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What If… Hela Found the Ten Rings? Wastes the Chance to Fix the MCU’s LGBTQ Problem

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Who is Jiayi In What If…? Season 2 Do Jiayi and Hela Have a Crush On Each Other? What If…? Was the Perfect Place for Jiayi and Hela’s Romance

The following contains spoilers for What If…? Season 2, Episode 7, “What If… Hela Found the Ten Rings?,” now streaming on Disney+.

In What If…? Season 2, Marvel Studios once more continues to tread new ground with unique alternate reality stories. For example, Peter Quill goes on a Celestial rampage against the Avengers. In addition, Nebula forms a Guardians of the Galaxy pastiche.

Intriguingly, the Goddess of Death, Hela, gets her own chapter. This narrative focuses on her atoning for her sins. However, the Marvel Cinematic Universe misses a major opportunity to use the journey of this Hela variant to fix a major issue it has with LGBTQ narratives.

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In “What If… Hela Found the Ten Rings?”, Hela fights with Odin after he chides her lust for war. The All-Father banishes his daughter to Midgard, where Hela meets Wenwu and the Ten Rings. However, despite Wenwu’s romantic advances, Hela bolts and ends up at Ta Lo, the mystical region found in Shang Chi’s solo movie. Here, Jiayi (a new character created for What If…?) greets her and lets her know this is a place of honor and respect.

They form an uneasy alliance, with Jiayi taking Hela in, spotting she has an emotional maelstrom within that needs to be calmed. There is a lot of rage inside, stemming from Odin’s toxic masculinity and controlling ways. Jiayi, however, shows the Asgardian deity what humility, unity and peace look like. She can sense the frustration over the lack of agency and identity in Hela, so she comes from an angle of compassion, love and empathy. Knowing how to relate to Hela, she trains the villain who has been de-powered by her father and exiled in the hopes she will suffer.

Thankfully, Jiayi ensures Hela doesn’t hurt anymore. She makes it clear, should Hela give into her anger, she will walk this life alone. Spiritually, she lets her know this will let Odin win. It’s remarkable tutelage, putting Jiayi right up there with sage mentors such as Star Wars’ Yoda and Luke Skywalker. It is also a clever nod to when Shang Chi had to train with Ying Nan (played by Michelle Yeoh). He gleaned a lot of wisdom from his aunt there, and in this scenario, Jiayi fills that very role.

Her teachings convince Hela to let go of the past, assisting her mentally in becoming — not just a better warrior and protector — but a better person. Jiayi inadvertently ends up inspiring Hela to break Ta Lo’s rules and go assist Wenwu when Odin’s army comes to slaughter them. It brings Hela’s story full-circle, stunning fans who never anticipated an unheralded catalyst like Jiayi would ever come into play and precipitate such a big alteration.

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In this chapter of What If…? Season 2, there are strong themes about strength in numbers, why being together makes sense to heal, and how people can unexpectedly unlock others’ purpose. The way Jiayi speaks, smiles and breaks Hela’s walls down in these conversations, it does feel like love is brewing. They even have the seductive yet romantic sparring session in nature that Wenwu had with his wife in the movie. It is artistic, beautiful and elegant in terms of how these graceful women complement each other, either in the field or when having simple, charismatic chats.

Fans online immediately began shipping Jiayi and Hela, with What If…? absolutely not holding back on the array of unabashed, wistful glances. It even had audiences wondering if Jiayi would end up bringing Ta Lo to Hela’s aid in the finale against Odin. Sadly, that doesn’t happen. Hela defeats her father, absorbs his power and then becomes a champion of the universe with Wenwu’s legion. But it really should have been Jiayi riding by her side in the closing frame, due to all the evidence laid down in the episode. The fact the show never comes back to Jiayi, not even for Hela to say thanks, or for Wenwu to make a coalition with, really does a disservice to Jiayi.

Jiayi is a character of so much substance and style. With Hela not ever listening to Odin and Thor, there has to be more to a story where she would just obey a total stranger. All while losing her pride and ego along the way. Jiayi makes her shine, so with the fact Hela shows no interest in any man, especially Wenwu, it feels as if Marvel leaves subtext hanging for fans to interpret for themselves. Is it cute? Maybe, but in this day and age, it doesn’t feel like the right direction in terms of representation and visibility.

What If…? Was the Perfect Place for Jiayi and Hela’s Romance

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The MCU’s newest superhero is already a fan favorite following her debut in What If…? Season 2.

The MCU has not had a great track record with queer arcs. Loki’s bisexual nature was quickly glossed over, while Valkyrie’s queer arc has been reduced to an afterthought. It has been made even worse with Valkyrie’s obvious affection for Captain Marvel, and not addressing properly in The Marvels. Small steps have been made with Phastos kissing his husband in Eternals, but Disney continues to trim LGBTQ arcs in Pixar and Star Wars movies as well, just to appease certain markets. This comes off as disingenuous. However, What If…? is the perfect canvas to fix that error.

It is all about exploring the concept of “the other,” and letting people be different. While it is commendable that Season 2 creates a new character in Kahhori, that doesn’t mean it can’t upgrade characters in more ways than just weapons, motivations and costumes. It should give them integral life choices, allowing them to express themselves in other ways that are true to the comics. Hela, for example, married Karnilla and had a tumultuous bond, so she is a queer icon. Her fashion sense, as seen with Cate Blanchett’s unapologetic style, certainly reflects that. Instead, What If…? keeps working in Wenwu’s crush after Jiayi gets dropped from the story.

It really is forced, because Jiayi is the anchor, heart and soul for Hela’s heroic turn — one of the MCU’s biggest changes, even if it won’t stick as cinematic canon. The scene where Jiayi presents Hela a paper mâché flower says it all; they have soulmate energy. Coincidentally, not even a kiss was needed. A shot of Hela hugging Jiayi, or just holding her hand at the end would have covered it all. That’s because they have already firmed up an endearing bond with all the nuance in their words and interactions. Hela gives Jiayi purpose, while Jiayi helps Hela repair herself and feel whole again. This is the most ideal foundation for the MCU letting two women be together. But by ignoring the tension and yearning friction present, What If…? plays it safe and feels like it is queer-baiting.

The MCU keeps asking fans to have patience with the cosmopolitan world they’re building, but there is a strong air of censorship abound. If anything, the Disney+ platform is the place to risk an LGBTQ story, with many franchises (such as Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous) preferring to do a gay arc on a streaming service rather than potentially endanger a movie in a market that would cost millions. Ultimately, diluting a queer arc isn’t a progressive look, or anything that improves the MCU’s stance on diversity and quality. Maybe a What If…? Season 3 can rectify and evolve this. In the process, it could present Hela and Jiayi the ending they deserve, rather than the current one with Hela (for some reason) needing a man by her side in a story that loses its feminist edge.

What If…?

Exploring pivotal moments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and turning them on their head, leading the audience into uncharted territory.


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