We'll Never Get to See the Darkest Episode of Marvel's What If
Marvel’s speculative series steered clear of tragedy in Season 2, leaving a “very dark” Spider-Man adventure behind.
What If...? Season 2 came and went in a flash, but the animated series will stay in fans’ minds until its third season drops. This batch of speculative Marvel stories was especially welcome after such a tumultuous year; while Season 1 had a healthy balance of comedy and tragedy, What If’s creative team chose to take Season 2 in a lighter direction.
Season 2 was also conceived amid crisis. Per executive producer A.C. Bradley, the lockdowns and turmoil of 2020 inspired What If’s writers to imagine a better world. “It felt like the world was already ending and we didn’t need to add to it,” Bradley told IGN. “And so it became kind of an escape and a fun release.”
A handful of Season 2 episodes originally skewed darker, like its noir-inspired curtain raiser, “What If... Nebula Joined the Nova Corps?” It was one of the first Bradley developed with writer Matthew Chauncey, in the early days of lockdown. “The first draft was really dark,” Bradley said. “It almost ended in a tragedy. And then we lightened it up.”
While some episodes could be tweaked in favor of a happier ending, others were simply too bleak to make it into the season’s final line-up. “I did write an episode, which is forever going in a drawer, that was very, very dark,” continued Bradley. “I was calling it ‘Children of Men with Spider-Man.’”
It doesn’t get much bleaker than Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 dystopian thriller set in an apocalyptic near-future where humans have become infertile. When a refugee is discovered with a miraculous pregnancy, it falls to a beleaguered civil servant (Clive Owen) to escort her to the Human Project, a research group trying to solve the crisis.
Their journey is full of political intrigue and personal tragedy, neither of which are generally associated with Spider-Man. The character has his off-days, of course, and a fair amount of sad moments, but it’s still hard to see how the wall-crawler would fit into a Children of Men-inspired story, even one set in an alternate universe.
Bradley seems to agree. Not only did she scrap the episode, but she doesn’t seem interested in revisiting it. Bradley is also departing What If ahead of Season 3. But will she take her unfinished stories with her, or will rougher What If episodes be picked up by other writers?
Given the nature of the series, no idea is truly off-limits. What If has the freedom to go as silly or as serious as its creators will allow, and it’s entirely possible a future season could lean on the latter. Season 2’s frivolity was fun, but why not swing in the other direction next year?