The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “multiverse saga” has always hinged on the hypothetical, and no project explores this like What If...?. While the animated series is mostly self-contained, a few of its characters bled through into the live-action MCU via Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — namely, Captain Carter (Peggy with a dose of Super Soldier serum) and an evil Strange Supreme.
Captain Carter still plays a crucial role in What If Season 2, streaming daily new episodes this week, but another character seems to be increasingly important. In two episodes so far, What If has provided a fresh perspective on one of the MCU’s most overlooked characters, suggesting the anthology could be setting up something major for Bucky Barnes, aka, the Winter Soldier.
Season 2 Episode 6 (“What If... Captain Carter Fought the Hydra Stomper?”) follows Captain Carter back in the present-day timeline as she learns Steve Rogers is still alive, his life extended by the Hydra Stomper mech suit he piloted during WWII. He’s since been brainwashed by the Red Room and suddenly shows up in America to attack Bucky Barnes, who is now Secretary of State. (Before the attack begins, we even see Secretary Barnes defend a foreign aid package to Sokovia.)
It’s not the first time we’ve seen Bucky in this season. In Episode 2 (“What If… Peter Quill Attacked Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?”) the Avengers assemble in the 1980s to fight Peter Quill as a child. As the members file in, King T’Chaka tells a now-older Peggy Carter and Howard Stark that “Gorbachev wanted the target contained before he reaches Moscow. So he sent the Winter Soldier, the world's most deadly assassin.”
By the end of the episode, Bucky seems to have cast off his Winter Soldier identity, suggesting an alternate timeline where he never murders Tony Stark’s parents.
Together, these two episodes prove the depth of Bucky’s character. He’s more than just the formerly brainwashed assassin who went to therapy and reluctantly became friends with Sam Wilson in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. He can be the steely-eyed assassin fans saw almost a decade ago, but he can also be a leader, the brains of the operation, and even a U.S. political leader.
Bucky’s multiple appearances in this season of What If could hint at a bigger role in the MCU going forward. Sam Wilson was able to slide from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to Captain America: Brave New World, but Bucky’s next live-action appearance will be as one part of an ensemble in Thunderbolts. Hopefully, Bucky’s diverse roles in these parallel universes will prove just how underutilized he is and he’ll finally get his moment in the spotlight.