Hera Syndulla May Be Star Wars’ Replacement For Cara Dune

I honestly couldn’t have been happier when this story popped up on my timeline last night: not only do I finally get an excuse to rave about Hera Syndulla, one of my favorite characters in the entire Star Wars universe (most of my favorite characters in Star Wars either originate in animation, or made the jump from live-action to animation and were improved in so doing), but I also get to address a deeply hilarious story that broke a few weeks ago, while I was on hiatus thanks to appendix surgery – the story of Gina Carano, and the string of wildly bad decisions that led her from Lucasfilm (and a paycheck of $25,000 to $50,000 per Mandalorian episode) to the Daily Wire, where she can now pursue her true calling as a figurehead for contrived right-wing outrage and an accomplice in Ben Shapiro’s attempt to get back at Hollywood for his own failure to make it big as a screenwriter.

Hera Syndulla
Hera Syndulla | syfy.com

Although Gina Carano long ago blocked me on Twitter, her history of harmful and downright hateful comments is well-documented public record – and in the past, I have tried to draw attention to this history, particularly her comments mocking people in the trans and nonbinary communities. For Disney, however, the final straw was a series of antisemitic images posted by Carano, followed by an Instagram story claiming that being a modern conservative is akin to being Jewish in Nazi Germany. Carano was dropped from her contract with Lucasfilm later that day (too late, in my opinion; though Disney had apparently given up on her back in November), and the atmosphere on Twitter late into the night was celebratory. The joy of watching accountability in action even helped me power through the next morning’s predictable influx of enraged trolls shedding crocodile tears over the same actress they had branded as an “SJW” before they found out she was a bigot like them.

Carano’s future post-Lucasfilm is unimportant, and honestly we’d be wise to pay her no attention. But here’s the thing – for a long time, Carano was set to lead the Rangers Of The New Republic series heading to Disney+ in the near future, reprising her role as Rebel mercenary Cara Dune from The Mandalorian. But by the time Rangers Of The New Republic was officially unveiled at Disney Investors Day in December, Disney had already basically scrapped that plan in light of the controversy surrounding Carano’s social media presence. This has apparently left Lucasfilm in a predicament, as Rangers Of The New Republic is supposed to be an integral element in a multi-series crossover event planned for the streaming service, and Disney doesn’t want to simply recast the character and move on (and honestly, while some fans would prefer that approach, there’s been such a concerted effort by the right-wing to “claim” Cara Dune that I wouldn’t wish that burden on any incoming actress).

Hera Syndulla
Cara Dune | polygon.com

Enter Hera Syndulla. A new rumor from LRM Online claims that Disney is looking at their back-catalog of Star Wars characters for a potential Cara Dune replacement going forward, and is considering picking Hera, the wise-beyond-her-years Twi’lek pilot and military strategist introduced in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels and briefly glimpsed in the Star Wars: Squadrons video game. One reason for this, LRM Online notes, is time constraints: it’s easier to introduce a character with an established backstory and an existing fanbase than it is to write a wholly original protagonist. Hera Syndulla, who was a major character throughout the series’ four extraordinary seasons, certainly fits the bill in that regard.

But there’s another reason: Rebels‘ creator Dave Filoni is one of the key ingredients in Star Wars‘ string of recent successes on Disney+, and he is set to produce and direct many of their upcoming series’. Filoni has already done an admirable job of bringing several beloved animated characters into live-action, including Bo-Katan Kryze and Ahsoka Tano, and The Mandalorian season two revealed that other Rebels-exclusive characters are on their way to live-action too, such as Admiral Thrawn and – presumably – Ezra Bridger. Hera Syndulla was bound to show up at some point, and I’m honestly surprised this wasn’t considered sooner, given that an Andor series is coming up that will intersect with her time as a Rebel.

Rangers Of The New Republic, however, would deal with events after the original Star Wars trilogy – and by that point in the timeline, we know surprisingly little about Hera Syndulla’s whereabouts. She served in the New Republic as a general and earned her own flagship, hunting down ex-Imperial terrorists all while raising her son Jacen Syndulla on her own (because it’s not Star Wars unless there’s a single parent somewhere: not that I have any complaints about that). That’s pretty much the extent of our knowledge, leaving plenty of gaps for the Rangers Of The New Republic screenwriters to fill in with original content. As long as her character’s quiet nobility and fierce compassion remain intact, I would be hyped for this. Voice actress Vanessa Marshall could easily reprise the role in live-action, being the right age and already bearing some physical similarities to the character (minus the lekku and green skin).

Hera Syndulla
Hera Syndulla | starwars.com

As a big fan of Rebels, there’s nothing about this news that doesn’t excite me – Hera Syndulla is always a win, especially when her inclusion would make Rangers Of The New Republic my most-anticipated Star Wars series at the moment. For comparison, when Carano was supposedly attached to star, this series rested at the very bottom of my tier-ranking, and I was perfectly prepared to leave it there.

But what do you think? Would Hera Syndulla make a perfect protagonist? Is that even a question that needs to be asked? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Shadow And Bone” 1st Trailer Needs More Crows

SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE AHEAD!

I like the Six Of Crows duology more than the original Grisha trilogy. I know, I know, real original, right? But as someone who infinitely prefers reading an action-packed heist adventure with a diverse crew of antiheroes to wading through endless chapters of Alina and Mal bickering over literally everything, I’m going to stick with my boring Grishaverse opinion. And thus, it’s no surprise that the first trailer for Netflix’s adaptation of Shadow And Bone didn’t really pique my interest fully, because…there’s a lot of Alina, and a lot of Mal, and while I believe actors Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux are probably going to put in the work to try and make their characters engaging and relatable…I’m still not convinced that’s possible yet.

Shadow And Bone
Alina And The Darkling | deadline.com

To give credit where credit is due, the Grisha trilogy (the first of multiple series’ by Leigh Bardugo set in the Grishaverse, where magic runs rampant in a gritty late 19th-Century-inspired fantasy world) does incorporate one of my all-time favorite tropes: palace intrigue and political scheming. And the first season of Shadow And Bone, which will adapt the first book in the bestselling trilogy alongside some wholly original stories featuring the Six Of Crows cast, seems to feature just as much palace intrigue as the books – if not more. For those unfamiliar with the premise of the book, Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li in the Netflix adaptation) starts out a humble orphaned mapmaker before discovering her magical ability to conjure sunlight: a gift that comes in handy when your kingdom is split in half by a demon-infested ocean of inky, uncharted darkness, hindering trade and leaving those trapped behind “The Shadow Fold” struggling. Alina gets recruited into the Grisha, a small army of sorcerers who operate at the upper echelons of high society, all while maneuvering political and religious crises, and a love-triangle involving her best friend Mal and her Grisha partner: the infamous Darkling.

The love-triangle is fairly unpopular in the fandom, with both of Alina’s potential love-interests being widely hated-on for various reasons (the Darkling is a backstabbing tyrant, Mal is…Mal), and it doesn’t feature too heavily in the first trailer for Shadow And Bone, which wisely focuses attention on the series’ spectacular CGI budget and action sequences, some of which seem to be infused with a dose of horror. The catalyst for Shadow And Bone‘s events, Alina’s attempted crossing of the Shadow Fold and the reveal of her powers, is getting a perfect page-to-screen adaptation, by the looks of it – the dreadful silence inside the Fold, the rush of wings as volcra demons amass in the darkness, the suspense, and then the reveal of one monster about to bite a man’s head off from behind: good stuff. Don’t be fooled by the books’ YA rating: the Grisha trilogy and particularly the Six Of Crows duology get really dark (and not just because the Darkling can literally conjure up shadows).

Shadow And Bone
Six (well, three) Of Crows | syfy.com

Unfortunately, the trailer just barely squeezes in individual shots of the three main Six Of Crows characters who will be introduced in season one, implying that they and their subplots will not be a primary focus until season two at least. That saddens me greatly, because I already think I’m going to love them: Freddy Carter has won me over with his portrayal of crime lord Kaz Brekker, just from the intensity of his glare and the confidence with which he swings his cane; Kit Young looks radiant and fun as chaotic bisexual sharpshooter Jesper Fahey; and Amita Suman as assassin Inej Ghafa appears to be taking the lethal energy she displayed in her first-look image, and applying it brilliantly to her physical acting. Of the three Crows, she stands out the most – ironically, since her whole storyline revolves around being undetectable. I want her to have epic fight sequences, Netflix! Don’t force me to sit through hours of “Malina” content when I could be watching Inej brutally knife people!

With the series’ in-universe timeline still a confusing mystery and plot details for the Crows’ subplot a secret, I still don’t understand how the two vastly different storylines will intertwine organically – though the showrunners insist there’s a connection. But with the characters of Nina and Mathias still completely absent from the conversation (except for an embarrassingly bad first-look image that conveyed nothing whatsoever of their characters’ rich and unique backstories or personalities), and Wylan Van Eck not appearing in season one, don’t expect any tease of the actual Six Of Crows plot until the season finale, at least.

I feel like Shadow And Bone fans will collectively raise their eyebrows at me if I don’t talk about the Darkling at all, especially given that he’s the series’ main selling-point, but honestly – what is there to say? He’s got fantastic hair, the kind of luscious mane that practically requires a soft breeze to be rippling through it at all times. But Ben Barnes, despite looking and sounding the part, isn’t really radiating the kind of palpable seductive charisma I had anticipated from arguably the only truly iconic character in the Grisha trilogy. I’m willing to believe this is the fault of Netflix’s marketing, though, as it seems reluctant to reveal the Darkling as the series’ main villain.

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling And Alina | tvinsider.com

So while the rest of you are busy digging your trenches in the endless Darklina vs Malina shipping war, I’ll be over here minding my own business (I always preferred Alina’s dynamic with Nikolai anyway, and he won’t be in season one), and happily stanning my Six (well, three, for right now) of Crows.

Trailer Rating: 6.5/10

“WandaVision” Episode 8 Reveals Wanda’s True Identity

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

Trying to devise ways for characters to spew exposition and backstory organically is always a stumbling block for writers (I speak from personal experience), particularly when that exposition has to introduce complicated concepts like Chaos Magic and “probability hexes”. Which is why it’s so awesome that WandaVision sidesteps this issue by simply devoting all but a few minutes of episode eight (the series’ penultimate installment) to a series of exceptionally well-written and well-acted flashback sequences that allow us to see everything in real-time without being wordy or dull. What commentary there is, is dry, witty, and delivered with characteristic dark humor by onlooker Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), who describes it as looking “at some real reruns”, an ingenious way of tying everything back to the sitcoms that started it all (quite literally, as we soon find out).

WandaVision
The Scarlet Witch | denofgeek.com

Even before those real reruns get started, though, we’re treated to some more flashbacks of Agatha’s own tragic past. Last week’s “Agatha All Along” musical recap sequence was the campy cultural reset we all needed, and even though episode eight doesn’t provide us with any more tunes to get us through the weekend, we have instead been blessed with Kathryn Hahn hamming it up for an over-the-top ridiculous Salem Witch Trial flashback that reveals how Westview’s resident sorceress (well, one of many) got her start, by stealing forbidden knowledge of dark magic from her coven – and then transforming them into withered corpses, including her own mother (whose pendant she now wears as a creepy reminder). I don’t mind me some Agatha wearing colonial attire – the energy of that outfit is not heterosexual, that’s all I have to say – but I do find it interesting that WandaVision is radically altering the witch’s backstory to remove Mephisto from the equation. Suddenly I have to wonder: will the devilish Hell Lord even appear, or did Marvel play us?

There are still possible nods to Satan early on in the episode, and Agatha’s rabbit in particular is beginning to look suspicious, but for the most part the focus is on dark magic, and its many varieties. The MCU has notoriously been reluctant to ever admit that magic is actually magic: from trying to claim that gods are actually technologically-advanced aliens in Thor, to never calling Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) by her comics alias Scarlet Witch (we’ll get to that), the franchise has historically been more comfortable in the realm of quantum physics and nonsensical science lingo that might as well be magic, rather than the real deal. But that changed today, with Agatha giving Wanda – and WandaVision audiences – a schooling on the subjects of magic, mind control, transmutation, chanting mysteriously in Latin, and opening portals through space and time (yes, I know the latter is something Marvel heroes do on the regular: but rarely does the process require a single hair extracted from the unwilling victim).

Agatha’s basement, filled with macabre trinkets and guarded from Wanda by seals of protection on the walls, is only the threshold of a harrowing spirit journey for Wanda, who is about as clueless to the inner workings of magic as we are, and for Agatha, who’s intent on discovering how the young sorceress accumulated so much power. All along, that’s seemingly been Agatha’s goal: not to summon Mephisto up from hell, or resurrect the dead, but to learn the secret behind Westview’s spontaneous creation, something she had no part in…and honestly, same. Isn’t that what we’ve all been trying to figure out for the past few weeks? Okay, okay, so the vast majority of us probably didn’t steal people from the Multiverse to act as spies in Westview, but the point still stands: Agatha is just a misunderstood Marvel fan-theorist whose been driven to the brink of insanity by WandaVision‘s twists and turns.

But with Wanda unable to give Agatha the information she craves, the cunning sorceress decides to do some digging into Wanda’s past to get to the root of it all – that feeling of emptiness that Wanda claimed was the only thing she could remember about the beginning of her time in Westview. Together, the delightfully dynamic duo set off through one portal after another, reliving Wanda’s trauma in real-time as Agatha inches closer to an answer. They start in Sokovia, when Wanda and her twin-brother Pietro are still children, learning English with the help of classic American sitcoms like I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and Wanda’s personal favorite, The Dick Van Dyke Show. Perhaps even more so than the sitcom-inspired WandaVision episodes, this brief yet touching scene beautifully captures the magic of being immersed in old sitcoms – and subtly explains why Wanda in particular finds them so enchanting: they’re low-stakes. Every ridiculous predicament, every fantastical shenanigan, every little problem gets sorted out in under thirty minutes with no lasting consequences.

But this is Wanda we’re talking about, so she never gets to enjoy such mundane mischief. Moments later, the screen goes black as an explosion rocks the Maximoff family household, killing Wanda’s parents and stranding the twins under a bed while a Stark Industries missile sits a few feet away, beeping ominously, and Dick Van Dyke keeps playing in the background (somehow the TV survived). We learn that it was Wanda who kept the second bomb from exploding, using a probability hex to protect her and her brother for two days. Agatha’s suspicions piqued, they quickly move on to HYDRA’s laboratory in Sokovia. The trailers had previously revealed a snippet of this sequence, which sees Wanda being goaded by HYDRA doctors to touch the Mind Stone: but the resulting collision of powers is a spectacular lightshow, amidst which Wanda glimpses a stunning premonition (the most breathtaking visual in the episode) of herself in silhouette rising from the Mind Stone’s shards, wearing her half-moon tiara and a version of her comics costume, all accompanied by her soaring instrumental theme.

The HYDRA doctors are baffled by Wanda’s strength, but Agatha comments that the Stone only amplified her existing powers. And while that might seem to point towards a mutant origin reveal…that’s not where this is going. The next flashback doesn’t expose anything huge, and Agatha seems disappointed in it, but it’s a brilliant showcase of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s talents, as the couple share a tender emotional moment in Avengers Compound soon after Wanda’s arrival in the States, and illuminates the thematic heart of the series – the intersection between inconsolable grief and unquenchable love. You get an Emmy, and you get an Emmy, and you get an Emmy too, Kathryn Hahn.

WandaVision
Vision | cinemablend.com

Finally, we get to witness events from just a few weeks prior to WandaVision‘s start, and an unedited account of Wanda’s arrival at S.W.O.R.D. headquarters looking for the Vision’s body. Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg) framed Wanda’s actions there as those of a delusional and dangerous woman overcome by grief – but like any misogynist trying to portray a powerful woman as a villain, he left out vital context where it benefitted him: like the bit where Wanda actually just wanted Vision’s body to get a proper burial; or the bit where Hayward invited her in and showed her that S.W.O.R.D. had secretly been operating on the android for years, before trying to emotionally manipulate her into violently seizing the body; or, most damningly, the bit where she considered doing just that and then decided against it, exposing Hayward as a liar. I had always wondered how, even with all the magic available to her, Wanda would have lugged Vision’s splintered corpse hundreds of miles from S.W.O.R.D. HQ to New Jersey…but she never did. She got back in her car (Wanda owning a car is somehow weirder to me than her dragging body parts across America), and drove off to Westview alone save for a single piece of paper: a blueprint for a house that she and Vision had planned to build there together, where they could settle down, start a family, and grow old. I didn’t know WandaVision could retroactively make me hate Thanos even more, but I’ve never been so eager to rewatch Endgame just to enjoy the look of horror on his face as he got snapped out of existence.

If you’ve been following along with my reviews, you know I’ve been dubious that Wanda created The Hex. Well, I was completely wrong. Not only did she create it, but we get to witness the moment her reality-altering powers finally exploded outwards over Westview, redesigning the rundown hamlet into a quaint fantasy world, as grief and pain brought her to her knees. No Satanic influences, no Nightmarish manipulation; but one woman standing in the eye of the hurricane, ripped apart from the inside by a love so powerful it could change the very fabric of the universe.

When Darcy wondered aloud why Vision (Paul Bettany) can’t leave The Hex, I thought it was because his body was dead in the real world – but I was operating under the assumption that there was only one Vision, that Wanda really had stolen and reanimated his body. She never did. She made her own, from memory, using her own power to give him life. Which is…still not great from a moral standpoint, but certainly a step up from having kids with a mutilated corpse.

Speaking of kids, Wanda remembers hers are in grave danger as Agatha finally lets her go, and the two confront each other on the soundstage for WandaVision episode one (like, they’re actually on the literal set – and the camera turns to pick out Agatha in the empty auditorium, mockingly clapping in an echo of the live studio audience applause heard in the pilot). Agatha has what she needs: she vanishes, and suddenly Wanda hears her children screaming for help. She breaks another fourth wall and runs from the stage, from Agatha’s basement, out into Westview.

And Agatha is levitating there, Cher-style hair blowing dramatically in the breeze, gripping Billy and Tommy Maximoff by two leashes of purple energy. It’s a bizarre visual, but it’s hard to focus or care (sorry, kids) as Agatha begins talking, and delivers the episode’s big zinger:

“You’re supposed to be a myth. A being capable of spontaneous creation…this whole little life you’ve made, this is Chaos Magic, Wanda. And that makes you the Scarlet Witch.”

It’s a crowd-pleaser moment, for sure: we’ve waited years to hear the Scarlet Witch title used of Wanda in the MCU, and Marvel’s aversion to the supernatural delayed it far longer than necessary. But from Agatha’s words, it seems like the Scarlet Witch is much more than a nickname – it’s an identity, and the implication is that other Scarlet Witches have existed in the past, similarly gifted with the power to wield Chaos Magic (the most powerful magic in Marvel Comics, capable of rewriting reality and destroying the universe). Is she some kind of goddess? A force of nature? A metaphysical construct? My best guess is that WandaVision is adapting the concept of Nexus Beings, living creatures whose mere presence balances the universe – much like the Infinity Stones. These beings, deified archetypes with immense power, have no alternate versions anywhere in the Multiverse: and what do you know, Wanda is one in the comics.

WandaVision
White Vision | cinemablend.com

The mid-credits stinger revisits Tyler Hayward, whose planning his attack on Westview and has brought in new equipment to help – or rather, old repurposed equipment. Before the reveal happened, I knew it had to be Vision (as in, the real one that Wanda didn’t steal). But I didn’t expect the White Vision to finally make his MCU debut like this. A hollow emotionless vessel outfitted for war, the existence of the White Vision actually gives me hope that Vision (as in, the fake one that Wanda created) will be able to inhabit this new character’s alabaster body after his old one disintegrates, as it inevitably will when The Hex comes crashing down next week.

Episode Rating: 8/10

“WandaVision” Episode 7 Debuts The Big Bad (Or So We Think)

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

Yes, I know I’m late. The Marvel fandom has had their fun with WandaVision‘s seventh episode already, bopped to dozens of “Agatha All Along” remixes over the weekend, speculated endlessly about the Nexus and the Multiverse and the hexagons, and yet here I am, rushing out this review on the eve of a new episode…and you know what, I don’t care. I’ve been out of action for the past few weeks following an emergency appendectomy, I’ve missed my window to properly review two episodes of WandaVision, and I’m not letting this last opportunity to review episode seven slip away!

WandaVision
Agatha Harkness | filmschoolrejects.com

Now it’s your turn to say “I don’t care”.

The fourth wall isn’t the only thing that gets shattered into a million pieces in WandaVision episode seven, a brisk and tightly-edited installment that sees Wanda’s cozy suburban utopia begin its inevitable descent into surrealist calamity. As the dark forces swirling around Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) close in on her, her control over the volatile situation – which once seemed almost absolute – is ebbing away…because, surprise, she was never really in control at all. But it takes a whole musical montage to finally wake Wanda up to this realization, after spending decades (well, days, actually, but whatever; time moves differently in “The Hex”) under the impression that all of Westview’s brainwashed citizens answered solely to her.

Of course, it seemed far too easy for Wanda to have complete creative control over The Hex, a world that seemed so tailor-made to her specific needs and wants that it almost had to be the product of some nefarious scheme. That being said, it’s still slightly too early to say for certain if my assumption was correct all along, that The Hex was built by someone else to trap Wanda within, and that she was given a false sense of power to lull her into complacency. That’s one working theory, as Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) would say: the other, which I still don’t entirely buy, is that Wanda did create The Hex, but her control over it has slowly been leeched into the hands of another entity over the course of the series. There’s evidence for both theories, but either way, we now know the identity of WandaVision‘s antagonist (or, well, one antagonist: there’s a slew of other baddies who could still show up, including but not limited to Mephisto, Ultron, Nightmare, the Grim Reaper, and HYDRA).

But I’m jumping ahead. The episode picks up the morning after the previous week’s events, both in the real world – where the scattered remnants of S.W.O.R.D., headed by Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg), have regrouped eight miles outside of Westview’s glowing boundaries and are prepping another assault: the lack of brain-cells is truly staggering – and in Westview, where Wanda wakes up with a magical hangover, still wearing her Halloween costume from the night before (sans half-moon tiara, the only element of that costume I genuinely wish she’d keep), and reeling from the mental and physical strain of having to expand the boundaries of The Hex to absorb S.W.O.R.D.’s initial base camp. Luckily, an invisible film crew has taken up residence in the Vision residence, allowing Wanda a safe outlet to express her grief, disillusionment, and burgeoning sense of self-awareness, all while breaking down the fourth wall in a spoof of 2000’s sitcoms like Modern Family and The Office, which employed the “mockumentary” format.

The hustle and bustle of a chaotic morning routine provides the perfect backdrop to Wanda’s entire world coming untethered from space and time. Vision (Paul Bettany) still hasn’t returned from his late-night escape attempt; the con-artist-formerly-known-as-Pietro Maximoff (Evan Peters) is missing; and all of Wanda’s furniture and household appliances are erratically changing shape. Just as the stress of trying to parent twin boys in the midst of all this chaos becomes too much for Wanda, overly-friendly neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) arrives to escort the kids back to her own house, leaving mom to a self-inflicted quarantine-style staycation…as “punishment” for her reckless behavior. As always, Olsen’s brilliant performance keeps Wanda firmly relatable and sympathetic even as everything else is beginning to spiral down the drain.

Several miles away, Vision wakes up in a field full of clowns – alive and fully-functioning again, but deeply confused about life, the universe, and everything. Thankfully for his sanity, it takes him no time at all to reconnect with Darcy Lewis, who was last seen being unwillingly absorbed into The Hex alongside him, and who has now been recontextualized into a carnival escape-artist. Vision has questions, Darcy has answers, and the duo escape in a funnel-cake truck (did you notice the potential Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. callback in the set dressing?) to get back to Wanda, while Darcy gives Vision a rundown on his MCU backstory: including a partial account of his multiple deaths, two of which Wanda was unlucky enough to witness first-hand, and one of which she caused. Darcy’s poor storytelling and tendency to leave out vital context doesn’t seem to help the paranoid android process his own confused emotions (yes, I squeezed two Douglas Adams references into this paragraph: I don’t know what that’s about, either).

WandaVision
Monica Rambeau | menshealth.com

Back in the real world, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) head to the boundaries of The Hex to meet Monica’s aerospace-engineer friend, who…doesn’t actually show up, leaving us with more unanswered questions about their identity. But whoever they are, they dropped off a nifty little armored vehicle that Monica hopes will be able to break through Wanda’s magical TV-static barrier. It doesn’t, making that entire subplot slightly pointless (at least until the engineer shows up in-person and turns out to be massively important), but it allows for an ultimately more epic sequence in which Monica, rather than admitting defeat, chooses to run headfirst into the barrier in a desperate attempt at re-entry. Despite her apparent beef with Carol Danvers, she’s certainly inherited a lot of the captain’s recklessness.

Monica’s body begins disassembling in psychedelic slow-motion, while voices from her past rush through her head – but she pushes forward, mustering the strength to literally pull herself back together and step through the barrier, as her eyes glow electric-blue. Although WandaVision audiences have now heard plenty of references to how Monica’s frequent passages through The Hex have rewritten her DNA on a molecular level, this would seem to mark the precise moment at which Monica officially becomes a superhuman: fulfilling her destiny from Marvel Comics, where she goes by the name Spectrum. As in the comics, her powers appear to be light-based, and include the ability to see Westview as it really is: an abstract alien landscape with vivid purple skies stained by lazy splashes of neon light and humming with extradimensional energy. Donning a version of her comics-accurate black-and-white costume, Monica sprints off into Westview, unfazed by her superpower epiphany.

The episode deftly balances all these converging plotlines, bouncing back and forth from Vision (who abandons Darcy and takes to the skies after a series of contrived obstacles initially keep the duo stuck on the outskirts of Westview: obstacles that Vision mistakenly believes were put in place by Wanda to keep him away) to Monica, who breaks Wanda’s quarantine, barging through the front door with an offer of help – which Wanda rejects out-of-hand, telekinetically dragging Monica onto the front lawn and levitating her there for the whole neighborhood to see. Monica uses her own powers to avoid being crushed on the sidewalk, leading to a tense confrontation as Wanda’s forced to back up and listen to what she has to say. Monica is empathetic; she warns Wanda to not let her grief overcome her, and not to let Tyler Hayward make her the villain of the story. And despite Wanda’s eagerness to claim villain status, Monica does seem to be getting through to her.

Which is why Agnes shows up a split second later to extricate Wanda from this potentially paradigm-altering experience and lead her back to her own house (which cleverly borrows its façade from the actual Bewitched house). There, it seems no amount of magic or sitcom silliness can hide the truth about Agnes’ evil intentions: the house is dark, eerily quiet, and inhabited by cicadas – but there’s no sign of Agnes’ husband, Ralph…or Wanda’s twins, whose half-eaten sandwiches are still sitting on the coffee table while Yo Gabba Gabba! plays threateningly on the TV. Wanda’s search for her kids leads her to the basement, which extends far below the house and connects to a network of overgrown tunnels and a temple complex decorated with hexagonal emblems, ram skulls, Satanic artwork…and a small black book spewing fiery energy, which could be the Darkhold of Marvel lore. No stranger to live-action adaptations, the Darkhold was used in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to help design an alternate reality in which HYDRA conquered the world, and could serve a similar purpose in WandaVision.

But before Wanda gets a chance to do any sleuthing, Agnes joins her in the basement, wearing a quirky grin and her familiar pendant. “You didn’t think you were the only magical girl in town, did you?,” she taunts Wanda, while showing off her own supernatural powers. Whether she’s been orchestrating Wanda’s movements and actions pre-Westview or first had to infiltrate The Hex to do so, Agnes is the series’ antagonist heading into the penultimate episode (which means she’s at risk of dying, and that….terrifies me). And, to nobody’s surprise, “Agnes” was only ever an alias in the same vein as every other Westview resident’s adopted identity: a clever one, to be sure, but not too clever to outwit Marvel fans, who long ago guessed that Agnes would turn out to be Agatha Harkness, a sorceress from the comics whose relationship with Wanda involves mentoring her in the art of chaos magic, babysitting and occasionally kidnapping her children, and walking a fine line between protecting her and manipulating her trust. And sure enough, last week’s episode confirms what we all suspected, with the help of a musical montage that deserves to be ranked alongside the best Disney Villain songs.

Inspired by The Munsters‘ intro, “Agatha All Along” elevates the villain reveal from boringly predictable to delightfully campy. Through Wanda’s eyes, we watch past events with a new twist – Agatha gliding into Westview in a quickly-glimpsed witchy costume (before turning to the camera with a gasp of faux-astonishment), gleefully messing with the talent show in episode two, manipulating Herb’s mind in episode three, and puppeteering Pietro’s unexpected arrival. Her encounter with Vision on Halloween? That was all an act. Even the cameraman interviewing Wanda this very episode was Agatha in disguise. But you don’t need me to tell you that: just listen to the song, and/or its multitude of remixes and covers.

WandaVision
WandaVision | insider.com

The episode features WandaVision‘s first mid-credits scene, a quick stinger showing Monica breaking into Agnes’ basement only to get caught by Pietro – whose line, “Snoopers gonna snoop”, is delivered totally deadpan. Agatha having summoned Pietro to Westview and controlled his every movement, it would make sense that he’s still obeying her – but lift the spell, and he’s probably not a bad guy. He’s also definitely not Pietro, but he probably is Peter Maximoff from the X-Men cinematic universe, because there’s literally no other reason why this version of the character would be here. Further proof of that lies in the episode’s commercial, which (a) hilariously parodies overly-optimistic real-life drug commercials, and (b) directly references the Nexus of All Realities: the crossroads at the heart of the Multiverse, where universes collide. With the “real” version of Pietro dead in the MCU’s main timeline, Agatha would have reached into the Multiverse to find another – and ripped Peter Maximoff out of his timeline, given him Pietro’s memories, and installed him in Westview to play along with her game.

So was it really Agatha all along? Or is she too a minion? We still don’t know, but what I do know is I’ve been watching WandaVision for the past week (the fact that that’s a direct quote from the show speaks to how meta things are getting), and I’m certain that killing off Agatha in the series finale would be a waste of Kathryn Hahn (not to mention Agatha’s clear talent for producing quality music). So Marvel, please, pay attention to what the fandom is telling you and stop killing your villains before you’ve had a chance to use them properly: I don’t want to have to revisit this subject in two weeks time.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10

Middle-earth Explained: Eregion And The Rings Of Power

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Eregion
Eregion in ruins | aminoapps.com

Eregion, however, has a rare distinction in that, although it’s glimpsed in both the books (the Fellowship of the Ring passes through its ruins on their journey south from Rivendell), and the movies (in fact, it’s the very first location you see in Jackson’s trilogy, while Cate Blanchett is narrating the history of the One Ring), its most prominent exposure to date is in the deeply flawed Middle-earth video games, Shadow Of Mordor and Shadow Of War. These games break Tolkien lore in ways that are frankly appalling (Shelob is a shape-shifting sorceress, Isildur is a Nazgûl, and Celebrimbor’s ghost becomes one half of Sauron’s fiery eye). But they did at least give players a basic rundown of the history of Celebrimbor, Eregion, and the forging of the Rings of Power in the Second Age – events that will be pivotal to Amazon’s series, set in the same time-frame. That being said, the non-canonical and hyperbolic nature of the games makes them a faulty source for accurate information…which is my long-winded way of saying “trust me instead”.

I recounted some of the ancient history of the Elves in Middle-earth while discussing Lindon and the Grey Havens, so what immediately follows may be familiar to some of my readers. But while the paths of Lindon and Eregion diverged early in the Second Age, they have a common root in the First Age, during a mythical, peaceful era before the creation of the sun and moon and thus beyond the margins of recorded history. During this time-before-time, Middle-earth was only one half of a flat, disc-shaped world – its other half being the paradisiacal continent known as Valinor, where a pantheon of benevolent gods named Valar presided over a flourishing community of Elves well-versed in all the arts and sciences available to them: and even some beyond our modern capabilities. In the absence of a sun, Valinor’s primary light source was a duo of glowing trees, which is a random important detail.

The most creative-minded Elves in Valinor were the Noldor Elves, and the greatest among them was Fëanor, an inventor who had foresight as well as unparalleled skill and an indomitable ego. He’s a bit of a divisive figure in-universe: everyone had mad respect for his accomplishments, and he did create a trinity of magical gems called Silmarils to house the light of the Two Trees of Valinor, because he accurately predicted that the evil Morgoth would kill the Trees and plunge Valinor into darkness…he just didn’t foresee the bit where Morgoth also stole the Silmarils. Fëanor’s backup plan for his backup plan involved leading most of the Noldor on a wild-goose chase to Middle-earth to try and find Morgoth, killing any Elves who stood in their way: all of this, mind you, against the orders of the Valar, who forbade any of them to return to Valinor after what they had done. And then Fëanor got himself killed roughly ten minutes into the expedition (yes, minutes: while the Noldor were freaking out, the Valar had gone and fixed the whole light-source problem by creating the sun, adding insult to injury), leaving his followers leaderless and stranded in Middle-earth with Morgoth, and saddling his descendants with an unbreakable oath to recover the Silmarils or die trying.

Only Tolkien could take this comedic gold and write it as an epic tragedy.

Eregion
Celebrimbor | aminoapps.com

Needless to say, the Noldor were really angry and really confused about their life-choices by the time the First Age ended and the Valar finally arrived to set things straight, casting Morgoth into the void. The Valar offered them all a choice to return to Valinor and repent for their crimes, but most of the Noldor refused out of pride, bitterness, or a desire to prove they could be self-sufficient. For some, it was all three – plus an almost subliminal urge to build Middle-earth into a mirror image of Valinor and rival the glory of the gods. Never a good idea, especially when the gods are real and prone to violence. But the main proponent of this philosophy was Fëanor’s grandson, Celebrimbor, so…yeah, not surprising at all.

Celebrimbor lived in Lindon under King Gil-galad during the early years of the Second Age, but eventually grew bored and struck off on his own. Charismatic like his grandfather, he attracted a large following – and was soon able to build his own kingdom in the foothills of the Misty Mountains, which he called Eregion. Celebrimbor was actually a decent leader. He was on good terms with the neighboring Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, with whom he traded knowledge and precious mithril steel (also, him and Narvi the Dwarf were totally doing the whole “forbidden love” thing centuries before Tauriel and Kili, or Legolas and Gimli). He promoted the arts, set up a guild of crafts-people, and began work on his agenda to make heaven a place on Middle-earth. Eregion even attracted guests like Galadriel and Celeborn, who lived there for a time.

But Celebrimbor’s frantic urge to outdo the Valar made him the perfect target for Sauron, a fallen angel who had served Morgoth, and who now rose to fill the power-vacuum left in his wake. A tyrannical perfectionist, Sauron’s ultimate goal was similar to Celebrimbor’s – he too wanted to elevate Middle-earth above and beyond its mortal limitations, but he was uniquely hindered by his inability to create real beauty. Nonetheless, wearing the beautiful disguise of an Elven emissary from Valinor named Annatar, he was able to infiltrate Eregion and seduce the Noldor with his repeated assurances that the Valar wished for them to redesign Middle-earth in the image of paradise. Thus, Sauron was able to harness the skill of the Elves for his own purposes.

Together, each learning from the other, Celebrimbor and Annatar forged sixteen Rings of Power. These were not distributed immediately to Men and Dwarves, as the movies indicate (Tolkien toyed with the notion that Celebrimbor only gave away one in his lifetime: to Durin III, King of Khazad-dûm, as a token of friendship). Celebrimbor had designed these Rings to be worn by Elves, to help and heal Middle-earth; and it was Sauron’s secret hope that he could control the Elves through their Rings, into which he had poured dark magic of his own. In Second Age 1600, having sufficiently mastered the art of Ring-making and confident that the Noldor would wear the Rings he had helped make for them, Sauron left Eregion and returned to his own land, in foul Mordor. But he underestimated the perfectionism he had instilled in his followers: the Noldor he had left behind continued work on three more Rings of their own, far greater than the sixteen.

In Mordor, Sauron secretly forged One Ring – a Master Ring with the power to ensnare all others and their wearers. But as soon as he put it on, Celebrimbor became aware of his treachery, and demanded that the newly-finished Three Rings be distributed swiftly to the greatest leaders of the Elven people, Gil-galad, Galadriel, and Círdan, and hidden from Sauron forever. They were not made by Sauron, so he could not control them from afar, but they were made with knowledge learned from him; and were thus tied to his fate, and that of the One Ring.

Eregion
Sauron Forges The One Ring | rainbowdark.com

Sauron nonetheless perceived that Eregion was his greatest threat, and threw all his force against the Elven kingdom. With the help of orc-armies, he ransacked and destroyed the forges of the Noldor, and captured Celebrimbor. The king was ruthlessly tortured until he revealed the locations of the sixteen Rings (or fifteen, assuming Durin III already had one), which Sauron quickly recovered. But he would say nothing of the Three Rings, and Sauron eventually had him killed, thus ending the line of Fëanor. His brutally-mangled body was hung on a pole and used by Sauron’s armies as a banner in their war against the Elves.

With Eregion destroyed, no new Rings would ever be forged, nor would Celebrimbor’s purpose for them be achieved. Middle-earth sank further into darkness and despair as Sauron begrudgingly distributed his stolen Rings among Dwarves and Men, since his plan to control the Elves had backfired. Men were easily corruptible, but the Dwarves proved resistant, and their rings became the foundations of great treasure-hoards under the earth. The Three Rings were not used during the Second Age.

The survivors from Eregion dispersed across Middle-earth, mainly to Lindon and the refuge of Rivendell, but many became disheartened, sailing back to the Undying Lands in Valinor. By the end of the Third Age, Eregion was a tumbled heap of ruins, and even the stones on which its foundations had been built had long since forgotten the Elves, their Rings of Power, and all their dreams of paradise. Now that’s tragic.

“WandaVision” Episode 4 Snaps Us Back To Reality

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

It seems we’re not the only ones who can’t get enough of WandaVision, and the opportunities it gives us to come up with theories, endlessly debate possible clues, and have fun in the vast sandbox that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coming off a shockingly strong third episode, WandaVision now turns its focus to events happening in the “real” MCU, outside the magical force-field encircling or entrapping Wanda’s suburban utopia of Westview…and allowing us to witness everything from new perspectives, putting many of the series’ most bizarre moments into context.

WandaVision
WandaVision | digitalspy.com

But the absurdity of the show hasn’t decreased a bit: how could it, with the reveal that WandaVision‘s sitcom adventures are indeed being broadcast onto every vintage TV within a 5-mile radius of Westview, giving familiar MCU heroes a chance to develop their own theories about what’s going on? It’s getting pretty meta around here, so let’s dive right in.

The fourth episode is roughly split down the middle by a small time jump, with the first ten minutes or so following S.W.O.R.D. Agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and the remaining twenty minutes mostly focusing on astrophysicist Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings): both are returning characters from other MCU properties who, for a variety of reasons, have gotten entangled in a bizarre missing persons case in rural New Jersey…or rather, a missing town case. These two characters form the crux of the episode, and their brilliant performances make this interruption from the regular program both worthwhile and entertaining, but neither are able to fully overcome an infuriating time constraint that forces them to jump from one plot-point to the next like pinballs.

Monica’s part of the episode starts off extremely strong, as she’s in the process of being spontaneously resurrected from scraps of floating dust and ash – in what Spider-Man: Far From Home humorously referred to as “the Blip”, the moment when the half of Earth’s population that had been snapped out of existence by Thanos was suddenly brought back to life in Avengers: Endgame. Far From Home used the concept as an excuse for light comedy, but WandaVision‘s darker tone allows the series freedom to explore the event’s catastrophic aftermath: in Monica’s case, a hospital suddenly overcrowded by hundreds of patients being resurrected in their beds or in hallways, causing a panicked stampede. But for Monica, who has no recollection of being snapped and no idea what’s going on, there’s a more pressing issue before her: the death of her mother, Maria Rambeau, who was being treated for cancer five years before when Monica snapped while waiting beside her hospital bed for her to wake up after surgery.

The reveal that Maria and her daughter never got to say goodbye is heart-wrenching, particularly because we in the audience knew how much Maria loved Monica just from her one appearance in Captain Marvel. I know I shouldn’t have to write a eulogy for a fictional character, but Maria Rambeau was instantly charismatic, vivacious, energetic, and a daring yet coolheaded adventurer. WandaVision reveals that she was also one of the founding members of S.W.O.R.D., and helped set up guidelines in case the vanished, including her own daughter, ever returned one day. I know that Maria’s death is probably real and irreversible…but oh, I want to believe that she faked her own death and is up in space on Nick Fury’s secret space-station, working on some top-secret mission. I theorized a while ago that Maria and Monica would be a mother/daughter S.W.O.R.D. Agent duo, and I was right, but not in the way I’d imagined. I’m disappointed that such a potentially dynamic relationship was pushed offscreen, and deeply sad that one of the MCU’s few Black heroines has already died so tragically.

WandaVision
Monica Rambeau and Jimmy Woo | syfy.com

Monica, who works at S.W.O.R.D. helping to observe and respond to threats posed by “sentient weapons” (and cautions her boss that S.W.O.R.D. shouldn’t be designing sentient weapons themselves, possible foreshadowing some future conflict), returns to work after the Blip only to find herself “grounded”, i.e. restricted to terrestrial missions. This at least confirms that S.W.O.R.D. has an interstellar presence, something we all questioned when the organization’s new acronym was revealed. It’s all part of Maria’s plan to stabilize agents left traumatized by the Snap and the Blip, but Monica is understandably upset until she becomes invested in her new assignment: helping the FBI track down an entire town in New Jersey, that’s disappeared behind a glowing force-field, leaving those outside the bubble with no recollection of the town, or its citizens. A bit like Beauty & The Beast – which also involves a powerful sorceress turning a group of innocent people into warped versions of themselves.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to spend much time with Teyonah Parris’ Monica before she vanishes into the force-field too, leaving the only witness, FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), horrified and in urgent need of backup. Maybe without that thirty-five minute mark looming on the horizon, we would have had more time to see Monica’s life beyond her work. A single scene of her visiting Maria’s grave could have gone a long way, as trope-y as it sounds.

The episode’s second half picks up twenty-four hours later, as an armored truckload of scientific professionals are escorted into the S.W.O.R.D./FBI camp outside Westview – one of those professionals being Darcy, whom we haven’t seen since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, back when she was still an intern to Jane Foster (who I guess is too busy being Thor to answer S.W.O.R.D.’s calls right now?). She hasn’t changed a bit: her unshakable sense of humor injects the perfect amount of levity into the intense atmosphere. And it takes her no time at all to discover that, for whatever reason, Westview is broadcasting episodes of WandaVision onto vintage TV sets: revealing to S.W.O.R.D. that superheroine Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is behind the recent disappearances.

I have to admit, I do love indulging in the nifty meta humor of watching S.W.O.R.D. Agents pick apart every detail in the WandaVision broadcasts, only to now do the same to the S.W.O.R.D. Agents myself. Marvel is lovingly teasing us keen-eyed fans, taking it right up to the brink of parody with visuals like Jimmy Woo’s giant whiteboard of theories (he seems perplexed by the hexagon imagery prevalent in Westview: it’s clearly because the number 6 is associated with the devil, a.k.a. Mephisto!). Darcy and Jimmy even get too invested in the series, sharing snacks while waiting for Wanda to have her twins. They’re like highly-trained fandom theorists, but we in the real world have an advantage over them: because WandaVision‘s broadcasts to the MCU choppily edit out all the scenes in which Wanda loses control over her reality – something that confuses S.W.O.R.D. nearly as much as it does me.

Dinner with the Harts, Dottie’s exploding lemonade glass, the beekeeper…all of it’s been cut by some supernatural network censor. S.W.O.R.D.’s attempts to break through to Wanda with drones, radio transmissions, and human agents, all end in failure as anything that goes into Westview becomes distorted by Wanda’s reality-bending magic. Unfortunately for S.W.O.R.D., that means they miss the best part of episode three, when Wanda turns on Monica and throws her out of Westview: they only experience the aftermath, as Monica comes flying out of the sky and crashes into the S.W.O.R.D. camp.

Thankfully, we the audience are treated to a flashback to that same encounter, but from Monica’s POV. Last week’s episode ended before we could see how things went down, but now we get to witness the violent power of Wanda’s hex-magic as she propels Monica through the side of her house and across town, hurriedly repairing the wall just moments before Vision (Paul Bettany) enters. As Wanda and Monica face off, the aspect ratio shifts as well as the style of Elizabeth Olsen’s acting (and nary a laugh-track to be heard), indicating that Wanda isn’t confused or conflicted about what’s going on: her fantasy has been disturbed by Monica’s presence, and to protect it she momentarily has to break the fantasy façade she’s built to deal with the intruder. This is followed by a freaky jump-scare moment from Wanda’s POV as she turns to greet Vision – and briefly sees him as a gray, corpse-like figure with blank eyes and a hole gouged out of his forehead. Her reality is splitting open, despite her claims that she has everything under control.

WandaVision
Dead Vision | comicbook.com

The strong implication of this week’s episode is that everything in Westview is entirely Wanda’s doing. Wanda says so herself, and Monica’s first words after her crash-landing are “It’s Wanda…it’s all Wanda”. But I’m not buying it, and I’m not willing to accept S.W.O.R.D.’s findings as fact when they’re not even working with the same information we have. As I’ve said before, I think Wanda has some control over Westview, but I believe that’s a small concession on the part of whatever greater power actually designed this pocket dimension for her to inhabit, and is now using it to ensnare her children.

At least this episode will encourage us all to step up our theorizing game if we’re to beat S.W.O.R.D. to the answers. Time will tell if it was wise to introduce the MCU’s next great wave of space-based heroes as essentially a group of over-eager Wanda stans investigating Lizzie’s every move, but hey, it gives us a weirdly fun challenge to look forward to as viewers, so…I’m not complaining.

Episode Rating: 7.9/10

“Shadow And Bone” 1st Look Images Highlight Fan-Favorites

The crown jewel in Netflix’s treasure-chest of fantasy properties is undeniably The Witcher. Even in its temporary absence, they’ve filled the fantasy void with…well, news of other Witcher spinoffs, for the most part. But as much as we all love the grimdark franchise and want to keep tossing our coins to Geralt of Rivia, let’s be real for a moment: Shadow And Bone is right there. Just a few months out from release, and Netflix has barely even begun marketing the upcoming fantasy series based on Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling novels and starring Ben Barnes. An aesthetically-pleasing but light-on-substance teaser trailer debuted in December, and accumulated over a million views on YouTube: proving there’s an audience for this series. So where’s the promo, Netflix?

Shadow And Bone
Jesper Fahey, Inej Ghafa, and Kaz Brekker | sea.ign.com

On its way, I guess. Today’s drop of first-look images (shared exclusively with Entertainment Weekly) and character posters (which I won’t talk about as much in this post, because although they feature better costumes overall than the images, they don’t shed much light about plot details) certainly gives the impression that Netflix is going to bless us with a real trailer in the coming days or weeks, and not wait until a month before the series premiere to start their marketing campaign, as has been customary for them with their more niche originals. Shadow And Bone has the potential to appeal to many demographics, including fantasy fans still waiting for all those Witcher spinoffs and prequels to materialize, and I’m glad the streaming service recognizes that.

The big question about the series – which the new images and accompanying interview with EW do not adequately answer, in my opinion – is how much of a balancing act it will be, as Netflix tries to intertwine two of Bardugo’s Grishaverse stories into one cohesive whole. On the one hand, we have the saga of Alina Starkov and The Darkling, which plays out in Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy (the first installment of which is also titled Shadow And Bone). It’s trope-filled, but still enjoyable, and The Darkling’s controversial popularity should make any and all discourse about the series…lively, to say the least. On the other hand, there’s the more uniquely compelling Six Of Crows duology, which takes place several decades after the events of the Grisha Trilogy and follows a group of young criminals plotting and carrying out an epic heist. With the two stories distanced by time and space, and sharing very few elements besides Grisha magicians, there’s no word yet on how they’ll be narratively or thematically connected…though showrunner Eric Heisserer teased a “very exciting” link.

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | yahoo.com

I was under the impression that, while Alina’s story would be the overwhelming focus of season one, we would also be introduced to the various future members of the Six Of Crows gang during their formative years, and only see them properly team up in the finale: since it seems that the main events of Six Of Crows won’t be covered until Shadow And Bone‘s second season at the earliest. But one of the new images (the best of the bunch, to be honest) reveals Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa, and Jesper Fahey already working as a trio…so who knows how this will all work out. I suppose they’ll have a completely original subplot in this season, which both alarms and intrigues me.

Out of all the Crows, only Inej Ghafa gets her own character-specific image – promising a larger role for the fascinating anti-heroine, and a breakout performance from Nepalese actress Amita Suman. Just based on Suman’s quiet confidence and lethal poise, it looks like Inej, one of my favorite characters in the Grishaverse, is receiving the kind of faithful page-to-screen adaptation that fans of other book series’ would kill for – and speaking of killing, Inej comes armed with at least 14 knives, and gymnastic agility. Dubbed “The Wraith”, she’s perfect at moving undetected through the grungy streets of Ketterdam, hunting Kaz Brekker’s enemies with terrifying efficiency.

Shadow And Bone
Inej Ghafa | thegeekiary.com

Alongside Suman’s Inej, I’m afraid Freddy Carter’s Kaz Brekker doesn’t stand out nearly as much as he should. That could be attributed to his dark and dull attire, and the fact that neither his sleek black gloves nor weaponized cane are visible in the image, but it’s an underwhelming first look at such a commanding and stylish character from the books (Kaz’s poster does slightly better in this regard, but still doesn’t quite capture the antihero’s essence, in my opinion). I have a similar nitpick with Kit Young’s Jesper Fahey, whom I would have liked to see introduced in a more characteristically colorful outfit and haphazardly wielding his twin pistols. And don’t even get me started on Nina Zenik, whose barely visible behind her boyfriend Matthias Helvar, bundled up in a nondescript shawl.

Even Mal, Alina’s on-and-off love interest and one of the most widely hated characters in the Grishaverse fandom, has a more stylistically and visually interesting first-look image than Nina. There is no universe, real or fictional, in which that should be possible (but actor Archie Renaux nonetheless deserves credit for pulling it off).

Jessie Mei Li looks like a great Alina, and hopefully brings enough charisma to the role to make the character interesting. But I’m afraid she’ll be both literally and figuratively overshadowed by The Darkling, her nemesis, occasional love interest, and the series’ big bad, at least for now. Ben Barnes’ Darkling has the palpable seductive qualities one would would expect from a man who can manipulate shadows, and he’s the series’ star power – like Henry Cavill’s Geralt in The Witcher, Barnes will be front and center in all of Shadow And Bone‘s marketing, whenever that gets off the ground: possibly to the detriment of his less well-known costars.

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling | ew.com

So what do you think of the new images for Shadow And Bone? If you’re a Grishaverse reader as well as potential viewer, which character are you most excited to see in live-action? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Raya And The Last Dragon” 2nd Trailer!

The first trailer for Disney’s Raya didn’t make that big an impact when it dropped several months ago, despite its stunning animation, stellar voice-cast headlined by Kelly Marie Tran, and beautiful Southeast Asian setting. It caused plenty of heated discourse, though: as many fans understandably felt cheated by the way the film blends several vastly different Southeast Asian cultures, traditions, and myths; and others drew unfavorable comparisons to Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend Of Korra, saying Disney had blatantly ripped off the popular Nickelodeon series’.

Raya
Raya And The Last Dragon | collider.com

The second trailer – released today, completely out of the blue as far as I can tell – is bound to be a shock for anyone who genuinely loved the first trailer for its maturity, somber tone, and grandeur. We’re about two months out from Raya‘s release, and suddenly Disney has decided to market the film as Lord Of The Rings by way of…Fast And Furious, I guess? I’m not complaining, because this movie still looks ridiculously awesome (emphasis on the ridiculous), but Disney’s misleadingly epic teaser trailers are becoming a bit much at this point. Then again, anyone who actually thought Frozen II was going to be a dark fantasy about the impending dangers of climate-change based on one scene of Elsa running over water was probably setting themselves up for failure.

But the key difference between Raya And The Last Dragon and other Disney animated family films is that Raya actually does have the stunning, gravity-defying action sequences its trailers promise. According to directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, a cut exists of the movie that could have landed it an R-rating for violence. That may be exaggeration, but their insistence that the film’s fight scenes are inspired by those of franchises like John Wick certainly gives me hope that we’re in for something spectacular when Raya leaps onto our screens in March, armed with her iconic wavy-bladed kalis, whip, and magic powers.

Raya
Raya | slashfilm.com

Thankfully, Disney Animation has broken recent tradition and given Raya an actual villain to bounce off of, and to fight. Although I appreciated Frozen II‘s villain twist (“the crimes and misdeeds of previous generations, if left unaddressed, are the greatest evils of our time” was a clever and brilliant message, albeit completely undermined in the film’s third act), I’ve been missing real Disney villains lately: their unapologetic campiness, their swagger, and their braggadocio. Raya’s nemesis, named Namaari and voiced by Gemma Chan, might not have a campy bone in her body, but she’s got the swagger, she’s got the braggadocio, and most importantly, she’s got back muscles that most Disney villains would kill for. I don’t know whether to ask for her workout regimen or her hand in marriage.

There’s always a chance that Namaari and Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, who recently made her triumphant comeback to social media after years of relentless harassment from embittered Star Wars fanboys) will join forces by the end of the movie to defeat some greater evil, but before that happens we’ll get plenty of duels between the two, as they both hunt for the last dragon – the only creature capable of saving the land of Kumandra from an ancient evil. Set to modern epic music, the trailer invites us on a globe-trotting quest around Kumandra’s warring regions alongside a fellowship of anti-heroic misfits, including a con-baby with a troop of monkey minions. Each region seems to reflect a different part of Southeast Asia, from the forests of Indonesia and the Philippines, to the river-delta villages of Bangladesh. The new trailer showcases more of the area’s diversity than the teaser, while memorable sequences from the teaser are noticeably absent: the sequences that had viewers comparing Raya and Korra’s blue outfits and similarly-styled ponytails.

Raya
Raya | etonline.com

But the new trailer does confirm that the mysterious masked man seen battling Raya in the teaser was, in fact, her father – and the ritual guardian of Kumandra’s dragon gem, as I guessed at the time. Daniel Dae Kim will voice the role, which will surely be brief: he barely gets to speak a single line in the trailer before we cut to Raya placing flowers at a shrine with a statue of him. It’s somehow comforting that, with the world as unpredictable and chaotic as it is, you can always rely on Disney Animation to kill their protagonists’ parents. Some things never change.

But what about you? How excited are you based on this new trailer? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

Jodie Turner-Smith Will Lead “The Witcher: Blood Origin”

Although I initially had my reservations about Netflix’s fast-paced attempts to expand a single season of The Witcher into a multi-medium franchise with prequels and spinoffs before the second season had even started filming (in fact, it still hasn’t wrapped), I have since changed my mind for two reasons. Firstly, because The Witcher has proven to be my go-to rewatchable comfort show during quarantine, and I’ve plunged deeper into the grimdark fantasy’s extensive lore (both book-canon and video game-canon, mind you) with each successive rewatch. I appreciate the series more now than ever before, and I’m itching to return to The Continent and explore more of its monster-infested forests, bogs, and mountains.

The Witcher
Jodie Turner-Smith | finance.yahoo.com

Secondly, because Jodie Turner-Smith joining The Witcher‘s prequel spinoff in a lead role is the kind of casting that immediately sets this prequel, titled Blood Origin, apart from a crowd of fantasy stories that will soon flood every streaming service imaginable. Turner-Smith’s filmography is still relatively sparse, but her breakout role in 2019’s Queen & Slim is finally paying off – with Turner-Smith having just recently landed the role of Tudor queen Anne Boleyn in a psychological drama based on her life and execution, and now joining Netflix’s Blood Origin in a lead role that has the potential to elevate her to a whole new level of success.

From the brief description we’ve been given by Deadline, Turner-Smith’s role already sounds intriguing – she will play a character named Éile, “an elite warrior blessed with the voice of a goddess, who has left her clan and position as Queen’s guardian to follow her heart as a nomadic musician.” But “A grand reckoning on the continent will force her to return to the way of the blade in her quest for vengeance and redemption”. What Deadline doesn’t note is that The Illuminerdi broke exclusive details about the casting call for Éile’s character back in November, which additionally confirm that she comes “from a Clan of Elves that use knives as their primary weapon”. At the time, Netflix was interested in actresses with a history of dance and stunt work, suggesting that Jodie Turner-Smith’s part will be strongly action-oriented.

The Witcher
Fringilla Vigo | looper.com

Black heroines in the fantasy genre are rare, but Black action heroines (in any genre) are rarer still. The Witcher has thus far mostly excelled at portraying complex women with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, from endearingly brutish queens like Calinthe to politically-savvy sorceresses like Yennefer. The exceptions to the rule, unfortunately, were characters like Eithné and Fringilla Vigo, both Black women, and both suffering from cardboard-thin characterizations. Fringilla in particular deserved better writing. Her pivotal part in the season finale should have been thrilling, but ultimately disappointed because she wasn’t morally complex enough to sympathize with, nor evil enough to actually hate. With Éile having to balance being a heaven-sent singer and a knife-wielding warrior, I imagine her character will be far more compelling.

Blood Origin will follow her journey during or shortly after The Conjunction Of The Spheres, an era of chaos in The Continent’s prehistory, when worlds and dimensions collided violently, scattering their inhabitants far and wide. With Humans and Elves forced to live in close proximity with an assortment of abhorrent monsters and bloodthirsty demons, powerful sorcerers began construction on the first Witchers – elite mutant assassins capable of hunting and killing the great beasts roaming in the wilderness. Blood Origin was originally believed to follow the first Witcher’s journey (and rumors swirled that he would be played by Jason Momoa), but I hope for Jodie Turner-Smith’s sake that she’s either the actual protagonist, or at least doesn’t get overshadowed in her role.

The Witcher
The Witcher | pcgamer.com

But what do you think of Jodie Turner-Smith’s casting? And tell me, honestly, how many times have you rewatched The Witcher during quarantine? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Middle-earth Explained: Lindon And The Elves Of The Second Age

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Lindon
“The Grey Havens” by The Brothers Hildebrandt | baltimoresun.com

Lindon is by no means a name familiar to most Tolkien fans, so it’s understandable if you need a reminder about where it is in Middle-earth – though, in fact, both The Lord Of The Rings books and films did very briefly enter Lindon in the saga’s emotional climax. Described in Amazon’s synopsis as an “elf-capital” with “majestic forests”, Lindon is more recognizable as the Elven land west of the Shire where the Grey Havens were located…and from which Frodo and Bilbo set sail at the end of the Third Age, seeking out spiritual healing in the Uttermost West. This bit tends to be confusing for many first-time Tolkien fans, particularly movie-goers; the films don’t set it up as well as they should, and it never gets explained, leading to the entire sequence often being mistakenly interpreted as an allegory for Frodo dying.

But if you’ve ever wondered what happens to the Bagginses after they sail into the sunset at the end of The Return Of The King, then this is the post for you – and in the process, you’ll also learn everything you need to know about Lindon and its people before Amazon brings them to life on the small screen.

Amazon’s Middle-earth series, while still titled The Lord Of The Rings, is set thousands of years before the events of the trilogy, in the Second Age of Middle-earth during a time of mighty empires and epic heroes…but our story begins even further back, in the First Age. The world was flat like a tabletop, and still newly formed, and there were really only two continents: the westernmost of the two being Valinor, the land of the gods (or Valar, as they’re called in Tolkien’s myths), and the easternmost being…well, Middle-earth. The race of Elves originated in the uncharted forests of Middle-earth early in the First Age, predating the creation of the sun and moon by at least a millennia or two and explaining their collective fascination with stars, the only real source of light during their formative years as a species. The Valar had foreseen their coming, and what with the Elves being the subject of a whole bunch of prophecies, and a particularly nasty Dark Lord named Morgoth roaming through Middle-earth at the time, it was in everyone’s best interests for the Valar to herd the Elves westward, and over the sea into Valinor. Along the way, some Elves got fed up and went home, or got lost, or found other places to settle down…to keep things simple, I’m referring to those stragglers as Silvan Elves, though the proper blanket term for them is the Nandor. Anyway, remember them: they show up again later.

Of the Elves who made it all the way to Valinor and flourished there under the benevolent influence of the Valar, the most prominent and promising were always the skilled, hotheaded people known as the Noldor. But just three stolen gemstones and two dead trees later, Valinor had been plunged into chaos, and most of the Noldor recklessly took off for Middle-earth, pursuing Morgoth, the culprit, with an unholy vengeance in their hearts – all while openly rebelling against the Valar, who had insisted they stay put in Valinor while the gods dealt with Morgoth themselves. The Noldor established countries and civilizations of their own in Middle-earth, most of which toppled to ruin at the end of the First Age: when the Valar finally defeated Morgoth in battle, trampling mountains into the sea and flooding the entire region known as Beleriand until only a sliver of it remained; that sliver being Lindon, a coastal landmass just barely big enough to contain the entire suddenly displaced population of Beleriand – and not just the Elves, but the Men and Dwarves too.

Lindon
Elves “At Lake Cuivienen” by Ted Nasmith | pinterest.com

The Second Age opens with the Valar offering all of the exiled Noldor a chance to repent for their crimes and return to Valinor. Many Elves agreed to do so, but many more did not – instead choosing to stay in Middle-earth. Nonetheless, the option to sail back to Valinor was still available to all Elves at any time, and only made more accessible when Círdan the Shipwright completed building his Grey Havens in Lindon in the first year of the Second Age. But while Círdan presided over the Havens, he was never called a king – that title belonged to his adopted son, Gil-galad, who had become High King of the Noldor at a young age, and was by this point acknowledged as the highest-ranking Elven King in all of Middle-earth. Gil-galad stayed in Lindon even while many of his people migrated further eastward, settling new lands in Eregion and beyond.

Amazon’s description of Lindon as an “elf-capital” is both misleading (the closest thing to a city was the Grey Havens) and accurate, in a way: Lindon was a rural melting-pot populated by both Noldor and Silvan Elves, the latter of whom had lived there long before Gil-galad’s arrival. Tolkien hinted at the notion of a deep divide between the Elves from Valinor and those of Middle-earth, which I expect to see explored further in Amazon’s series; as the two peoples clash after their long estrangement, in a cultural and societal conflict. Meanwhile, Dwarves lived in the Blue Mountains that encircled Lindon – though their underground mansions of Nogrod and Belegost were both at least partially-destroyed by the turmoil of Morgoth’s fall.

Midway through the Second Age, Gil-galad warded off an attempt by the Dark Lord Sauron to infiltrate Lindon disguised as an emissary of the Valar named Annatar. Though Gil-galad could not guess at Annatar’s true identity, he sent warnings to his Elven kinsfolk across Middle-earth about the mysterious stranger – warnings that were ignored in Eregion, where Annatar was allowed to become a powerful and influential figure, overseeing the construction of all but three of the great Rings of Power. Those remaining three were secretly given to Gil-galad, Círdan, and Galadriel for safekeeping after Annatar betrayed the Elves of Eregion (*pretends to be shocked*), forging the One Ring to control them all.

Sauron’s brutality in Middle-earth drove many Elves back under the protective aegis of Gil-galad, whose power was still too great for Sauron to challenge – but some, out of fear and grief, fled across the sea to Valinor, never to return. Gil-galad brought in aid from Númenor to help conquer Sauron, unintentionally sparking a grudge-match between Sauron and the island kingdom of Men that eventually resulted in Númenor and most of its population being dragged into the ocean abyss; Valinor being removed from the Circles of the World by divine intervention (though still accessible via the “Straight Road” open only to Elven ships); and the earth being made round. Lindon lost many of its beaches, but otherwise scraped by.

In the final years of the Second Age, Lindon’s Elven armies played a pivotal part in bringing about the defeat of Sauron (albeit a temporary defeat). The last Númenórean refugees led by Elendil joined forces with Gil-galad’s Noldor and Silvan Elves in what became known as the Last Alliance, and together they pursued Sauron south across Middle-earth, into the mountains and volcanic wastelands of Mordor. There, on the slopes of Mount Doom, Gil-galad was burned to death by Sauron’s fiery hand: and with him died the kingship of the Noldor. His Ring of Power, Vilya, was saved by his young herald, Elrond, who later used it to heal Middle-earth’s hurts from his dwelling in the refuge of Rivendell. Lindon, meanwhile, faded in significance in the absence of its noble King, becoming little more than a rest stop on the one-way trip to paradise for world-weary Elves and occasional Ringbearers.

Lindon
The Grey Havens | looper.com

So next time you read the books or watch the movies, and get to those heart-wrenching final scenes at the Grey Havens, spare a thought for what was once the greatest realm of the Elves between the Mountains and the Sea in the Second Age – and think ahead to Amazon’s series, which will allow us to finally witness Lindon in all its glory.

Tell me what place in Middle-earth you’re most excited to see, and be sure to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Who’s Who In “WandaVision”

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

As WandaVision‘s central mystery expands across several decades of television history and at least two distinctly separate realities, so too does its cast of characters, both major players and bit parts. And with Wanda raising the stakes dramatically in episode three, it’s becoming more important to tell characters apart and work out the most important details in any Marvel Cinematic Universe property – who’s connected to whom, and who’s working for whom? WandaVision hints at the idea that charming newlyweds Wanda Maximoff and Vision are being manipulated by dark forces lurking within their quaint suburban community of Westview: but after yesterday it’s looking more likely that Wanda herself has a hand in causing the strange events that plague her and her husband from day one of their married life together.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

Wanda Maximoff

WandaVision
Wanda Maximoff | cnet.com

Our series’ heroine has always been something of a lone wolf. After the events of Avengers: Endgame, with Vision dead, her strongest tie to the Avengers family was severed – and it looks like she decided to finally follow Hawkeye’s lead and just retire. But Hawkeye already had a family with which to settle down. Wanda first had to build one of her own, which would require her to do…whatever she did to bring back Vision back to life, possibly only in her dreams. Noting how violent her reaction has been to the S.W.O.R.D. logo whenever it pops up in Westview, many fans have speculated that Wanda was working with S.W.O.R.D. (which stands for Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division in the MCU) to resurrect Vision when she went rogue and decided to hijack the experiment, eloping with her android boyfriend into a pocket dimension that she created on the site of the real town of Westview…or which someone else created for her, in order to lure her into a trap. Either way, it’s beginning to look like the citizens of the real Westview are now trapped there with her against their will, and are the real victims in this messy situation.

Allegiance: let’s mark her down as a free agent for now. It may turn out she’s being too heavily manipulated to see the chaos she’s causing, but honestly, it looks like she has a lot of control over Westview and is enjoying her newfound power. So even if she’s not entirely at fault, I don’t think she’s blameless either.

Vision

WandaVision
Vision | indianexpress.com

How did Vision go from being killed by Wanda to being resurrected by Thanos, to being killed by Thanos, to being resurrected yet again in WandaVision? Well, extrapolating off the theory that Wanda was working with S.W.O.R.D. to resurrect the android post-Endgame, my guess is that S.W.O.R.D.’s tech was capable of rebooting Vision – but without any of his past memories, including those he shared with Wanda. Learning this could easily have spurred Wanda to betray S.W.O.R.D. and steal the android’s partially-rebooted body for her own purposes, and would explain why Vision’s memory seems so fragmented. He clearly remembers Wanda, or at least has been convinced to think he does, but he seems clueless about his past, and even his purpose in Westview: unlike Wanda, who enters the sitcom reality with a clear motive to settle down and fit in. But he’s also inquisitive, which will serve him well in the coming days/decades.

Allegiance: I believe he’s linked to Wanda, at least for now. He’ll probably try to exercise his free will as the couple clash in later episodes, but I have a nasty feeling Wanda will be able to tug him along whithersoever she goes. Doesn’t mean we won’t get an epic battle sequence out of it, though.

Agnes

WandaVision
Agnes | hollywoodlife.com

Many of us are so convinced that Wanda’s overly-friendly next-door neighbor Agnes is actually the evil witch Agatha Harkness from Marvel Comics that it’s become almost second nature to refer to her as Agatha. With literally every clue pointing towards this being the case (apart from the similar names, Agnes’ wedding anniversary is the same day the Salem Witch Trials started, she wears a witchy brooch, and even owns a rabbit named for Harkness’ son in the comics), it seems almost too easy a connection to make. Personally, I suspect Agnes will be Agatha in some form or another, and is probably still a witch, but I’m not convinced Marvel isn’t totally reinventing the character as a more sympathetic antiheroine, a victim of manipulative forces. My guess: she’s responsible for luring Wanda into the pocket dimension surrounding Westview at the orders of Mephisto, Marvel’s devil, and is thus aware of what’s going on – but isn’t fully evil.

Allegiance: Agatha Harkness being Mephisto’s right-hand woman in the comics paves the way for Agnes to fill a similar role. But her small panic attack in yesterday’s episode makes me think she’s unwillingly serving the devil and trying to escape from him. There’s an interesting story to be told there about the toxic and abusive relationships endorsed by the same patriarchal system that many classic sitcoms upheld.

Dottie And Phil Jones

WandaVision
Dottie Jones | decider.com

Dottie (and, to a lesser degree, her husband Phil) is perhaps WandaVision‘s biggest enigma to me at the moment, and I’ve cycled through several theories about who – or what – she is. Her high status among the citizens (particularly the women) of Westview strongly implies that, like Agnes, she may be a witch. And with witches and Mephisto going hand-in-hand in Marvel comics, it’s not too much of a stretch to extrapolate that she could be working with the devil to steal Wanda’s twins – after all, she did lead the eerie communal chant of “For The Children”. But I’m beginning to wonder if the lemonade glass exploding in her hand and revealing her red blood (in the black-and-white episode) was an attempt by Mephisto to alert Wanda to the fact that Dottie, whether she’s a witch or not, is also a third-party intruder with her own agenda in Westview.

Allegiance: if Dottie has an ulterior motive for wanting Wanda to hurry up and have kids, what is it? Like Mephisto in the comics, she could be trying to absorb young Billy and Tommy into her soul to increase her demonic power…or, if she’s not evil, she might be trying to protect the children before someone else has a chance to kidnap them.

The Townsfolk

WandaVision
Mr. Hart, Vision, and Mrs. Hart | dailyadvent.com

Despite how it looks, not everybody in Westview has some grandiose plan to steal Wanda’s babies – and now that episode three has confirmed that Westview is a real town in the real world, it would seem that most of the background players in WandaVision are just regular people who got sucked into the sitcom fantasy against their will. Judging by how close Westview appears to be to a large S.W.O.R.D. complex, some of these people might be low-level S.W.O.R.D. staffers, nonthreatening to Wanda. Vision’s co-worker Norm could fall into this category (his actor, Asif Ali, also played a low-level Cybertek employee in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Others, like Herb and possibly the mailman Dennis, might have a better idea of what’s going on – Herb even begins to disclose the truth to Vision, telling him that “Geraldine” arrived in Westview “because we’re all…she came here because we’re all…” before being stopped by Agnes, who confronts him with a panic-stricken expression. We’re all…trapped, I assume? Dennis has his own bizarre run-in with Agnes while walking past Wanda’s house, where they exchange what seems like coded banter.

Allegiance: most of these folks, with the possible exception of Herb and Dennis, probably don’t have any strong allegiances that will put them at conflict with Wanda, Mephisto, or even neighbors like Agnes. If that changes, I’ll be sure to point it out.

“Geraldine”

WandaVision
“Geraldine” | elle.com

Long before WandaVision premiered, it had already been confirmed by Marvel that Teyonah Parris would be playing Monica Rambeau in the series, so “Geraldine’s” secret identity was never much of a mystery. Set photos and promotional material had also revealed that Rambeau, last seen in the MCU as the young and impressionable daughter of retired test pilot Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel, would now be working with S.W.O.R.D. in some capacity. If WandaVision were following the comics exactly, this would totally make sense: there, S.W.O.R.D. deals with space and explores alien worlds, and MCU Monica grew up surrounded by aliens thanks to Captain Marvel’s dealings with her mother. But MCU S.W.O.R.D. tackles “sentient weapons”, making Monica’s chosen career path a little more confusing. In the comics, Monica also has superpowers – which I think Wanda might have accidentally given to her when she wrapped Monica up in a hex-magic cocoon and tossed her out of WandaVision.

Allegiance: Monica seems loyal to S.W.O.R.D.; though a conflict could arise if S.W.O.R.D. responds to Wanda’s actions with further violence, and Monica cautions them to go gentle. Monica was raised to see the good in everybody: I think she’ll sympathize with Wanda’s pain, and genuinely want to help her.

“Ralph”

WandaVision
Mephisto | looper.com

In the first three episodes of WandaVision, we’ve learned more random details about Agnes’ mysterious husband “Ralph” than we’ve learned about Agnes herself…but where is he? Who is he, really? Until he shows up in person, we won’t know – but my suspicion is that he’s none other than Mephisto himself, and that his marriage with Agnes is more metaphorical than anything (but literal enough that Agnes actively avoids her “mother-in-law”), a way of hiding in plain sight while observing Wanda. Agnes’ remarks about him paint a disturbing picture of a repulsive character whom Agnes wants to leave, but can’t.

Allegiance: if “Ralph” truly is Mephisto, he serves no one but himself, but freely manipulates those around him, like Agnes, Dottie, and of course, Wanda.

So what do you think? Which WandaVision characters do you want to know more about heading into episode four? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“WandaVision” Episode 3 Welcomes Wanda’s Twins To Westview

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

Now awash in technicolor splendor, Wanda Maximoff’s eerie suburban reality gets a shake-up in the third episode of WandaVision, with the series’ increasingly dangerous protagonist unceremoniously making room for two new additions to her faux family by kicking out an unwelcome visitor who had slipped through the cracks in last week’s episode. But as the invisible barriers around the town of Westview shrink ever inwards, it seems many of our characters – including Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) themselves – are starting to catch on to the fact that the world they know is actually some kind of custom-made, maximum-security prison…and Wanda herself is possibly the jailor.

WandaVision
Vision and Wanda | cnet.com

This week’s episode strands us in the middle of the 1970’s, an era of acquired tastes: from the over-the-top fashion and hairstyles (I could write a whole separate blog post about Paul Bettany’s hair alone), to a whole new line-up of beloved classic sitcoms to mine for material, including The Brady Bunch; which WandaVision subtly parodies with this week’s opening sequence graphics and new design aesthetic. But though the change in decades has spontaneously updated every character’s appearance and wardrobe (I feel for the citizens of Westview, never knowing what time period’s atrocious fashion sensibilities they’ll be saddled with on any given day), it appears that the story has picked up right where we left off…in the late 60’s. Wanda’s entire maternity spans about a day, during which the world around her moves ahead by years.

Time and space don’t seem to mean much within the poorly-defined boundaries of Westview. Not only is the year and decade changing with each passing sunrise, but the exact location of the town is hard to pin down too…since there doesn’t seem to be anything beyond its outskirts. Wanda’s doctor (played by Randy Oglesby) seems excited to head to Bermuda for a vacation, and even packs his bags and starts his car to leave, only to promptly change his mind with the ominous phrase: “Small towns, you know. So hard to…escape.” Taking all the clues into consideration, it’s safe to say Westview is a prison in that no one is able to leave – that is, unless you get Wanda mad and she telekinetically body-slams you through the side of a house and catapults you out of her mini-universe. I’m not sure that’s a risk worth taking just to get to Bermuda, but hey, it’s an option.

So who’s running the prison? The most likely candidate is still the devil himself, Mephisto, and his henchwoman Agatha Harkness from the comics – who’s probably already shown up in WandaVision as Wanda’s nosy next-door neighbor, Agnes (Kathryn Hahn). Once again, we hear from Agnes about her as-yet-unseen husband, “Ralph”, whom many of us believe will turn out to be Mephisto himself: Agnes’ comment that he looks better in the darkness only adds to the mystery surrounding this character.

But this week’s episode also puts a new possibility on the table, and it’s one I never initially suspected: could HYDRA be behind all this? The covert Neo-Nazi organization hasn’t been very active in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Age Of Ultron, where – interestingly – their last major act was unleashing Wanda Maximoff and her twin brother Pietro on the Avengers, in an unsuccessful attempt to divide and conquer the superhero team. But Wanda’s old HYDRA handler, Baron von Strücker, was referenced in one of WandaVision‘s tantalizing commercial segments, and this week’s commercial features another nod to HYDRA, spoofing the Calgon “Take Me Away” advert from the 70’s with an important message about the rejuvenating powers of Hydra Soak: a bath powder that comes in a cute little blue package and features the tagline “find the goddess within” – a possible reference to Wanda’s latent mutant powers, unlocked by HYDRA’s experiments on her? This ad diverges slightly from the pattern established in the previous two, but not so radically that we can throw out everything we’ve theorized.

WandaVision
Hydra Soak | newsweek.com

Some Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans have been quick to point out the similarities between Hydra Soak and the blue soap used by HYDRA to mind-control citizens of their alternate reality in The Framework, in the long-running MCU-adjacent series’ fourth season. If that is what WandaVision is referencing with Hydra Soak, it’s theoretically possible that HYDRA is using some form of Framework technology to keep Wanda’s mind and spirit trapped in her sitcom bubble, while her unconscious body would remain in stasis – perhaps at some other location entirely. I’m nervous to jump onboard this theory because S.H.I.E.L.D. fans have been burned before, but I can’t deny it piques my interest going forward. Forget Ultron infomercials – give me more of that HYDRA mind-control soap!

But I’m not ruling out Wanda as the series’ big bad either. Whether provoked to action by her “mama bear” instincts, or motivated by some subconscious agenda, Wanda once again displays the cool-headed confidence and decisiveness that suggests that she has at least some control over Westview and its people, including interlopers like “Geraldine” (Teyonah Parris), and is in fact holding them hostage as extras for the sitcom she wants her life to be. It’s still hard to say what’s her doing and what’s not – for instance, when Vision gets put on rewind for asking too many questions about Westview, is that Wanda trying to shield her husband from the truth, or someone else stepping in to shut him up? – but Elizabeth Olsen effortlessly conveys the brokenness and bewilderment that makes this mystery work. Wanda herself doesn’t seem to know whether she’s really in control, but she clearly enjoys the feeling: so watching her step into her power and struggle with the consequences should be thrilling.

Compare that to Vision, who needs irrefutable facts and data to back up any decision he makes, and is clearly uncomfortable living in a world where he doesn’t know his place or purpose. Again, we’re seeing the very highest quality of acting from stars who’ve never really had a chance to shine in the Marvel films – and I’m thoroughly excited to see Paul Bettany take us on a journey of self-discovery with the innocent Vision as he begins to exert his independence from Wanda, as I assume he will after learning that his wife re-animated his corpse.

But as the intertwined wedding rings in the closing credits suggest, these two are bound together by something – and now it’s clear that will be their twin sons, Billy and Tommy, making their long-awaited MCU debut at last. In the comics, both boys grow up to be Young Avengers; with Billy becoming a sorcerer like his mother (and one of Marvel’s most prominent gay superheroes), and Tommy inheriting his uncle Pietro’s super-speed (a power which Vision also possesses in the MCU). Billy, in particular, is incredibly powerful – but both boys spent their infancy in the comics being hunted by demonic entities who wished to absorb their strength. WandaVision has teased that storyline, with all of Westview pressuring Wanda to have children and possibly using magic to induce her sudden pregnancy. It’s understandable why the couple are trying to hide that they’re expecting throughout episode three.

“Geraldine” is unlucky enough to be on hand when Wanda goes into labor (nine months early), and helps deliver baby Tommy – after first having a bizarre run-in with the stork painted on Wanda’s nursery wall, which comes to life and pursues her fish-patterned pants. The chaotic scene is exacerbated by an incident on the front lawn, with Wanda’s neighbor Herb (David Payton) cheerfully sawing away at the fence separating his property from Wanda’s with a hedge-trimmer. Following the birth, Vision finds Agnes also outside, questioning Herb about “Geraldine”. Vision confronts the two, and gets a string of vague excuses for their strange behavior – culminating in Agnes implying that “Geraldine” shouldn’t be allowed around Wanda because she doesn’t have a family, husband, or even a home, and Herb trying to let Vision in on some secret about the town only to be silenced by an uncharacteristic outburst from Agnes, who frantically implores him to “stop it!”.

The brilliantly edited sequence cuts back and forth from Agnes’ sinister gossip to the scene inside the house, where “Geraldine” and Wanda are making small-talk while looking after the newborns. Wanda casually mentions that she has a twin, and namedrops Pietro, sparking a glitch in reality as “Geraldine” suddenly blurts out that “he [Pietro] was killed by Ultron”, exposing her true nature as an intruder to Westview. Wanda circles her around the cribs menacingly, and then pauses, catching sight of the sword-shaped necklace pendant around her neck: the same sword she saw last week on a helicopter in her rosebush, and on the mystery beekeeper who emerged from the sewer.

WandaVision
Monica Rambeau | metro.co.uk

But chillingly, when Vision enters the house just a few moments later and asks where “Geraldine” went, all Wanda says is that she had to leave in a hurry. There’s no happy sitcom ending this week: only a haunting shot of Wanda standing above her twins’ cribs, smiling down at her babies. And a final scene, set to “Daydream Believer”, of “Geraldine” flying through a night sky past a Westview billboard and hitting the earth hard, while armored vehicles and military personnel surround her. She’s been flung out of Wanda’s reality, clearly, and back into her own – confirming two things: firstly, that she is Monica Rambeau, an Agent of S.W.O.R.D.; and secondly, that Westview exists in the real world as well as in Wanda’s. In the real world, the town is encircled by roadblocks, force-fields, spotlights and barbed wire…but there are lights in the windows of visible houses.

So is WandaVision the harrowing account of an entire town being held captive by a mutant sorceress and distorted into a sitcom fantasy? I expect more answers when the series returns next week, with an episode some are speculating will recount Monica Rambeau’s adventure in flashbacks, explaining what’s going on outside the WandaVision bubble, allowing us to catch up with old friends like Darcy Lewis and Jimmy Woo, and hopefully clarifying whether the population of Westview is really being forced to wear 70’s clothes against their will.

Episode Rating: 10/10