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What If... Hela Found the Ten Rings?

"Without a fight, I’m no one."

My understanding is that the What If...? comic book series was an excuse to go on some really outrageous tangents from Marvel’s official canon. This episode does not. Instead, it leans heavily on variations on a theme.

Here we find Hela following a similar redemption arc to Thor’s in his first movie. The twist is that her catalyst for change isn’t Jane Foster but a combination of Jiayi and a kinder, gentler Wenwu. It also allows us to explore a dysfunctional child-parent relationship much as we did in Shang-Chi.

In theory, these similarities provide the viewer with comfortable touchstones while the differences are explored. The first difference is Odin. He is a mass of contradictions. Wise enough to understand his daughter needs to marry her warlike nature with mercy, but not so wise that he wouldn’t use his daughter’s disappearance as a pretext to wage a war on Midgard. It is notable that this is an Odin who has yet to sacrifice his eye for his famed wisdom. A subtle nod to why he’d use vengeance, and a supposed desire for peace to justify a war meant to strip Wenwu of his Ten Rings.

Speaking of Mr. Ten Rings, he is not the power hungry man bent on conquest we met in Shang-Chi. If anything, he is a precursor to Nick Fury. He sees Hela not as a threat, but as a potential ally to protect Earth from other mightier threats. Unfortunately, the half-hour format doesn’t give us much time to explore his reason for such trust, but luckily for him, it turns out to be well-placed... eventually.

Morris (he will always be Morris in my head), the little flying Dijiang, befriends Hela, and leads her, not Wenwu to Ta Lo and Jiayi. It is through Hela’s training with Jiayi that she learns to temper her anger. Hela may think she’s on a quest for vengeance against the father who raised her to be his sword and then set her aside in favor of peace. Yet, it’s self-discovery that offers her the freedom she yearns for.

Which is why the episode works much better on an emotional level than on a plot level. Plot-wise, Odin is both the instrument of Hela’s redemption and her main antagonist. Though, he doesn’t seem to be anything but a younger and not quite as wise a version of the man we meet in the first Thor movie. Odin’s parenting skills have always been somewhat suspect given Hela’s version of events in Ragnarok and what we saw of his treatment of Loki.

As for the rest, Wenwu is set up as Earth’s defender, but until the epilogue the only potential threats to Earth we meet are Hela and Odin. It’s also not clear why Jiayi agrees to teach Hela. Though, it is hinted that if Hela can learn balance, she will no longer be one of the threats Ta Lo is sworn to guard against. Finally, it is never explained how or why Morris is on Earth instead of Ta Lo, but his scenes with Hela are a hoot, so how much do we really care?

It appears this episode may be a chapter in a season long arc rather than a self-contained story. I hope that’s true. Don’t get me wrong. The episode totally works as a half-hour of escapist fun. Hela was her entertainingly snarky self. The visuals were stunning. And I was completely engaged. That said, the reflective nature of the storytelling means that Hela’s redemption fails to match her brother’s, just as her conflict with Odin fails to reach the depths of Wenwu and Shang-Chi. It didn’t need to be that way. After all, last season The Powers That Be were able to shatter our hearts along with Dr. Strange’s in "What if... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands."

If this is part of a longer story, then the additional context may explain why this particular story among a myriad of possibilities had to be told. Was this a bad episode? Hardly. But I was hoping for a bit more.

3 out of 5 fiery knives


Hela: “The entire cosmos is out there waiting to be ruled.”

Odin: “No god should have dominion over death who has so little appreciation for life!”

Wenwu: “Most people do well to fear me.”
Hela: “Same. But you see, darling. I’m not most people.”

Hela: “I must say, escorting me to the instrument of your own demise, I can’t decide if you’re brave or stupid.”

Hela: “Father, please don’t do this to me.”

Wenwu: “Your father may have feared the fight in you, but I do not.”

Hela: “I’ve not survived a thousand years of war to die at the hands of foliage.”

Hela: “These threats of the Underworld you speak of, you wouldn’t happen to know of any of them looking for work?”

Jiayi: “One cannot fend of darkness with more darkness, only light.”

Jiayi: “Focus. Unity. Peace. Only through them will you discover what it is you truly seek.”

Hela: “I’m sorry, did you mean to make me a master of martial arts or dry cleaning?"

Odin: “A king must tame his threats… to ensure they fight for him.”

Jiayi: “The Ta Lo are guardians, not fighters.”
Hela: “I guess that’s the difference between you and me.”

Odin: “My dear girl. When you disappeared from Heimdall’s view, we thought the worst.”

Shari loves sci-fi, fantasy, the supernatural, and anything with a cape.

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