Finding an Emotional Connection with What If…?

We are going to talk about two things tonight.

  1. What it takes to make me cry
  2. My thoughts and feelings regarding Disney+’s What If…?

To begin, I do not cry often. I feel sadness as intensely as anyone else, but I don’t usually express it as crying. I’m not trying to be manly and hide my tears. There have been many times this last year and a half where I wanted to cry, but my body refused. I have theories as to why I am this way, but that can be a subject for a different post.

I am physically capable of crying, but it usually only happens when I’m experiencing something both beautiful and sad in an artistic expression. For example, Les Miz can bring me to tears if I’ve gone a long period without listening to it. At the end of Jean Val Jean’s life, there are two lines that hit me. First, when the ghost of Fontaine sings, “Come with me, where chains will never bind you.” It’s such a simple and profound way of describing heaven. That line cracks the shell, then this line scrambles my eggs: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Those are the most sad and beautiful lines I’ve ever heard. Think what you will of the movie adaptation, but even that was able to bring me to tears.

Art that makes my heart swell is capable of making me cry, and it usually takes me by surprise.

Now let’s talk about What If…? Not that there will be spoilers, so now is the time to click away if you haven’t seen the show yet.

** Spoilers for What If…? Below **

I liked the show. I just finished the last episode, and I think the whole series is really, really good.

Some episodes connected with me more than others. It started with the Captain Carter episode, and while I had a really good time with it, I can’t say that it hit me on an emotional level. It told a really great retelling of the Captain America story, hitting all the beats of the first Captain America movie, for better or for worse.

Episode two showed us what it would have been like if T’Challa became Star Lord, and hearing Chadwick Boseman did hit me. The story was fine, but it was Chadwick’s presence in the story that I remember the most.

Episode three gave us Fury’s Very Busy Week with a twist. It’s not easy watching all of the Avengers die, one by one, before they’re able to come together at the end. My emotions were stirred, but I wouldn’t say I was moved. At this point, none of the episodes seem to tie together at all, and it just feels like a fun ride with some interesting fan service.

Episode four is the first really dark episode, watching Doctor Strange try and save Christine over and over again, doing everything in his power to change one moment in time. He succeeds only to lose her and the rest of his universe. Still no tied to any of the other episodes, but I found this episode to be bitter and satisfying.

I’m going to lump episodes five, six, and seven together for brevity. The zombie episode had tone problems. I would describe it as interesting but not great. Six gave us an extremely interesting premise with Killmonger saving Tony Stark. This hit me as being dark like episode four. I did not like seeing T’Challa die in this episode. And Party Thor in episode seven was a fun and silly ride.

Throughout episodes one through seven, The Watcher becomes more and more substantial, with the ending of episode 7 showing The Watcher legitimately surprised when Ultron shows up, ready to destroy the world. The end of episode 7 is where we get our first hint that these were all stories part of a connected whole. From this point forward, we’re in for quite a ride.

Episode 8 shows us how scary Ultron could have been if he’d managed to get the body of Vision. He breaks his universe and turns his red eyes towards defeating the multi-verse. This episode was dark and beautiful and exciting, and it left me anticipating the final episode.

Episode 9 attempted to deliver on all the promises made throughout the whole season, and it mostly succeeded. The Watcher gathered characters from the previous episodes. It set up these Guardians of the Multi-Verse, and it was exciting to see them pitted against an infinity stone powered Ultron. Lots of payoffs for things setup throughout the season. It was very good.

Before the credits, our heroes are sent back to their respective worlds. Captain Carter stops for a moment and asks if she can have her happy ending with Steve. After everything she’s done and lost, has she not earned it? The Watcher apologizes, Captain Carter exchanges looks with Natasha, and then she goes through the door. Natasha is the last of them, and her world is the one Ultron wiped out. All of her friends are gone. She has nothing to return to. The Watcher bids her to go through the door and when she refuses, he says that the door was figurative, anyway. She finds herself on a helicarrier, where Captain America and Captain Marvel are fighting off Chitauri. The Watcher tells her that she’s in a world that lost their Black Widow. It’s not obvious, but this is the world from Episode Three that lost almost all of The Avengers, and she proves pivotal in defeating Loki.

The credits begin, and I think to myself, “This was a good series. I enjoyed this.” It didn’t hit me emotionally, and I felt a little bit hollow. But I had a good time and I had no complaints. If this had been it, I would be satisfied.

But then we get one more scene. Captain Carter, returned to the exact moment she left her universe. Natasha helps her, and they go down into the bowels of the ship where they find The Hydra Smasher, presumably with Steve Rogers alive inside.

And that got me. That choked me up. I don’t know why, but that was the emotional payoff I needed and I didn’t know it.

Why did that scene bring tears to my eyes? I don’t know. I think it’s because Captain Carter, after staying true and being the best hero she could be, took the step through the door knowing she would never see the one she loved again. Instead of leaving it there, the universe gave her and Steve another chance.

It got me, and I love it for it.

How would I rank What If…? against the other Disney+ shows? Just below Loki and either tied with or just above Wandavision. I’ve loved all of the shows and I’m glad to have watched them. Episode 5 of Loki still puts that series above all the others in my eyes, and I don’t expect anyone else to see these shows the same way I do. My criteria for enjoyment might be a little bit weird.

How have you enjoyed the Disney+ shows? Let me know your thoughts on What If…? because I’d love to talk with someone about it.