Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for What If…? Episode 4.
As far as What If…? is concerned, Marvel fans are getting our fair share of alternate universes and timelines to theorize about. Episode 1 started off perfectly, easing us into this multiversal world, but once we get to Episode 4, there are no holds barred. Episode 4 asks, “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” and the answer is pretty disastrous.
The wrinkle in time is a bigger change than Peggy Carter staying in the room during Steve Rogers' scheduled procedure or even than Yondu’s men picking up the wrong kid — a life is lost in this alternate reality.
Doctor Strange loses the love of his life, Christine Palmer, in the car accident that takes the use of his hands in the world as we know it. This leads to the direst ending we’ve seen yet in What If…?.
The events that lead to the ending of ‘What If…?’ Episode 4 show us a very different Doctor Strange.
As we know in the MCU, Doctor Strange becomes the Sorcerer Supreme after battling Dormammu when the Ancient One gets fatally wounded. He takes on the mantle as Earth’s protector, and the same thing happens in What If…?. However, in What If…?, this Doctor Strange is still grieving the loss of Christine, whereas, in the main MCU timeline, he isn’t grieving at all.
Because he has control over time using the Eye of Agamotto and the Time Stone, he tries to bring Christine back to life by going back in time. However, as Doctor Strange continues to fail and grow frustrated in bringing Christine back, the Ancient One appears to tell him that it isn’t possible.
Her death is what leads him to seek out mysticism, eventually become the Sorcerer Supreme, and gain power over time to bring him back to the moment of her death.
The ending of ‘What If…?’ Episode 4 is caused by an alternate Doctor Strange.
Once Doctor Strange absorbs every mystical being, including the octopus we meet in Episode 1 of What If…?, he’s completely transformed into a much darker version of himself. But then, we’re back in the present day, and the night that Doctor Strange decides to go back in time replays, but with a different outcome. He decides not to do anything “reckless” and instead has a cup of tea with Wong.
However, when he steps outside, he sees that the universe appears to be melting away, dripping in darkness. “What was in that whiskey?” he asks jokingly, but he knows something calamitous must have occurred.
All of a sudden, the Ancient One comes back from beyond the grave, or as “a psychic impression sent through a splinter in reality,” to explain what really happened the night the darker Stephen Strange traveled back to Cagliostro.
She explains that on that fateful night when she attempts to stop Doctor Strange from altering an Absolute Point, she draws on the power of the Dark Dimension to split the timeline, hence splitting Doctor Strange. She knows that when he goes back in time, he will do whatever he can to bring back Christine, and she believes that the only person who could stop him would be himself.
However, unlike some other episodes of What If…?, there’s really no way out of this one. The Doctor Strange we know and love is fighting a darker, more powerful Doctor Strange to attempt to stop him from bringing back Christine.
But unlike the Vision battle we witness in WandaVision, there’s no reasoning with this darker Strange. He believes he’s doing this for love and is blind to his arrogance and the destruction he causes.
He succeeds in bringing her back, but because this creates a universal paradox, the universe melts and folds in on itself. It’s grotesque and tortuous to both him and Christine, who doesn’t want to be alive in this apocalyptic world.
But she doesn’t have to worry — her rebirth is short-lived as the universe implodes on itself. Not before our darker Strange tries to reason with the Watcher to reverse it all, to which the Watcher explains, “I am not a god, and neither are you.”
Of all the episodes of What If…? so far, this one easily has the biggest consequences. Although some other episodes resulted in some major losses, like the loss of the Avengers and Loki conquering the Earth in Episode 3, there was no total and absolute destruction until Episode 4. We're sure it will only get worse from here, but how?
Although the episodes of What If…? stand alone, there are many hints of how Doctor Strange’s manipulation over time could be disastrous in the MCU — like in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Episode 4 of What If...? is now available to stream on Disney Plus. New episodes drop Wednesdays.