that there's an optional end-game boss that lets you bring Aerith back to life, but the game will break if you find a way to, because they didn't build in anything to account for the possibility
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:31 PM on September 1, 2021 [18 favorites]


The number of times that the Ancient One has to show up really highlights how few supporting characters there are for Strange.

Yep. Episode would've been stronger if they'd brought in, like, Nico Minoru's mom who was supposedly in a few background shots of the first Doctor Strange movie to be the opponent in the first ancient one fight where he barely escapes into the past, or one-handed-wizard, or even just grabbed a rando from the comics or made one up. I assume they're saving most of his interesting coworkers and apprentices to take over the film franchise when Cumberbatch retires, so they can't use up Brother Voodoo yet.

On the other hand his actual super power is reading a lot instead of making friends and the sorcery thing is just because he happened to start reading sorcery books, so it kind of makes sense. Hmmm, I want to see "what if doctor strange got really into fanfic" now. Or what if he got into sports.
posted by fomhar at 8:20 PM on September 1, 2021 [2 favorites]


That chilling Twilight Zone-esque ending made me wonder if Dark Strange’s destroyed universe is going to show up as a new Infinity Stone in a future story. (I’d be happy if it didn’t.)

I think it’s merely a prison. The existence of the evil Strange might have something to do with Strange’s seeming uncharacteristic willingness to fuck around and find out in the Spider-man trailer.

I haven’t sought it out, but I think I’ve heard that the What If episodes are going to interact? Shuma Gorath (I assume) returning from episode 1 certainly seems like they’re going for it.

There’s a moment about halfway through the prerelease trailer that looks like our Dark!Strange meeting Captain Carter. Maybe talking about the tentacle thing from the ninth dimension.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:50 PM on September 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


Maybe his good friend and fellow New Yorker, Peter Parker, could drop by. Maybe to bring a spider and ask Dr Strange to help him communicate with it…
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:51 PM on September 1, 2021


My kid and I did laugh at the repeated "Universe determined to kill Christine," scenes though. Different car crash! Heart attack! Armed mugger! EXPLODING BUILDING.

I mean, dude, the universe wants your girl dead. It's like the Marvel version of Final Destination, Death will find some kind of ridiculous way to kill you if it has to.
posted by emjaybee at 9:07 PM on September 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


Would've also been a perfect time for Mordo to jump out from behind a melting car and say "this is exactly the shit I was talking about! I warned you bro!"
posted by fomhar at 9:35 PM on September 1, 2021 [9 favorites]


This episode really tackles the hard questions.

WHAT IF Dr. Strange's origin story were based on fridging?

WHAT IF Marvel superheroes could get stronger by literally just grinding XP for days like a World of Warcraft addict?

WHAT IF the logic for how the multiverse works were pointlessly convoluted, such that some multiverse splits create a new universe, while other multiverse splits create a new timeline within a universe, and also some universes for some reason have fixed points that can't be altered, unless you try really hard, in which case you can alter the fixed point but then everyone within that universe dies except you, which tragically wasn't mentioned in the ancient how-to guide that tells you how to alter the fixed point?
posted by Syllepsis at 9:40 PM on September 1, 2021 [6 favorites]


I suspect this episode will be more illuminating after Doctor Strange 2 comes out. It feels like a look of groundwork was laid for some later plots, which leaves this particular feeling hollow, unfulfilled, diluted, and ridiculous for no good reason.

Christine HAS to die? The Sorcerer who looked into 14 million different futures can't find a single future where she doesn't die? That's just seems incredibly dumb and a huge plot hole at this point.

Now if the Absolute Point was that Strange had to lose something he loved, ok then, his hands, Christine, his Armani suite, that's fine, that works. But killing Christine over and over came off as a very weird narrative choice. The bigger question might be why did that universe's Strange become more caring and loving as opposed to the asshole in ours?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:03 AM on September 2, 2021


I thought this episode was mostly about grief (WandaVision but in concentrated form) - but also mostly about Strange's arrogance/hubris.

You Love Christine more than anything else?
Then give her some goddamn Agency.

Why not just ask her if she feels her life is worth risking the ENTIRE UNIVERSE FOR?

If he considered the person, instead of the idealized image he claimed to love, he'd know that she would never want him to do the things he did in order to bring her back to life.

This was a well done but EXTREMELY Problematic story for many, many, reasons (the fridging issue is a huge one - but still).

Knowing that the Watcher can be perceived feels like it might be important in later episodes...
posted by Faintdreams at 4:12 AM on September 2, 2021 [3 favorites]


It's the old "you'd never have invented a time machine to change things if something you desperately wanted to change had not happened" paradox, but for some reason they did not want to just use the word paradox.

At 10:52 in the episode he tells the Ancient One, "I'm creating a paradox."
posted by Fleebnork at 6:20 AM on September 2, 2021


The bigger question might be why did that universe's Strange become more caring and loving as opposed to the asshole in ours?

I wondered this myself! I remember reading somewhere that an unwritten rule of the original comics was that no What If story should lead to a conclusion that would have readers think that Marvel had gotten it wrong the first time, that the monthlies would be better if they followed the alternate path set forth in What If. I'm not sure the show cares about this, but I did find it interesting that the Good Strange of this story seemed more like original Doctor Strange of the comics, and not so much like Magic Tony Stark of the movies.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:32 AM on September 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


I thought they were headed toward an ending where Strange pays this huge price and finally rescues Christine, but she is horrified that he would hurt so many people to bring her back, and wants nothing to do with him. Then he's stuck having caused all this chaos and death, and girlfriend rejection on top of that. That would probably be too dark for this show, easier just to have that universe die out entirely.

Anyway, I don't care at all for the deterministic "absolute point" nonsense, the whole goddam show is called "what if?".
posted by skewed at 7:02 AM on September 2, 2021


What If... Rachel McAdams was apparently impossible to draw?
posted by Navelgazer at 7:11 AM on September 2, 2021 [11 favorites]


This could have been a perfect opportunity to suddenly have Deadpool appear and break the fourth wall by leading Dr Strange out of the animation cel and get into a battle with the animating hand. This could have happened right after Christine was thrown out of the dozenth car crash on fire and into an actual fridge that was then buried in a landslide.
posted by Drastic at 7:22 AM on September 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


This could have been a perfect opportunity to suddenly have Deadpool appear and break the fourth wall

They're saving that for the Holiday Special, in which the Merc with a Mouth just keeps fourth-wall-breaking through the season's episodes and the Watcher is sitting there with his big head in his hands, going, "I shoulda just taken that security guard gig! Sheesh!"
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:07 AM on September 2, 2021


I was genuinely surprised to see Benedict Cumberbatch's name in the end credits, because much of the time he sounded like someone else doing their best "Benedict Cumberbatch doing a Dr. House voice" voice

Yeah I absolutely thought "Huh I can't tell if this is a bad Benedict Cumberbatch impression or a really good Benedict Cumberbatch Doing Doctor Strange impression" while I was watching it.

This was a well done but EXTREMELY Problematic story for many, many, reasons (the fridging issue is a huge one - but still).

As I think about it, having Christine required to die is indeed stupid. If I had a chance to break this plot, I would have had the Ancient One sit Strange down and say something to the effect of "Hey idiot, you think just anyone can master Magic the way you did? Christine's death opened a door in your life and you walked through it. Only through incredible sacrifice can you become the Sorcerer Supreme." and THEN Strange says fuck that I can have this power and Christine too and he starts down the dark path. Take this bad trope and make it something the character himself wants to work against.

I think that'd work better because it really is fucked up that the universe requires Christine to get fridged and Strange is totally justified in rejecting it. He still goes down a terrible path and ends up paying a different price in exchange for getting Christine back, but his motivation would be "It's unfair that Christine paid the price for my power" and not "I want my big titty GF back."

Also, she shouldn't have dissolved again in the end. If nothing else, he earned bringing her back for good. Having her horrified by what he did to himself and the entire universe in exchange for her would be great, now the two of them can live in that shitty little bubble forever.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:02 PM on September 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


his actual super power is reading a lot instead of making friends

Same.

I guess I should read more sorcery books and see if I get lucky...
posted by Foosnark at 12:12 PM on September 2, 2021


What If... Rachel McAdams was apparently impossible to draw?

Oh, good, I wasn't the only one who thought Christine looked nothing like Rachel McAdams. I actually thought they had gotten a different voice actor based on how unlike the character looked like McAdams. McAdams already looks like a Disney princess, it shouldn't be that difficult, right?

I've liked the animation the previous weeks, but this week, I was really bothered by all the character design. It was like they made the episode in The Sims 4 and just discovered CC skin details. Can we talk about the sunburn blush and highlight on Dr. Strange?
posted by wasabifooting at 3:38 PM on September 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


I have that issue of the comic, and honestly, it's not that great. The divergence point, IIRC, is that Leonardo da Vinci is taken seriously as an inventor, so the world has interstellar travel by the 1940s, which is a neat concept, but the story itself is pretty meh.

And that's why everyone grows beards???

Ohhhhh - you were referring to the story that 1970s Antihero called bonkers, and not the one mentioned in the following comment.
posted by cheshyre at 5:18 PM on September 2, 2021


to whoever added "mukbang" to the tags for this episode: ಠ_ಠ
posted by queen anne's remorse at 6:23 PM on September 2, 2021 [7 favorites]


> "I want my big titty GF back."

Wow.
posted by yonega at 8:21 PM on September 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen this because I don't have Disney+. I gather from this thread that they nodded to Kirby by using his patented Kirby Krackle, but was there any equivalent nod to Steve Ditko's art style? That would be far more appropriate in a Dr Strange story, after all.
posted by Paul Slade at 6:20 AM on September 3, 2021


So far the What If? TV series is serving the same role the What If? comic did for me back in the day: a chance to check out some fun concept art and fast-paced imaginary stories with abrupt endings while waiting on the next real issue of something to come out.

Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish, I would also love to see even one episode of What The? I'd want it to be an anthology of really short gags, in a variety of goofy animation styles, but still using as many movie star voice actors as possible.
posted by EatTheWeek at 10:14 PM on September 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


They say that none of this What If stuff is going to crossover but man this episode really feels like it was made specifically to crossover.

This episode and WandaVision are basically the same story. Uber powerful hero cannot deal with grief and brings about the end of the world. Wanda's is perhaps not an end of the world scenario but her alone in that cabin studying how to bring her kids back (make it an end of the world scenario) is exactly what this episode is.

I almost wonder if Wanda and Strange being so powerful is why their motivations now have to be questioned. Kang coming along doesn't seem as scary if Strange can literally study himself into godhood and Wanda can basically create life out of everyday objects.
posted by M Edward at 12:07 PM on September 7, 2021


No likey this.

Why didn't they just have Strange pull a past version of Christine a la Gamora in Endgame?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:28 PM on September 7, 2021


With respect to this episode, I thought we were going to find out that the "absolute" event wasn't Christine dying but Strange losing something he can't bear to lose, whether that's his lover or his hands, prompting him to rewrite this timeline to one near-identical to the core MCU.

I think something like that would have been a much better story. But the thing is that in the core MCU he loses Christine in a different way, pushing her and everyone else away after his hands are hurt.

Maybe if Uatu had told him there was a way for Stephen to save her life, but he would still lose her, and the resolution is Stephen choosing the universe where she lives but he can't be with her.
posted by straight at 11:56 PM on September 13, 2021


Maybe if Uatu had told him there was a way for Stephen to save her life, but he would still lose her, and the resolution is Stephen choosing the universe where she lives but he can't be with her.

FWIW that's what I thought basically was the resolution here. That somehow, we have to conclude either Strange or the Watcher changes the fixed point (so she lives but he can't be with her)... that the events of this episode are somehow a precondition of the Dr Strange movie universe timeline being established.

In this episode we have:
1. can't alter this fixed point without destroying the universe
2. i've gained the power to alter the fixed point
3. ergo i've destroyed the universe as promised (in other words, point 1 was correct)
4. ... then we have the Watcher saying "oh but i mustn't get involved"...
5. bracketing the whole episode, we already know there can exist a universe without that fixed point (namely whatever universe the Dr Strange movie is in)

So like, some kind of shenanigans must happen betwee step 4 and 5, right?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2021


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