“What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord” has a note of sadness to it, but it’s a fun, impressive outing that has a weight to its storytelling that the premiere lacked.
This recap of What If…? season 1, episode 2, “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord”, contains spoilers.
Last week’s fun but risk-averse premiere of Marvel’s What If…? felt, in many ways, like exactly the kind of story that this speculative premise was designed for. It asked an obvious question that many fans had probably considered before, but it didn’t rework existing characters and plot elements in a way that felt too drastic. The same cannot be said of “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord”, which also feels like exactly the kind of story the premise was built to tell, though admittedly for completely different reasons.
What If…? season 1, episode 2 recap
It has to be said right from the jump, though, that there’s an unusual sense of profundity to this episode thanks in large part to it being Chadwick Boseman’s final role before his tragic, untimely death and hearing his voice emanate from T’Challa, even an animated version of him comes with an unavoidable pang of sadness. If the point of an anthology like this is to ask “What if?”, then there’s no better subject for the question than what Boseman’s career might have looked like had it not been so cruelly cut short. His presence here works to reinforce the idea of the show in general and the power of simply imagining what might have been under slightly different circumstances. Even for a show existing slightly outside what is otherwise a rigorously plotted and interconnected storytelling universe, it’s nice to be reminded of its inherent value, canon or not.
Anyway, the episode, written by the show’s head writer A. C. Bradley, imagines what might have happened if T’Challa, not Peter Quill, was kidnapped by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and taken to be an intergalactic Ravager. And it isn’t as simple as you might think. Old, expected faces like Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) make obligatory appearances, but so too do other familiar faces, several of whom – and one in particular – isn’t exactly known for playing well with others, to put things mildly. And while the premiere re-centered Steve Rogers in the Captain America story, “What If T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” keeps Peter Quill almost completely side-lined until it’s time to ask what his relationship with Ego might mean in a universe where he isn’t a superhero.
These are much bigger implications and more complex questions than anything we saw in the premiere; the show is highlighting the idea of small changes having unknowable ripple effects in every corner of the canon, which is a fun storytelling exercise, not to mention an important reminder of the importance of how malleable these characters and plot beats are. Perhaps they shouldn’t be taken so seriously, at least not in one particular form – perhaps the point is to take the idea of them seriously, to value what they might potentially mean, to all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.
Not to get too hyperbolic about a knockabout sci-fi story, of course, but you get the point. And besides, this episode might hijack the typically irreverent tone of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it also, through T’Challa, captures some of the honor, dignity, and gravitas typically associated with Wakanda. It’s a juxtaposition that works surprisingly well, really, staying true to the fundamentals of Wakandan royalty while also letting T’Challa’s charisma shine through in a slightly new way. Chadwick Boseman will certainly be missed.
Technically, the animation remains high-quality, though reminiscent of the live-action MCU’s blocking and cinematography – again, fine with me, but probably a bit tedious for some, even if the sci-fi elements add more color and imagination to the backdrops (the use of a purplish motif is particularly, and fittingly, effective). The voice work remains consistent, though unavoidably somber, and the weight of the implications are felt much stronger here than they were in the premiere. All told, this is an excellent outing, and people are going to be rightly moved by it. Whatever What If…? does in its next few episodes, this will doubtlessly remain a talking point.