Warning: This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s What If…? episode two.
Here’s exactly where Chadwick Boseman’s return to the MCU in the second episode of Marvel’s What If…? is set in the wider MCU timeline. The episode confirmed that – at least initially – that the animated Disney+ show will form an anthology of different alternate timelines spread across the multiverse in the wake of Loki’s explosive ending. And unlike the opening episode – which was set in the 1940s, What If…? episode two jumps to the early modern MCU era.
This episode’s Nexus event sees Yondu’s Ravager crew kidnapping T’Challa rather than Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, and the heir to Wakanda’s throne becoming Star-Lord. Rather than Quill’s cocky nature determining his pursuit of infamy, T’Challa becomes a beacon of virtue, transforming the Ravagers and even exerting his influence on Thanos to stop the culmination of the Infinity Saga. Throw in a muscular new version of The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) – emboldened by the vacuum of power created by the Mad Titan’s shifted priorities – and it’s a recipe for a delightful, tragedy-tinged alternate MCU world.
What If…? episode 2 begins the same year Peter Quill was kidnapped in Guardians of the Galaxy, 1988, before skipping to the retrieval of the Power Stone on Morag, which Quill masterminded in 2014. This is where What If…? breaks the timeline, because Morag is only accessible every 300 years, but T’Challa takes the Power Stone in 2008, which would be impossible (or at least a lot wetter). He then meets up with his fellow Ravagers and Josh Brolin’s God-like Thanos, who confirms that T’Challa convinced him to stop his plans to destroy the universe to save it. Nebula’s augmentations confirm Thanos had still tortured her, so T’Challa’s influence on Thanos must have been fairly recent to 2008. The mission to Knowhere obviously also comes prior to 2014, when it happens in the original MCU timeline, with the total transformation of The Collector also suggesting how long ago Thanos dropped his plans to gain and use the Infinity Stones. T’Challa’s return to Wakanda also seems to happen in 2008, the same year Tony Stark introduced himself as Iron Man.
Though the time period matches Guardians of the Galaxy for the most part, the changes to the timeline as a whole are huge. The impact on Thanos alone changes the trajectories of characters as major as Iron Man, Captain America, Gamora, Black Widow, and Thor (among others). The final tease of Kurt Russell’s Celestial Ego retrieving his son from Dairy Queen – continuing a long-standing MCU joke – suggests not everything has changed, though, with the idea of a Quill without the anchor of the Guardians being offered everything by his father is somewhat chilling.
This timeline, inspired by T’Challa’s roving spirit of adventure, offers a heart-wrenching reminder of what the MCU has lost after the death of Chadwick Boseman: not merely a superhero to so many, but a good man. What If…? episode 2 stands as a monument to his legacy in the MCU, and his performance is as wonderful as his others in Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther. In a way, the idea of a Wakanda without T’Challa offers a look at how Black Panther 2 will cope with the monumental loss of Boseman.
Marvel’s What If…? releases new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.