How What If…? Fails at Investing Its Audience

Image taken from Wikipedia.

Image taken from Wikipedia.

Elizabeth Petrick, Reporter

The world outside is dark, the only light coming from the lamps on the street and the moon itself. At this late hour, the need to sleep is becoming increasingly pertinent. After so long mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, it’s clearly time to rest in preparation for the next day. Just as it is about to overtake them, it occurs to them that today is Wednesday. The new episode of What If…? was released! They should be excited, they had stayed up so late to watch WandaVision, after all. It wasn’t too important a show, though. What If…? could wait until after school the next day.

In 2021, Marvel has been running successfully after successful Disney+ Original. Shows like WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki were constantly at the top of the trending section during and after their airtime. With this clear trend, it was expected that What If…? would do the same. However, What If…? didn’t make the same impact on the audience that the other Marvel shows did. 

“I kept forgetting to watch the show and didn’t feel a lot of motivation to finish the episodes,” said freshman Ember King. Whereas other Marvel shows had the viewers on the edge of their seats every episode, What If…? rarely did the same. Sometimes, the episodes would seem to drag on, even though What If…? had the shortest average run time of any of the Marvel shows at 30 to 37 minutes an episode. When compared to Loki’s 40 to 50-minute average, it’s noticeable that for some the shorter episodes would drag on. 

The problem with What If…? stems from the inability to be truly invested in the series. Investment is what keeps an audience coming back for more content. At this stage in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU, the audience is deeply invested in the current characters. To pull back and try to introduce us to new characters is a bold move. It’s a move that succeeded in the Marvel movie Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Before the movie was released, Shang Chi was an unknown hero; People expected the movie to fail because of this. According to Box Office Mojo data, Shang Chi earned over 75 million dollars during the opening weekend. If Shang Chi succeed, why was What If…? not as successful? Both stories were introducing us to new things. There are a few key differences between the properties. 

Shang Chi had an original story rich with magic and characters that have never been shown in the MCU prior. The whole concept of What If…? was to rehash old characters’ stories into old storylines and present them as new. What If…?’s first episode simply inserts Peggy Carter (love interest to character Steve Roger), into Steve Roger’s story. She plays the exact same role as Rogers, with minor differences being the only things to set the two apart. It is the stories that truly break the mold and try something interesting that keep an audience watching. 

“My favorite episode was Dr Stranges,” said Josh King, sophomore. During this episode, Doctor Strange explores magic that has never been seen by the audience before. Better yet, the episode presents an immediate hook. Doctor Strange lost the person he loves most instead of damaging his hands, this is important because him losing his hands was a catalyst for the character Doctor Strange. As a result, we see him tormented by losing her until he eventually searches for a way that he can fix it. In other episodes of the show, we see vague premises with characters that are completely different from the ones who know and love. The hook for those episodes is the assumption that the audience will be interested in seeing characters they know in different scenarios. However, the Dr Strange episode gives an immediate goal for the main character and keeps Dr. Strange close to the one the audience knows.  His deterioration from someone close to sacred timeline Strange to a corrupted, but still good-hearted, Strange is well done, so the audience can be invested in his character. 

This show gives minimal time to get invested in its characters and story. Every episode changes from one story and character to the next. When a viewer knows that the character they’d previously gotten invested in has no guarantee to appear, it ruins the relationship the viewer built with that character. Therefore, the show relies entirely on MCU fans wanting to see the characters in many different scenarios. Tyler Hersko wrote in a What If…? review  published August 10: “Longtime fans will undeniably get the biggest kick out of the references and in-jokes in the animated anthology series.” 

Newcomer MCU fans, while they still can enjoy the show, won’t be able to enjoy it to the extent of an old MCU fan. This is a problem prevalent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, but it is especially prevalent in this show. 

The season finale of What If…? is a well-developed one. It is in this finale that viewers get to see The Watcher finish his character arc. The Guardians of the Multiverse, a group of characters that we’ve seen over the past 7 episodes, get to go back to their correct universes. The Ultron with all 6 infinity stones who wanted to destroy the multiverse is defeated. This finale perfectly wraps up the story of the show, and it showcases the undeniable strongest being in the entire multiverse. One would think that this would mean the show as a whole is over, following in the footsteps of the other Marvel Disney+ shows. However, What If…? has been confirmed to be renewed for season 2. 

“…nothing like it can happen in the series again,” said Josh King. The writers of What If…? may find themselves in a pickle when writing the second season, because they’ll never be able to have a finale like that again. With the first season, it was confirmed by trailers that the multiversal heroes would be united in the finale. For the second season, it will be difficult for the writers to pull off something like that again. Nothing sort of a massive multiversal threat must be present to bring the Guardians of the Multiverse together. With The Watcher completing his character arc and the previous guardians getting a fitting ending, It will be even more difficult to garner investment in the show.