WHAT IF…? S1E1 “What If… Captain Carter Were The First Avenger?”

“Time, space, reality … it’s more than a linear path. It’s a prism of endless possibility, where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities, creating alternate worlds from the ones you know.”

Those are the words spoken by the Uatu the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) the cosmic being who serves as the Rod Sterling-like host for What If…?, Marvel’s animated anthology series. In the case of the debut episode, during the procedure that turned skinny Steve Rogers (voiced in the episode by Josh Keaton instead of Chris Evans) into America’s first Super Soldier, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) opts to stay in the room rather than stand in the viewing booth as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger.

From here things diverge from the “sacred timeline” as HYDRA spy Heinz Kruger, disguised as Fred Clemson, is stopped by Peggy but before Kruger sabotages the experiment by shooting Steve rendering him unable to undergo the Super Soldier process. With power levels dropping before the project is completely lost according to “button pusher” Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Peggy goes into the machine herself and becomes the first Super Soldier.

 WHAT IF...? S1E1 Captain Carter
Colonel Flynn in Marvel One-Shot Agent Carter

“An absolutely success,” says Stark. “An absolute failure,” counters head of the SSR Colonel Flynn (first seen in the Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter short and once again reprised by Bradley Whitford) who chews Peggy out for her insubordination.

We’re then taken to a familiar scene in Castle Rock Tower in Tønsberg, Norway which fans will recognize as the location of the Tesseract (in actuality the Space Stone). The head of the Nazi’s supernatural science division, HYDRA, Johann Schmidt a.k.a the Red Skull (voiced by Ross Marquand who took over the role from Hugo Weaving in Avengers: Infinity War) once again absconds with the Tesseract.

Peggy then dons the costume intended for her USO show, now upgraded thanks to Stark including a Vibranium shield sporting the Union Jack flag. She makes quick work of the HYDRA entourage and retrieves the Tesseract.

Just like in First Avenger, Steve’s best buddy James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and his unit 107th Infantry Regiment are taken prisoner by HYDRA behind enemy lines. Luckily, Peggy manages to free Bucky before HYDRA began their experiments as well as well as the rest of the Howling Commandos including Timothy Alloysius Cadwaller “Dum Dum” Dugan (Neal McDonough). And since Howard Stark has access to the Tesseract, he doesn’t have to wait until his son perfects Arc Reactor technology allowing Howard to build and power his own Mark 1 Iron Man armor for Steve Rogers to pilot. Dubbed the “HYDRA Stomper” flies in and joins in and joins Peggy in a “dance” finish off the rest of the HYDRA tanks.

 WHAT IF...? S1E1 Captain CarterA montage of Captain Carter and Steve in the HYDRA Stomper armor showcases their various battles and adventures throughout the war. This doesn’t sit well with Nazis who discover that Red Skull has no loyalty to the Führer and has his own plans for world domination.

In an attempt to capture Red Skull, Captain Carter and the Howlers stage a raid on the a train in yet another nod to First Avenger. Unlike the film however, it’s a trap resulting in the supposed death of Steve and the destruction of the HYDRA Stomper.

After Peggy manages to get their prisoner Arnim Zola (once again played by Toby Jones and mistakenly identified by a character as German, as we learned in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Zola is in fact Swiss) to reveal that the Red Skull plans to unleash an interdimensional creature, she launches an attack on HYDRA’s base on Castle Krake along with the Howling Commandos as well as “button pusher” Howard Stark.

Bucky discovers Steve is still alive and the HYDRA Stomper is indeed indestructible. The Red Skull uses the Tesseract to open a dimensional doorway and unleash HYDRA’s “true champion” only to be crushed to death by Cthulhu-like tentacles. Looks like a trip to Vormir isn’t the cards for Red Skull in this timeline.

With limited power thanks to some nearby generators, Steve pilots the armor to join Peggy in battle against the tentacled  creature while Howard does his thing to “transpose the polarity and reverse the suction” and send the monster back where it came from.

Much like Steve Rogers in the “sacred timeline,” Peggy is forced to make her own self-sacrifice to push the creature “back to hell.” Before she enters the dimensional gateway, she promises to make a rain check on their dance for Saturday (I’m assuming at the Stork Club).

Captain Carter emerges from the gateway only to be met by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and learns that the war ended 70 years ago.

 WHAT IF...? S1E1 Captain CarterUatu the Watcher then closes the episode with these words:

“Her one choice gave birth to a whole new history and gave the Multiverse a new hero. I observe all that transpires here but I do not, cannot, will not, interfere. For I am…the Watcher.”

Miscellaneous Notes

  • I’m betting Stanley Tucci was glad his makeup in First Avenger wasn’t nearly as drastic as in this animated episode.

 WHAT IF...? S1E1– Bucky says that Steve that doesn’t know how to drive a car. I guess after getting unfrozen in the “sacred timeline,” Steve finally learned how otherwise he’d have Natasha do the the driving in Winter Soldier.

  • As we learned in First Avenger and once again in this episode, Super Soldiers can’t get drunk since the serum creates a “protective system of regeneration and healing” meaning a “metabolism burns four times faster than the average person.”

  • Love the visual nods to Captain America: The First Avenger throughout the episode.

 WHAT IF...? S1E1 Captain Carter– Many comic fans, myself included, are assuming the tentacled creature is in fact many to be Shuma-Gorath.

  • Peggy being lost in time due to an interdimensional gateway rather than being frozen in ice reminds me of Samantha Wilson, the Captain America of Earth-65 better known as the the home dimension of Spider-Gwen Ghost-Spider.

New episodes of What If…? are available for streaming Wednesdays on Disney+.