What If…? Episode 4: 7 Big Question About Doctor Strange And The MCU

Warning: Contains spoilers for Marvel’s What If…? episode 4.

Marvel’s What If…? episode 4 shows a universe in which Doctor Strange is obsessed with power to ultimately cataclysmic ends, posing some big questions about the Sorcerer Supreme and the rest of the MCU. The series’ first three episodes focused on smaller changes to the core timeline, like the deaths of some primary characters and swapping around the roles of different heroes and villains. But What If…? episode 4 shows a much starker alternate reality, revealing how universes can be completely destroyed.

Doctor Strange has always existed in the upper echelon of MCU power levels, but the limits of his mystical abilities have never truly been tested. In the timeline of What If…? episode 4, Strange’s car accident ends up killing his love, Christine Palmer, rather than injuring his hands. That tragedy sends him on a quest to save her, leading to centuries of study and absorbing various mystical creatures to gain the strength necessary to turn back time. Because Christine’s death is an absolute point in his timeline, Strange requires almost godlike strength to save her. But when he finally attains that ability, the universe itself breaks apart and essentially is unmade.

Related: Why The Universe Just Ended: What If...? Episode 4 Ending Explained

The MCU multiverse is still largely unexplored, and What If…? episode 4 adds new details to its overall lore. The episode also explores some new locations that are pivotal in the comics, and plays with the limits, or lack thereof, of Doctor Strange’s own magical powers. Here are the biggest unanswered questions from Marvel’s What If…? episode 4.

After trying and failing countless times to go back in time and save Christine’s life, Doctor Strange is informed by the Ancient One that it’s not possible, as Christine’s death is something called an absolute point – a pivotal moment in the timeline that is so central to the universe’s progression that no amount of meddling can change it. She warns that even if he attained the power to undo an absolute point, it would so fundamentally shake the universe that reality itself would collapse. Of course, in the end, that’s exactly what happens.

But how do absolute points actually work? How are they selected? Christine lives in the main MCU timeline, which means that absolute points are unique to their own timelines. The way it’s explained in What If…? makes it seem like absolute points make up the basic framework of a timeline. In other words, there are certain moments that are concrete, and the universe molds and fluctuates around those points. Without them, the whole framework collapses, and the universe with it. But that still doesn’t explain how absolute points are determined in different timelines, how many there are, or why it’s so hard to change them.

Despite occupying the Sanctum Sanctorum and acting as a primary line of defense for Earth, the MCU has never made it fully clear if Doctor Strange is actually the Sorcerer Supreme. In the universe of What If…? episode 4, however, he is directly addressed with that title. Because Strange’s overall journey (at least prior to his descent into obsession) closely mirrors his journey in the core MCU, it seems reasonable to assume that he holds the Sorcerer Supreme title there as well. But for now, that still hasn’t been officially confirmed.

Related: New Powers Doctor Strange Could Have In Multiverse of Madness

In the final act of What If…? episode 4, the Ancient One reveals she split Doctor Strange in two in an attempt to stop him from destroying the universe. She says she used dark magic to split him into two selves in two timelines, coexisting in the same universe. Given the rules of the multiverse as established in Loki, that sounds like it should be impossible, and clearly, it would be if not for the invocation of powerful and dark mystical abilities. Even still, the Ancient One’s impressive display of power isn’t really explained, and it’s unclear what the broader repercussions of such a split would be long-term.

While on his quest for power, Doctor Strange travels to the Lost Library of Cagliostro – an ancient place filled with powerful knowledge of the mystic arts. He studies and trains there for centuries, eventually leaving after gaining the power necessary to reverse an absolute point. The library is inspired by the original Marvel Comics, and it could play a huge role in the main MCU timeline going forward if it were to return. Given the comics association between Cagliostro and the Darkhold, it’s more than likely that Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch could seek the library out in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in their quest to understand and journey through the multiverse and the Dark Dimension.

After centuries of absorbing monsters and studying the secrets of Cagliostro, the evil version of Doctor Strange becomes strong enough to reverse an absolute point, and the fabric of his universe quickly begins to unravel. He isn’t able to actually save Christine until he reabsorbs his other half, but even before that occurs, the universe starts to rapidly collapse. So, what exactly is the trigger for the apocalypse? Is it the undoing of an absolute point? Or is it the mere existence of someone with the power to do so? It’s clear that Strange’s mission isn’t something that his universe can sustain, and it’s explained well enough why. But the specifics of how it all works still remain a mystery.

At the end of What If…? episode 4, Doctor Strange speaks directly to the Watcher, begging him to save the universe from his  own folly and arrogance. The Watcher denies his request, however, declaring that he is not a god, and neither is Strange. So far, the Watcher has only been shown doing what his name entails, leaving the actual limits and nature of his powers unclear. Could he have undone Doctor Strange’s damage if he’d tried? And how would such an act have affected the rest of the multiverse?

Related: Who Is Dr Strange's New Mentor: O-Bengh Comics Origin & Powers Explained

A handful of names have generally occupied discussion of the most powerful MCU character. Thanos, Captain Marvel, Scarlet Witch, Thor, and some others all come to mind. But What If…? episode 4 makes a strong case for Doctor Strange also being part of that club. His capacity for growth and improvement in his mystical abilities seems nearly unmatched, and the cataclysm he creates is the deadliest such event seen in the MCU to date. It’s possible that other magic practitioners like Scarlet With could also be capable of attaining similar power levels if given enough time to train and study, but that doesn’t mean they could outmatch Strange. The title of Sorcerer Supreme carries major weight with it, and Marvel's What If…? episode 4 shows just how worthy of it Doctor Strange truly is.

Next: Every MCU Easter Egg In What If? Episode 4

Marvel's What If...? releases new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.



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