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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13 WandaVision Facts Magically Revealed in Its Making-of Documentary

Filming the black and white scenes in WandaVision.

Filming the black and white scenes in WandaVision.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel Studios

Anytime Vision is actual Vision, that’s an effect. In reality, Bettany is painted purple and his finished look is added on later. Since that’s expensive, the producers would always discussed how often he needed to be in that form. The answer was when the story dictated it. So, when Vision is home, he’s comfortable, and he’s his true self. (Side note: in the black and white episodes, the purple didn’t work for effects so they had to paint him blue.)

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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WandaVision’s Finale Was What You Made of It

Vision and Wanda, together in their home.

Vision and Wanda, together in their home.
Photo: Disney+/Marvel

There were as many ways that Marvel’s WandaVision series finale could have ended as there are different ways to process grief. Each of the season’s nine episodes teased this out—new plot twists that threw audiences for loops all meant to obscure, but not erase, the reality that despite all the strength she’s put on display, Wanda Maximoff was falling apart long before she set foot in Westview.

“The Series Finale” is what WandaVision’s been building toward this entire time, and it certainly brings a finality to this chunk of Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) briefly picturesque lives together in New Jersey.

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With all of the hype and mystery revolving around the episode, it was somewhat unsurprising when series director Matt Shakman made a point of letting WandaVision’s fans know that while the fandom’s theorizing about the plot and potential cameos were appreciated, they weren’t things the show was ever necessarily trying to, or ever planning to, touch upon. Some of that speculation was rather warranted considering just how many loose threads and unanswered questions there were about WandaVision’s core plot and sitcom conceit ahead of “The Series Finale” premiering.

After winking and nodding at viewers all season by playing with its style and format in ways that encouraged audiences to think more critically about how we engaged with the show, the finale really does away with the bulk of WandaVision’s more inspired trappings in order to become what’s easily recognizable as something akin to the last 30 minutes or so of almost every Marvel movie. Depending on how you feel about big-ish, ridiculous VFX-heavy MCU fight scenes, this could be either a positive or a negative. But as what’s meant to be one of WandaVision’s more significant “big battles,” it has the effect (perhaps intentionally) of coming across a bit like something from a Disney Channel original movie.

In place of any sort of sitcom-esque intro sequence, this time it’s a hard cut right back to the scene in front of Wanda and Vision’s home, where Agatha had previously identified Wanda as the Scarlet Witch after rummaging around in her mind last week. As Agatha hovers in the air with Wanda’s children ensnared in magical threads, whatever uncertainty Wanda still feels is pushed aside by her instinct to fight the elder witch with a flourish of energy blasts that Agatha gobbles right up like a Sanderson sister. Delightful as both Kathryn Hahn and Elizabeth Olsen have consistently been in each episode, most everything about their character’s standoff falls rather flat in the sense that it’s a lot of simultaneously telling and showing (with an emphasis on the former) that always makes these fights kind of drag. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear already, Agatha specializes in draining the magic of others, which she explains as she plays with a handful of Wanda’s energy and Wanda watches her hand begin to shrivel and grey.

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Agatha threatening Wanda’s twins.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

Because WandaVision’s previous episodes put so much energy into figuring out new ways to depict what being a hero (saving Mr. Hart from choking in “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”) and being a villain (see: “Agatha All Along”) could look like, Agatha explaining her evil plan while the episode nods to The Wizard of Oz feels like something of a slight step backward and to the side. Had Agatha gotten down to brass tacks and just walloped Wanda on sight, there’s a chance she might have been able to end things then and there.

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But “The Series Finale” chooses to spotlight Wanda’s growth and path to triumph during the sequence by alluding to a number of her flashier moments from previous movies that, here, feel like a reminder that the character’s meant to live on in future MCU installments. When she smashes Agatha into a house using a car as a sneak attack, it feels like a direct callback to her battle in Captain America: Civil War where she did the same to Tony Stark. The Civil War parallels continue when Cataract—a.k.a. the White Vision built by Director Hayward (Josh Stamberg) and SWORD—arrives on the scene to find a stunned Wanda, who doesn’t immediately understand that this reanimated version of her partner means to murder her.

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While Vision’s dalliance with whiteness in Marvel’s comics left him emotionless and alien to the people who knew him, WandaVision’s Cataract instead reads as explicitly malicious and acting on Hayward’s orders as he attempts to crush Wanda’s skull while musing about how powerful he was told she would be. To be honest, a full-on Cataract character study wasn’t necessary upfront and would have only gotten in the way of the episode’s legitimately fascinating fight that kicks into gear once the Vision Wanda created arrives right on time to save his wife.

Even though the cards were laid out for WandaVision’s characters at this point, it’s interesting to think about how much of what happens in “The Series Finale” might actually be influenced by the Hex, especially when you consider things like the multiple hero landings and amount of narrative observation that takes place. If Agatha was truly about her villainy, one imagines she wouldn’t float around cracking wise about Wanda’s two-Vision-problem, or fly off to Westview’s water tower as if she were a boss moving to the next stage of a battle in a game. Because everything else about Westview appears to still be under the influence of Wanda’s last revision that turned the town into a slice of life from the early aughts, it’s possible that at least some of what’s happening is being shaped by Wanda’s experiences she lived, not as a fan, but as someone who’s actual experiences read as movie clips because, for viewers, that’s what they are.

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Cataract holding Wanda’s head.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

Some day, the public will learn that studios and actors really have no qualms messing with fans’ minds in order to drive interest in different series and films, and on that day people will begin taking those grains of salt we’re always harping on about. Though Paul Bettany’s tease of an upcoming WandaVision cameo was a well-executed troll, the scenes focused on Vision and Cataract’s fight with one another turned out to be some of the series’ most riveting and philosophical.

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Something that often gets lost in the conversation about the Scarlet Witch and Vision is how the nature of identity within the context of twinhood can, at times, be a complicated subject. Beyond Wanda and Pietro and Billy and Timmy, who have all been depicted as more straightforward twins in Marvel’s comics, there’s been a kind of spiritual kinship between characters like Vision and Wonder Man, and more recently Vision’s synthezoid wife Virginia whose brain patterns were modeled after Wanda’s in the comics. In Marvel’s books, that particular kind of dynamic has almost always led to turmoil and strife, and it’s interesting to see WandaVision incorporate that energy into a fight sequence that follows the two humanoid machines as they beat one another up across town.

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One of the many questions pressing questions looming over the Disney+ series before “Previously On,” was just how much of the Westview anomaly the rest of the world was aware of—especially after Wanda expanded the Hex significantly in order to save Vision’s life in “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!” “Previously On” casually tried to gloss over this outside the Hex where SWORD director Hayward triumphantly explained his villainous plan all along to an audience of operatives, who all seem cool with harboring a secret, sentient weapon of mass destruction who explicitly told them to leave his corpse the hell alone.

True to Hayward’s (and the episode’s) general on-the-nose-ness, Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) defiantly tells the director that he’ll never get with his dastardly plan, and in one of WandaVision’s truly uninspired moments, Hayward makes a pun about Woo’s lack of “vision” that, if we’re being honest, was kind of beneath the story that was being told. WandaVision’s time outside the Hex has never been especially fascinating, save for moments following Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), who’s woefully underutilized in the finale, but also present enough to make the episode’s missteps quite apparent. While Jimmy rushes to make a secret phone call to Quantico meant to expose Hayward’s treachery, Monica bides her time in Agatha’s house under Pietro/Fietro’s (Evan Peters) watch. Nothing much comes from their interaction other than the revelation that the man everyone was led to believe was Wanda’s brother was actually Agatha/Agnes’ off-screen “husband,” Ralph, of the Bohner family.

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Reactions to Ralph Bohner are likely to be split among fans because of what all Evan Peters’ presence in WandaVision could have (and honestly, still might) mean about the MCU’s future. Though the nods to the existence of Fox’s X-Men franchise and a recontextualized origin story for the Maximoff twins very strongest suggested that the Marvel series might be an entry point for the MCU’s take on mutants, Peters’ casting was also very obviously meant to be a big joke touching on Disney and 20th Century Fox’s merger and the nature of how sitcoms have worked in the past. That doesn’t mean that there’s no possibility for Wanda to become a part of whatever future X-Men projects Marvel greenlights, but it does mean that some people worked themselves into a frenzy about Magneto and Reed Richards showing up because they couldn’t accept that sometimes jokes are really just jokes.

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Monica discovering Ralph’s real name.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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The finale does toss a rather significant bone of lore fans’ way, however, as Wanda chases after Agatha into the town square, and Ms. Harkness reveals that at some point after Agents of SHIELD and Runaways, but before the beginning of WandaVision, she somehow managed to get her hands on the Darkhold. For those unfamiliar, the Darkhold (which has a number of different names and forms) is a magical tome forged from energies native to the Darkforce Dimension where Doctor Strange’s best bud Dormammu dwells. After previously being framed as a kind of MacGuffin unto itself, Agatha brings Darkhold to WandaVision as a source of information more for the audience and Wanda’s benefit than anything else. While she doesn’t explain that the book’s capable of teaching its owner arcane secrets, she does reveal that it contains a chapter dedicated to the Scarlet Witch, a mythic being whose power surpasses that of the Sorcerer Supreme.

If Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) ears were burning somewhere out there in the MCU, we won’t know until he shows up and says so in next year’s Multiverse of Madness. The man makes nary an appearance here, even though you’d think that the new incarnation of a magical goddess would set off some alerts in the Sanctum Sanctorum. If there were any such alarms, Strange apparently didn’t hear them in the same way that Wanda didn’t, or more accurately wouldn’t, hear anything Agatha said, choosing instead to insist that she couldn’t be a witch.

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Because denying the obvious has been Wanda’s thing as of late, her reluctance to hear Agatha makes a kind of sense. It also makes Dottie’s (Emma Caulfield Ford) return to the series that much more difficult to watch when Agatha breaks the spell over her in order to show the Avenger the truth. Free of Wanda’s influence, Dottie’s (whose name is actually Sarah) sitcom frostiness gives way to panic and concern for her young daughter who’s been trapped in her room in moments where she’s not allowed to become part of “the show.” As Agatha wakes up more of Westview’s residents, you begin to get a better picture of the very real agony and torture Wanda was putting them through by forcing them to experience her traumatic nightmares in times when she put them to “sleep.”

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When the “Yo-Magic” commercial first premiered earlier in the season, one of the popular theories hypothesized that the hidden message in the ad was actually about Wanda draining the life force out of the people trapped within the Hex. While that theory wasn’t entirely accurate, it wasn’t wholly off the money either. As Mrs. Hart (Deborah Jo Rupp) begs Wanda to simply let them all die, it’s a legitimately chilling moment of despair for everyone present because it places the blame squarely on Wanda for harming civilians.

Every massive feat of magic that Wanda pulls off this episode represents an opportunity for Agatha to siphon some of it off in a way that bears an uncanny resemblance to some of X-Men: Dark Phoenix’s flashier moments. When Wanda briefly begins to lift the Hex, it gives the citizens a chance to escape, but it also causes Vision, Tommy, and Billy to begin breaking off into chunks—which seriously evokes Joe Quesada’s House of M #1 variant cover. It’s from this point on that WandaVision kicks the comic book movie factor up in ways that sometimes work, and sometimes don’t.

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As Agatha, Cataract, and Hayward’s SWORD goons all converge on the family, the four of them break into a set of hero poses that are going for The Incredibles, but end up giving you more of ABC’s No Ordinary Family (a show the network seldom mentions these days). After Vision flies off to fight Cataract in a library, and Wanda follows Agatha into the sky, Billy and Tommy are left on the ground to handle SWORD, and the boys make short work of disarming the adults using their powers together. “The Series Finale” truly misses the mark in an uncharacteristic way, however; once Hayward steps out of his vehicle prepared to gun down the twins himself, and Monica—who just happens to show up—jumps in front of the boys to intercept the bullets.

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Wanda and Vision’s family ready for action.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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It’s very common to see Black comic book characters imbued with powers and put in situations that very hamfistedly attempt to make a comment on or draw inspiration from the experiences of actual Black people. Luke Cage’s bulletproof skin is both a kind of protection from harm and a constant reminder of the racist abuses of the carceral system which lead to the experimentation that made him Power Man in the first place. The Black Panther is a rather explicit embodiment of Black excellence meant to be looked up to, but the character also embodied an idea of Black perfection that, in some ways, was just as stifling as the period Sam Wilson was known as the gangster “Snap” Wilson.

By first having Monica’s (one of the show’s sole Black characters) heroic origins rooted in her attempting to help and stop Wanda (someone who repeatedly harmed her) and then demonstrating a new facet of her power set by having her take a bunch of bullets fired by her former boss for Wanda’s children, the story ultimately placed Monica into a discomfiting box. There is a very specific power and larger meaning behind images of Black bodies being shot in general that, unfortunately, the finale tries and fails to do anything with as it focuses on how Monica’s body drains the projectiles of their kinetic energy as they phase through her. To make things worse, Billy’s able to catch one of the bullets by his damn self as the sequence comes to a close, and while WandaVision tries to play the moment for laughs, there’s…nothing particularly funny about it!

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“The Series Finale” is far stronger elsewhere, when Vision and Cataract are busy duking it out with one another in the local library, to gorgeous effect. Though the synthezoids’ brutal dance of fists and phasing is a visual delight, it’s how Vision brings the fight to an end with reason that’s truly memorable. Though Vision’s “soul” perished along with the Mind Stone, Vision reasons all of Cataract’s memories must be located someone within his onboard storage, and he convinces his duplicate that those memories are both what links them together and what separates them. In any other show, a robot convincing himself to stop fighting by working their way together through the ideas behind the ship of Theseus thought experiment would be ridiculous, but here it works completely as the sort of thing that would give both Vision and Cataract reason to pause.

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After Cataract realizes the truth of what Vision’s telling him, he simply peaces right out of Westview similar to the way the Hulk dipped after Age of Ultron to everyone’s confusion. Here, though, because there are two of the synthezoids running around, no one stops to consider Cataract’s departure, and Wanda takes Agatha by surprise, sneaking up behind her and hitting her with a mind hex similar to what she got Tony with in Strucker’s laboratory (the callbacks, you see, they are plentiful).

Vision and Cataract bonding.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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Rather than bring us back to a new nightmare for Agatha, Wanda’s hex brings us back to Salem on the night of Agatha’s would-be burning at the stake, and for the briefest of moments, it feels like Wanda’s about to full-on give Agatha a dose of her own chaotic medicine. Instead, Wanda’s illusion bounces back on her and the witches from Agatha’s past all turn on Wanda, ultimately binding her to the stake. Agatha’s reasoning, that’s only but so convincing, is that while Wanda’s Scarlet Witch powers are formidable, her lack of formal training makes her skill at wielding it rather paltry, and Agatha promises that if Wanda just hands over the force living within her that Agatha will give her and her family what they want.

From there, the boss battle changes locations once more as the women take back to the skies and Wanda lobs hex bolts at Agatha that only seem to make her stronger. The way Wanda’s body withers as she uses her powers mirrors the way she ages in James Robinson’s Scarlet Witch series, and here it’s revealed to all be part of Wanda’s larger plan to lull Agatha into a false sense of security.

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By the time that Wanda’s hovering in the air, seemingly empty of magic after more than a few of her attacks having missed and smashed into the Hex’s walls, Agatha had drained enough of her chaos magic to, in theory, do something wild with it. When she tries, though, she finds that her powers no longer function. Those “misses” were Wanda having purposefully drawn the same runes she’s seen in Agatha’s basement on the Hex. One could argue that Wanda’s plan was bound to work even though she had little knowledge about the runes beyond their shape because of her being the Scarlet Witch, but it’s just as interesting to see Wanda and Agatha’s entire ordeal as the very first lessons in magic that Wanda ever learned from her comics mentor.

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The moment the outline of Wanda’s Scarlet Witch headdress begins to form around her face, “The Series Finale” begins speaking in Dark Phoenix’s visual language once more. Wanda siphons the chaos magic back out of Agatha and embraces the witch she was destined to become. Though these Dark Phoenix parallels might have derailed the show if they went on long enough, the story brings them to a much-needed end with Wanda creating a new costume for herself and Agnes very genuinely warning Wanda that she doesn’t know what she’s done by becoming the Scarlet Witch—even going so far as to tell her she’s destined to destroy the world. To Wanda, it’s all something of a moot point as she hexes Agatha one last time to “trap” her in her Agnes guise in Westview where Wanda can always find her, and you can clearly see the general shape of the character Wanda might be when she turns up next in Marvel’s movies.

Wanda a sthe Scarlet Witch
Gif: Disney+/Marvel

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What’s somewhat off about the way “The Series Finale” comes to an end is the way that everyone within Westview—meaning Wanda, her family, and Monica—all sort of just go with the strangeness of the day. Perhaps because they’re all outgrowths of Wanda herself, Vision and the boys don’t at all question what the deal is with Wanda’s new getup or why they all had to fight Auntie Agnes. As the Hex begins to come down, Wanda and Vision bring their sons home to put them to bed and let them know how intensely proud of them they are. What little hope there was for Billy and Tommy somehow surviving outside of the Hex is dashed when Wanda thanks the boys for choosing to be their mother, and you can feel her pain when the camera cuts to a shot of the deteriorating Hex in the distance. Both Vision and Wanda know that their lives together will come to an end once the Hex is fully gone, and for one of the first times in the series, the pair are able to joke and be honest about how unusual their lives have been.

“The Series Finale” comes very close to topping the “What is grief” line with Wanda’s revelation that this Vision isn’t just a projection of her love, but an echo of the Mind Stone that lives within her, and that’s all Vision needs to know to hope that, in all of his life’s madness, there’s still potential for him to return in a new form. In a small, touching way, Vision’s wondering what he might return as next feels like WandaVision’s way of showing that, for all the drama and pain that Wanda’s brought into his life, he loves her that much more for it, and that idea sticks with her as she leaves her plot of land, pulls up her hood, and semi-shamefully walks back to the town center. There’s a stiffness to Wanda and Monica’s conversation as our “hero” apologizes for what she’s done, promises that she’ll learn more about magic, and changes back into her Scarlet Witch costume to fly out of town as police sirens press in from the distance.

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When you take a moment to recall that WandaVision was always meant to be a story about Wanda confronting and getting to the bottom of her grief, the series’ first ending makes sense even though there’s plenty about it that might disappoint some viewers. Wanda came, she cried, learned a bit of magic, and peaced the hell out. But along the way, WandaVision did a number of wondrous things that evolved its central cast into new, fascinating versions of themselves, some of whom will be very interesting to see in the futures heavily teased in the finale’s mid and post-credits sequences.

With Hayward in cuffs and Jimmy having been the agent responsible for exposing his treachery, he and Monica are pleased as hell as the rest of the FBI swarms on the location to begin investigating the anomaly. When an agent pulls Monica aside into a nearby theater, the woman revealing herself to be a Skrull doesn’t faze Monica at all. However, the Skrull’s mention of being sent by an old friend of Maria Rambeau’s gives the woman pause, as does the Skrull’s offer to become part of a new mission up in space where SWORD won’t let her travel anymore. While this thread’s sure to be picked up in Captain Marvel 2, WandaVision doesn’t truly come to an end until after another brief scene set in the mountains where we find Wanda sitting alone on the steps of a simple cabin.

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Wanda reading from the Darkhold.
Gif: Disney+/Marvel

Witchy as chilling alone in forest cottages is, things take a proper turn when Wanda wanders into her home to grab a kettle off the stove, and the camera pushes in to reveal that Wanda isn’t exactly alone. While one “Wanda” may simply be a projection meant to fool anyone wandering through the area—presumably, Wundagore Mountain—the Wanda in the back of the house is busy floating in the air atop an enchantment circle while reading the Darkhold with keen interest. Even more surprising is the way Wanda snaps to attention when she hears her children’s voices shouting for help in her mind before the scene cuts to black as a reminder that the Scarlet Witch will be back sooner than later.

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“The Series Finale” was neither WandaVision’s strongest episode nor its weakest, but it was very much something that lent itself to multiple interpretations and takeaways depending on what it is you came into the show expecting from it. At any given point in time, it was possible to invest one’s energies into the actual text WandaVision was presenting or into the discourse around the show, both of which could be worthwhile efforts within reason, but hype and reason have seldom gone hand in hand.

As the first of Marvel’s new episodic stories that are meant to irreversibly change the arc of the larger MCU, WandaVision set the bar incredibly high for the shows that’ll follow it. But even as its own story that was always meant to be a deep exploration of an underserved character, WandaVision was a bona fide knockout.

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WandaVision’s Trip Down Memory Lane Holds a Fascinating Mirror Up to Its Audience

Wanda’s trauma, filmed before a live studio audience.

Wanda’s trauma, filmed before a live studio audience.
Screenshot: Marvel Studios

The latest episode of WandaVision provided, with the little help of a magical handbrake, the chance that three-and-a-bit Avengers movies and a side of Captain America: Civil War failed to take: We finally learned what had made Wanda Maximoff who she is. But in Agatha Harkness, we learned something of ourselves in the process. Perhaps wanting to know it all is not always the best option.

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As a TV show within the grand cultural behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, WandaVision is no exception to the puzzlebox economy that fuels fandom discourse. As Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) televisual surreality has broken down bit by bit, the questions that have dominated the discussion around the show have been about how long it took for things to start connecting to the wider material.

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We’ve looked to comics like sacred texts to wonder about whether or not the Disney+ series’ events laid the groundwork to retroactively retcon details we already know. Instead of seeing what it meant to these characters in the moment, we wondered if the presence of Evan Peters suddenly meant people would have to shuffle their Fox X-Men Blu-rays into their Marvel Studios shelf, as if re-organizing the Great Library of Alexandria. Thrumming underneath all that was one question, loudest and most loaded of them of all: who’s the bad guy?

It turns out that maybe we are, for asking.

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

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Well, actually no, let’s step back a bit first. Through the magic of what is already a hit contender for the 2021 song of the summer, it was revealed that Wanda’s eccentric neighbor Agnes was in fact Agatha Harkness, and potentially the manipulator of everything behind WandaVision’s scenes. A character from Marvel’s comics, Agatha provided a hook for fans—someone from the source material but also a figure to hang all their prior theorycraft on, vindication that weeks of wondering where it was all going had finally been given form. It was, after all, her all along. But “Previously On” reveals that, if anything, Agatha is much more like us than we may have thought: a curious onlooker to the events in Westview moreso than their architect.

Running through the latest episode’s 40-ish minute journey through Wanda’s life is the subtext that Agatha isn’t there to actually hear any of it, especially when Wanda’s recollections turn toward the emotional inflection points and moments of trauma that have defined her life. From the get-go, Agatha is revealed to us as a woman who, first and foremost, craves knowledge above anything else. Even putting aside her own origin story—betraying and murdering her own coven of witches, defying them to make a pact for some dark power beyond their own—there is both an eager compulsion and a sense of disdain as she drags Wanda through the story of her own life.

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Kathryn Hahn doesn’t actually have much to do in “Previously On”—Agatha steps into Wanda’s shadow as our titular hero contemplates the moments of love and loss that culminated in an anguish-induced wave of chaos magic that created Westview and an approximation of the person she loved. But in that shadow, Agatha becomes like the audience, although played to comical extremes: a snarky comment when Wanda recalls the happiness of her young brother, a disdainful ask of wondering where it’s all going when Wanda remembers Vision coming to comfort her in the wake of Pietro’s death. She pokes and prods Wanda to put aside what she felt in these moments of her life, and asks her what might have caused them in the first place, pushing and pushing her to remember the magic that she has had in her all along.

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It wasn’t luck that caused Tony Stark’s bombs to not blow you and your brother to smithereens, it was magic! Ignore what Hydra did to you, let’s talk Infinity Stones! Even at the very end, when Agatha thinks Wanda has finally gotten it, she sits alone as WandaVision’s empty audience—clapping as finally this woman has done what we’ve always wanted: realized that she is The Scarlet Witch, that there is a Big Bad to fight, and is ready to go.

The act of naming her in the final moments of the episode—the first time since Wanda’s introduction in Age of Ultron that she has been referred to by her superheroic identity from the comics—is Agatha’s expression of what she believes to be Wanda’s truth, and something more important than the woman’s own lived experiences. Wanda, exhausted and shaken by what she’s been forced to bring to the surface, just wants her kids and her husband back. “You’re supposed to be a myth,” Agatha mocks her, “a being capable of spontaneous creation. And here you are, using it to make breakfast for dinner.” She just wants the Scarlet Witch, to know what that is and what it means, instead of watching Wanda try to process the most tragic periods of her life. And is that not, in some ways, what audiences have been asking of her since WandaVision started?

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The relative underuse of Wanda as a character since Age of Ultron has been an ongoing thing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—in part it’s why we got WandaVision in the first place, to explore who these characters are, Wanda in particular, beyond occasionally flinging trucks with red aftereffects and making doe eyes at a robot. That desire to give her and Vision alike a shared moment in the spotlight meant a chance to actually turn them into something more than supporting characters. Yes, to bring in elements of their lengthy comics histories as well, but primarily to make them actually feel like more than just their powersets.

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“Previously On” feels like it jukes one way then, when we and Agatha alike expected it to juke another, trained by Marvel projects that wound up that way over and over. It doesn’t really have an ominous manipulator behind the scenes shaping its weirdness, no matter how many theories we’ve had about such a manipulator. For as much as it has borrowed iconography and names from the MCU and Marvel Comics at large, they have been more for Easter eggs than something the show has hung its entire plot on, even as we ourselves have looked to them as arcane scryings to ascertain importance and plot. We and Agatha are alike in this regard, in some unpleasant ways—chasing the connections and what they mean for the canon of this world more than we are connecting or empathizing with Wanda’s emotional arc.

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Screenshot: Marvel Studios

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This isn’t the first time superhero stories have played with metatextual fandom desires to have their favorite characters’ life stories compartmentalized and categorized for easier consumption, of course. From Mister Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite to things closer to home like the X-Men villain Mojo, comics have long found ways to rib on fan expectations, in both adaptation and in continuity, and present it as an outside force for our heroes to confront and refute. Plus there’s one more episode to go that might reframe WandaVision’s “true” villain to something much more expected—as seems to potentially be the case with the set up to SWORD getting their hands on their own Cool Ranch Flavor Vision in the episode’s post-credits scene.

But there’s something fascinating in WandaVision potentially eschewing the expectations of the “it’s all connected” universe around itself to deliver a “Big Bad” that is more existential, that is more about deepening Wanda’s character than it is her on-screen bio and Rogue’s Gallery. Grief isn’t a concept Wanda and her husband can just energy-blast away the way they can a cackling witch or a sinister government stooge.

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We spent eight weeks asking what the deal with WandaVision really was, and for now, we have an answer—it’s just not quite one we can easily slot onto a wiki page as we might have been hoping. All that’s left to see is if the show itself will follow that thesis through, or if chaos magic will truly reign.

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WandaVision Became a Nightmarish Web of Cathartic Reruns

Wanda recalling the first time she met Vision.

Wanda recalling the first time she met Vision.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

WandaVision’s first season transformed Marvel’s Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). She’s been a newlywed, a mother, and something far more fascinating and complex than all of her other new identities combined. It’s all been in service of its larger overarching story about the Avengers’ least understood hero who will presumably come to be known as the Scarlet Witch.

“Previously On,” WandaVision’s eighth chapter (and the season’s penultimate) could be considered the series’ first attempt at riffing on the kind of sitcom clip-show episodes that look back at events from throughout the season, something meant to hammer home where the show’s characters began versus where they are now. But rather than just zeroing in on familiar moments the Disney+ series previously explored in Westview’s show-within-a-show, the story lets the glamor fall in order to reveal multiple truths about what really went down with Wanda in between the time that she made Thanos blink on the battlefield and when she decided to make New Jersey home.

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The number of clips from previous Marvel movies featuring Wanda spotlighted in the general recap before “Previously On” begins rolling is the first hint that the episode’s going to be a tad bit different. We pick up more or less right where “Breaking the Fourth Wall” left us last week, in a thematic sense. Before bringing us back to Wanda, who most recently discovered the truth of Agatha’s identity (Kathryn Hahn), the episode actually jumps back further into the past, to a pivotal moment in Agnes’ own origin story.

Long before she became Wanda’s newest frenemy, Agatha spent a significant amount of her life in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts (lol), experiencing a very specific kind of ostracization that Wanda would one day come to suffer for herself. The story doesn’t explain exactly what Agatha did to incur the wrath of the coven of witches led by her mother Evanora (Kate Forbes), but it’s easy enough to glean the gist of it from the way the women all handle her trial.

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Agatha turning on her fellow witches.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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Though Agatha pleads with her mother and the coven to forgive her for her actions, and begs them to help her understand her powers, the other women are barely fazed by her protests. It makes you feel as if Agatha was well-known for her theatrical outbursts even then. Manipulation or not, Agatha’s cries suggest that whatever the witch did wasn’t something the others were unfamiliar with, but rather something they understood all too well, which is what drove them to come together to seemingly destroy her.

When Evanora and Agatha lock eyes as the elder witch begins chanting to aid in her daughter’s destruction, it clearly pains both of them that things have gotten to that point, and Agatha screams in agony as the other witches blast her with beams of mystical energy. While the ritual appears to be working for a brief time, Agatha’s demeanor begins to shift as the witches’ blue-hued energies flow through her, prompting her own signature purple magic to spring forth and turn the women’s power against them.

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Even though it’s unclear whether Agatha truly set out to become a malicious person, the scene of her hexing at the stake makes it appear as if her own natural gifts lend themselves to the draining of others’ magical emanations, something you see as the other witches’ spells also turn purple, and the life force begins to drain from their bodies. The whole of this scene establishes an entirely different community of magic users distinct from the powers and cultures we’ve previously seen in the MCU (Doctor Strange, Runaways, and Helstrom). Significant as that fact is on its own, “Previously On” goes the extra mile of conveying that this branch of the magical tree has a narrative centrality and mythos all its own.

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You get the first glimpse of that as Evanora takes it upon herself to kill her daughter by hitting her with everything she’s got. Whether it’s because she was the leader of the coven or because her powers simply eclipsed the others’ isn’t clear, but as Evanora hexes Agnes, a peculiar construct vaguely resembling a horned headdress forms around her head. Though Evanora’s energy crown vaguely resembles the protrusions on Game of Thrones’ Night King, it also looks a lot like the diadem that Scarlet Witch has traditionally worn in Marvel’s comics (the one Wanda actually conjured up for herself as a comics-inspired costume in “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!”). Whatever the significance of the thing emanating from Evanora’s head is, its presence isn’t enough to stop Agatha, who just moments before swore that she could learn to be good, something her mother believed to be a lie.

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Evanora trying to stop her daughter.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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As villainous origins go “I killed my mother and all of her little friends for trying to kill me for using my taboo powers” is somewhat run-of-the-mill, but it adds an interesting element to the way WandaVision’s framed Agatha/Agnes as a manipulator whose very first sin was being ambitious. In another world where Evanora’s coven sought to understand Agatha’s magic better rather than snuff it out, there’s a chance that she could have gone on to become the kind of person who felt some sort of moral qualms about framing other witches for terrorism. But because cycles of abuse beget more cycles of abuse, present-day Agatha is all too ready to destroy Wanda after she brings her out of her expository spell and begins to have a bit more fun with her.

Having now begun to understand that, despite all her own deep-seated trauma, she truly isn’t the sole source of the trouble in Westview, Wanda drops any pretense of just being another American homemaker (and her put-on accent) as she demands to know what Agatha’s done with Billy and Tommy. Formidable as Wanda’s powers are, Agatha gives her a crash course in how much she still doesn’t know about what she’s capable of, and how magic works as a whole, after Wanda discovers that she’s unable to attack Agatha with her signature red blasts. It’s amusing to Agatha that Wanda somehow has no knowledge of how a witch’s runes can give them a distinct advantage over other magic users foolish enough to wander into their domains. As Agatha explains all this, the camera trains its focus on two of Agatha’s symbols, one of which sort of looks like Digimon’s crest of knowledge, while the other resembles an upper-case “M.”

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Much as “Agatha All Along” clued everyone into Agatha’s role in messing with Wanda’s mind, she provides some context for a number of the show’s false commercials that have all been dancing around the secret truth, much like witches around a maypole repurposed as a broadcast tower in the pale moonlight. Every bit of magic—because that’s truly what the red-tinted energy Wanda wields is—that’s gone into reshaping Westview and keeping the town “running” is something Agatha can wrap her mind around conceptually. She actually goes on to recreate many of the spells on a smaller scale that Wanda’s managed to cast over the entire town. Mind control, illusions, and transmutation are all things witches can do after spending years honing their craft, and it’s likely that having an entire coven of other magic users working together makes those kinds of spells more manageable.

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Agatha doing her best Mary Sanderson.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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What Agatha doesn’t quite understand, though, is how Wanda, a Sokovian refugee with no formal training, went from being someone who could move blocks with her mind and give people short-lived nightmares, to being able to pull off multiple feats of large-scale, persistent magic that hums along in the background without her really having to work all that hard.

To Agatha, someone who’s spent centuries fighting tooth and nail to become the kind of witch her coven tried to keep her from being, Wanda embodies a kind of unearned privilege that she’s more than willing to relieve her of. It’s tough to gauge how well Wanda’s processing everything Agatha reveals to her, and to be fair, it is all quite wild even considering the other things Wanda (and viewers!) have witnessed in the MCU. When she again tells Agatha that she doesn’t know how Westview came to be warped, the witch responds by slapping Wanda around the basement with a ferocity that would likely kill a person if Agatha weren’t trying to keep them alive.

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What’s interesting about the entire interaction is how Agatha points out that, initially, her plan was to let Wanda do her thing in Westview because even though Agatha’s been pulling strings in the background, she stands by her assertion that it all began with Wanda. Agatha explains how she resigned herself to being a supporting character in Wanda’s charade, believing that eventually, Wanda would either slip up or reinvent herself into a person more willing to share the source of their strength. Ultimately, Wanda’s self-doubt is what made it possible for Agatha to hide in plain sight even though there were signs of something being amiss.

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Tight-lipped as Wanda is, Agatha still has a few tricks up her sleeve, and she resolves that it’s high time she kicked things up a notch to get the answers she’s been seeking. With a strand of Wanda’s hair (more on that later) and an incantation, Agatha conjures up a different sort portal into the depths of Wanda’s mind that both women step into as “Previously On” gets into the meat of its story by revisiting Wanda’s past.

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Wanda recalling a fond memory that Agatha doesn’t care for.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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There have been bits and pieces of information about Wanda’s family sprinkled throughout films like Age of Ultron that gave you just enough detail to understand how Wanda first came to be in league with Hydra. Though we knew that there was a point when Wanda blamed Tony Stark for her parents’ murders, there’d never been all that much exploration of her and Pietro’s childhood beyond the anger that originally brought her to blows with the Avengers.

Wanda’s at a loss for words when Agatha’s spell brings them back to a happier moment from her past before the Avengers, Ultron, and Vision, when Wanda’s family was still whole and surviving through the ongoing conflict that was already tearing Sokovia apart. In a devastating twist on WandaVision’s use of television, Wanda quickly realizes that the memory Agatha’s conjured isn’t just an illusion that will play out for them to watch, it’s something Wanda has to participate in. After transforming into a younger version of herself (portrayed by Michaela Russell) she recalls the very night she and Pietro (Gabriel Gurevich) became orphans.

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Leading up to WandaVision’s premiere, there was much speculation around how the show would end up explaining the emotional significance of its sitcoms and how they played into Wanda’s actual identity. One of the prevailing theories was that television was a crucial part of Wanda’s childhood, and while that’s correct, it’s a bit more than “Wanda grew up learning English from American reruns.” When Wanda’s father Olek (The Blacklist’s Daniyar) returns home with a case of DVDs of classic American sitcoms, Wanda’s mother Iryna (Ilana Kohanchi) is clearly dispirited that her husband wasn’t able to sell her merchandise, but she understands how difficult it is given the literal war in the streets. But at the same time, there’s a powerful love flowing through the Maximoff household. They’re a family who had to rely on one another at a time when their world was falling apart, and one of the ways they found comfort with one another was by sitting down in front of the television to escape from the horrors of their reality, if only for a half-hour at a time.

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The Maximoffs watching Dick Van Dyke.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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Were Agatha watching WandaVision here in the real world, she’d likely comment on how markedly more convincing all of the actors’ Sokovian accents are compared to Elizabeth Olsen’s—always on the more questionable side of things—but she’s much, much more focused on paying attention to the rest of the mental scene, as it’s how Wanda reacts to her parents’ oncoming deaths that stand out to the witch. The bomb that changes Wanda and Pietro’s lives comes swift and without warning, and leaves the twins stunned and shrouded in the dark ruins of what used to be their home. True to previous accounts of that night, the twins are stuck in the middle of the conflict with an armed, but undetonated Stark missile blinking before them. Even though Wanda’s parents were dead at that point, they were still with her in the emotional sense and present in her mind, because the only thing that survived the explosion other than the kids was their television that somehow managed to remain powered and playing The Dick Van Dyke Show.

The MCU’s previous stories went out of their way to frame Wanda and Pietro as two of the first “enhanced” beings on the planet whose powers, like Captain Marvel’s, came from exposure to an Infinity Stone. The framing worked to establish the Maximoffs as non-mutants on screen at a time when Marvel’s comics were distancing the characters from the X-Men, presumably because the film rights were then split between Disney and Fox (which has now changed). What Wanda recalls and Agatha realizes, though, is that there was magic in Wanda long before she ever crossed paths with Hydra. The reason she and Pietro weren’t murdered by the active missile was actually her instinctively weaving a probability hex that kept the weapon from detonating. In addition to nodding to the Scarlet Witch’s original probability power set from the comics, this detail gives Agatha reason to further question the how of it all.

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People with magical potential, it seems, aren’t exactly uncommon per se, but the fact that Wanda’s abilities didn’t fade in absence of nurturing is what makes her distinct. After seeing Kathryn Hahn chew up the scenery first as a busybody neighbor and then as a deliciously unhinged villain, the Agatha she brings to this episode is equal parts maniacal and genuinely curious about what makes Wanda tick. Even though it’s more than likely that the two witches will end up battling, you can also see significant traces of the adversarial friendship that Wanda and Agatha have in the comics in the way that Agatha’s torture here is also a very intense, almost therapeutic, experience for Wanda. Some of that therapy, like when Agatha brings her back to the Sokovian facility where Strucker experimented on her with Loki’s staff, is traumatic in and of itself, as it’s rooted in Wanda’s pain.

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But out of that pain comes one of the biggest surprises “Previously On” has when the episode shows you how Strucker’s experiments had little to do with anything the Nazis themselves anticipated. When Wanda’s put into a room with the staff, it reacts to her without prompting, and the blue jewel containing the hidden Mind Stone within flies over to her, opening up as if it wants to speak with her. The casing explodes, the blinding flash of light is difficult for Wanda to look at, but in the glow, she briefly witnesses a figure that bears a striking resemblance to some of the Scarlet Witch’s more classic comics guises. Within the context of the episode itself, it comes across like Wanda witnessing what the future has in store for her. Also interesting to note is that, while this all apparently happens on camera within the facility, Wanda’s knack for messing with televisions goes deeper than WandaVision’s let on, and the footage of her vision is erased from Hydra’s recording.

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Wanda seeing a vision of the Scarlet Witch.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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While Agatha’s usually gagging and rolling her eyes in the background in moments when the story takes on a cathartic energy, the show lets you know that both women are getting something more than they’re saying aloud from the time they’re spending together—it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of their bond going forward. Olsen delivers one of her strongest performances as Wanda yet when Agatha brings her to the Avengers compound some time after Ultron and her feelings about the Avengers were still largely undecided. Still drowning in grief over having witnessed Pietro’s death in Sokovia, Wanda throws herself into an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, a callback to the series’ ‘00-focused episode. She barely reacts when Vision (Paul Bettany) enters her room unannounced, and while there have been mentions of the days when Vision didn’t understand that it’s impolite to just come into people’s spaces without being welcomed, here, he’s obviously taken the admonishment to heart (though still working on it).

What seems to be very well established, though, is how drawn to Wanda he is, perhaps because of how the Mind Stone once recognized something distinct about her. At that point in time, neither Wanda nor Vision was really what one would describe as “good with people” for different, valid reasons, but in their differences, the two were able to cultivate that first spark of mutual affinity into something meaningful. When Wanda explains that the Avengers compound was the first home she shared with Vision, she’s being quite literal, but she’s also talking about the emotional home and shelter that she was able to find in him, and likely the same that he was able to find in her back when he was still mostly clueless about how humans are.

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If Wanda first began to build out a “home” in her mind as Vision was helping her process her grief, it’s worth considering whether small details like Wanda’s hair color and her disappearing accent were her personal ways of trying to make that new home real by divorcing herself from her past. In a similar way to how Black Widow refused to let go of the blonde she was rocking when Thanos defeated the Avengers in Infinity War, Wanda’s whole rejection of markers of her past could have been signs of her coping with, but not fully processing, the emotions that have come to the surface in WandaVision.

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None of this, however, is enough to satisfy Agatha who, to be fair, has likely seen all sorts of things that Wanda can scarcely imagine, and because the trip down memory lane reveals no answers, she presses even more closely to the recent memories in Wanda’s brain. Previously, WandaVision made the strong case for why SWORD director Hayward (Josh Stamberg) was justified in his fear of Wanda by having him show his colleagues footage of the day she broke into their headquarters and absconded with Vision’s corpse. However, this episode makes clear that while everyone’s been preoccupied with Wanda’s magical deepfakes, Hayward was busy producing technological falsehoods of his own specifically designed to make everyone believe Wanda was a threat.

In truth, the day Wanda came to SWORD headquarters, she politely blew the doors open after being told that she could enter to speak with someone about having Vision’s body buried. It’s also true that after seeing Vision’s body being dismembered by SWORD techs, Wanda shocked everyone by breaking into the examination room with her powers and floating down to touch Vision’s face. What was not true, however, was Hayward’s elaborate story about Wanda stealing her depowered build-a-husband before flying off on her version of a broomstick for New Jersey.

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Wanda finally recalls that after realizing Vision was truly dead, she returned to her car to find a document meant for her that conveys one of Vision’s last wishes for the both of them. No reason is given as to why Vision decided to buy a plot of land in Westview for him and Wanda to start a new life, but one imagines that it has something to do with the synthezoid being a sentimental dork who got a kick out of a “W” and “V” appearing together in a small town. As Wanda drives through Westview for the first time, you see glimpses of residents who go on to become the show-within-a-show’s characters, and something “Fietro” said earlier in the season touched back on.

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Normal as everyone’s life in Westview was, “Previously On” shows them all as being somewhat listless. They can easily be read as just kind of going through the daily motion of things, and you can see how Wanda internalized these brief glimpses of the civilians and used them as a basis for the characters and plot lines she created within the Hex. When Wanda arrives at her and Vision’s piece of land, though, what little charm there is to the scene turns into a moment of devastation mirroring Wanda’s breakdown in Age of Ultron when she felt Pietro’s life slip away.

Rather than destroying things the way she did in Sokovia, though, Wanda begins creating an entire house with her powers, and while the previous episode made it seem that Agatha was in control of things, here we see that while Wanda’s not wholly in the driver’s seat, she is truly the engine powering all of this. What’s alarming about this scene is that, even then Wanda did not likely know how and what she was doing, and the experience appears incredibly taxing and out of control.

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Wanda’s chaos magic conjuring a simulation of Vision.
Gif: Disney+/Marvel

Moments after the house forms, the Hex explodes out of Wanda, rewriting the town, but also revealing where the Vision we’ve been seeing this whole time came from. At the same time Wanda’s turning Westview into something it’s not, she’s weaving a new Vision out of pure energy in a sequence teased in some of WandaVision’s commercials (just without the colorful effects). When it’s all said and done, there are no questions asked, and Wanda settles right into the illusion that we now know Agatha was tweaking from the shadows.

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Back in the present, though, Agatha’s quite out in the open and certainly perturbed at the fact that she’s gotten what she wanted, albeit in a roundabout way, but with an answer she’s none too pleased about. We get our first look at Agatha in her full, ridiculously Hocus Pocus witch regalia as Wanda bursts out onto the street in Westview to find her floating in the air, threatening to murder Billy and Tommy. In a rare moment of Agatha agreeing with the mortals, she tells Wanda that she is quite the danger, though not for any reason that most people know. Wanda’s ability to wield magic in ways that defy the laws of the natural and metaphysical worlds might have been helped along by her exposure to the Mind Stone, but the true source of Wanda’s power lies in the fact that she’s not just a witch, but rather the Scarlet Witch, a mythic being with the unique ability to perform chaos magic.

Here, chaos magic seems to mean magic of pure creation that other practitioners could never do. The Scarlet Witch, Agatha explains, was supposed to be a myth, and yet there she is chilling in the suburbs doing dead-on impressions of Modern Family’s Julie Bowen. Between Evanora sporting some sort of magical headgear, and Wanda’s apparently prophetic vision of the Scarlet Witch, one can see why Agatha, who’s worked hard for her power, is somewhat jealous of and angry at Wanda, and how the next episode’s almost certain to feature a massive battle of the hexes.

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The new Vision coming online.
Gif: Disney+/Marvel

But the real tease for the conflict that’s to come doesn’t show up until the episode’s post-credits scene that clues you in to what chicanery Hayward and SWORD have been up to. Though WandaVision could have gotten away with the specter of “dead” Vision being its nod to Vision’s time spent being white and emotionless in the comics, the teaser introduces us to Vision’s reanimated corpse that’s been brought online using residual magic from the drone Wanda dragged out of Hex.

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When this White Vision shows up next week, he’ll be powered by the very same magic that Wanda first manifested out of a desire to be reunited with him. Their next meeting, though, is likely to end with more than a few of them bearing deep wounds—both physical and emotional—that they may never recover from.

WandaVision’s season one finale debuts next Friday on Disney+.

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WandaVision Just Pulled Out a Few Shockingly Big Guns

Wanda being confused by something someone else just said.

Wanda being confused by something someone else just said.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

WandaVision hit a major turning point last week when it showed the state of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe outside of Westview, New Jersey by looking back on how Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Paris), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) all came to be involved in the situation. This week’s “On A Very Special Episode” reaffirmed the Disney+ series isn’t going to be letting up anytime soon.

The fifth out of WandaVision’s nine episodes brings a very specific, malevolent energy that’s always been present in the series much closer to the surface in a way that’s reflected both inside and out of the hexagonal anomaly enveloping Westview. As WandaVision’s in-universe show continues to jump through decades on its way to becoming a present-day sitcom, the barrier between Westview and the outside world’s growing even stronger. But as the line between WandaVision’s realities and fantasies becomes increasingly blurred, the show’s trading in some of its whimsy to realize something Vision (Paul Bettany) sagely warned Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) about herself way back in Captain America: Civil War: the more she shows her power, the more people will fear her.

Illustration for article titled iWandaVision /iJusti /iPulled Out a Few Shockingly Big Guns

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“On A Very Special Episode” opens on Wanda and Vision both trying and failing to get their newborn twins to sleep, a struggle the two parents are only able to find the slightest bit of joy in until the thing that’s been nagging them both brings the couple to a strange impasse. When Wanda asks Vision to fetch the babies’ pacifiers, she uses the moment when she’s alone with the twins to successfully try using her powers to put them asleep, and it’s unclear whether Wanda’s trying to hide what she’s doing from her husband. When the pacifiers also fail to keep the kids from wailing, Vision comments to Wanda that they might just need to spend more time learning how to deal with their kids who were born just hours before, and when Wanda counters that they might simply need a bit of help, Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) hits the Visions’ doorbell right on cue.

Though all of WandaVision’s episodes have been jam-packed with details alluding to both Marvel’s comics and the classic shows it’s celebrating, this episode feels distinct because of the subtext of Wanda and Vision’s exchanges, and how relatively grounded the now Growing Pains-esque fictional show feels compared to previous episodes. Because Vision’s repeatedly been aware of Westview’s off-ness and attempted to speak with Wanda about it, his reasoning that they need to slow down comes across as his understanding that Wanda is, at least partially, in control. Agnes’ arrival after Wanda’s response reads as her brushing Vision’s advice off in order to keep the show going and avoid addressing the larger issue at hand.

Game as Agnes is to lull the twins to sleep with Buns of Steel, Vision’s reluctance to let her watch the kids isn’t just TV paternal instinct kicking in, but rather Vision fully going off-script to the point that Agnes, stunned, breaks character, and asks a shocked Wanda whether she’d like to do the entire scene over from the top. While WandaVision’s come close to having Wanda and Vision speak frankly about their new lives, the directness Vision comes at Wanda with here is new, and his questions about whether she really didn’t just watch their neighbor acknowledge that they’re living in a TV show would be funny if they weren’t delivered so chillingly.

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Vision, Agnes, and Wanda in the living room.

Vision, Agnes, and Wanda in the living room.
Image: Disney+/Marvel

In the West Coast Avengers comics that WandaVision’s drawing from, one of the first signs that something’s amiss with the Scarlet Witch is the way her sons keep vanishing and reappearing suddenly while under the care of various nannies. The reason behind this is eventually revealed to be that, because Billy and Tommy were manifestations of Wanda’s will and magic, they’d stop existing in moments where her mind was preoccupied with other things like Avenging with other superheroes. While Billy and Tommy also disappear and reappear in WandaVision just in time to distract Vision from confronting Wanda, they’re brought back as young, but still drastically different, children than they were moments before, and you can see how, in a way, both the MCU and the comics’ versions of the characters are serving similar narrative purposes.

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The theme song that opened the in-universe show this time is many shades more menacing than ABC’s Growing Pains, but it perfectly captures the dark tone the series as a whole is turning towards, especially for those outside of Westview who now have access to the only living person to make it out of the bubble. The amount of force that Wanda used to fling Monica through multiple walls of a house, clear across the city, and outside of the bubble around Westview should have killed her, but as she comes to in a SWORD facility, she’s mostly fine, save for her memories of the mental chaos she experienced while under Wanda’s influence.

As Monica gets right back on her feet ready to join the rest of the team in their continued investigation, a SWORD doctor becomes alarmed when Monica’s scans show up completely blank, suggesting that it won’t be long before she begins developing some version of the abilities her comics counterpart has. Under any other circumstances, or with a less willful person, it’s likely that SWORD would insist on learning more about what Monica’s been through. Now that SWORD director Hayward (Josh Stamberg) has come to the conclusion that Wanda’s is the “principal victimizer” in Westview, however, the division’s focus is put on responding to the sentient weapon it’s observed Wanda to be.

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The conversation that unfolds between Hayward, Jimmy, and Monica in front of their colleagues during a briefing functions as partially a useful, if clumsy, reminder of who and what all Wanda’s general deal in previous films was. Once the throat clearing is out of the way, though, what unfolds is a sharply-written depiction of how the realities of situations involving trauma, abuse, and grief can be warped by people’s perceptions of those involved. Though Hayward may genuinely want to save the thousands of civilians trapped within Westview, his read on Wanda is only shaped by hard, negative aspects of her past—like her involvement with Hydra and her breaking the Sokovian accords alongside Captain America.

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The series touches back on the idea of Wanda being a known dangerous quantity by way of a commercial for Lagos-brand paper towels. They’re advertised as being perfect for cleaning up red-tinted messes one could liken to the accidental mess Wanda caused in Lagos during Captain America: Civil War. Hayward’s well aware of the invaluable asset in the world’s defense Wanda’s been as well—and everyone acknowledges that in a one-on-one fight, there’s a solid chance that Wanda could take the Mad Titan—but from his perspective, that fact is all the more reason to view Wanda as a legitimate threat.

Monica trying to figure out how to get into the Hex.

Monica trying to figure out how to get into the Hex.
Image: Disney+/Marvel

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By taking issue with Hayward’s assessment, Monica not only asserts herself as an active participant in SWORD’s next steps, she also brings in most of the missing, important context about Wanda’s life that’s just as crucial to understanding what’s happening, even if it’s less quantifiable. As someone who has felt Wanda’s presence in her mind, Monica understands more than anyone else in the room what a violation it is. The way WandaVision cuts to a monitor where ‘70s “Geraldine” is busy bragging about her new corporate job feels like the show asking you to appreciate the bad optics of our “hero” imagining her only Black friend as jive-talking, comedic relief. The look on Monica’s face suggests that she’s sat with it and doesn’t care for it, but she also understands that there’s a possibility of Wanda truly not meaning to be destructive.

Though Hayward points out Wanda attacked her, Monica counters that Wanda’s likely the only reason she survived, and the hexagon’s existence suggests that she’s trying to contain her power to a certain extent. No one quite articulates that it seems strange that Wanda would suddenly turn evil after helping the Avengers save the world, but that does very much appear to be the case as Hayward shows his colleagues SWORD footage of the day Wanda stormed one of their facilities where Vision’s corpse was being held, before stealing the body and apparently bringing it back to life. It’s interesting to note that Wanda did something rather similar with the body of the original Human Torch, again, in Marvel Comics’ West Coast Avengers.

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Even though one could make the argument that SWORD’s footage had been tampered with, the fact that Vision apparently left a will explicitly asking not to be revived if he were to die for fear of being weaponized casts an even darker shadow over WandaVision because of what it says about Wanda denying others their autonomy. Her willingness to hurt others in order to get what she wants pops up in a number of different ways back in Westview, where the now five-year-old twins are busy getting into simple mischief that gives her a reason to butt into their business. When their mom discovers that the boys have found a dog Agnes names Sparky (a nod to Tom King’s The Vision) that they want to keep, what ends up exasperating her is the way Vision takes issue with her openly using magic in front of Agnes, who for some reason doesn’t react to any of it.

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The harder Vision tries to get Wanda to pause and speak clearly with him about their charade, the more the show’s story pulls his attention away. But unlike WandaVision’s previous episodes where the shenanigans have become the sole focus of the story as a misdirect, when Billy and Tommy will themselves into 10-year-olds, you can see how the way Wanda’s now responding to things is only going to draw even more attention to her actions.

Back at SWORD, it’s Billy and Tommy that put Monica, Jimmy, and Darcy on a new line of thinking about the Hex, Darcy’s name for the Westview anomaly. Way back in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Maria Hill provided a brief description of Wanda’s power set that boiled down to telepathy and telekinesis. Post-Ultron, Wanda’s telepathic powers have been conspicuously absent from the MCU despite there being plenty of opportunities where they would have come in handy. What’s interesting about the way the Disney+ series reestablishes them is how the story highlights that while mind control is part of what’s happening, the shifts in Westview’s local reality are physical and not simple illusions.

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The fact that Monica’s previous Geraldine costume retains its look from within the bubble despite still being made up of the same Kevlar material Monica was wearing means that, if Wanda isn’t outright bending reality, she’s at the very least rearranging matter on a molecular level on a very large scale. The scale of her power is part of why Captain Marvel’s alluded to briefly, as Jimmy and Darcy think about others who’ve been empowered by Infinity Stones and were also involved in the fight against Thanos. The mention of Carol gives Monica a noticeable pause suggesting that she has no desire to speak about her family friend for reasons that might have something to do with Carol having been missing from Earth for several decades.

Billy and Tommy plotting to get a puppy.

Billy and Tommy plotting to get a puppy.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

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Much as Monica may not want to get close to talking about her personal life, her realization about the Geraldine outfit leads to Darcy reasoning that the key to getting inside of Westview safely is to send something in that’s era-appropriate for whichever decade the show is currently in. An old SWORD drone successfully breaches the Hex just as Wanda’s sitting down with Billy and Tommy to have a conversation about why Vision’s at work on a weekend. When the boys correctly point out that it’s Saturday, not Monday, Wanda’s at a loss to come up with a believable explanation for her slip up, and it’s interesting that the boys have an awareness of time that WandaVision hasn’t shown others within Westview to possess.

In the same way that the in-universe show has helped Wanda avoid addressing reality when things go sideways around Vision, the same begins to happen with her, Tommy, and Billy as their talk becomes about how, even though parents may fight sometimes, they always love their children, and the love that exists within families is eternal. The more Wanda and the boys talk to one another, though, she begins to say more about the family she had before them and she tells the twins how losing Pietro still makes her sad because of how deeply she loved him.

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“On This Very Special Episode” inverts the way WandaVision uses fiction to distract from reality as SWORD’s drone beelines its way to Wanda’s location. When Wanda steps out onto the sidewalk after sensing the intrusion, a glowing glare at the SWORD drone is all it takes for Hayward to order his team to launch a missile that Monica was not informed about at Wanda, and the SWORD agents are unsure whether their strike was successful as their feed into Westview goes dead. Interesting as the MCU’s Wanda has been, most of her previous appearances have all shied away from the theatricality that defines the Scarlet Witch’s presence in Marvel’s comics—but that’s finally on display here.

When SWORD detects something happening within the Hex, the agents mobilize immediately and post up with their guns readied to fire at whatever emerges from it. Rather than burst her way out of the bubble, Wanda wrenches it open with her mind, and the gathered agents are alarmed to see her dragging the broken drone behind her with a single hand for dramatic effect. After years of Wanda’s Sokovian accent waning and then fully disappearing as WandaVision began, it comes back in full force here as Wanda stares SWORD down and tosses the drone to let everyone gathered know that she’s not above destroying them if they don’t leave her alone. Despite how everything she’s doing looks, Monica still believes she can connect with some part of the woman because of the bond they formed (and because Wanda can see into people’s minds). It doesn’t quite work though because, as Wanda explains, SWORD has nothing to offer her because everything she wants already exists within the Hex.

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Wanda’s dramatic turn back into Westview ends with her forcing the SWORD agents to train their guns on Hayward, and it’s clear Monica’s sitting with the idea of Wanda retreating back into the Hex to get back to what she wants and fears SWORD will try to take away from her. What Wanda wants is the comfort and normality that the mom from the Lagos paper towel commercial has; She wants the silly, existential minutiae that comes with living in a half-hour sitcom, like helping your kids search the neighborhood for the lost dog they convinced you to let them keep. Sparky’s sudden death is mildly sad in the way that all of these specific kinds of special episodes almost always are, and while Wanda sees it as a chance to help Billy and Tommy come to understand grief, the boys immediately share a look with one another knowing that they can age themselves up again to fast forward through the pain.

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Again, the degree of autonomy Billy and Tommy possess is strange, as is Agnes being totally unfazed by their conversation as Wanda explicitly tells them not to use their powers, and the boys reveal that they know she can probably bring Sparky back from the dead. Wanda’s insistence that some things like death are permanent is her being the most open yet about the pain that she’s feeling, even though she’s not necessarily talking to people directly. Those ideas are still being beamed out of the Hex, but before WandaVision lets its show head down that track, things begin to fall apart in major ways that are going to be very important as the series continues.

When Vision arrives on the scene to interrupt the resurrection conversation and comfort his sons, WandaVision’s show cuts to later in the day, back in their home where Vision’s yet to tell Wanda about how he spent his day. Like Billy and Tommy, Vision innately understood that his being at the office on a Saturday was wrong, and his hunch became unignorable once a SWORD email made its way to the computers in his office and all of the human employees began reciting its contents about the high levels of radiation on the Hex’s perimeter. This is what prompted Vision to really “wake up,” as he touches his colleague Norm’s (Abilash Tandon) temples and seemingly breaks the man free of Wanda’s influence before having to put him back under to prevent the poor man from panicking.

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Vision brings all of that knowledge home with him in the evening as he prepares to finally lay the cards on the table and force Wanda to admit what she’s doing. But when he tells Wanda about Norm, she tries to dismiss him by literally cueing the theme song and starting the in-universe credits as she leaves the kitchen. Where other episodes have played fast and loose with how in control Vision is of his actions, the way he approaches Wanda here establishes that while he’s aware of everything that’s happened in Westview, he has no recall at all of his life before it ended with the Mind Stone being ripped from his head. Vision’s being honest when he tells Wanda that he’s scared, and it’s implied that part of what he’s afraid of is her because all signs point to her being the source of the Hex’s troubles. Olsen and Bettany have had consistently captivating chemistry all throughout the series as people ridiculously enamored with one another, but the edge to their performances as the couple almost come to blows and float into the air injects an unexpected dose of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf to WandaVision that works.

Manipulative as the series has made Wanda out to be, though, at the moment when she tells Vision that she doesn’t really know how the Hex began or how to control every last detail of what’s going on, WandaVision’s reminding you that there are still four episodes left, and obvious answers aren’t always the correct ones.

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Ayyyy, Pietro. Sort of.

Ayyyy, Pietro. Sort of.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

When the doorbell rings, Vision can’t help but interpret it as another of Wanda’s tricks trying to distract them, and he very may well be right, but the person standing at Wanda’s door seems to genuinely stun her. In what can currently be best described as a very cheeky wink at corporate mergers and intellectual property rights, the version of Pietro standing on Wanda’s doorstep is portrayed by Evan Peters, whose version of Quicksilver from Fox’s X-Men movies outshined and outlived Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s athleisurewear enthusiast Pietro who appeared in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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WandaVision acknowledges this gag by way of Darcy, who wonders how and why Wanda would recast her dead brother even though that’s a very network TV sort of thing to do. Between the new, dirtbag uncle Pietro who’s arrived in Westview, mentions of radiation, and the tiny nod to Charles Darwin that comes at this episode’s very beginning, there’s going to be an understandable amount of chatter about whether WandaVision is setting up the beginnings of mutants coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. WandaVision’s encouraged that sort of speculation by literally having a number of its characters work out fan theories on screen and come just shy of winking at the camera to say “See what we did there?”

That being said, Peters’ casting could, for now, just be a joke, or perhaps a set up for a future joke in which he is swapped out for Taylor-Johnson, because…well, WandaVision’s always poking through the fourth wall of its own televised existence. Either way, now that uncle Pietro’s in town, Westview’s definitely going to become a more complicated place if only for the fact that now, when Wanda makes her way to the ‘90s, there’s an iconic catchphrase about culpability she has no business saying.

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Early WandaVision Impressions Suggest the Marvel Series Is as Good as It Is Weird

From WandaVision.

From WandaVision.
Image: Marvel Studios

Critics have seen the first three episodes of WandaVision, the upcoming Marvel Studios Disney+ series starring Scarlet Witch and the Vision as they take on their greatest challenge yet: the sitcom. Which means we’ve got impressions.

The early verdict is that the show, from what has been seen so far, is pretty compelling, albeit substantially more off-kilter than a normal Marvel Studios entry. There are lots of homages to old sitcoms, and it seems to, largely, anyways, be a comedy. All of which sounds pretty intriguing.

Here’s what the io9 crew thought:

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And here are some opinions from the broader pop culture blogosphere:

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Intriguing! Early impressions are always to be taken with a grain of salt—three episodes ain’t the whole series, and most media is too complex to really unravel, good or bad, in a couple of tweets. But it certainly seems like there might be some real promise here.

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WandaVision, starring Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Teyonah Parris, releases its first two episodes on January 15th.


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The First WandaVision Clip Is a Campy, Retro Delight

Something’s amiss with the lights in the Vision residence.

Something’s amiss with the lights in the Vision residence.
Screenshot: Marvel Studios

It feels like it’s been forever since we had something new from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so thank god Wanda Maximoff and the Vision are about to show up and serve us some premium ham.

Appearing on last night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, Elizabeth Olsen debuted a brief clip from the new Disney+ series. The bit is taken from the show’s black-and-white send-up of classic sitcoms—complete with live studio audience laugh tracks, old-school soundtracks, dodgy on-set effects, and both Olsen and co-star Paul Bettany serving up delightfully silly performances as the blissfully suburban versions of a chaos witch and the synthezoid she married.

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The full interview is below, but the clip starts at the 4:24 mark:

The sound effects! The laughter! “Are you using your night vision, Vision?” I love it.

It’s quite unlike anything we’ve seen from Marvel before, even as, with confidence (and ten years of raking in billions of dollars while going “Here’s a raccoon in space with a gun, deal with it”), its output has gotten more esoterically weird and embracing of its comic book roots. There is, of course, the hint at something more—Wanda’s powers are growing, issues of control, and that something is amiss more than just the Vision residence’s beloved rose bushes. But it’s the commitment to earnest, gleeful retro TV that makes us all the more excited to get sucked into this show.

WandaVision’s nine-episode run begins next week on Disney+, from January 15.

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Sorry, But Marvel’s WandaVision Is Now Debuting in 2021

WandaVision finally has its release date.

WandaVision finally has its release date.
Photo: Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios’ first Disney+ series, WandaVision is coming. Soon even. Just not as soon as we’d hoped.

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Though early materials said the show, which stars Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen, would be out by the end of the year, we now know the first episode will debut on January 15, 2021. This is disappointing for sure but, hey, at least we know it’s happening, unlike the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.

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Here’s a motion poster that made the date official.

The timing is a little surprising until you look at everything else going on through the end of the year. There are six more weeks left of The Mandalorian, that then brings the calendar to Christmas, followed by New Years. Christmas might sound like the perfect time to release WandaVision but, Disney+ is releasing Pixar’s latest, Soul, on that day. That movie is a huge, huge deal, so it’ll then get a few weeks to breathe before the new show premieres.

Traditionally over its first year, Disney+ has tried not to pile big debuts on top of each other. But once January hits, it’s WandaVision time and we can’t wait, especially since 2020 was the first year in a decade there was nothing new released from Marvel Studios. Remember a few years ago when people were saying “Too much Marvel!” Now it’s “Give us Marvel!” And it starts again, January 15.

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