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Recap / What If…? S1E4 "What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?"

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"What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?"
"Love can break more than your heart. It can shatter your mind."

Alternate take on: Doctor Strange

"We have watched how one moment, one choice, can ripple across space and time, giving birth to new stories, heroes, whole universes. But what if it's the wrong choice? What if the best of intentions has very strange consequences?"

Doctor Stephen Strange offers to drive Doctor Christine Palmer to an award ceremony. However, they get into a car accident, resulting in Christine's death in this reality, while Strange's hands remain intact. Fueled by grief, Stephen sets off into the world to find himself, soon learning about the mystic arts, and eventually stopping Dormammu. But two years later, he’s still haunted by Christine’s death, leading him to begin a dark journey to gain the power needed to resurrect her, bringing about dangerous consequences as Doctor Strange Supreme.

"What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?" contains examples of:

  • Abled in the Adaptation: Unlike in the movie, Strange doesn't injure his hands in the car crash and so masters magic faster than he did in the Sacred Timeline.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Actually, I Am Him: Subverted. After asking O'Bengh where Cagliostro is, and receiving a hopelessly vague answer, Strange suspects this trope is in play and says, "Please tell me that you are not Cagliostro". O'Bengh duly clarifies that he isn't.
  • Adapted Out: Karl Mordo does not appear at all in this episode, even though this episode is an alternate look at the events of the first Doctor Strange film.
  • Aesop Amnesia: Possibly In-Universe, or even a particularly self-destructive twisting of it. The fact that much of the pivotal events of Doctor Strange (2016) still happened (especially the "bargaining with Dormammu") means Strange already internalized the "it's not about him" lesson, which allowed him to endure The Many Deaths of You from Dormammu. However, this also means that willingness to endure is also exactly what fuelled the extremes he took to become Strange Supreme—all for Christine's sake.
  • An Aesop: Some risks are not worth taking. Something Strange Supreme found out the hard way.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: With reality breaking down around him, Doctor Strange begs Uatu to intervene, telling him not to punish the rest of his universe for his actions. Uatu declines, saying that he cannot interfere.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: Strange Supreme, in a My God, What Have I Done? moment, begs Uatu to save the universe, but the Watcher refuses, citing this, additionally stating he of all people should know of the consequences of manipulating time and events to this extent.
  • All for Nothing: Stephen's attempt at saving Christine destroys his universe, and also results in Christine getting erased from existence.
  • Allohistorical Allusion: Another Who's on First? joke is made at Strange's expense, originally by Kaecilius in Doctor Strange (2016), but by O'Bengh here.
  • And I Must Scream: The episode ends with Strange Supreme alone in the tiny crystal bubble which is all that remains of the universe after he causes a Reality-Breaking Paradox. Christine also vanishes as a result of the paradox, leaving him alone with nothing to do but cry out unanswered apologies to the universe for what he has done. Considering how, earlier in the episode, Strange Supreme mentioned that he made himself immortal, he's stuck there forever, with the knowledge that this is all his fault and it was All for Nothing.
  • Apocalypse How: A Class X-4 example: Doctor Strange being divided into his good self and the evil Strange Supreme sets up a Reality-Breaking Paradox, finalized by Supreme's resurrection of Christine, causing the universe to collapse on itself save for a tiny pocket of reality.
  • Arc Words: The Ancient One claims that Christine's death is seen as an "Absolute Point", a moment in time that shapes a person's destiny and cannot be changed or broken. Stephen attempts different means to undo this, with disastrous results.note 
  • Art-Style Clash: To accentuate their otherworldly nature, some creatures Strange Supreme absorbs are 2D animated, appearing in slower framerate with sharp outlines and flat shading. Some shadows are animated in a similar fashion. This is largely in part due to Flying Bark Productions, known for Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Monkie Kid, providing the episode's animation.
  • Astral Projection: The Ancient One sends her astral form into the future to warn Good Strange about the threat from Strange Supreme.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Strange Supreme successfully absorbs Good Stephen to access his power, though it does very little good for him in the long run…
  • Bait-and-Switch: During Strange and Supreme's battle, Strange seemingly obliterates his evil self, then his shadow changes to resemble Uatu. It turns out to be Supreme, however, who tries to use an illusion to trick Strange into compliance.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Doctor Strange wants his beloved girlfriend back, and is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goal. He succeeds, but the cost is the extinction of his universe, every being in it, including the resurrected Christine, and him being trapped for all eternity in the tiny crystallised remnants of the universe to dwell on his mistake.
  • Beyond the Impossible: The Ancient One states, in no uncertain terms, that altering an Absolute Point is impossible. That is why they are called Absolute Points. The Greatest sorcerers of the ages have failed. Strange Supreme retorts that that she also said that nothing is impossible. His quest to alter an Absolute Point in time leads to him overpowering, or rather, corrupting an Infinity Stone.
  • Big "NO!":
    • Stephen lets out a particularly heartbreaking one after an untold amount of futile attempts to avert Christine's death—even after actively trying to make sure he is the one who dies in the accident.
    • He later screams this as he desperately tries to stop the world from succumbing to the Reality-Breaking Paradox of Christine surviving her death.
  • Bizarro Apocalypse: The world ends with reality melting.
  • Bookends: The path that led Strange to study the mystic arts began with him sobbing over Christine's death and his story ends with him doing the same over both Christine and his whole universe. He even has an identical reaction.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: A strange (no pun intended) in-universe example. Right as the universe is collapsing, Strange sees Uatu watching this all unfold and begs him to reverse the destruction. Uatu refuses to do so, even if he could.
  • Call-Back: The Kraken from the first episode is one of the monsters Strange summons and draws power from. His first encounter with it doesn't go well.
  • Came Back Wrong: Inverted. While Christine is resurrected into her normal former self, Strange must become an unrecognizable monster in order to do it, and Christine is completely horrified by his new form. And then the entire universe collapses due to the Reality-Breaking Paradox Christine's resurrection creates.
  • Canon Foreigner: In this timeline, we are introduced to the librarian of the lost library of Cagliostro, O'Bengh—someone not previously established in the lore/heritage of the Sorcerers of the MCU (at least in the Sacred Timeline). His chronological period is also left unclear, save the fact that his time is at least centuries before contemporary Kamar-Taj, and he lived (based on his vague responses) chronologically after their founder, Agamotto.
  • Casting Gag: For Rachel McAdams, this isn't the first, second or third time she's played the significant other to a time traveler's plot.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Even while reality dissolves around them and Wong himself is dissolving with it, Wong and Strange take their time forming a plan, with the sorcerers agreeing this isn't even the weirdest thing to befall them.
  • Corner of Woe: After losing Christine for good and destroying his universe, Strange Supreme crouches down and buries his face in his hands in what remains of his universe: a tiny pocket for him to spend the rest of his days knowing he only brought this fate on himself.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Christine is fated to die in this timeline, and no matter how Doctor Strange tries to save her, Christine just ends up dying some other way. When Strange Supreme finally gathers the power to save her, all of reality is destroyed and her along with it.
  • Creepy Shadowed Undereyes: When Strange Supreme meets his counterpart, he has developed dark circles under his eyes.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique:
    • The Ancient One acknowledges that splitting Strange's personal timeline comes close to being a reality-ending risk itself, but the certainty that the evil Strange will do the same if left unchecked means there's no choice.
    • The act of undoing a fixed point in time creates a Reality-Breaking Paradox, which is why no one has ever done it.
  • The Dark Side Will Make You Forget: Notably Defied. Strange Supreme may be many things as a villain / Fallen Hero, but one thing is for sure: he never lost his focus on trying to save Christine, even at universe-ending cost.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Strange Supreme impersonates Christine in order to convince Good Strange to reunite with him. It doesn't work.
  • Death by Adaptation:
  • Determinator: Stephen is very determined to avert Christine's death… to no avail.
  • The Dividual: Strange Supreme first learns of this from a dying O'Bengh.
    Uatu: It was true. He wasn't alone. He wasn't even the only Dr. Strange in this universe.
  • Doppelmerger: Strange Supreme forcibly absorbs the Good Strange (created as a result of the Ancient One splitting Strange Supreme's resident alternate universe into two timelines) in order to restore his divided power so he can complete his goals.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The "heart" in the title can be used in two different contexts: one to refer to Strange losing the love of his life, and the other to refer to him losing his morals attempting to bring her back.
  • Downer Ending: The universe outside of a small pocket ends as a result of Strange Supreme's attempts to revive Christine, who ends up fading from existence once again. By far the bleakest ending in any MCU media.
  • Dramatic Irony:
  • Eldritch Abomination: Strange absorbs all manner of these in his misguided attempt to get his beloved back. Once he absorbs Good Strange, he has become a monstrous mutant, a representation of what he has turned himself into.
  • Enemy Without: The Ancient One splits Doctor Strange's existence into two in hopes of saving the universe: one continues on his dark path, the other gives it up. Unfortunately, this fails, as the good version of Strange can't match the power of Strange Supreme and is absorbed.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Strange Supreme will absorb anything that comes from the portal… except for bugs. Doesn't stop him from stealing their capes, though.
    • While Strange Supreme is a madman who's willing to absorb any and all creatures into himself to bring his beloved Christine Back from the Dead, he didn't actively seek the destruction of the universe, and desperately tries to stop it from happening.
    • Subverted with Uatu. While he does agree with Strange Supreme's idea of punishing him for meddling in time's affairs, he ultimately refuses to do so in order to invoke Cruel Mercy and his Alien Non-Interference Clause.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Strange Supreme's descent into villainy is marked by a cape with black and purple in contrast to the red of the Cloak of Levitation. His clothing proper also has additional red highlights and a gold sash.
  • Exact Words: The Ancient One says nothing is impossible to do. In this case, breaking an Absolute Point. Just because something is not impossible to do doesn't mean one should do it.
  • The Faceless: This is the only manner in which Mordo appears in the flashbacks; his silhouette is seen, but no more, and he says nothing.
  • Fallen Hero: Strange Supreme goes from stopping Dormammu to causing the end of his universe.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The Watcher leaves the guilt-wracked Strange to rot in a crystal prison in a void of nothingness because of his actions.
  • The Final Temptation: In a last-ditch effort to get Strange to agree with his plot, Strange Supreme disguises himself as Christine to talk him out of fighting back. He almost agrees, but the memory of all of reality being erased is enough to get him to see through the illusion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help him stop Supreme.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • While gathering his power, Strange Supreme actually notices Uatu, a first for the series. Later in the episode, they converse directly. Additionally, at that point Uatu appears to the audience rendered in 3D for the first time, rather than the Celestial Body form he had taken up until then. If he can, then anyone of sufficient power can do the same.
    • In the opening scene, Strange is able to swerve out of the way of one car only to be hit by another, killing Christine. He later learns that Christine's death is a fixed point in time, and she can't be saved no matter what he tries.
  • Forgot About His Powers: Possibly. Strange seems unable to use his magical abilities to save Christine, apart from use of the Time Stone. All of his attempts to save her involve the Mundane Solution, such as having her drive, or taking another route. However, during the Final Battle, while both have once again travelled to the point of Christine's death, both Stranges seem to have full use of their abilities. It's possible that Strange wants to leave his life of Magic behind, explaining why he doesn't use any Magic to try to save her. Christine's other deaths not involving Stephen's car crashing is probably meant to show that Christine will die somehow no matter what Stephen does even if he uses Magic.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • The divergence in this reality is that Christine Palmer and Stephen Strange maintain their romantic relationship, and she died in the car accident rather than Strange driving alone and losing the use of his hands.
      Uatu: In this universe, Stephen Strange didn't lose his hands… but his heart. Grief-stricken, Strange sought answers across the world and in the mystic arts.
    • The Ancient One causes another divergence when she confronts Strange, creating two timelines in one reality - one where Strange goes unimpeded in his pursuit to become more powerful, and another where Strange gives up on saving Christine - in order to give the universe a fighting chance against the former. Unfortunately, the Good Strange isn't enough to stop Strange Supreme.
  • Four Is Death: Episode 4 starts with the death of Christine Palmer and ends with the death of an entire universe.
  • Glamour Failure: Strange Supreme is mutated by each demon he absorbs, but each time is able to suppress the physical changes and retain his human form. In the climax, after merging with his alternate self and channeling his amalgamated power into the Eye of Agamotto, all of those mutations manifest at once, turning him into a horrifying abomination.
  • A God I Am Not: Uatu rebukes being called a god by Strange Supreme, while also saying the same of him.
  • Godzilla Threshold: The Ancient One acknowledges that splitting Strange's timeline in two is nearly as dangerous as what Strange Supreme intends to do — reality begins breaking down the moment Strange Supreme's timeline begins to intersect with his good counterpart's — but the alternative of allowing Strange Supreme to act unchecked is far worse.
  • The Good Guys Always Win: Averted. Despite the Good Strange's best efforts he cannot defeat Strange Supreme, who has hundreds of years of experience over his good counterpart and the power of the countless demons he's absorbed. By the end of the duel between the two sorcerers, Strange Supreme succeeds at absorbing the soul of the Good Strange.
  • Grandfather Paradox: Strange cannot save Christine because her death is what leads him to the mystic arts and the Eye of Agamotto, without which he would be unable to save her in the first place. It’s implied that this is the nature of Absolute Points in time in general.
  • Heel Realization: The Evil Doctor Strange seems to have one after his efforts to revive Christine result in the fabric reality being destroyed. Begging the Watcher to fix his mistake, only to realize that it’s too late to stop it.
  • Hero Antagonist: The Ancient One and the good Strange try to stop the villainous protagonist Strange from wrecking the universe.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: During one of Strange's attempts to save Christine, she offers to drive him to the ceremony instead, to which Strange agrees. Lamenting that only her life matters, Strange braces for the rear-ending car to ultimately kill him in Christine's place. Unfortunately, he still survives while Christine dies.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: As they're preparing for the battle with Strange Supreme, Wong asks Strange if he isn't tempted to save Christine. Strange admits he is, but he can't let Wong fade away with everything else.
  • I Am Legion: Strange Supreme refers to himself this way before he resurrects Christine.
    Good Strange: You can't do this!
    Strange Supreme: But we must! (absorbs Good Strange)
  • Irony: In the end, Strange Supreme did what he stopped Dormammu from achieving; causing the end of the universe.
  • I Warned You: The Ancient One, Wong, and O'Bengh all warned Strange about the dangers of messing with time to try and save Christine, but he refused to listen. Uatu admits that even if he broke his oath to not interfere, Strange wouldn't listen. When Strange does destroy the universe, only Uatu is left to say they told him so.
    Strange Supreme: I was wrong.
    Uatu: You were warned.
  • I'm Mr. [Future Pop Culture Reference]: Accidental example where O'Bengh thinks Strange's name is Armani after hearing him describe his suit and calls him that for the rest of the episode.
  • In Spite of a Nail:
    • Steven manages to dodge the head-on collision that caused his injury because Christine warned him and gave him time to hit the brakes. He gets in a different wreck that throws his car off the mountain road about 5 seconds later, because his sudden deceleration caused the car behind him to rear-end him.
    • Even with Christine’s death, Stephen still becomes a sorcerer, defeats Dormammu and protects the New York Sanctum Sanctorum while watching over the Eye of Agamotto alongside Wong. The only difference besides Christine’s absence seems to be that Stephen mastered his magic quicker with his hands uninjured in this reality.
      Uatu: And when the threat came and The Ancient One was lost, Stephen Strange stood tall. The man of science became the Sorcerer Supreme. Yet despite all he'd gained, Stephen Strange could not let go of the past.
    • No matter what Strange does to alter the past, Christine dies. Make it to the awards in one piece? She suffers a fatal heart attack. Go to a pizza place? She gets shot by a mugger. Avoid picking her up altogether? She ends up perishing in a fire. It's revealed that her death is an Absolute Point, a point in time that cannot be changed because without it Strange would never have become a sorcerer and gained the power to travel back in time to change it. Even when he finally manages to save her as Strange Supreme, she ultimately ends up disappearing along with the rest of the universe.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: Unlike most episodes that end on a cliffhanger, this episode has a seemingly very concrete ending, with everyone but Strange dead. However, the episode is pivotal for establishing that a being of sufficient power can hear and interact with The Watcher.
  • Interactive Narrator: An example that's Played for Drama as Strange actively begs for the Watcher to save his reality. Up until now, Uatu hasn't talked to anyone directly except for the audience, so Strange noticing him is a massive deal for the series so far.
  • Irony: Strange stopped Dormammu from destroying reality, but out of his blind disregard for meddling with time and events leading to more destruction, ended up achieving what he originally prevented Dormammu from doing.
  • I've Come Too Far: Spoken verbatim by Strange Supreme with regards to his refusal to stop trying to save Christine.
  • Killed Offscreen: Brutally enforced. Everyone in the MCU (including its heroes and villains, known or yet to appear) has been outright erased from existence at the episode's end. The other Infinity Stones may have been erased from existence as well,
  • Kirby Dots: The evil Strange's magic is depicted this way, contrasting the regular "circle of runes" design used by the other MCU sorcerers.
  • Last of His Kind: At the end, Strange Supreme succeeds in bringing back Christine, but the resulting Time Crash causes the universe to collapse in on itself, save for a tiny pocket of reality that Strange Supreme manages to save with his magic. As not just the only human, but the only thing left in the entire universe, Strange has nothing but guilt over destroying reality; a guilt he has to live with alone, forever.
    • It is possible that the other Infinity Stones may have been destroyed in this timeline as well.
  • Layered World: The Ancient One's attack on Strange causes a split where two timelines exist in one universe.
  • Living Clothes: Strange Supreme steals a cloak from one of his monstrous targets that flies around similarly to the Cloak of Levitation. Humorously, when the two Dr. Stranges face off against each other, their cloaks detach and fight a battle of their own.
  • The Lost Lenore: Strange is obsessed with bringing his lost love back to life, even at the cost of the entire universe.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Supreme traps Strange in an illusion where Christine tries to tempt him into saving her life. It comes close to working, but he remembers the stakes and realizes this is not Christine.
  • Lovecraftian Superpower: By absorbing countless demons, Strange Supreme can manifest parts of them to attack his other self.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Strange Supreme's love for Christine and inability to accept her death drives him down a path that ultimately destroys the universe. Discussed by O'Bengh right at the start of his crusade:
    O'Bengh: There is a fine line between devotion and delusion. Love can break more than your heart. It can shatter your mind.
  • Magical Library: Strange travels back in time to study at the long destroyed Library of Cagliostro.
  • The Many Deaths of You: The sequence of Strange attempting to avert Christine's death shows the alternate paths that night took (standing her up, taking an alternate route, reaching the award ceremony, spending the night at a local diner) and how her death was guaranteed in each path (caught in an exploding building, being run over by a truck, having a fatal heart attack, being gunned down by a mugger).
  • Musical Nod: Michael Giacchino's Doctor Strange's theme can be heard at times.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Strange Supreme realizes his mistakes far too late and begs Uatu to do something while he desperately tries to keep the universe from collapsing in on itself.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • When Strange asks the custodian of the Lost Library of Cagliostro if he is Cagliostro, the custodian replies that he isn't, only the librarian O'Bengh. In the comics "O'Bengh" is speculated to possibly be Cagliostro's real name.
    • Steven ends up summoning up the "HYDRA champion" tentacle monster from episode 1.
    • In essence, the episode involves a tragic character seeking to recover a lost love one from an accident by meddling with the time-space continuum (a lot of times even) — and it ends horribly for them all the same (with, arguably the loved one they're trying to rescue horrified at what they've become). Are we talking about Doctor Strange Supreme, or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse's Kingpin? (The only difference of course is that while Kingpin was using science and was stopped in time by Miles Morales, Strange succeeds at universe-ending cost, with it turning All for Nothing anyway.)
    • The episode's plot also appears to draw from Strange Tales #8 through #15. In the comic storyline Stephen, infected by black magic, begins to gradually absorb various demonic entitis in an effort to gain enough power to fight Shuma-Gorath. He ends up gaining the power to combat and eventually absorb the Elder God's energies into himself, though the process costs Stephen his humanity. Fittingly, in the episode the first demon he encounters and the final one he manages to absorb a portion of bears a strong resemblance to Shuma-Gorath.
  • Never Shall The Selves Meet: The Ancient One splits Strange's timeline in two: one where Dr. Strange gives up on breaking a fixed point, and another where Strange Supreme goes to any length to do so. When Strange Supreme realizes his other self exists and their two timelines start intersecting, it results in a Reality-Breaking Paradox that is almost as dangerous as Strange Supreme's end goal, albeit slower.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The episode preview is edited to appear that Strange's fateful car crash happened similar to the original film: distracted driving that leads to him hitting another car. In the episode proper, Strange actually avoids the same initial car that would've hit him (and Christine). Unfortunately, he didn't account for being rear-ended by another car soon after.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Christine Palmer is a major character here, and there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Christine Everhart.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Strange Supreme's actions pose such a danger to his reality that Uatu actually considers telling him what will happen. He decides against it because of the threat Strange might pose to the multiverse if told, and he doubts Strange would listen anyway.
      Uatu: He's on the wrong path. I could warn him, intervene, but the fate of his universe is not worth risking the safety of all others. Besides, I doubt he'd listen.
    • In the climax, Uatu actually converses with Strange Supreme directly and chews him out for his folly, since Strange can perceive him. Since this universe is moments away from nothingness, Uatu doesn't have to worry about interfering in events.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Benedict Cumberbatch's British comes out quite noticeably on the last word of "I spent centuries, sacrificed everything!"
  • Our Gnomes Are Weirder: The first creature that Strange absorbs is a gnome, which resembles an ordinary garden gnome but fiercer.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: This episode expands on the different types of time travel possible within the MCU.
    • More of the power of the Time Stone is demonstrated, and shows that it can be used for different forms of time travel. In addition to the ability to physically rewind time and create Groundhog Day loops it is also shown to allow for Mental Time Travel and Instantaneous Time Travel between locations.
    • Unlike time travel through the quantum realm, use of the Time Stone doesn't seem to cause alternate timelines to split off, as Uatu confirms that all of this is happening within a singular universe, implying that this method has a similar effect to the TVA's pruning alternate futures the traveler comes from, similar to Chase's method from Runaways (2017). However, unlike that method, the Time Stone doesn't cause the user to be Ret-Gone'd when they change the future they came from.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Christine causes Strange to seek out Kamar-Taj, and everything thereafter up to the end of reality.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Christine mentions The Price Is Right and Stephen says he doesn't know what that is.
  • Portal Cut: Strange makes the Instant Runes pentagram the Eldritch Abomination is emerging from disappear, slicing off its tentacles.
  • Power Parasite: To acquire the power needed to break an Absolute Point, Strange absorbs countless demons into himself, gaining their powers and the ability to manifest their physical traits.
  • Powerup Full Color Change: After absorbing his good twin and acquiring enough power to avert Christine's death, the Time Stone in the Eye of Agamotto changes from emerald green to a deep blood red. This is the first time we see an Infinity Stone change color due to an active outside energy source.
  • Pride: Good Strange accuses Strange Supreme of this, saying his obsession with saving Christine is due to his need to prove he can fix anything.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: This episode shows how Dr. Strange goes from being the hero who defeated Dormammu to then destroying the universe himself. He ends as a Tragic Villain, the sole creature of his universe and still unable to save Christine.
  • Protective Charm: A powerful Vishanti spell of protection is cast by Wong on the good Stephen to protect the latter going into battle against his evil self. Strange Supreme is forced to beat the spell off him in order to fully absorb him; every hit he lands slowly chips the runes off him until it's all gone.
  • The Punishment Is the Crime: Strange Supreme pleads with Uatu to punish him rather than allow the universe to be destroyed for his arrogance, and while the Watcher points out that he cannot interfere, it is implied that he considers Strange's impending fate to be its own punishment.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Strange Supreme absorbs Good Strange and proceeds to revive Christine. He got what he wanted, only for Christine to become terrified of Strange's monstrous appearance and the collapsing universe around them. And then it turns out Christine will be erased with the collapsing universe anyway, making all of Strange's efforts pointless. All that's left is a regretful Strange Supreme trapped in his pocket universe, forever alone to live with his actions.
  • Rapid-Fire "No!": As Christine fades away in his arms, Strange Supreme quietly and slowly says this, clearly on the brink of tears.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Uatu gives one to Strange Supreme, berating him for calling Uatu a god and noting that Strange Supreme was given more than enough warnings that what he was doing was wrong, but nevertheless chose the dark path that signed his universe's death warrant.
  • Reality-Breaking Paradox:
    • The episode revolves around undoing an Absolute Point, and the consequences of such. As we've seen in other media, tampering with a Fixed Point in time is never a good thing; either the universe corrects the error itself, or it breaks down. Early in the episode, the universe conspires to kill Christine no matter what happens to her, because she chooses to accompany Strange to the awards. After Strange Supreme forces her to be revived, reality completely breaks down because at that point he never had a reason to master the Time Stone. The resulting paradox destroys the universe.
    • The Ancient One splits Strange's personal timeline in two, allowing both to exist in the universe at the same time. Reality starts to break down once Strange Supreme realizes what's happened and comes back to absorb his other self.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Strange Supreme channeling his demonic energies into the Eye of Agamotto causes it to turn red, signifying the corruption of the Time Stone by Strange's evil intent.
  • Riddle for the Ages: When Strange finds the Lost Library of Cagliostro, he asks the librarian where Cagliostro is and gets a cryptic response. He never does get a real answer.
  • Right in Front of Me: Lampshaded and averted. When Strange arrives at the Lost Library of Cagliostro, he rudely demands to see Cagliostro, then after a cryptic answer asks if the person he's talking to is Cagliostro. Fortunately for him, the answer is no.
  • Satanic Archetype: The more creatures Strange Supreme absorbs, the more demonic his appearance becomes, even briefly taking on fiery red skin and horns.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: Classically invoked in a flashback when Christine claims Stephen's white t-shirt as her own.
  • The Shadow Knows: When Strange Supreme first approaches Good Strange, only his shadow can be seen, and it reveals all the different monstrous spirits he has absorbed. When he finally reunites with Christine, she sees him as the full monster he has become.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: After all the effort Strange goes through to save Christine, she ends up fading from existence anyways, leaving Strange utterly alone in a dead universe.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Strange Supreme tries to beg that Uatu save the universe by punishing Strange instead of the rapidly collapsing universe by remarking that he was wrong and should have known better, the Watcher coldly shoots this down with three words.
    Strange Supreme: I was wrong. I…
    Uatu: You were warned.
  • Skyward Scream: Strange unleashes one after too many failed attempts to save Christine.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Knowing Uatu is watching him and doing nothing about it, Strange Supreme continues down his path to resurrecting Christine. When everything goes to hell, Strange begs Uatu to fix it, to save her and the universe by punishing him instead. Uatu coldly rebukes him.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: A very cruel variation. As grim as his fate here might be, if it's any small consolation, Stephen avoids his initial fate from the end of Infinity War. Not that being blipped is any more cruel than living the dream alone in a prison of your own making (as Strange Supreme would later put it) for what you have done…
  • Spikes of Villainy: The collar on Strange Supreme's new cloak evokes this.
  • Split-Personality Merge: Strange Supreme forcibly merges with Good Strange to give himself the full strength needed to "save" Christine.
  • Stable Time Loop: Strange looks for the Lost Library of Cagliostro in the past, finds it and then destroys all the books by absorbing their knowledge. His action causes the Library to be Lost.
  • Starcrossed Lovers: Strange and Christine have a functioning and happy relationship with each other, a romance that other Strange variants would envy for. Yet this universe still manages to keep them apart by having Christine die in a car accident that would set Strange on the path to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme, which functionally turns her death into an Absolute Point. Strange's countless attempts to undo this death only end in failure; even when he breaks the fabric of reality and unwittingly destroys the universe, Christine still ends up dying anyways. Even worse, it's implied by Christine's last words that she would have rejected Strange had she survived, putting him in the same category as all the other Strange variants who couldn't win Christine's heart.
  • Summon Magic: To get enough power to change time, Strange has to summon and absorb who knows how many magical creatures. It takes centuries.
  • Take Me Instead:
    • Implied: in one of his attempts to prevent Christine's death, Strange lets her drive, possibly expecting that this will result in him dying instead of her.
    • After he becomes aware of the Watcher's presence, Strange Supreme begs Uatu to let him bear the punishment for his actions and spare the rest of the universe.
  • This Is Madness: How Good Strange perceives Strange Supreme's intentions.
  • Time Crash: The result of Strange's attempt to undo the Absolute Point (specifically, when Christine perishes) — reality dissolves and breaks apart around him.
  • Time Passes Montage: Strange Supreme spends decades absorbing one monster after another in the library, first shown with the seasons changing outside the library, followed by the landscape itself. He doesn't consciously notice, as he uses the Time Stone to keep himself young. By the time he stops, O'Bengh has gone from a man in his prime to an old man on his deathbed.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: All the timeline manipulation of the episode is explicitly stated to be isolated to a single timeline, without propagating or branching into an alternate universe. Even there being two Stephens who made opposite decisions somehow runs in a single reality. This might have to do with the fact the time alteration is singularly focused on a point the character in question physically cannot meaningfully change.
  • Tragic Hero: Strange Supreme's character arc, especially since he also turns into a Fallen Hero in the process, boils down to this.
  • Transhuman Abomination: Desperate to save Christine, Strange Supreme spends untold years absorbing countless supernatural entities and demons into himself, including several tentacles belonging to an Eldritch Abomination. The end result is that when he unleashes his full power, he transforms into a Monstrous Humanoid sporting horns, fangs, multiple glowing eyes, and tentacles.
  • Unexpectedly Dark Episode: The previous episode was itself unexpectedly dark after the first two, but if a man becoming a serial killer after the death of his child was too bright and cheery for your tastes, do we have an episode for you.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: O'Bengh tells Strange Supreme of another Dr. Strange who has moved on from his Christine's death. He soon learns the truth and proceeds to either rally him to his cause or absorb him like the other beings.
    • Related but subverted, the Ancient One ends up as this because she splits two timelines so she can call upon the Strange who has moved on to battle the Strange obsessed with breaking the Absolute Point. She knows how dangerous this gambit is, but hopes this can save their universe.
  • Villain Protagonist: A first for What If…?. The episode focuses on Doctor Strange Supreme, an evil version of the character who will use dark magic to bring back Christine Palmer even if it means dooming the entire universe.
  • Voice of the Legion: Strange Supreme starts to speak this way after absorbing who knows how many mystical beings over the centuries.
  • Wham Episode: For the first time, Uatu the Watcher is acknowledged by another character, and they have a harsh conversation.
  • Wham Line:
    • When Uatu muses out loud on whether or not he should warn Strange Supreme, suspecting he will ignore him for his goal, Strange Supreme asks "Hello? Who's there?", indicating that he heard Uatu, a first for the series.
    • Later in the episode, there's the dying O'Bengh's revelation that there's another Strange in this universe, something the Watcher then confirms.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Stephen Strange steps out of the Sanctum Santorum and finds everything coming undone. The Aincient One warns him that another version of himself is coming for his power, and his goal could destroy everything.
    • After successfully absorbing Strange Supreme's good self, everything begins to fall apart in the background. This also includes Christine, whom he had spent his life trying to save.
    • Strange Supreme yelling at someone outside the edge of his universe, which fades away to reveal he is yelling at Uatu to fix everything, citing him as a god. The Watcher is having none of it.
  • Who's on First?: The librarian O'Bengh initially believes Stephen Strange's name to be "Armani" because of his "It's Armani" comment (regarding his clothes). Strange corrects him with, "It's Strange", prompting a comment from the librarian that it's no stranger than any other name in the universe.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: O'Bengh aged while Strange Supreme gained his powers and refuses his offer to use the Time Stone to extend his life, seeing death as "part of the plan."
  • Willing Channeler: Doctor Strange absorbs multiple terrifying creatures to gain their powers, and in the end is left in quite a horrifying state.
  • Wizard Duel: The climax of the episode resulting in Strange Supreme using his magic to absorb Stephen Strange, with Stephen using his own to fight him off.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Strange magically suspends his own aging to spend centuries absorbing demons. O'Bengh, who does not do the same, is still alive, albeit barely, when Strange finally comes out.
  • The Worf Effect:
    • As a demonstration of Strange Supreme's sheer mystic power, he becomes the first character to perceive the Watcher, seemingly without him allowing it.
    • Though Stephen puts up a valiant effort, Strange Supreme easily outclasses his good counterpart. Good Strange is more or less the normal timeline Strange, while Strange Supreme has been absorbing demonic entities for centuries before coming back to the present, allowing Good Strange no time to even the odds.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Strange tries to manipulate the scene before Christine dies, rather by taking an alternate route, avoiding the trip altogether, or switching places so he could die. No matter what happens, however, Christine is still fated to die, albeit in different ways. Stopping it from happening quite literally destroys that universe, Christine included.

"One life, one choice, one moment… can destroy the entire universe."


Video Example(s):


Doctor Strange and the Watcher

Strange Supreme, Realising that He has Doomed The Universe, begs Uatu to save the universe, but the Watcher refuses Stating that Strange of all people should know of the consequences of manipulating time and space to his extent.

How well does it match the trope?

4.98 (43 votes)

Example of:

Main / AlienNonInterferenceClause

Media sources: