The Avengers are some of the most beloved characters in entertainment media, and there’s no further proof of their timeless appeal and charisma than to put them in a completely different time period. The eighth ‘What If…?’ proves this beyond any doubt, putting all of the core characters audiences love in 1602, inspired by Neil Gaiman’s eight-part comic series. The episode hilariously reimagines its characters in the Elizabethan world, and Captain Carter must figure out how to save the dying universe before it’s too late.
The show’s writers imagine what each Avenger would look like in this time period, with each frame dripping with creativity. It starts with the characters’ designs, all featuring accurate-looking clothing like armor and cloth. The dialogue is appropriately Shakespearean with plenty of thees and thous. But it’s still packed with humor, yet it perfectly conveys what the audience needs to know.
The heroes have also been designated roles that fit both their character and the period. Thor is the King, thrust into the role after a terrible tragedy, Loki is a mischievous yet charismatic theatre actor, Happy is the sheriff in town and Scarlett Witch and Nick Fury are wise advisers. Tony Stark is the mad genius ahead of his time, and Captain America, forever a man out of time, is a Robin Hood, complete with merry men in Scott Lang and Bucky Barnes. Red Skull even makes a cameo as a particularly grim executioner.
Anchoring the audience in this ahistorical world is Captain Carter. Her task is to do the impossible, she must save the dying universe. She does this because it’s the right thing to do, standing in the face of the multiversal authority figure The Watcher, who insists that she must not interfere. Carter exemplifies the theme of Captain America in this episode, standing up for her morals and never taking the easy way out, despite everything seeming hopeless.
The episode has several action beats, with swashbuckling sword fights and incorporating a clever treetop fight with several Yellowjackets, capping it off with a reimagined Destroyer. It crams so much into its short run time, not just the many fights but the locations and world-building the show achieves in a short amount of time.
‘What If…?’ has always had its emotional core in Captain Carter. While other characters like Black Widow have had emotional material, the show centers its heavier stuff on Carter. It’s largely to do with the fact that the show is reliving the emotional beats of the Captain America film, but they still struck a cord. This episode leverages that connection between Steve and Peggy in an original way, as Carter is forced from the love of her life leave her again. She expresses hope that in one universe, she and Steve can be together, which audiences know already is the case.
Episode eight of ‘What If…?’ sets up the finale with a light touch at the end, showing more restraint than the prior season. It once again teases the return of Doctor Strange Supreme. Apart from a quick cameo in an earlier episode, Supreme was left to watch Killmonger and Zola for eternity. He seems to have figured out a loophole in his predicament, which could be disastrous considering his immense power and grief.