Episode 4 is in many ways a turning point for What If…?. It’s the first time the series explores the most tragic ending possible, with Doctor Strange destroying his universe by breaking the laws of the multiverse, in an attempt to save the love of his life. However, should the Ancient One bear the same or even more responsibility for the universal tragedy?
There is no question that Doctor Strange is responsible for wiping out his universe in What If…? He is warned multiple times about absorbing the power of mystical beings and of changing an Absolute Point. And while he is remorseful by the end it’s clear this is too little too late when compared to all the lives lost by his selfish actions.
But while Doctor Strange is undoubtedly largely responsible, he isn’t the only one who made bad decisions that led to the end of his universe. The Ancient One used the powers of the Dark Dimension to split this single universe into two timelines. One where Strange traveled to the Lost Library in Cagliostro in the past and the other where Doctor Strange continued to live out his life following Christine’s death with events playing out as they already had once before. But this singular choice seems to be the very action that began the end of the universe.
HOW THE ANCIENT ONE BEGAN THE DOWNFALL OF THE UNIVERSE BEFORE DOCTOR STRANGE
Doctor Strange broke the laws of the multiverse in episode 4 of What If…? and changed an Absolute Point, but the Ancient One helped to break the universe as well. Two timelines cannot realistically occupy the same space, inevitably one overcomes the other and havoc is wreaked. While Strange’s decision to follow through on his plan to change an Absolute Point may be the moment that broke everything, the catalyst was the Ancient One’s actions.
Before Strange had even attempted to save Christine, still absorbing power from mystical beings, the universe was disappearing into inky blackness. The second Doctor Strange witnessed cars, buildings, even people dissolving before the Ancient One visited him to warn him. The Ancient One’s description of the events seems skewed especially when she blames Doctor Strange for the universe beginning to dissolve. The dark Doctor Strange had not yet made his attempt to save Christine so how exactly was he already destroying the universe?
In all likelihood the Ancient One was responsible in part for this destruction having not only spilt this universe into two timelines, but once again using the Dark Dimension. Had the Ancient One not split the timeline, the fabric of the universe may not have been weakened and Strange may not have been lost when left to his own devices.
The Ancient One allowed Doctor Strange to fall down this path when she made the decision to split the timelines. And even if she had been unable to come up with another option she could have helped the second Doctor Strange grow stronger in anticipation of facing off against his other half. The Ancient One sent her apprentice into a fight ill prepared and because of this his loss was inevitable.
The dark version of Strange was left alone for centuries, consumed by grief, guilt, anger, and power from unknown dark sources. This is not the first student the Ancient One lost to grief and a sense of betrayal, but instead of learning from this and trying to help him understand, she simply allows him to continue on his doomed quest therefore leaving the world to its fate in What If…?. The Ancient One had to have known that the dark Doctor Strange was amassing power in an attempt to undo an Absolute Point, but instead of challenging him herself or at least trying to help the second Doctor Strange, she sends a weaker version to fight him.
One again, the Ancient One’s own actions are responsible for her downfall and endanger the world itself, but in this case, it wasn’t just her that paid the price. This world was destroyed and Doctor Strange only realized his error once it was too late. When the second Doctor Strange points out the dangers in her plan to split the timeline she freely admits it was “exceedingly dangerous.” The Ancient One’s first instinct was to use the powers of the Dark Dimension to break the laws of the universe and because of this the entire universe was lost.
Had the Ancient One found any other course of action things could have turned out very differently. If she had shown up earlier, before Doctor Strange experienced the loss of his loved one countless times, he may have been easier to reach. Instead of so consumed by pain, grief, and guilt at being unable to save her. And as inexcusable as the corrupted Doctor Strange’s actions were especially when one takes into account the outcome, the question does become did the Ancient One start him on this path?. Doctor Strange may have destroyed the universe in What If…?, but it seems that the Ancient One’s actions led to this outcome.
The universe was disappearing long before Doctor Strange acted on his need to save Christine, which at least seems to point to the likelihood that not all of this was completely his fault. The corrupted Doctor Strange is yet another student to lose his way seeking to break the laws of the universe out of grief, anger, and betrayal. But this time she wasn’t able to use Doctor Strange himself to clean up a mess that she had made. Doctor Strange is responsible for his actions which wiped out an entire universe in What If..?, without questions, but realistically it seems like the blame cannot be laid entirely on his shoulders.
What did you think of What If…? episode 4? Do you think the Ancient One was in part responsible for the destruction of the universe? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media and check back with The Illuminerdi for more MCU and What If…?