WandaVision’s VFX Team on How Working From Home Brought Unexpected Balance

Wanda Maximoff trying to make dinner with magic

Wanda Maximoff trying to make dinner with magic
Image: Disney+/Marvel

Like many of WandaVision’s secrets, the true meaning of the show’s era-specific production values, aesthetics, and practical effects only became clear towards the series finale which properly ushered the Scarlet Witch into the MCU. The story behind some of WandaVision’s use of visual effects goes even deeper than that, though.

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When io9 sat down to speak with the team at MARZ (Monsters Aliens Robots Zombies), one of the studios that worked on the Marvel Disney+ show, VFX supervisor Ryan Freer, co-president Lon Molnar, and managing director Matt Panousis all agreed that working on a series like WandaVision in the midst of an industry-altering pandemic presented more than a few unexpected challenges. Having come out on the other side of the project, though, the trio all agreed that the experience left them confident in the future of comic book adaptations created for the small screen that capture most, if not all, the grandeur of their cinematic counterparts.


Charles Pulliam-Moore, io9: Talk to me about the production process for this show. How much of the plot was the team clued into from the beginning when you guys were brought on?

Ryan Freer: [laughing] Nothing, really. Marvel does a great job of showing you what they need to show you and what your group has to work on. Sometimes we get larger chunks to bid on as one of the vendors on the show, and we get we can kind of piece together what’s going on, but they keep a really, really tight lip.

io9: What was it like being in the dark about the show’s larger arc, but being able to feel out some of its specific shapes because of the work MARZ was doing? 

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Freer: With IP like this, it’s really cool because we know that there is potential stuff coming down the pipeline with Vision and Wanda, and seeing it all it starting to come together is really amazing. A lot of what we were working on this this season had been established before us, and there was a lot of reference out there already for the established Vision, if that makes sense.

io9: Right, yeah.

Freer: We’d never seen him in black and white before, and we’d never seen him do slapstick comedy, and a lot of his silliness this season presented us with a bit of a learning curve.

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Vision and Wanda realizing they’re about to become parents.
Image: Disney+/Marvel

io9: What were some of the final details in this series that casual viewers probably missed because of how WandaVision, at least at first, wasn’t working with a drastically different physical form for Vision? Especially because there’s so much parity between the character’s big and small screen depictions.

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Freer: The general audience, I don’t think, knows that you’re looking at visual effects every time you see Vision. His entire head other than just his eyes, his nose, and just a little bit of his mouth is all CGI. I went on to some Reddit boards, and people were saying, “How was the budget so huge on this show for visual effects?” and I went all the way down through all the boards and nobody really nailed it. There was maybe one person I said “I heard they overlay of visual effects on top of Vision or something,” but…yeah. It’s the art of making art that no one notices.

Matt Panousis: This the second year in a row we’ve had something like this happen because last year we worked on Watchmen, which was MARZ’s comping out party as a company because we’re only two-and-a-half years old. [Looking Glass’ mask] was also an effect that tricked the majority of the audience watching the show. HBO explained to us that after the mask was first introduced, Google searches for the mask jumped, and it just speaks to how seamless this art has gotten. It a little anticlimactic at times, yeah, but the sign of good VFX is always when it’s invisible.

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io9: It’s interesting that you bring budgeting up Ryan, because that’s something that’s become a big part of the way fans speculate about how these projects will shape up after news about them first breaks. What about WandaVision’s use of VFX do you kind of wish audiences grasped better to understand how money’s allocated to these shows?

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Lon Molnar: This might be a good segue to talk about tracking markers, actually. There are some menial tasks that happen that you just have to do on a shot-by-shot basis. They’re putting tracking markers on all over Paul Bettany’s face because we need to track his head, where we’re putting CG elements. But the problem with that is that we have to remove those tracking markers. So we’re paying labor to remove on a frame-by-frame basis the very markers that are necessary for us to do VFX.

Freer: When we first started our relationship with MCU, we did a test shot for Marvel that the studio really liked. This was before we even knew that we were working on black and white vision.

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io9: What was the test?

Freer: They actually tasked us with remaking a shot from Age of Ultron. They sent us a few CG elements from Industrial Light and Magic for his head which were already established. We took that, broke it down ourselves, resurfaced it, and got it to looking like Paul as much as we could within our pipeline because our pipeline was very different than other companies’. Marvel liked our work, and that turned into us working on the 50 or 60 shots from WandaVision’s first episode, which is a pretty big jump from us not having a working relationship before. Those 50 or 60 shots, the studio liked as well, and that we could get them done in a shorter time frame, and that first episode ended up taking us about three-and-a-half, maybe four months.

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Wanda and Vision hearing a sound.
Image: Disney+/Marvel

io9: How tough was that, especially as post-production kicked off last year?

Freer: The toughest thing people always say with working with Marvel is getting your shots [finalized]. Those are director finals, but there’s the supervisors, the producers. But then on top of the producers, there’s also the executives who ultimately have the last call, and if they don’t like it, then it goes all the way back down to the bottom, and the whole process starts over again.

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Sarah [Eim] and Tara [DeMarco], the VFX supervisors on Marvel’s end who we worked with, both had such fine eyes for Vision and other elements in these scenes. I think there was maybe only one or two shots that that actually got it all the way through with no notes, and that’s pretty rare. Even after doing four hundred shots of Vision, I thought that I had a finely-tuned eye for him, but there was always something, something small here and there that you could do to make it better. And yeah, they were always right.

io9: As relatively-new to the game as MARZ is, what was it like for you working on WandaVision and your other projects during a year when the pandemic really upended a lot of entertainment in significant, unexpected ways?

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Panousis: I don’t want to say that we had incredible foresight, because part of it’s also luck, but I do think that especially with what happened last year, the TV business model was hugely helpful. MARZ has done over 40 television projects. A lot of studios will have one or two kind of key marquee projects, but if those happened to be in film last year, that was super problematic. We didn’t let go of a single person during covid, and grew almost 100% during it by virtue of having this model in place and the fact that a lot of what we were working with was shot before the pandemic.

When we decided to bet on putting all our focus into television projects, that was kind of rare for a VFX studio, but in the past two years, it just seems like TV has exploded at a pace faster than what we kind of anticipated.

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Molnar: I’ve been in the industry for 20 plus years and this has always been the challenge with the hours that we do and the time that we dedicate to these shows. Covid, if anything, showed us that you can do this kind of work when you’re working from home, and you can have dinner with your family whereas, in the past, you were commuting an hour-plus into the city on top of time working.

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io9: We’re coming up on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s second episode, and looking forward, there are going to be a lot more of these kinds of live-action series, and not just from Marvel. Having seen WandaVision’s finale, and knowing that series are a big part of studios’ future plans for these franchises, what sorts of things are you more interested to see in the genre?

Freer: Going back to my first point, visual effects are always the greatest when you don’t notice that it’s there. There are a lot of shows now, especially like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier that are just kinda like beat-em-up shows, and that’s to be expected. But I think WandaVision was a breath of fresh air even despite that final episode that did feel very much a part of that traditional superhero movie final act. I’m hoping that more stories can see the power of having visual effects that aren’t necessarily right in your face, but help give these shows a deeper focus and detail to these characters and their emotions.

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I’m excited for more stories that want audiences getting excited about who these characters are as people, and not just because they’re showing off what powers they have and blowing things up. I mean yeah, at the end of the day, we’re a visual effects company, and we’ll be there to blow the things up because it’s fun doing that, but it’s also so much fun to work on the subtle things barely anyone notices.

Panousis: I think if you probably asked us a year ago what’s going to happen on WandaVision, I very highly doubt we’d have said “Well, you know, what we’re going to do is they’re going to actually go decade by decade and they’re thinking outside the box.” We’re on our heels, too. We’re talking about a few new projects with Marvel right now, and we…don’t know what to expect. All we can do is do our research and look at the characters and storylines, and try to get a sense of what Disney might try to connect.

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Molnar: One thing that you can see that’s trending, though, is more stories explore these characters in different time periods like what they did with Sam Jackson and Captain Marvel. It’s interesting to consider how that kind of technology can be affordable on a platform like Disney+. I think for us, our goal is to try to break through that technology to make it affordable to be able to place characters in these entirely new contexts because once you can do that, you have a whole new story to tell.


WandaVision is now streaming on Disney+.

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The io9 Coven Breaks Down the Highs and Lows of WandaVision

Just a witch and her emotional support cognitive family crafted out of years of anguish and volatile magicks.

Just a witch and her emotional support cognitive family crafted out of years of anguish and volatile magicks.
Screenshot: Marvel Studios

WandaVision has come to a close, and with it, Wanda Maximoff and her synthezoid paramour have been forever changed. But now that the dust’s settled on a magically messed up Westview, io9’s very own Charles Pulliam-Moore, James Whitbrook, Jill Pantozzi, and Germain Lussier created their very own grief induced alt-reality to process our feelings about it all.

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Charles: I’m curious to hear before we jump in—do you guys remember how we all heard about WandaVision at SDCC 20 years ago?

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Jill: Wow, way to make me feel old, Charles. And no, I actually do NOT remember.

James: Don’t speak to me of the dark times. But also, like Jill, I can’t really remember when we first heard the rumblings about the show—I remember more when we heard the name for the first time, and was like “Oh! That’s silly. But I love these two, so I can’t wait!”

Germain: I was in the room and I don’t remember.

Charles: Well, I remember quite vividly when Germain Slacked everyone explaining that Marvel was doing a bunch of sitcoms smashed together, and yes, James did say something about it being silly—but CW silly, which…was not the case!

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Jill: To be fair, you’re much more tuned into the Scarlet Witch than the rest of us. But yes, fair to say the Disney+ Marvel series far exceeded any expectations we had back then.

Germain: There was also a TON of news that day and this is just the beginning of it. Which is wild. And yes, it really lived up to expectations, I think.

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Charles: I bring this up because, yeah, I have read a few comics about the Maximoffs in my time, but fast forward to today, and for the past two months or so, a substantial chunk of the internet’s become fascinated with this character who, if we’re all being honest, was kinda just hanging out for the longest time before WandaVision.

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Germain: I think we do forget that while we all called Wanda “Scarlet Witch” in our world, the MCU saved that reveal for this show. Which is saying something considering all the films always teased that she could be the strongest Avenger of them all. (Sorry Thor.)

Jill: Cough, Captain Marvel, cough.

James: But I think Charles is fair to say that, really, until this show hit, Wanda wasn’t really a huge entity, either in the MCU—she was fun, but also just kind of only there to occasionally magic a car or some rocks at someone—or in the comics, where her fandom in particular always waxed and waned, especially in the post-movie world where she and Pietro were no longer Magneto’s kids. I like her as a comics character and always saw the potential in the MCU to do more with her, but coming into this show I definitely leaned more towards expecting something in line with The Vision—Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez-Walta, and Jordie Bellaire’s incredible comic. I was in for that sort of “weirdness in suburbia” angle more than I was for her, but the show really flipped that around by the end.

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Germain: That was always the most exciting thing about all these Disney+ shows. Giving great characters with great histories, who are supporting characters in the movies, time to really develop, even if it’s not in the theater. I liked Wanda in the movies before this but after this now, when she comes on screen, it’s going to be much different. You’ll just have all that baggage and baggage is the best thing the MCU has done. It means filmmakers can skip a bunch of set up because we’re already coming in with all this info. Wanda had a bit of that. Now she has a whole damned meal.

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

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Charles: I’ve been thinking a lot about that line Wanda has in Endgame when she’s fighting Thanos and how it’s nice to look back at it as foreshadowing for what was going to unfold in WandaVision, but more realistically it feels more like a moment when we saw the machinery working. When you look at it next to that shot of the MCU women squaring up, it comes across a lot like “and just so you know, the first character getting a bit of a massive overhaul is Wanda,” which kind of dovetails to how WandaVision dropped you right into Westview with no context.

Jill: So, what did you think of the series after ingesting those first few episodes? Where everything was still sort of mysterious? I loved it from the jump, but I know a lot of fans were hoping to get answers to what the heck was going on more immediately. I just appreciated it for what it was, a very unique idea and a story unfolding weekly!

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Germain: I liked the finale fine but, for me, it was probably one of the more disappointing episodes. Not in a bad way but just in a “Oh, we’ve seen this” way. Mysteries and questions aside, what made WandaVision so good for its run was how kind of wacky and subversive it was. Sitcom homages, winks back, etc. But by the finale, it was just another Marvel movie with people fighting in the streets and the sky. And I love Marvel movies! But Wanda was more than that and it just kind of went back to basics. Which made sense structurally but that was my biggest gripe.

James: While I’m still a bit mixed on how it landed, going back to the energy of those first few episodes I think I knew by the time we got to the more typical Marvel Machinery of the last act, I’d be coming out of the show happy with what it did. There was just something from the get go that got its hooks in me, and wanting to see what the show was doing with Wanda, what Elizabeth Olsen was doing with her given the free reign this space provided. Those sitcom eps were funny, the chemistry she and Paul Bettany had was electric. Even before the show really got to hinting at what was going on beneath, revealing what it was trying to say about Wanda, I was on board—and for the most part, am happy to see it stuck the landing for me. Not without a few wobbly steps, though.

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Charles: I’m still trying to put my finger on exactly when the series began to make that subtle turn away from leading with the cast’s charm and acting chops to leaning a bit more on the MCU’s trappings to keep things moving forward. Everyone was so stunned by Olsen and Bettany, I think both because of what they brought to the series but also because of how WandaVision created more space for a breadth of acting styles that you just don’t see in comic book projects, no matter how genre-bending they’re billed to be. As much as we go on about how great it is when these shows and movies let themselves have “fun,” I think part of what we’re getting at isn’t just a desire for more silliness, but to see what other tricks and random crap actors happen to have up their sleeves.

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Jill: I think that’s an interesting point because as we’re talking I was thinking back to when Guardians of the Galaxy came out and everyone thought that was so “refreshingly different.” And it was, but not really that far outside the MCU we had up until that point, which was always humorous, but it allowed for a whole new range of characters and acting styles. It’s something we’ve gotten to see here in WandaVision both from in front of the screen and behind, I think.

Charles: Right, and I got the sense that that was really what people were taking issue with with the season’s first three episodes which were “too slow” because “nothing was happening.” Plenty of interesting things were going on, and a lot of them were very comic book-y in the sense that “Oh, this colorized helicopter probably means something,” but because it wasn’t going for the full on MCU spectacle up front, people were beside themselves.

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Germain: The Pietro troll/reveal kind of illustrates that for me. Everyone assumed (myself included) “OMFG X-MEN CONFIRMED,” and in the end, it’s just a little wink at the audience that, for now, doesn’t play into the larger universe. I think that’s almost WandaVision in a nutshell, something different that people were trying to really place in its own box.

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James: I think that is why I was a little disappointed the finale spent so much time with Wanda and Agatha in the air special-effects-ing each other. The show we got for the most part really pushed that stuff to the edges, where, yes it was fun to speculate what it all meant, and if people were who they were saying they were. But instead we got this story that really drilled down into how Wanda saw herself as a person in this wild world where she’s gone from fighting Avengers to being one, to accidentally starting international incidents, to falling in love with a robot, and then watching that person die right in front of her at the hands of a cosmic megalomaniac. There’s so much that was already weird about Wanda’s story, but the show made its core of what it wanted to say about her just incredibly human and sympathetic.

Jill: Air special-eff-hexing.

Sorry.

But yes, the emotional story was really where this series will make its presence felt for years to come I think. Sure the concept was fantastic and wonderful to see play out, but being able to dig into a character’s trauma for nine episodes was really interesting to watch. Obviously characters like Steve Rogers have been given ample time for us to really know what they’re all about and why they do the things they do. Wanda probably wouldn’t have been my first choice to delve into further like this but it certainly presents a dynamic way to move forward with her in the MCU at large.

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Germain: Who would be your first choice? And don’t forget, Carol already got a movie with another one to come.

Jill: Wow, way to call me out, Germain. No, I would have liked to see Nakia and what she was up to prior to T’Challa coming back to get her in Black Panther. She was doing some important work.

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Germain: Okay, that’s a good one. Sorry to divert the conversation. Kevin Feige, get on the phone with Lupita’s people!

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

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Jill: The thing I’m most curious about now is, will we ever get a chance to see the blowback to Wanda’s time in Westview? We know she’s showing up in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but something tells me they’re going to be too busy with the multiverse to deal with the countless people she trapped and traumatized for over a week. Did she just create a future-villain there who will want payback down the road or will they drop it completely?

Charles: I’m of the mind that what happened in Westview might kind of be brushed to the side, but not forgotten as part of how the movies keep touching on the idea of Wanda being a constant danger to people that’s been present in the comics. Even though this show was all about Wanda’s grief and pain, I came out of it really seeing her as a villain in the making whose whole turn was wrapped up in a generally well-executed story. The way things end in Westview with her just walking through the town and shrugging things off just seemed kind of like a casual “Shit, my bad, I guess,” that doesn’t read as redeemable.

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Germain: I’ve been thinking alot about what’s next for Wanda. We know, as Jill said, she’s in Doctor Strange 2 and the show gave us a glimpse of her learning from the Darkhold. But, how is it all going to change her? Will she become obsessed with this power? Will she use that for good? Will she reach out to the remaining Avengers (whatever that is at this point) and be like “Yo, check this out?” She has so much to figure out, not to mention there’s still a version of the person she loves out there and maybe her kids in another dimension? I thought the way this show wrapped things up very nicely but then gave, not exactly huge cliffhangers, but real character questions to consider moving ahead was excellent.

James: That’s the thing I really took from the finale, and the thing I liked about it most. It didn’t feel like things were actually that neatly wrapped up, but not in the typical Marvel manner where someone you know shows up and is like “stay tuned for my movie, in theaters soon!” or whatever. Wanda went through this process of accepting and acknowledging her grief, letting the cognitive Vision and her kids go, but she still has so much more to process, more to learn about this power now shown to her. And, as Charles said, she’s doing that in a world where she just walked away from psychically dominating an entire town of people for some unknown length of time, people who now hate and fear her, and she was just like “Yeah, I get it.”

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People were really yearning for some kind of X-Men connection with this show, especially after Fake Pietro showed up, and if anything, that shot of Wanda feeling the anger and hatred around her from Westview’s citizens as she walked up to say goodbye to Monica in the finale (and the confidence she felt that she could just do that and fly away from what she did without reprisal), felt the most mutant-y thing to me: that acknowledgement that yes, she was an Avenger, but people are scared of what she can do…and she’s learned to not really care so much as she did back in Civil War.

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Charles: Looking forward, that’s the sort of thing that feels most pressing, right? What Wanda’s going to do with all that power and how her presence is going to change the world. Agatha mentions that the Scarlet Witch’s power eclipses the Sorcerer Supreme’s and I’m sure that’ll come up in Multiverse of Madness, but to James’ point about mutant-y things to come out of WandaVision, we still don’t fully know how Monica’s exposure to the Hex left her changed, or if it really was the Hex that caused her new powers to manifest. As many little clever bits of story rhyming as there are in the show, I kinda got the vibe that Wanda having always been a witch might have been mirrored in Monica having, you know, something in those genes that woke up after her time in Westview. These are the sorts of things one might ask Carol.

Germain: Who, I assume, is the person who sent Monica her Skrull?

Charles: The Skrulls are their own people, Germain.

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

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Jill: Lol. I assumed it was Fury but regardless, so much is left hanging with Monica, I am dying to know. It’s wild how we knew she was going to be a part of this story but weren’t sure how much and after the first few episodes, I almost wanted her to be the lead. It felt like we were going to get a lot more from her too but perhaps the covid-19 shutdown affected how much they were able to do with her (and others very clearly noticeable by the last episode), but I’m very excited to learn more about how she has been dealing with life after Carol left her on Earth as a child and just…never really came back.

James: I am…so gutted about Monica in the finale, honestly. Like Jill said, it felt like we were building to something, and the seeds were there to explore not just her becoming a hero but things like her relationship with her mom, whatever happened with her relationship with Carol, but Monica was a side character in Wanda’s story, so it just sort of stayed at that “maybe something’s going on!” level until the finale just went “now here’s a shot of her being shot by her boss to show she’s got powers” and oops, all Skrulls, stay tuned to Carol Danvers’ story to see more Monica.

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I want to see Monica’s story, rather than have it be told in other people’s. Teyonah Parris just completely owned the role from the get go, and I’ve loved Monica since I first encountered her in Nextwave, and to go from the promise there to how the finale just dropped her like a rock was the thing that soured me the most about the show.

Germain: Well, at least we know Monica is coming back in Captain Marvel 2 (and I agree with everything you all just said). We have no idea if a certain Agatha Harkness will ever reappear in the MCU and, frankly, it feels like she needs to, no? Talk about a backstory that’s untapped in the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her story predates it all.

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Charles: If Wanda’s set to become a new fixture in the MCU’s magical realm, I could definitely see Agatha becoming a part of the ensemble of characters who exist around The Scarlet Witch™, which would bring the characters’ relationship closer to what it is in the comics, and give us more opportunities to see Kathryn Hahn hamming it up and having fun. All of that’s possible, but I do think that if subsequent stories don’t address how truly messed up Wanda’s actions are and root her apology in understanding rather than, like a public shaming, she’s just gonna be a baddie.

Jill: Agreed. I will say this though, we at io9 have certainly praised Hahn as the highlight of this series but it truly cannot be said enough how much she brought to this show.

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

James: YES. I really want Agatha/Agnes to become more akin to how her relationship with Wanda is in the comics, especially in stuff like James Robinson’s Scarlet Witch series, where it’s like…they don’t necessarily like each other, but they’re witches doing witch-y things and both respect that. If it means Kathryn Hahn gets to show up and get in a few good jabs while teaching Wanda some magic goodness, that’s what I need.

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Germain: Yeah, Agatha doesn’t necessarily have to be a “villain.” She was just curious about how the heck Wanda got so powerful, which we all were. I’d love to see her come back in kind of this grey area, “Do you trust her or do you not?” capacity, and just open up a new offshoot of powers in the MCU. That would be rad.

Charles: Folks. They were villains. It was both of them all along.

Jill: Yup. Sad but true.

James: See, for all the praise we just heaped on the serious side of this show, now I need a Kathryn Hahn/Elizabeth Olsen magic duet at some point in the MCU’s future.

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Germain: Paging Kevin Feige.

Jill: Maybe there’s a world in the multiverse where they sing karaoke together.

Until Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessSpider-Man: No Way Home…or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, see you next time, folks.

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