After showing us a world where one aspect of the universe was changed and its ramifications in the first two episodes Marvel do something different with the third. While they deliver a seemingly solid story it doesn’t feel like a ‘What If…?’ mainly due to the fact that the what if event isn’t clearly defined. Instead we get a murder mystery where, unless you are paying attention to the details, the revelation of murderer comes out of left field.
The story follows a day by day structure and is set during Nick Fury’s Big Week. This is a period of time in the MCU where the events of ‘Iron Man 2’, ‘The Incredible Hulk’, and ‘Thor’ are all taking place at the same time and the foundation of The Avengers is built. The events start on Monday and we are taken back to the scene in the donut shop where Fury attempts recruit Tony Stark. When Black Widow (clearly Scarlet Johansson didn’t sign off on image rights as the character model bares no resemblance) gives Tony the cure to the virus that is affecting him he drops dead. This could be the ‘What If..’ but it is the first in a series of slayings and not a one off event.
Jump to Tuesday and the events of ‘Thor’ begin as Agent Coulson finds finds Mjolnir in the New Mexico desert. Back at the donut shop Black Widow is taken into custody by the S.H.I.E.L.D. strike team. Fury believes she is innocent and before long she is free from her captors and is on the run. Cut to New Mexico and Fury has arrived to oversee the containment of Mjolnir alongside Hawkeye. An depowered Thor arrives to retrieve his hammer while Hawkeye is aiming an arrow at him from his perch and, unlike in the film, he fires the arrow through Thor’s heart killing him. Hawkeye is locked in a cell, protesting his innocence, but when Fury goes to interrogate the archer he is also dead in mysterious circumstances.
Moving onto Wednesday and we catch up with ‘The Incredible Hulk’. Black Widow goes to see Betty Ross for help with her investigation and learns Tony was killed by a small projectile that was in the syringe she used on him. Nick Fury then calls Black Widow to say that the people he had highlighted for the Avengers are being targeted and that she should go on the run. She realises Bruce Banner is hiding with Betty and the two potentially Avengers try to make their escape but are promptly stopped by General Ross and the army. Banner hulks out but is shot by mysterious bullet and explodes – another potential Avenger crossed off the list.
While this is happening, back in New Mexico Loki and forces of Asgard arrive to avenge his brother’s murder. They face off against S.H.I.E.L.D. who are no match against the power of gods. Fury brokers a peace, giving Loki one day to find his brother’s killer.
Black Widow carries on her investigation into the killings by accessing Fury’s restricted Avengers Initiative files and one of the names that pops up on the screen in Janet Van Dyne. She discovers that they were last accessed by someone who died two years ago. At that moment she is attacked by an apparently invisible assailant but survives long enough to get a message off to Fury that the killings are all about “Hope”. As soon as Fury gets the message he goes to see Loki.
Next the story jumps to Fury at the grave of Hope Van Dyne and the pieces of the mystery fall into place. He is attacked by a murderous Hank Pym who drops the exposition for the episode. Fury had recruited his daughter Hope as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and she had been killed on a mission two years prior. Driven mad by grief and over exposure to his Pym Particles he decides to take revenge on Fury by stopping the Avengers before they have even started. He attacks Fury but Fury defends himself with lightning reflexes and easily defeats him. It turns out Fury is actually Loki disguised by illusion and this was the deal that Fury had made with him. Skip to Friday and Loki has now taken over the world because there were no Avengers to stop him. Fortunately Fury has a back up plan and finds Captain America in the ice and has summoned Captain Marvel back to Earth given us a slight up beat at the end of a mainly down episode.
The problem with the episode is that it doesn’t work as a ‘What If…?’ because we aren’t told what the scenario is. It feels like the second part to a previous episode that would have been ‘What If… Fury had recruited Hope’. You need that information for the story to work as a ‘What If…?’ and as a murder mystery yet we are presented with it right at the end. Mysteries work better when there are clues but we aren’t really offered any. All great mysteries give you the answer at the start, you just don’t realise it because it is out of context, but this one gives it to you right at the end. Instead we get murder after murder with, ironically, no hope of working out who the killer is. As an MCU watcher Hank Pym has had no involvement onscreen with this part of the story so him appearing here has no set up.
And if they claim the whole point of the episode is Loki taking over the world because there is no-one to stop him, that is handled with one line of dialogue at the end. It just feels like someone thought killing the Avengers was cool and a reason was tacked on at the end.
Although the episode is well researched and plotted in terms of getting all the early films to line up it is ultimately a hollow experience with nice animation.