What If…? Episode 1 recap: Captain Carter to the rescue

Captain Carter in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF...? exclusively on Disney+. © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Captain Carter in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF...? exclusively on Disney+. © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

In Marvel’s What If…? Episode 1, one small decision changes the course of the universe and births a new hero in the form of Captain Carter. But the mission stays the same—save the world.

The highly anticipated animated Disney Plus show opens with an introduction to the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), a cosmic being who sees everything in the multiverse.

But the Watcher can’t and won’t intervene on one world; a split-second decision changes the course of history. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Steve Rogers took the super-serum to become Captain America.

In another world, that serum goes to someone else close by—Agent Peggy Carter. Why and how does this happen?

What If…? Episode 1 – In the room

In Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter was asked to go to the booth to watch Steve Rogers receive the super-serum. In What If…? Episode 1, Peggy (Hayley Atwell) decides to remain in the room.

Because of her proximity to the action, Peggy sees the Hydra agent trying to grab the serum earlier. Though she can’t save Colonel Phillips or Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), Peggy stops the Hydra agent.

In the process, Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) is shot by the Hydra agent. He isn’t strong enough to take the serum. This is months of work and millions of dollars down the drain. Colonel John Flynn (Bradley Whitford) is incensed—he asks anyone within earshot to get in the chamber and take the serum.

Everyone except Peggy Carter, the only other person deserving of a super-serum. With no choice in front of her, Peggy leaps into the chamber. Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) sciences things up, and a new super-soldier is born.

But Flynn isn’t happy with this turn of events. When he said he wanted a super-soldier, he was talking about a man. He doesn’t see Peggy’s worth. Fortunately, Peggy knows her worth better than anyone.

What If…? Episode 1 – Hail Hydra

What If...? Episode 1 Recap
Captain Carter (center) and the Howling Commandos in Marvel Studios’ WHAT IF…? exclusively on Disney+. © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

Once the Strategic Scientific Reserve, the organization behind the super-serum project, learns of the tesseract potentially falling into Johann Schmidt/ Red Skull’s (Ross Marquand) hands, Peggy and Howard leap into action even though Flynn doesn’t really give them the go-ahead to do so in What If…? Episode 1.

Peggy single-handedly stops Arnim Zola from taking the tesseract to Red Skull and earns herself a new title—Captain Carter. But there’s more work ahead.

The tesseract is with the SSR at least, but the war rages on. Red Skull shows no signs of stopping either. Then Steve learns about the 107th regiment and his best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), being captured by Nazis. Peggy doesn’t hesitate to take on this new mission.

Flying into Nazi-occupied territory sounds like a bad idea, but Peggy makes short work of the soldiers in her way. She breaks into the prison and frees the Howling Commandos, including one Bucky Barnes. In this timeline, Bucky wasn’t experimented on and turned into the Winter Soldier because Arnim Zola was already in custody.

When the soldiers are overwhelmed, Peggy calls Howard for more air support. And she gets way better than she bargained for.

Skinny-Steve may never have felt like he could contribute to the war effort, but he didn’t know Peggy and Howard then. With the tesseract, Howard manages to create an enormous, armored suit—the Hydra Stomper—that Steve can operate so he can finally fight the war alongside Peggy.

With Howard’s brains, Peggy’s strategic thinking and brawn, Steve’s heart and suit of armor, plus Bucky and the Howling Commandos, Red Skull and the Nazis won’t know what hit them.

What If…? Episode 1 – Owed a dance

What If...? Episode 1 Recap
(L-R): Nick Fury and Hawkeye in Marvel Studios’ WHAT IF…? exclusively on Disney+. © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

But when things sound too good to be true, they usually are. What If…? Episode 1 includes some nods to its Captain America: The First Avenger origins when Peggy, Steve, and the Howling Commandos intercept a train potentially carrying Red Skull.

The train turns out to be an ambush—Steve takes the brunt of it, seemingly falling to his death in the Hydra Stomper. With an avalanche rushing at them, Peggy and the rest of her team have no choice but to leave without recovering his body.

Back at the SSR, Flynn is more upset about the Hydra Stomper and the tesseract contained within falling into Red Skull’s hands. Howard is furious that his friend is gone and that his Stomper was supposed to be indestructible. Peggy would rather mourn the man in the suit.

With Steve’s death playing on her mind, Peggy decides to ditch the kid gloves. She plans to attack Red Skull’s castle head-on and burn it to the ground. Bucky and the Howling Commandos are immediately on board, and eventually so is Howard, though only to push some buttons.

Peggy’s a great fighter, but she’s positively unstoppable at Red Skull’s castle. The team split up inside—Peggy and Howard take the higher levels, while Bucky and the Commandos take the lower floors. And they find something unexpected there—Steve!

Howard was right—the Hydra Stomper was indestructible, and it protected Steve inside it. But the tesseract has fallen into Red Skull’s hands. And with it, he summons an otherworldly-tentacled creature, most likely Shuma-Gorath. The creature immediately eats Red Skull. Good riddance.

Unfortunately, Peggy still needs to fight it before the creature destroys Earth. She gets Howard to the controls to shut down the tesseract, but the controls are in German. Howard’s nights with Hedy Lamar didn’t involve German lessons, apparently.

Steve manages to keep the creature at bay for a while, but Peggy needs to physically push the creature through the tesseract’s portal to protect Earth. It’s a one-way trip, and Peggy knows it. As Steve asks her for their dance lesson, she promises to meet him on Saturday, and then the tesseract swallows her up.

When the tesseract opens up again, Peggy finds herself in a large, empty room, save for two people—Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They inform Peggy that it’s been 70 years since the war was won. She’s in the future, her entire life, and Steve left in the past.

Final Thoughts – What If…? Episode 1 is incredibly fun and a fantastic start

I loved reading the What If…? Marvel comics, so I was excited about this show. I must say, What If…? Episode 1 more than lived up to my expectations.

I loved all the throwbacks to the MCU, the unexpected subversions of our expectations, and the humor. It was so funny! I am genuinely surprised by how much I laughed throughout this episode. More of this, please, Marvel!

The animation is beautiful. This style isn’t what I expected, but it works—there’s a 3D quality to the backgrounds that adds so much depth to the scenes. And the characters look fantastic.

This is such a great start to the show, and with a character, we all love so much. Peggy Carter deserved a longer-running series, but I’m glad we’ve got this other version of her, even if it is just for one episode. What does the series have planned for us next?

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What did you think of What If…? Episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

What If…? is streaming on Disney Plus.