DISCLAIMER: This recap of the What If…? episode “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” is riddled with spoilers. You’ve been warned. Proceed at your own peril.
Welcome back, Marvel fans! This week’s What If…? episode is definitely on par with the T’Challa/Star-Lord outing two weeks ago. This almost feels like a precursor to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, namely the prevalent horror elements throughout. The visuals are stunning.
If there’s one thing I’ve gleaned from the MCU, it’s that every one of these dorks needs a therapist. Strange’s journey in “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” is proof positive of that. Oh, and he doesn’t lose his heart in the literal sense, although I was hoping he’d go the Tin Man route and actually be bereft of a heart.
Ready to delve into episode four of What If…? Let’s get to it.
We open with the Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright), providing his usual opening narration. Stephen Strange (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is taking his best lady, Christine Palmer (voiced by Rachel McAdams), to an event in his honor.
Strange gets into a terrifying accident like that fateful night in the first Doctor Strange film (save for Christine’s presence). But this time, instead of losing his hands, he loses his “heart” — Christine.
After her funeral, Strange travels to Kamar-Taj to learn the mystic arts. He discovers time manipulation and time travel, which sparks an idea. However, Wong (voiced by Benedict Wong) and the Ancient One (voiced by Tilda Swinton) warn him against altering the fabric of time.
Grief does strange things to us, though.
The subsequent events play out much like the movie. The Ancient One perishes, Strange bargains with Dormammu and moves into the Sanctum Sanctorum in NYC.
One night, Wong finds Strange drinking whiskey alone, cradling the Eye of Agamotto in his hands. Wong urges Strange to join him for tea, lest he tries to do something reckless.
What follows is a montage of Strange manipulating the sacred timeline. He attempts to influence the events of that night with the Eye of Agamotto. However, Christine dies — every single time.
There’s even a cameo featuring Christine Everhart (voiced by Leslie Bibb), the journalist who appears in multiple MCU films, including Iron Man, reporting on Christine’s death in one of Strange’s failed experimentations.
Suddenly, the Ancient One appears to find an utterly devastated Strange after the accident. She reveals that Christine’s passing is an Absolute Point on the timeline. It has to occur. Her death catalyzes Strange’s trajectory in the mystic arts and his triumph over Dormammu.
Only someone omnipotent can break an Absolute Point.
So, Strange travels back in time in search of the Lost Library of Cagliostro. He encounters O-Bengh (voiced by Ike Amadi), a librarian of the said lost library.
Next, Strange learns through his research that he must absorb mythical beings’ power to break an Absolute Point. He starts by summoning a massive tentacled creature and timidly inquires if he can take its power.
That doesn’t go over well.
O-Bengh urges Strange to cease his mission — he can’t bring Christine back. But our doc is nothing if not headstrong.
After he heals, Strange stops asking. Instead, he takes.
We see him absorbing the power of every mythical creature he summons, from a small gnome to gigantic two-headed beasts. He even obtains his Cloak of Levitation from a bug. Yes, a bug.
Our narrator informs us that Strange is on the wrong path. At one point, he senses the Watcher’s presence. This is the first time any character has noticed the Watcher.
Later, when Strange feels strong enough to sever the Absolute Point, he finds O-Bengh on his deathbed. Apparently, centuries have passed since Strange first arrived at the Lost Library of Cagliostro. Despite being a sorcerer, O-Bengh decided to age like a normal human.
Then, O-Bengh informs Strange that he isn’t a “whole” man. There are two versions of himself coexisting in the sacred timeline. To break the Absolute Point, he must, well, absorb himself.
Next, we see Strange back in NYC, sitting in the Sanctum Sanctorum. This version of Strange abstains from utilizing the Eye of Agamotto to revive Christine.
He heads outside and notices something … strange. Everything appears to be vanishing. The fabric of reality is torn, and the universe is at stake. The Ancient One resurfaces and reveals she split the timeline when he traveled into the past for the lost library. The universe will be eradicated if Strange’s “misguided” version attempts to sever the Absolute Point.
So, Wong implements a protection spell for Strange. This ensures he won’t go bye-bye if his misguided self tries to attack him.
Later, Dark Strange makes his grand entrance. He looks … like he’s exercising healthy coping mechanisms for his grief.
Naturally, Dark Strange tries to persuade his other half to join him in bringing the love of their lives back from the dead. Strange emphatically urges DS to let Christine go.
But he won’t, so fight they must.
Both Stranges duke it out. It’s a visual feast for the eyes.
Finally, Dark Strange wins by successfully destroying Strange’s protection spell. He absorbs himself.
Now, Dark Strange resurrects Christine. However, something’s amiss. DS looks like a disfigured amalgam of all the creatures he’s absorbed. Christine recoils from him in abject fear.
Suddenly, the universe continues to erupt. Like everything else around her, Christine starts to disappear. Dark Strange finally addresses the Watcher, and the two have a conversation. He begs the Watcher to fix this. Strange realizes the error of his ways.
Again, this is the first time a character has directly interacted with the Watcher.
He pleads with the Watcher to save the universe and Christine.
However, the Watcher isn’t meant to interfere; only observe.
Thus, the universe ends.
“What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” is a visually impressive allegory for grief. If Strange worked on his mental health, sought out a therapist and adopted healthy coping mechanisms, none of this would’ve transpired. But then we wouldn’t have a story.
I sincerely hope this is telling of things to come in the Doctor Strange sequel. I can get on board with seeing more of this storyline in a live-action format. It’s certainly not original — we’ve seen beleaguered, grieving protagonists attempt to revive their lost loves in movies and on TV. However, the horror aspects and MCU elements breathe new life into the trope.
Petition to get a therapist for every Phase Four character? Petition granted.
New episodes of What If…? are available to stream every Wednesday on Disney Plus.
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