We made mention on how Marvel Studio’s “What If…?” is too obsessed with downer endings. True it copies the style of the Marvel Comics it is based on; doing shocking swerves even when most of a story is uplifting. But the animated anthology on Disney+ pulls no punches on the grimness. Episode 3: Avengers die before they team up. Episode 4: Strange Supreme’s universe is destroyed. Even the most lighthearted episodes are not spared. T’challa Star-Lord sees Ego getting Peter Quill. Only-child Thor ends up encountering Ultron in Vision’s body with all the Infinity Stones. In fact, that twist ending is the subject of the penultimate episode of “What If…?”
Look at the title of “What If…Ultron Won?” and you know what to expect. The titular Ultron, big bad of 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” was a security program that deemed humans, and later all organic life, as an existential threat and created an army of android bodies to wipe them out. His plan even hinged on creating a perfect synthetic body, which canonically was stolen by the Avengers and animated with Tony Stark’s JARVIS AI and the Mind Infinity Stone in Loki’s scepter, creating the superhuman synthezoid called Vision.
Not so in this alternate timeline. Ultron succeeds in creating his Vision body and uploading his AI into it. He even discovers the Mind Stone in the scepter he had been using to mind-control humans to do his bidding. With new body and Infinity Stone, Ulton destroys the Avengers without trouble and exterminates life on Earth. When Thanos arrives with the other Infinity Stones, Ultron kills him and claims them all. His anti-organic programming spurs him on with knowledge of life existing beyond Earth. So he deploys his drone army to omnicide planets one by one. Not even the strongest galactic beings can stop him.
However what happens when a destructive AI that self-programmed itself to kill organic life…runs out of life to kill in the entire universe? Ultron would have lost all purpose, even if his programming compels him to carry on, even when all that remains in existence is metal. Unfortunately for everyone the Infinity Stones in Ultron’s possession also give him power to cross universes. Now he is set to annihilate all the living in all possible realities, even beyond reality when he becomes aware of the Watcher and tries to kill him! The Watcher escapes, but faced with this threat he must break his watcher’s taboo.
The eighth episode of the 9-part inaugural season of “What If…?” really sells just how threatening an entity like Ultron could be. In the Marvel Comics his print version has imperiled the Earth and even the timeline. He even got a “What If?” comic issue where he brutally wins against the X-Men. Comic-book fans however feel that the character was downgraded in his MCU portrayal during “Age of Ultron.” It is rather ironic that it took a spinoff, and animated at that, to demonstrate why this Marvel super-villain is scary.
Aside from this “course correction” in terms of Ultron’s power, the episode also implied even greater potential in the Infinity Stones sought after by Thanos. Their comic-book versions the Infinity “Gems” only had power in the universe where they exist (the main Marvel Comics continuity of “Earth-616”). However the Infinity Stones of the MCU setting (Earth-199999) retain their manipulative dominion over Space, Time, Soul, Mind, Power and Reality no matter what universe they are in. In the hands of (or installed in) an omnicidal force like Ultron, that spells big trouble where nowhere is safe.
Finally, the penultimate “What If…?” episode confirms the secret that the episodic nature of the animated anthology was trying to hide from the viewer. The stories are connected. Ultron’s trans-universal murder spree has made it so, and now the Watcher is forced to return to a character from a past episode to ask for aid. This is a game-changer in the presentation of this show. We need only one more week to see how it all turns out. Season 1 of Marvel Studios’ “What If…?” comes to Disney+ October 6.
Image courtesy of Yahoo News