Before Thor: Ragnarok singlehandedly turned Odin’s eldest son into one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s golden children, the Asgardian thunderer was still more of a supporting character within the franchise’s larger picture and felt like the odd alien out among his fellow Avengers. Though Thor’s gone on to become much more, Marvel’s What If remembers the days when he was still a fish out of water stumbling through Midgard in search of his purpose… and a drink or two.
The latest episode of the Disney+ animated multiverse series — “What If… Thor Were an Only Child?” — plays fast and loose with the details of the first Thor film (which What If touched upon in a different way earlier this season) as well as both The Dark World and Ragnarok as it tells a story about the kind of mischief the God gets up on his own. But even though Thor’s name is in the title, and multiple actors from his films reprise their roles, this episode — like so many before it — was really about everyone else around the hero dealing with the consequences of his actions.
Because What If presumes that you’ve probably seen at least one of Marvel’s Thor movies at this point, or at least know enough about the character’s origins to not need much of a refresher, “What If… Thor Were an Only Child?” opens on a scene of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) working together in a van near the outskirts of Las Vegas. When their rig begins to register signals pointing to Earth making imminent contact with aliens, they try to get in contact with someone at SHIELD who might want to prepare for what touches down. But because this universe’s Jane and Darcy were nobodies at that point, their warnings go unheeded, and no one’s ready when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and a squad of other Asgardians touch down by way of the Bifrost in search of… a rager?
The episode explains its premise with a brief recap of Odin’s war with the Ice Giants of Jotunheim, but in this telling, the All-Father chooses to return an infant Loki to his biological parents, seemingly bringing the conflict to an unexpected but welcomed end. Because this universe’s Odin and Frigga (Josette Eales) never adopt Loki, Thor grows up as an only child, and while a Hela variant may still be trapped somewhere, she doesn’t make an appearance here. While it would be a bit unfair to say that growing up as the royal family’s only child turns Thor into an “evil” person, his upbringing certainly makes him much more destructive than his Sacred Timeline counterpart. Before the episode really starts rolling, Frigga warns him to behave during the All-Father’s upcoming Odinsleep and her planned visit to see some friends. Everyone in Asgard knows that Thor’s a magnet for the chaos that he and his friends revel in, and the only thing keeping him in check is fear of his family, who still reign supreme over the kingdom. The moment Odin’s asleep and Frigga’s out of the palace, though, Thor wastes no time booking it to Midgard in search of merriment.
Unlike all of the other Earthlings in Vegas who kinda just roll with it when the Asgardians (and other aliens) start showing up and getting hammered, Jane understands what a pivotal moment in history it is. All she wants to do is make “first” contact and collect as much information about the alien gods as possible. When Jane and Thor first lock eyes, the chemistry between them immediately foreshadows that he’s not just going to be another data point to her, and the feeling’s mutual. Strong as the attraction between them is, it’s not enough to make Jane forget that her readings indicated the recent destruction of a nearby star — something she suspects Thor might have had something to do with.
Jane’s quite right, it turns out, and Thor enthusiastically tries to regale her with a story of how he and the other Asgardians partied so hard that they essentially blew up a celestial body. While Hemsworth’s voice is immediately identifiable as his own, and his performance certainly come across as quintessential “Marvel’s Thor,” what defines What If’s take on the character is the way it hews more toward the Disney Prince™ spectrum of things when it comes to its presentation. At multiple points throughout the episode when Thor turns on his charm to get what he wants, the reality of his princely upbringing is evident, but as his borish, obnoxious interiority begins to show itself it’s hard not to see elements of classic Disney dicks like Tarzan’s Clayton and Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston in him.
Though Jane makes clear that she sees this as quite messed up, all it takes is Thor accurately identifying Jane’s genius to convince her to join in with the first leg of the (foam) party where the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) is DJing. Initially, the Asgardians’ arrival on Earth leads to everyone loosening up a bit and letting their hair down. Characters like Nebula (Karen Gillen), Drax (Fred Tatasciore), and Korg pop up in a brief montage showcasing the carefree fun the Asgardians encourage everyone to lose themselves in, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves — particularly Darcy and Howard the Duck (Seth Green), who end up getting married.
When they’re around the Asgardians, it’s almost as if Earthlings can’t help themselves from acting on their hedonistic desires, and it’s hard for Jane to see what the problem with that is. At least until acting SHIELD director Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) shows up at the door and she starts coming to her senses. Someone at SHIELD did, in fact, receive Jane’s message, but when Hill brings Jane and Darcy in for questioning, neither of them can believe what’s happened. Wherever the Asgardians show up, a dangerous “party atmosphere” develops in their wake, and those caught in it — like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) — tend to get hurt. Because Jane doesn’t exactly want to believe that Thor could be a force of destruction, she’s hesitant to help Hill find him, and that hesitation is just the roadblock Hill needs to call in reinforcements with a special beeper.
Before the MCU’s intergalactic super soldier-turned-gig worker shows up on screen, “What If… Thor Were an Only Child?” shifts focus back to the Asgardian prince for a reunion between him and the adopted brother he never had. Of all the Loki variants that we’ve seen so far, What If’s Frost Giant Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the most physically impressive and temperamentally chill. Not having grown up together means they never developed a bitter sibling rivalry, so this Loki and Thor get along famously and openly embrace a shared, brotherly love. As fun as it may be to watch, as the first season has progressed, it’s felt as if each episode has become more comfortable trying to cram beats from even more films into their half-hour runtimes. While this has made for stories that, at first, appear to be somewhat more original, it’s also made What If’s episodes feel a bit overstuffed and rushed in certain areas as different characters step into the spotlight to deliver familiar lines that move the story along to varying degrees.
Thor and Loki’s catch-up is cut short by the abrupt arrival of Captain Marvel (Alexandra Daniels), who’s annoyed more than anything at being called to Earth to deal with a bunch of overpowered frat boys. When Thor refuses Carol’s polite request that he get the hell off her home planet, she responds with a punch that would likely kill anyone who wasn’t an alien pseudo-deity, and while it doesn’t hurt Thor, its force certainly takes him by surprise. Thor’s casual sexism and the way Carol nonchalantly brushes off a blast of lightning all comes across like a redux of Captain Marvel’s more hard-hitting moments, but here they’re condensed into a short action sequence that ultimately does more for the Kree soldier’s on-screen presence even though the episode isn’t really about her.
Even though Carol could take Thor in a fight if she really let loose and went full Binary, she informs SHIELD that unleashing that much power would also put the planet in danger. So she holds back, and Thor’s able to best her in battle by dropping Mjolnir on her chest. Both Carol and Maria are out of ideas when they regroup with Jane and Darcy to further discuss Earth’s Asgardian problem, and it’s not until Darcy offhandedly mentions calling Thor’s family that Jane comes up with a plan to save the day.
While Carol’s busy getting a few more licks in on Thor for being an intrusive dick, Jane and Darcy adapt their rig to broadcast a message out into the universe where they hope that Heimdall will hear them. Heimdall does hear them and transports Jane to Asgard just as Frigga’s settling into another glass of chardonnay. While the goddesses are all surprised to see a mortal in their midst, Frigga knows that Jane’s arrival has something to do with her son. Had Heimdall waited a few seconds longer, it’s likely that, back on Earth, SHIELD would have launched multiple nuclear warheads on Captain Marvel and Thor’s location. Because he didn’t, though, Frigga has enough time to show up via Bifrost-FaceTime and admonish her son for embarrassing her in front of the galaxy.
Even when he’s caught mid-invasion while sneaking out of the house, Thor tries to lie his way out of his mother’s wrath, but Frigga, who was not born yesterday, has neither the time nor the patience for her son’s foolishness. Thor’s legitimately panicked when he realises that his mother plans to follow up on her call with an actual visit to Earth to see for herself if he’s actually studying the planet’s cultures as he insisted he was. Adding to his stress is the fact that no one’s interested in helping him clean up the significant mess they all made when it seemed like the fun would never end. So Thor has to threaten everyone with Mjolnir to make sure that they put things — like the Statue of Liberty Surtur broke — back the way they were.
Thanks to everyone’s combined efforts, Thor’s able to escape Frigga’s fury and win his way back into Jane’s heart by the episode’s last moments, which feel poised to end on a surprisingly positive note. However, in the episode’s very final moments, Thor’s dumbstruck as he witnesses a group of Ultron-like robots emerge from a portal before they’re joined by their leader: a Vision variant wearing Ultron-like armoured encrusted with the Infinity Stones. Who and whatever these robots are, they’ve been featured rather prominently in a handful of What If’s ads, which may point to the series revisiting Age of Ultron itself. But given how there are only two episodes left this season, and it’s seemed as if What If plans to tie many of its disparate threads together, the question now is what shape those final two episodes are going to take.
What If airs Wednesdays on Disney+.
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