WandaVision gives us some answers and fills in Wanda’s backstory
The penultimate episode of WandaVision gave us a lot of answers, revealed a lie or two, and set the stage for a big battle. I think it also showed us that this show should not be thought of as a spin-off. It has leaned into the things that television does well, telling a story more nuanced that any of the big movies are able to with their set pieces and epic battles. Not that next episode won’t have a battle, because that seems inevitable at this point.
Episode eight, “Previously On” is not as delightful as episode seven, nor as fun as episodes one through six, but we’ve reached the point where answers must be forthcoming, and since the show centers around Wanda’s trauma, that means things have to be a bit more serious, at least for no. I can’t say more without spoilers, so the rest of the review will be behind a cut-tag
Before I get into it: this show appears on Disney+, and may I remind you that Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.
Seriously, every single sentence below is full of spoilers…
Seriously, turn back now!!!
I warned you!!!
Seriously, spoilers ahead!
You’re on your own, now!
This episode began with a flashback to Salem, Massachusetts in 1693. In the comics, Agatha Harkness was a young witch in Salem, so that tracks. It appears at first that Agatha about to be burned at the stake for witchcraft1. In fact, she is on-trial from the rest of her coven for dabbling in forbidden dark magic. But it isn’t Agatha that winds up dead, but rather all of the other witches, including Agatha’s mother. And it appears that Agatha didn’t just kill the other witches, but actually absorbed their life energy2, which may explain her very long life.
Back in the present, Agatha demonstrates that Wanda’s powers don’t work in Agatha’s sanctum, and then she explains a few things while making some rather disturbing but visually striking demonstrations of her own powers. Among the things we learn are the Agatha didn’t manipulate or trick Wanda into creating the Hex. Rather, Agatha perceived the creation of the Hex as thousand upon thousands of small and large spells executed over a short span of time in a single location. Which led her to investigate and then insinuate herself into the Hex to try to figure out how Wanda had done it3.
When Wanda insists she doesn’t remember creating the Hex or how she did it, Agatha plucks a hair form Wanda’s head, casts and spell, and throws the resulting energy at the door I thought might be a magical portal last week. She then insists that Wanda needs to relive suppressed memories so Agatha can find the answer. And since Agatha has Wanda’s twin sons captive somewhere nearby, she has to cooperate.
In the hands of lesser writers, this could have come across as the tired cliché of the protagonist having to confront their past in order to heal. But that’s not at all what happens. Agatha forces Wanda to do this. Agatha also has no interest in healing Wanda. She wants to know how Wanda did this impossibly complex and powerful magic, because Agatha would like to be able to do this sort of thing herself.
First we visit Wanda’s childhood in Sovokia4, where we meet her parents and see her real brother (though Wanda and Pietro in this scene are played by child actors, so no sign of Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Wanda’s father has apparently been trying to support the family by selling DVDs of old American TV shows, which begins to explain Wanda’s obsession with them. We even get to watch the family begin watching one of the funniest and weirdest episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show on their weekly TV night… until bombs hit their building, killing their parents. We even see the unexploded bomb with the Stark Industries logo on the side which Wanda had mentioned in Age of Ultron.
We also see, in Wanda’s memory, Wanda’s eyes glow when she looks at the bomb. Which causes Agatha to infer that Wanda had magical powers at a much younger age than Wanda realized. Agatha speculates that the bomb might not have been flawed, but rather that Wanda subconsciously rendered it inoperable.
Agatha pushes Wanda to the next memory: the experiments with the Mind Stone that Wanda volunteered for after she was recruited by Hydra. In the scene we learn that every person Hydra has exposed directly to the stone was killed. But when Wanda sees it, is seems to take on a life of its own, breaks from the sceptre it is mounted in, and approach her. Before she blacks out, she sees a vision of a being that looks an awful lot like the silhouette of a woman in the comic book accurate Scarlet Witch costume.
Agatha concludes that the Mind Stone gave Wanda, then a “baby witch” a significant power boost, but it still isn’t enough to explain the Hex. So she prods Wanda to move to the next memory.
Then we see what might be the sweetest scene ever shown in the MCU. Wanda is depressed after the death of her brother, and spends all her free time in the Avengers compound watching TV. Vision is lurking nearby, and she calls him into the room. The movies tried to show us the growing romance between Vision and Wanda over the course of several movies, but they never really had enough screen time. I mean, they had some sweet emotional scenes where we saw they had great affection, but we didn’t see how they got there.
Until this scene. And this scene really felt earned. We can see Vision trying to understand emotions he’s feeling but has no previous context for as an android. We see Wanda’s affection. It just really worked.
The next memory takes us to S.W.O.R.D. headquarters, where Wanda shows up and demands to see Vision’s body. Director Hayward eventually has the reception people send her in to his office. In an earlier episode, Hayward showed very edited version of this sequence to the other S.W.O.R.D. personnel, telling them that Wanda violently invade the lab and stole Vision’s body. Instead, she tells Hayward that she wants to give Vision a funeral, that he deserves a real burial. Hayward shows him that technicians have been disassembling the body and trying to understand it. Wanda does break a window, but just to get to the body and touch it tearfully.
Hayward explains that he can’t allow 3 billion dollars of vibranium to be stuck in the ground.
…and Wanda accepts that. We see her next in the parking lot, where she gets into a car and starts in, then looks at an odd, opened envelope sitting on the passenger seat. She doesn’t pick it up, she simply drives away. And drives to Westview, New Jersey, where we see a community that seems to be a bit run down as all of the world was portrayed at the beginning of Avengers: Endgame. She pulls into the driveway of a plot that has only the foundation of a house. Then she pulls out the envelope and we see that it is a property deed for that plot in Westview. There is a red heart drawn on the deed, and the phrase, “To grow old together – V”
The implication is that this was a gift from Vision: that he purchased this plot intending to propose to Wanda. My guess is that this was left among Vision’s things in the Avenger’s compound, and that whoever wound up in charge after the end of Endgame gave Wanda all of Vision’s effects.
She breaks down sobbing, falls to her knees, and red power explodes from her, transforming Westview into a 1950s town, building a house on the foundation, and most surprising conjuring Vision’s body out of nothing. And we see the two of them standing in the black and white living room from episode one. Vision greets her, and they sit down. The set morphs from black and white to a sound stage with the set, and Agatha outlines how Wanda’s grief enabled her to do the impossible.
Then Agatha is gone, and Wanda can hear the twins calling for her. Outside, she finds Agatha floating over the street, tendrils of her purple magic strangling the boys. Agatha’s last revelation for the episode is that Wanda is a legendary being that no one thought could exist. She is the Scarlet Witch5.
We get our second mid-credits scenes a few minutes after this. S.W.O.R.D. is finally ready to launch whatever it is the Director Hayward was going on about in the previous episode. They hooked up the drone that Wanda disabled and brought back to them, still glowing with some of her power. And the use it to reanimate… Vision’s body. Except it is a completely white version of the Vision6. Hayward makes a comment about how they have tried reassembling it “a million times” but couldn’t find an energy source that would power it on.
The synthezoid wakes up. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to the be friendly Vision we’ve come to love.Almost certainly this means that next episode will feature a fight between the two Visions (with presumably Wanda and Monica helping “our” Vision). I’m not sure how I feel about that, because the good twin vs evil twin stories are seldom as interesting as writers keep thinking they are7. But we won’t know until next week!
I liked this episode. It is short on the humor, and in some ways was predictable9, but I quite liked it. Especially the fact that the writers didn’t try to make Agatha sympathetic. She is a villain and acts like that. And sometimes that’s what a story needs. A villain that makes you want to root for the hero.
A couple of other reviews you might enjoy:
1. Most of the actual people (men and women) convicted of witchcraft in the Salem trials were hanged, rather than burnt. Which happens to be one of the things a very different Disney show, Hocus Pocus actually got right.
2. An presumably their magical power.
3. So one of my theories appears to be wrong. Agatha didn’t trick Wanda into creating the Hex, and if some powerful demonic being did, Agatha hasn’t seen any evidence, which one would think would be difficult to hide from a witch of her power and years of experience.
4. This section has many of the problems that plague America portrayals of the trouble history of the former Yugoslavia, which the fictional Sokovia is clearly modeled after. Would their mother really be so sanguine about seeing fighting and gunfire from the kitchen window while father is setting up the DVD player?
5. I’ve seen a few hot takes on line that boil down to, “So? We already knew that!” Except no, we didn’t. Wanda has never, in any of the MCU shows she has appeared in, used the code name Scarlet Witch. In the comics it’s just another superhero name. The MCU movies haven’t always used such names for all of the characters. She’s always just been Wanda Maximoff. The way Agatha’s revelation is phrase, this isn’t just a code name, it’s the name of the legendary being. Presumably something like the Kwisatz Haderach in the Dune books: a witch with powers no other mortal has.
6. In the comics there was a story where Vision was transformed like this, having none of his human emotions, memories, and most importantly morals.
7. In my fantasy series I have a set of twins one of whom refers to himself as the Evil One… but all three8 of them fight on the side of the good guys in all the books they appear in; frequently teaming up and never intentionally working at cross purposes.
8. Yes, three twin brothers. It’s a joke that I’m probably a bit too proud of how I set it up, but then I do write light fantasy in an epic fantasy wrapper, so…
9. Which is not a bad thing. A good story’s ending should feel as if it is inevitable. Twists are way overrated.