The MCU makes Rachel McAdams’ Doctor Strange snub even worse with What If…? episode 4. Although Doctor Strange was an entertaining film in many respects, one of the biggest criticisms was its treatment of McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer. It annoyed many to see an Academy Award-nominated actress in such a tiny, insignificant role. Christine was barely in the movie and her brief appearances were either only to endure Dr. Stephen Strange’s cutting remarks or not ask too many questions.
Episode 4 of What If…? asks the question of the episode title: “What If…Doctor Strange Had Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands?” Instead of having Doctor Strange’s hands destroyed in a car crash, Stephen has to watch Christine die. Her death is meant to motivate him to study the mystic arts and eventually become the Sorcerer Supreme. While heartbreaking, however, it removes what little agency Christine had left.
In Doctor Strange, Christine Palmer was a one-dimensional love interest. But What If…? makes it even worse, fridging her in order to set Stephen Strange’s path to further greatness in motion. She has no other purpose other than to die and then remain perfect, and perfectly unattainable. As he repeatedly turns back time to try to save Christine, Doctor Strange watches her die over and over again, proving her main function for existing in this universe is to die so that he can evolve. Christine is revived only long enough to offer some kind word or smile during her brief moments of life, but never anything substantial before she dies in front of Doctor Strange once more.
Christine has no real arc in Doctor Strange, either, but at least in that movie, she has some agency and is shown as being a skilled surgeon in her own right. She didn’t let others walk all over her and left Stephen when he continued to be a jerk and treat her badly. Although she does unquestionably help him when he arrives at the hospital with a dying Ancient One, that’s part of the Hippocratic Oath she swore as a doctor, not a desire to please her arrogant ex, Doctor Strange. She has her own wants and needs independent of Stephen, even if the movie barely shows them.
In What If…?, however, Christine only exists to be pined after, if a brief hour forever leading to her death can be considered a true existence at all. For her part, Christine never grows upset or expresses an opinion for anything other than crème brulée. Even at the very end of the episode when she sees Stephen’s monstrous form, she just looks sad at what he’s become, keeping the focus solely on him. Doctor Strange absolutely wasted Rachel McAdams as Christine, but What If…? treats her even worse. Hopefully, her return in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will finally flesh out Christine Palmer’s character and allow her to stand on her own, perhaps even becoming Night Nurse as she does in the comics.