Episode plot-wise, Marvel Studios’ “What If…?” has been a roller-coaster in terms of being “low-stakes” one week to “all the stakes” in the next. Its premiere was a straight retelling of an MCU film with a few roles switched around. Episode 4 saw a whole alternate universe destroyed while the one following saw a global zombie apocalypse threatening to go galactic. The what-if from last week saw “only” open genocidal war on the verge of breaking out between the US and Wakanda. Just how threatening is the conflict in the latest episode this time? Well, it keeps to “reasonable” levels.
So here we are talking about “What If…Thor Were an Only Child?” Longtime MCU viewers, try to recall the very first “Thor” film in 2011. Before things go off the rails with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki tricking Chris Hemsworth’s titular Thor into doing an action that causes his exile to Earth, we get the impression that the horned-helmeted trickster was something of a hapless minder to his impulsive, boisterous Thunder God brother. What if the is not the case due to this changed backstory, of Thor’s dad Odin not taking the infant child (Loki) of his enemy Laufey and adopting him as a son. What now?
As the meat of the episode shows, without the burden of a “younger sibling” to hold him back (or indirectly teach him life lessons with his chronic deviousness), Thor becomes a party-animal alien/god royal. Readers of “A Song of Ice and Fire” (and, to a lesser extent, “Game of Thrones”) might make comparisons between only-child!Thor to King Robert Baratheon, but even less restrained. How else would you describe Thor’s inviting every cosmic who’s-who he knows to a party on Earth? An assembly of gods, celestials, ETs and more which rightly worry global peacekeeper SHIELD and acting-commander Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).
But as this episode’s storyline takes place during the timeframe of “Thor,” that means during his party the Prince of Asgard meets the human scientists he encountered in the “Sacred Timeline,” Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). As like canon, sparks fly between Thor and Jane, giving the former a window to the “lesser beings” and the latter evolving her fascination with the Asgardian. However the collateral damage to Earth done by guests of Thor’s party has pushed Hill to get outside help, in the form of Captain Marvel. Can the situation be defused before the planet ends up like a “Dragonball” battlefield?
In terms of deviations caused by event divergences in “What If…?” this episode has some very stark evolutions of prominent MCU characters. Thor as an only child is less burly and more “pretty-boy.” Just as surprising is the change in Loki. Raised by his father among his true people, Frost Giant!Loki is more chill. Rather than seething under Thor’s shadow they treat each other as equals with just the right amount of vitriol. And the dynamics between Thor and Jane, the latter fully knowing the former is otherworldly from the start, offer fresh new variation.
Speaking of variation, there is some significant break from the episodic nature of the MCU anthology towards the end, when a character appears that the cosmic presenter/narrator the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) never sees coming (else he would have commented on it as part of the narrative). Considering the cosmic power this newcomer was packing, one might surmise he was not part of the alternative universe the Watcher was observing, but rather came from outside of it. What this entails for the remaining episodes of “What If…?” on Disney+, one can only guess for the moment.
Now that is one way to hype the audience towards the few remaining episodes of this show. And as a parting comment, yes, we did notice Thor doing the “Zemo dance” from “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” Pure meme, that. “What If…?” gets a new episode Wednesdays on Disney+.
Image from MCU Wiki – Fandom