This article contains spoilers for episode 4 of What If…?.
The fourth episode of Marvel's What If…? marked a lot of firsts for the animated series. While 'What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?' wasn't the first episode with a darker tone than fans are used to (that title belongs to the third episode), it marks the first to have a truly unhappy ending. No small glimmer of hope, no bittersweet lesson from a beloved character, just Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) watching the universe collapse around himself. The episode is also the first to have Uatu (Jeffrey Wright), known better as the enigmatic being the Watcher, interact with the universe What If…? takes him to.
For the past three episodes, the Watcher has been the guide to each new universe the viewers have encountered — acting as the Rod Serling of Marvel’s version of The Twilight Zone. Uatu pulls viewers in, sets the scene, and lets the action play out as it’s supposed to be. There isn’t much known about the mysterious Watcher yet, but one of his guiding principles is his refusal to interfere in any universes. But in 'What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?', his hands are almost forced into the action, casting an interesting question to fans: could Uatu play a bigger part in What If…? than first predicted?
It could be very possible, especially as this fourth episode takes the series into uncharted waters. Instead of a retelling of a past MCU story with a different character or outcome, 'What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?' deals with a character directly trying to change events in their respective universe. After losing his on-and-off girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Doctor Strange finds himself on the path fans are familiar with — studying under his mentor The Ancient One and coming into contact with the mysterious Eye of Agamotto — but instead uses his mystic powers to try and prevent Christine’s death. No matter what he tries or hoops he jumps through, he can’t save her. When Strange first receives the Eye, he senses that the Watcher is there, leading viewers to believe that the mysterious being may have wanted to intervene, but didn’t. Instead, he lets Strange spiral down his path rather than risk other realities.
But The Ancient One has split Strange into two — now one who confronts his grief and another named Strange Supreme, who will stop at nothing to bring his love back, even if it means siphoning power from other creatures. The good Strange is no match for the dark and twisted version of himself and is defeated, finally bringing Christine back to him. But Strange Supreme has morphed into a monster that frightens the fellow surgeon, and reality has been torn apart.
It’s at this moment that Uatu appears out of thin air, watching the universe fray away. Strange begs the Watcher to help him fix what he has caused, but the Watcher has no kind words for the sorcerer. Uatu reminds him that meddling with time and the course of events “only leads to more destruction.” With the bomb dropped, the Watcher disappears and lets Strange accept his fate — Christine dying in his arms once again and a ravaged universe around him.
Every previous episode of What If…? has ended the same: viewers are taken away from the visited universe as the Watcher reminds us once again that he will not intervene with the lives of those he shows the audience, only observing. 'What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?' just ends after Strange is surrounded by darkness. There is no heed from Uatu to guide us into the next episode. It’s as if What If…? is shedding its anthology structure for something a bit more episodic, giving more room for rules to be broken and characters from previous episodes to be revisited.
But does this mean that the Watcher may finally let go of his “do not interfere” rule? As the stories told in What If…? get more drastic and world-altering, he might have to. Only four episodes in, it only feels like the narratives will get wilder and the characters more desperate to change their respective universes. Plus, if the promotional footage for the series is anything to go by, the Watcher will eventually team up with fan-favorite heroes to defeat something, but when that will happen or even if it will are still up in the air. One thing is definite, though — Uatu is capable of much more than viewers thought, and this may be just the beginning.
What If…? is currently streaming on Disney Plus with new episodes available on Wednesdays.