While episode 4 of What If…? was a tragic epic love story with very little humor, episode 5 leans into the characteristic comic relief that comes from some of the survivors and the MCU as a whole. Peter’s ridiculous orientation video on how to survive zombies as well as his constant references to horror movies, Scott Lang’s endless Dad jokes and puns, as well as Banner’s hilarious yet understandable reaction in his first zombie encounter. With how dark this episode goes these comedic respites help to make the episode less bleak. And considering just how few characters survive in the end humor and heart are needed.
For an episode full of death and darkness one of the darkest moments in the episode, aside from the gruesome deaths of the zombified heroes, is the unexpected twist involving Vision. The survivors are following a beacon to a SHIELD facility where they believe a cure is waiting. The heroes find Vision with a cured Scott Lang, or at least the no longer zombified head of Scott Lang.
The dark twist comes in the form of their discovery that Vision has been feeding other survivors, T’Challa being the only one they found, to the zombie Scarlet Witch. T’Challa has lost a leg when Bucky Barnes finds him, but he didn’t lose it fighting against the zombies. Instead What If…? takes a page out of the Marvel Zombies comic run and T’Challa has been kept alive and used as food for Scarlet Witch by Vision.
What If…? has managed to mirror WandaVision in a surprising way with Vision being the one to go to terrible lengths to try and keep his love alive. The actions are unforgivable, but it adds another, unexpected, layer to the love story between Vision and Wanda. The episode also manages to fit in moments from MCU canon notably the removal of the mind stone from Vision’s head, although this time the android takes this upon himself.
The pacing of this What If…? episode works well given how much story was told. Although some of the slower tension building moments that are used in zombie films were a bit rushed it still works. The episode flows well and the mystery of who will survive and if the cure will be found adds to the tension that is lost by the lack of longer more suspense filled moments of horror.
The combination of dark horror, grotesque deaths, moments of heart, and classic MCU comedy mix well overall. The deaths are surprising although the sense of loss isn’t truly felt by the characters or the audience other than with Hope. And while the comedy helps to keep the dark horror from overtaking the story entirely there are times where it takes away from some of the moments that should be more tragic or terrifying. For example, as Happy is dragged into the darkness and infected he continues to exclaim “Blam” as he shoots from his gauntlet, which takes away from the terror that one would expect in this moment of impending death.
This is the most open ended episode yet, ending on a cliffhanger as Peter, Scott, and T’Challa escape. The world is still overrun by the virus and though they might have a cure that can be created in Wakanda. The final shot is a zombified Thanos with the Infinity gauntlet which is only missing the mind stone. In this case it works, not only because it fits the expected trope, but because there is no reasonable way to tie the story up fully without ending even more tragically.
The music immediately sets the tone for the episode with an eerie and at time frantic feel. It immediately puts the viewer on edge and continues to elevate the classic zombie movie moments. The score leans into the tragedy and heroism of Hope’s sacrifice as it swells when she saves her friends and at the end it becomes hauntingly tragic as through in mourning as the survivors escape. The production design is excellent, immediately making the world feel post-apocalyptic with the color choices and the Quantum Realm is absolutely stunning. The animation is once again phenomenal with the zombified Avengers looking especially grotesque.
The Watcher continues to evolve no longer only an outline in the background. And although he doesn’t interact with any of the characters his design implies that he is growing closer to moving beyond being simply an observer. What If…? has once again explored a compelling story that reveals new facets of beloved characters. Diving into a new genre exploring horror, specifically zombie tropes, through the lens of the MCU. And although the Marvel Zombie episode is horrifically fun it doesn’t quite measure up to the high bar set by truly magnificent Dark Doctor Strange episode of last week.
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