Recap: What If … Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?
Marvel’s highly anticipated animated series What If…? premiered last week with its first episode, “What If…Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” Fans were introduced to the implications of the once-linear timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe being just a fraction of an expansive multiverse.
In the upcoming weeks, viewers will be guided through these branching timelines by a being called Uatu, who simply introduces himself as the Watcher. Narrating moments throughout the episode, he tells viewers that reality is “a prism of endless possibility where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities, creating alternate worlds from the ones you know,” as images from different realities float across the screen like fractured pieces of a kaleidoscope.
The Watcher provides viewers with brief background on the story of Steve Rogers as Captain America and Agent Peggy Carter as we have come to know it, and he ushers viewers to a familiar scene featuring Steve preparing to undergo his legendary transformation. As Steve and Peggy survey Howard Stark and Dr. Erskine’s machinery, the Watcher notes that a “single choice” is about to create “a whole new universe.”
How was this universe created?
When asked if she would be more comfortable in the booth as Steve’s transformation is about to begin, Peggy chooses to stay in the room. In Captain America: The First Avenger, she and most of the other spectators watch from an observation room. The Watcher tells viewers that this divergent moment is what birthed the new universe playing out onscreen.
Looking around the room, Peggy notices a Hydra spy, who has also chosen to stay in the room, preparing to detonate an explosive. In spite of her best efforts to stop him, the spy is successful and the entire room is engulfed in flames. Steve, true to his brave and selfless core that fans have already come to know and love, leaps from the pod before the transformation can begin and rushes at the attacker. He is shot in the process, and Peggy takes down the Hydra spy.
Peggy hurries to Steve’s side as Colonel Flynn and Howard argue about how to proceed, knowing that the whole project is about to go up in flames. Recognizing that time is of the essence and as decisive as ever, Peggy climbs into the pod herself, becoming the world’s only super soldier.
Captain Carter emerges
Although this universe diverges from the one previously established in the MCU, some fixtures of Peggy’s story remain unchanged. Much like her experience in Captain America: The First Avenger, and in spite of her newfound superhuman strength, Peggy still finds herself contending with the limiting beliefs about women that dominated the time. Steve and Peggy are also still drawn to one another. They bond over their shared experiences of being underestimated, having to work harder than most to prove their value, and their similarly courageous and kind hearts.
Howard, a supportive presence in Peggy’s life in both universes, was behind Peggy from the moment she offered herself up to receive the super soldier serum. He continues to demonstrate his unwavering faith in Peggy when he gives her an upgraded uniform and a familiar looking Vibranium shield, only in this universe, it bears the Union Jack instead of Steve’s iconic American star.
Never one to follow orders when they conflict with doing what is right, Peggy suits up and intercepts the Tesseract from Dr. Zola, impressively taking down many Hydra vehicles and soldiers in the process. Peggy is confident in her abilities and demonstrates her innate, inalienable resourcefulness in a fight. She delivers the Tesseract to a flustered Colonel Flynn, and when he notes that she is not qualified to be serving as a soldier, she demands a promotion, telling him that “‘Captain’ has a nice ring to it.” Much like her live-action counterpart, the Peggy of this universe knows how to make herself seen, heard, and respected.
Many parts of the episode play out similarly to Captain America: The First Avenger, only it is now Captain Carter rescuing the 107th and leading the Howling Commandos as they take out Hydra bases. Steve is able to join in the war effort when Howard Stark builds the Hydra Stomper, certainly a nod to the Iron Man suits of Howard’s future son Tony. Protected in the indestructible suit, Steve is able to fight alongside his best friend Bucky Barnes and Peggy. Peggy and Steve prove themselves to be as in sync on the battlefield as they are off until Steve — instead of Bucky — is presumed dead when their mission boarding the train goes awry.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Johann Schmidt was intent on acquiring the Tesseract to build advanced weaponry. In “What If…Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?,” however, he hopes to acquire something from space to help Hydra achieve world domination. Having only the slightest understanding of what the Tesseract is capable of and seeking to avenge Steve’s death, Peggy leads the Howling Commandos in an assault on Schmidt’s compound. Once the perimeter is breached, the group splits up to search the castle. Bucky locates the Hydra Stomper intact and with Steve alive, while Howard and Peggy find Schmidt in the process of summoning a giant, tentacled beast through a portal to space. Howard and a suited-up Steve try to help Peggy shut the portal and fight off the beast.
Peggy puts up a valiant fight against the growing space creature, fending off its relentless attacks while armed only with a sword and her shield. Proving that she and Steve are at their core cut from the same cloth, Peggy sacrifices herself to save the day, pushing the monster back through the portal and disappearing along with it, leaving a bereft Steve behind. In both universes, it would appear, Peggy and Steve were doomed to be separated by time.
What comes next?
Peggy reappears through a portal created by the Tesseract decades later, likely in 2012 based on the location’s appearance, finding Nick Fury and Clint Barton on the other side, establishing herself as the First Avenger instead of Steve. When asked if she’s alright, she says that she is and notes that the war was won. Grief, however, plays across her face as she realizes what her sacrifice cost her.
As the episode closes, the Watcher tells us more about himself and his role in the universe. He notes that Peggy’s simple choice to stay in the room “gave the multiverse a new hero,” and reiterates that his role is to watch and observe, and that at no point can he or will he interfere with how events transpire. As he narrates these new tales featuring established heroes, the Watcher will likely serve as an invaluable guide to the exploration of the multiverse.
Do you have predictions for the rest of What If…? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!