Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.

The seventh episode of What If…? is the best of the bunch thus far, and I have no reservations about declaring it such. It has the most in common with the second episode, What If T’Challa Became Star-Lord, but without the arbitrariness of that matchup.

More than any other, it feels like a classic What If…? idea: One simple change to the story we know that changes things more than we could’ve imagined. In this case, the story altered is the original Thor. This episode posits the idea that Loki was never adopted by Odin and thus never grew up alongside Thor, leaving the God of Thunder an only child without a rival. He’s sweet, spoiled and even more of a party animal than his main-MCU self. When Odin enters the Odinsleep, there’s no jealous brother to connive Thor down to Earth. Instead, Thor spends his ostensible study time to throw a raucous party on Midgard, the backwater of the cosmos.

A party so wild it could end the world.

What makes this episode so fun is that it operates as a synthesis of the two versions of Thor we’ve seen in the MCU. The original incarnation of Thor, as seen in Thor through Avengers: Age of Ultron, is a somewhat straightforward character — charming, heroic and sort of humorless by comparison to his later self. He was always the Avenger with the most difficult premise to connect to the relatively grounded Phase 1, and despite their qualities, his earliest appearances feel like they’re playing it safe. However, a lot of good came from that; his romance with Jane Foster, Chris Hemsworth’s career, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and the visual design of Asgard are all great stuff.

Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok was essentially a soft reboot of the character, bringing more humor and color to Thor’s segment of the MCU. It’s a direction that has given the character new life, new success and a franchise with its own popular identity. Next year’s Thor: Love and Thunder is one of the most anticipated movies in the Phase 4 slate, which would’ve been unthinkable after Thor: The Dark World seemed to solidify Thor as B-list within the larger franchise.

So this What If…? merges the Ragnarok comedy and color with a younger Thor. It plays with a lot of the neater mythological stuff seen in the earlier movies (and abandoned in Ragnarok), including the Warriros Three, the Frost Giants, Thor’s mother, Frigga, and the culture of Asgard. Jane Foster (voiced here by Natalie Portman, of course) is slated to make a big return in Love and Thunder, and she plays a prominent role in this story: it would be impossible to retell Thor without her, after all, and this movie captures the sweet high romance of their chemistry in a way that makes the next movie an even more exciting prospect.

Interestingly enough, this episode also presents the first and best use of Captain Marvel in the MCU outside of her own movie. It’s always been a shame to me that Carol Danvers was introduced right at the end of the Infinity Saga. These characters are at their best when they get to bounce off one another. Ant-Man greatly benefited from his appearance in Captain America: Civil War; Black Panther and Spider-Man debuting alongside Tony Stark and Steve Rogers gave them momentum out of the gate going into their solo pictures. I have my own issues with Captain Marvel and think it’s telling that her sequel is going straight into team-up mode with two other characters. But I still really like the character and the potential she has within the larger universe. The problem is that her movie was more than two years ago, and despite a great turn in Avengers: Endgame, we’re probably never getting to see how she stacks up against the classic characters.

Thus, it’s nice to see her play such a huge role in this episode of What If…? as the representative of order on Earth, trying to keep Thor’s party from getting too out of hand. It’s a slightly “authoritarian parent” role that the character has played in some of her comic stories but one that fits her power level and depiction. She’s not especially lighthearted when duty abounds, but it comes from a sense of responsibility. Her fists are nuclear bombs if she wants them to be. This is a Carol Danvers we have yet to see in the MCU due to the nature of release schedules, so I’m glad we get to see her here. This is also the first time we get to see her really let loose and be a presence in another character’s story, unburdened by the necessity of carrying her own. It’s great to see the character in this fashion, and I really want to see more of her, even if animated stories are the best way to do it given all the first-gen retirements in the greater MCU.

Most importantly, it provides a break after four weeks of increasingly dour What If…? stories. It’s a bit strange how this season has been paced. The final moments of this episode indicate the final two episodes will include a story that brings all of these characters together, but I hope the next (and penultimate) episode provides as much freewheeling, clever levity as this one did. I don’t mind the darker stuff — Zombies particularly worked for me — but the strength of this show seems to be when everyone involved is just having fun playing with the toys at their disposal. That is a great energy for What If…? that I hope continues into Season 2 and beyond.

What I Bought

My Omnibus edition of the classic What If…? comics arrives soon, and I am excited to dig into it. I preordered it a while back but waited a few extra weeks for the specific dustjacket I wanted — the original “What If Jane Foster Picked Up Thor’s Hammer?”

What I’d Buy

Surprisingly few figures from this episode form the initial wave of the Marvel Legends What If…? line, but I’d love Frost Giant Loki (who I imagine will be the build-a-figure for the next wave), Party Thor or the figure who appears at the very end.