May 6, 2022 10:48 AM EDT

Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is full of twists and turns, but the most shocking developments come at the end of the film. The Sam Raimi-directed movie, which marks his return to Marvel since helming the Tobey Maguire-led Spider-Man trilogy, ends with Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) saving the day and awakening his third eye. Not a figurative one, but a literal extra peeper located in the middle of his forehead. That extra eyeball returns in the mid-credits scene, which features a mysterious new character. All of which needs some explaining.

What happens at the end of Doctor Strange?

The Doctor Strange sequel is focused on the consequences of using dark magic in the multiverse. Since the events of the Disney+ show WandaVision, in which Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) stole the Darkhold, a powerful ancient book of spells, from Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), the Avenger has become the Scarlet Witch, a powerful chaotic sorceress—and the villain of this film. She’s on a mission to reconnect with her twin boys, Billy and Tommy, who are not real kids, but manifestations of the family she wished she had with the dearly departed Vision (Paul Bettany). To join them in a different reality, she needs to steal the powers of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a multiverse-hopping teen. The only way she can do that is by killing America.

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of Marvel Studios—©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

To stop this from happening, Doctor Strange uses a forbidden technique known as Dreamwalking to possess the body of Zombie Strange, a Doctor Strange variant from a different universe. (There is a Doctor Strange for every universe in the multiverse, which America reveals is at least 73 universes deep.) He encourages America to trust her powers and she uses them to show Scarlet Witch she is no longer a loving mother, but a monster. Shocked by who she’s become, Scarlet Witch chooses to destroy the Darkhold so no one will ever be tempted by its power again. She seemingly dies in the process—does anyone really die in the multiverse?—and Doctor Strange returns to his original universe ready to seize the day.

That is, until Stephen finds himself doubled over, screaming in pain in a New York City crosswalk. When he lifts his head, the third eye is revealed and the screen cuts to black.

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What’s the deal with Doctor Strange’s third eye?

In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness three new Doctor Strange variants are revealed, including one known to comic book fans as “Sinister Strange.” This evil variant with a third eye also popped up in the Disney+ series What If…?, but Cumberbatch told Total Film that the Multiverse of Madness version is “something different” than what fans saw on that TV show. ScreenRant believes the third-eyed Strange that appears at the end of the film is not sinister at all. He may just be fulfilling a prophecy bestowed upon him by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) without even realizing it.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

In the first Doctor Strange film, the Ancient One tells Strange to “open his eye” before launching him through the different dimensions. At the time, it sounded like a metaphor, a reference to the mystical “mind’s eye,” which is usually depicted as an extra eyeball in the middle of one’s forehead that can offer a gateway to a higher consciousness. Now it appears that the Ancient One may have been instructing him to open a literal third eye so he could see the truth. Of what, is still in question.

As for how Doctor Strange acquired the additional eye, it’s likely it was awakened by the Eye of Agamotto, “a magical talisman created by Agamotto, a member of the Vishanti, a trio of supernatural, god-like entities,” according to ScreenRant. The Eye, which Strange was seen wearing in Spider-Man: No Way Home after it was destroyed by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, is said to reveal the “truth” to its user. In the comics, the Eye gives Strange the ability to create portals to other dimensions and pierce through the Dark Dimension, which might explain the appearance of the mysterious woman in the mid-credits scene.

Who is the mystery woman in the mid-credits scene?

Moviegoers will likely recognize Charlize Theron when she pops up in the stinger, but it’s not as easy to decipher who she’s playing in the MCU. Theron’s character shows up in New York City to invite Doctor Strange on a journey through an open portal to another universe. “Unless you’re afraid?” she teases. It’s a callback to Stephen’s last encounter with an alternate reality version of his love Christine (Rachel McAdams), who urges him to “face his fears.” This time he does. He unleashes his third eye and follows the woman—who is never named, but he appears to know her—into an unknown realm.

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Based on Theron’s purple and black costume, fans have guessed that she is Clea, a mystical woman who has played an important role in the Doctor Strange comics since her debut in 1964. Clea is a powerful sorceress who appears to be human, but is actually a member of the Faltine race, extra-dimensional energy beings born from pure magic, according to The Mary Sue. Clea is the niece of Dormammu, a demonic tyrant believed to be more powerful than Lucifer, who Strange fought in the first Doctor Strange film. Clea is also the Sorceress Supreme of the Dark Dimension, whose long list of powers include telekinesis, mind-control, teleporting, super-strength, and transmutation.

What’s Clea’s connection to Doctor Strange?

Clea is one of Doctor Strange’s closest companions in the comic, having been his ally, disciple, wife, and, most recently, widow. In the 2021 comic, Death of Doctor Strange Vol. 1 #4, Clea becomes the keeper of the Eye of Agamotto after Strange gives his life to save reality. With his last dying breaths, he lets her know that she is the only one he trusts with such powerful relics, a hint at just how capable Clea is.

What does Clea’s arrival mean for the MCU?

That Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange may not be long for the MCU. The running question of Doctor Strange 2 is whether Stephen is happy. The answer? Not yet. After losing Christine, he realizes that he has to put himself out there. Clea could be the one who forces him to face his fears and take a chance on love.

There’s something about Strange’s current story arc that feels reminiscent of Iron Man’s: the arrogant goateed playboy who discovers love, becomes a mentor to the next generation of superheroes and finally finds real happiness, only to realize he must give it all up to save the world.

Read More: What Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness Can Tell Us About the Future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

If Stephen does die—Cumberbatch is not under contract for another film—it doesn’t mean there will no longer be a Strange in the MCU. Remember there are at least 73 other possible Doctor Stranges roaming the multiverse. (Cumberbatch also told USA Today last year that he’d be interested in sticking around the MCU “as long as the character is interesting and challenging.”) More notably though, after Stephen dies in the comics, Clea becomes the Sorceress Supreme of Earth and takes her late husband’s name. A chance for the MCU to get more inclusive in its superhero casting.

What happens in the second end-credits scene?

Bruce Campbell, a staple in Raimi’s movies, including his beloved cameos in the Spider-Man trilogy, shows up again as the Pizza Poppa street vendor who Doctor Strange put a spell on earlier in the film to let you know the movie’s officially over.

 

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