Superheroes are often portrayed as the best versions of humanity. Aspirational. This latest episode of ‘What If’ shows us a version of Dr. Strange that is just like us. Warts and all. We suffer. We hurt. We do things that we know we shouldn’t, things we know are a truly terrible idea, give in to our most self-destructive tendencies, only this time with superpowers.
If we accept that our destinies are predetermined, that we are doomed to repeat them over and over, even as we desperately try to avoid them- what happens if you give our darkest, most human flaws limitless time and potential?
Turns out, the line between Superhero and Supervillain is razor thin, and also completely relatable. Everyone has replayed a disastrous moment in their mind, and driven themselves mad with “what if’s”. What if I hadn’t said that thing, what if I took a different road, what if I just stayed home. WHAT IF.
What’s beautiful about this episode is that the magic, the “super” in Superhero, is the least important part of this story. The human element is what really drives the plot. This is what happens to grief when you give it the power to change time and space.
“There is a fine line between devotion and delusion.”
We watch Dr. Strange sink further and further from the hero we know, see him become a monster before our eyes, as powerless to stop him as he is to stop himself. Finally, the reveal that Strange has been split, and the universe is paying the consequences, resonates well, like some dystopian, mystical Sliding Doors with less Gwyneth Paltrow.
However, once OG Strange is face to face with Bizarro Strange, the metaphorical battle with one’s self turns into a literal one, and it loses some of its emotional resonance. After all, while most people can relate to struggling with themselves, few of us have had a magical dogfight with our inner demons on a rainy New York street.
But perhaps there is something that we lowly, regular humans can take away from this episode. Maybe we can recognize the madness we see in ourselves.
The decision to let Bizzaro Strange live with the consequences of his actions allows us the opportunity to see what happens when we give in to our most selfish, and ugly impulses. And this poses a question. As the audience hears the regret-filled screams of Dr. Strange echoing in their minds, the unspoken question:
What if we could see the path to darkness, to destruction, and turn away, painful as it is, and maybe, just maybe, avoid creating a nightmare in our own non-super lives.