What/If Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”, is an excellent start to the neo-noir story, introducing us to Anne’s twisted world played wonderfully by Renée Zellweger.
This recap for Netflix’s What/If season 1, episode 1, “Pilot” contains significant spoilers. We have provided extensive coverage on Mike Kelley’s neo-noir social thriller, and you can read the review for season 1 by clicking these words.
What/If Episode 1, “Pilot”, does not hold back the intended style of the neo-noir series, nor does it constrain Renée Zellweger’s character Anne, who spends the opening scene delivering a monologue. Her words pertained to taking opportunities and ensuring fate is not just a predetermination, but rather it is grasped regardless of personal cost. She’s a shrewd businesswoman, a famous CEO known for taking risks at the expense of others. What/If Episode 1, “Pilot”, purposefully shows lightning in the dark sky every time she’s making an appearance, and while it’s on the nose, it works.
The critical plot summary that kickstarts What/If is the marriage of Sean (Blake Jenner) and Lisa (Jane Levy). They are the type of couple who from an outside perspective look unbreakable and generically happy. Lisa runs a self-funded medical technology start-up that has founded genetic sequencing that can prevent and predetermine hereditary diseases for those who are not lucky. Lisa is having a hard time selling her pitch to top firms, due to numerous risks of litigation from big pharma companies.
What/If Episode 1 also explores Sean and Lisa’s friends; more closely we learn of Angela and Todd who both work at the same hospital. After a reasonably innocent gathering, Lisa learns that Angela is having an affair with the chief surgeon. Another snippet of information is that Todd and Sean are both eager to join the academy presumably for the police or fire service. The slightly less relevant plot points will likely become more important as the series progresses.
It’s clear that this is Anne’s world, and What/If Episode 1 makes that abundantly clear. With money running out of Lisa’s company, the same money provided by her family’s savings, the entrepreneur requires a saving grace. After a night working behind a bar, Sean is seduced into a conversation by Anne. She fleetingly flirts, and maintains eye contact with the man, and has a way of making his youthfulness look like a weakness. She has an offer to make Lisa.
We soon learn that the offer is the following and sets up a landmark basis for the pilot; Anne wants one night with Lisa’s husband, in exchange for $80m funding into her gene sequencing company. It has to be contractual, and the night cannot be spoken about after the event. Naturally, the couple rejects the proposal, seething at Anne’s reputation to expose the weaknesses of others, and Anne senses a defect in their marriage. What/If Episode 1 goes through the motions of Lisa and Sean continuing their lives, but with money problems impending, they decide they trust each other enough to follow through with the proposal.
What/If Season 1, Episode 1, ends with Lisa running through the rain, regretting her decision to allow her husband to spend the night with Anne. When she gets to the hotel room, neither of them are present. The next day, the CFO of her company excitedly rings her with the news that $20m has entered the company accounts, but Sean returns home, with his knuckles bloodied and bruised. It seems at this point, Anne’s advances are possibly not sexual. Anne asks her colleague if he thinks she’s a monster, to which he replies, “people who have suffered terrible things, sometimes do terrible things”. The pilot for What/If is an outstanding start for the Netflix series.
Our coverage of What/If season 1 does not end here. You can read the recap of episode 2 by clicking these words.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.