This text accommodates spoilers for What If…? Episode 6.
But once more, the newest episode of What If…? has managed to inform a narrative that stands out from the remainder in the absolute best approach. Previous episodes have performed with style, operating the gamut from thriller to drama to horror — however this episode breaks the mildew by focusing not on the heroes, however on a villain.
Episode 6 of What If…?, titled “What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?”, follows the domino impact of occasions that ensue after Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (as soon as once more portrayed by Michael B. Jordan), the primary antagonist of Black Panther, intervenes within the plot of the unique Iron Man. On this timeline, Killmonger — nonetheless in his days as a Navy SEAL — saves Tony Stark from the Ten Rings earlier than he could be captured, altering the course of historical past and stopping Stark from turning into Iron Man. And because the episode exhibits, that’s solely the start of the modifications attributable to Killmonger’s affect.
After returning to the US with Tony, Killmonger promptly exposes the crimes of Obadiah Stane, sending him to jail earlier than he can develop into Iron Monger. Killmonger then replaces Stane as Tony’s right-hand man, collaborating with him on the Liberator challenge — a sequence of fight drones not in contrast to these utilized by Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2. However whereas Killmonger seems to be a loyal ally to Tony at first, it quickly turns into clear that he has his personal agenda. He murders James Rhodes, T’Challa, and even Stark himself in fast succession, pushing America and Wakanda to the brink of conflict. And by the top of the episode, he’s even manipulated his approach into turning into the brand new Black Panther.
In brief, Episode 6 explores what occurs when the villain wins. And within the course of, it showcases the qualities that made Killmonger one of many Marvel Cinematic Universe’s hottest villains to start with. Not solely does Michael B. Jordan bring his usual charisma to the function, however the story itself additionally highlights Killmonger’s defining attributes. His manipulative crafty and eager strategic thoughts are on full show as he schemes his approach into turning into a trusted ally of each Tony Stark and King T’Chaka, with neither of them suspecting his true intentions till it’s too late. Killmonger executes his grasp plan with ruthless effectivity, backstabbing allies and enemies alike within the pursuit of higher energy.
However in fact, one of many largest issues that endeared Killmonger to audiences within the first place wasn’t simply his wits or his charisma, however his sympathetic characterization. Although Episode 6 exhibits Killmonger at his most callous, it additionally reinforces that the evil he commits is all driven by a need to take vengeance on each the US and Wakanda for all of the flawed they’ve executed all through historical past. Earlier than killing Rhodey, Killmonger calls him out for being complicit in upholding a corrupt institution — whereas Rhodey is content material to hunt to alter issues from inside the system, Killmonger would quite destroy the system altogether. Later, throughout his showdown with Tony, Killmonger tells Stark that “The distinction between you and me is you could’t see the distinction between you and me” — an apparent nod to the truth that Tony was born into wealth and privilege, whereas Killmonger grew up a sufferer of prejudice and needed to earn his method to energy. Regardless of his good intentions, this timeline’s Tony by no means actually got here to acknowledge his personal function within the corruption he sought to finish.
Certainly, the true antagonist of the episode isn’t Killmonger himself, however quite the American military-industrial complicated, as personified by Marvel’s resident bullheaded army man Common Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Ross wants no convincing to invade Wakanda after Killmonger framed them for Tony’s homicide, taking management of the Liberator drones and sending them into battle in opposition to the Dora Milaje. However whereas Ross is certainly the most unsympathetic character of the episode, the present makes it clear that Killmonger isn’t any saint himself. As noble as his objectives could also be, his strategies are murderous and manipulative. As T’Challa himself tells Killmonger, “You consider the treatment for human struggling is extra struggling”. As an alternative of trying to alter the world by peaceable means, Killmonger seeks to carry spoil to each Wakanda and America by kicking off a conflict between the 2 nations. Ultimately, his true objective isn’t salvation, however annihilation.
However regardless of his crimes, Killmonger however stays one of the crucial compelling, nuanced characters within the MCU. He’s each villainous and sympathetic, ruthlessly merciless but all too human. Sure, he’s evil, but he’s also much more complicated than that. The episode even lends Killmonger some added relatability by revealing that he’s an anime fan — little question a nod to Michael B. Jordan’s personal love of exhibits like Gundam and Dragon Ball. Although he could also be long-dead in the primary MCU timeline, Killmonger’s look on this episode serves as a welcome reminder of why he’s such a beloved villain within the first place. The truth that the sequence can permit fan-favorite characters to return to the highlight is simply one more reason why What If…? is such a particular addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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