By Janie Walenda
“What If” season two had a lot of work to do to win me over. Working against a combination of uninspiring episode premises and my newfound general ambivalence toward comic book movies and television, I started season two with far less excitement for the first season. While I can’t say that season two unequivocally won me over, it did surprise me with its enjoyability and inventiveness.
The best part of season two is how much fun most of the episodes are. I don’t like when comic book movies take themselves too seriously and overlook the insanity of the comic book source material, so watching “What If” embrace the wacky, while still delivering solid plots and characters, put a smile on my face. This season also capitalized on under-used characters, with the 80’s Avengers being made up of the mentor characters from MCU movies, the Red Room and Melina returning as antagonists and Hela getting a fully-fleshed character arc alongside Wenwu.
Other personal favorite moments include the 1602 Avengers that featured Loki performing Shakespeare and Steve Rogers becoming a Robin Hood figure alongside Bucky and Scott Lang, Hela controlling zombies including zombie Wanda and the “Loki” series finally getting acknowledged by the rest of the MCU in a stunning final shot of the season.
One of the most notable episodes of “What If” is the episode that introduces Kahhori, a completely original character to the series. While the origin of her powers is a little rough, as I would love it if Marvel could finally just forget about the Tesseract, her origin story is among the MCU’s best. The episode manages to pack a lot of world-building, character development and action into thirty minutes, along with the season’s best visuals. There is one moment in particular that may be predictable in terms of plot, but the visualization and execution left my jaw on the ground. While I think the finale weakened Kahhori’s debut a bit, she is still an exciting character that I would love to see make her way into the comics and movies.
The finale is where I am most conflicted about season two. On the one hand, it is an absolute blast to watch. What are comic books for if not to be a visualization for smashing action figures together? But the finale does reveal “What If’s” identity crisis. In every other episode, it asks us to invest in Captain Carter’s journey, to empathize with this character and her tragedy of being out of time in the same way we did with Steve Rogers. The show asks us to take Kahhori seriously as a new character and hopes that we want to see more of her. But in the finale, both characters are reduced to action figures, and you can almost hear a little kid narrating what they think is the coolest action scene ever.
I am not such a joyless nerd that I can’t see the fun in the final battle, but I am enough of a film reviewer to be annoyed by the inconsistency in characters and tone, not to mention the wrecking of one of season one’s best character arcs in the form of Strange Supreme for the sake of a shiny villain. “What If” season two is a bright spot in a rough year for comic book properties, with engaging visuals, solid writing and fun premises. But “What If” seems torn between being an alternate reality anthology series, or a serialized multiverse story. It told fun, engaging stories in both styles, but it cannot continue to vacillate between the two if it hopes to remain one of the MCU’s most creative and intriguing projects.
“What If” seasons one and two are streaming on Disney+
Janie Walenda is a junior Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is overly passionate about animation, caffeine and weirdly enough Dracula.
Images courtesy of Marvel Studios Animation