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What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?

Love can break more than your heart. It can shatter your mind.

This episode is an absolute bombshell and demonstrates why Marvel needed to do this series: in order to take its characters to incredible spaces, inside and out.

What If...? comics were my favorite line, growing up. There was a flavor to those comics – the way they tried to entice the reader by being shocking, and yet were almost also incredibly sentimental and wound up focusing on the human heart and the choices people made. Of the four episodes that have aired so far, this episode might just be the most like the comics in having that flavor.

In the Marvel Universe we know, Strange and Christine Palmer broke up, with Christine frustrated by Strange's ego. Strange wound up having to deal with that very ego – in the process evolving into the Sorcerer Supreme we know and tolerate. In this episode, Strange chooses love over ego. When he does so, however, Christine dies in the car accident that, in our universe, took his hands.

What this episode shows is that, whether egotistic and self-interested or selflessly in love, Stephen Strange has a single defining characteristic: obsession, and an addiction to obsession which is truly hard to break. Strange's regret, in this new world, leads to a madness for finding a way to bring back Palmer – a madness which drives him to try becoming the Sorcerer Supreme. In the mystic arts he finally finds the solution – a way to go back in time and change the past – but since the solution involves magic, and since the instigating event he wants to change led to his gaining the power he needs to change it, he's faced with the impossibility of paradox. The Ancient One comes back from the dead to warn Strange that paradoxes like this are an incredible danger, and can destroy the Universe. This doesn't stop Strange from trying, with an assistant named O'Bengh instead of his faithful friend Wong: trying again and again, and failing, in a series of frustrating time loops, and then by trying to absorb power from others.


The Ancient One, in a bid for wisdom to prevail, manages to split Stephen into two copies of himself: the one with the obsession with bringing back Christine, and one who has managed to move on. We see an ultimate match up: Strange against Strange. In the end it is Strange's obsession which rules – and leads to one of the darkest, saddest endings of any Marvel episodes since "But what is grief, if not love persevering?" We saw Dr. Strange in ways we never have – and a full flex of his power no movie has yet shown, even to the point of dissolving reality itself. We saw the true monster of obsession. The episode left me feeling sorry for Dr. Strange, who's always struck me as annoyingly arrogant. Underneath that arrogance is a very human, very flawed personality, a man searching for love and happiness, and even more, self-worth. Only in the main Marvel Universe, however, was that monster of obsession tamed in favor of allowing that self-worth to flower.



The What If...? comics took franchises like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four to places we had never seen them before. I find it amazing that this series' showrunners have managed to do the same thing in a completely updated way.

In the Wizarding World

I thought it was interesting Strange could hear the Watcher. An effect of the Infinity Stone, perhaps?

Will bits and pieces of this episode wind up in the new Dr. Strange movie? O'Bengh seems like someone we might see again.

I thought when Christine took the keys that would be the way out of it, but even that hope was denied me.

Quotables

Dr. Strange: I know! The world shouldn't pay for my arrogance! I've read about you, it says you're a presence! You're a god! You can undo this!
The Watcher: I'm not a god. And neither are you.
Dr. Strange: Then punish me! Not the world, not Christine!
The Watcher: Honestly, if I could fix this, if I could punish you instead, I would. But I can't interfere. You, more than anyone else, should understand that meddling with time and events only leads to more destruction.

Overall

Five out of five créme brulees.

3 comments:

Mikey Heinrich said...

Finally caught up on watching these.

Man, I did not expect these to get this dark. Great review! I was surprised he could talk to the watcher too. That whole made him feel so much more dangerous

Anonymous said...

I like Strange. In the comics it was fun that he was older and wiser and not a young person finding his way. He was always both arrogant and very human with it, and so is Tony Stark come to think of it.
Very dark episode, but good.

An Honest Fangirl said...

I loved this episode. Definitely my favorite one so far. There was something almost like a horror movie in how Strange kept trying again and again to save Christine and then in how he kept absorbing other beings. And the animation during those absorption scenes was just gorgeous. I loved how we got flashes of the different creatures in Strange.

I'm very curious about how much Watcher we got in this episode. In the previous one, I noticed that he popped up in the background, which I don't think happened with Carter and T'Challa. Now, he's an active part of the story, as opposed to just a passive narrator. I wonder if this trend will continue?