In a franchise that has historically been very strict about what is and what is not canon (nobody knows that better than Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans), the medium of animation provides Marvel an incredible opportunity to expand upon the potential of Loki‘s Multiverse shenanigans and explore alternate universes branching off from the so-called Sacred Timeline – in an anthology series named What If…? that will remain (at least as far as we know) entirely separate from the live-action MCU. But although you might think that would narrow its appeal with hardcore fans who tend to get obsessive over the canon debate too, the broad variety of stories being explored in What If…? will likely make this a must-see event.
The format of the series is simple yet unique. One episode for each Marvel movie released thus far, but putting a twist on the version of events we know from our canon, and following the consequences of that twist down a winding rabbit-hole of endless possibilities. Until today, the marketing for What If…? had largely focused on just two or three storylines: one in which Peggy Carter took the Super-Soldier Serum during World War II instead of Steve Rogers and became Captain Carter (not Captain Britain, although the Union Jack is emblazoned on her vibranium shield); one in which a young Prince T’Challa was abducted from Earth by aliens and became a Ravager in place of Peter Quill; and one in which Bucky Barnes fights a zombie version of Captain America, in what I think might be the series’ Captain America: Civil War episode.
Everything beyond that had been just quick glimpses and unconfirmed rumors until today’s new trailer, which starts out in the back of an armored vehicle moving through the Middle East – yep, the same one where Tony Stark was ambushed in the opening of Iron Man and nearly got blown to bits by one of his own Stark Industries missiles, commencing his journey to becoming Iron Man. But this time around, something unexpected happens. Killmonger – as in Black Panther‘s Killmonger – leaps in to save Tony Stark’s life, effortlessly lifting the missile and tossing it into the sky. And from there, the trailer only gets weirder.
We see an armored Natasha Romanoff zipping through the battle-damaged streets of a city on her motorcycle, having been the only member of the Avengers to survive Ultron’s extinction-level apocalypse in Age Of Ultron. Pepper Potts, wielding some kind of high-tech gun, fights alongside Shuri and the Dora Milaje. Loki invades Earth, not with hordes of Chitauri aliens, but with Asgardian troops; while a tattooed frat boy Variant of Thor parties it up on the planet’s surface. Okoye hurls a spear at a levitating Wanda Maximoff. T’Challa and Yondu fight a muscular, cybernetically-enhanced Variant of The Collector from Guardians Of The Galaxy. Doctor Strange duels Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One. Howard the Duck is just…there, for whatever reason.
Before Loki, I was intrigued but bewildered by the concept of What If…?, but now we know so much more about the mechanics of the Multiverse in the MCU that we can kind of get a sense of what’s going on, and perhaps even why. These are all timelines that branched but never got pruned, Nexus Events allowed to spiral further and further out of control, leading to chaotic crossovers with other alternate timelines, and what Miss Minutes described as “multiversal war”. We can see some of that going on in this trailer: Variants like Captain Carter and T’Challa as Star Lord won’t be confined to single episodes, but will also join forces across time and space – leading to a clever recreation of the iconic Avengers group shot in the first Avengers movie that also includes frat boy Thor, a Gamora Variant who’s dressed in golden armor like her adoptive father Thanos and is even wielding the Mad Titan’s sword, and a character who is possibly Killmonger, wearing the Black Panther suit.
Of course, if the Time Variance Authority isn’t around to prune these timelines and prevent a Multiverse, it raises the question of why. My guess is that at the end of Loki, the God of Mischief’s efforts to burn the TVA to the ground are successful, finally freeing the universe from authoritarian control and allowing time to do whatever the hell it wants. Whether the characters in What If…? will discover that and try to hop over into the MCU’s reality remains to be seen, but that could precipitate the Multiverse Of Madness which we know Doctor Strange will be dealing in with his hotly-anticipated sequel.
The only person who seems to have any answers is an ethereal cosmic being known as Uatu the Watcher, who will narrate the series and preside over events, hopefully cluing in audiences as to what’s really going on. Will he always remain on the sidelines, watching but never interfering with time? Will he be mentioned in the MCU at any point? Where does he even come from? As Darcy would say, “don’t know, don’t know, and…don’t know.”
What I do know is that the animation on this series looks brilliant: crisp, clean, and richly detailed, allowing for the kind of spectacle sometimes unattainable in live-action except through extensive use of CGI. With the exception of Robert Downey Jr., the voice-acting is provided by the same actors who originated these roles in live-action, including Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, in what will be his final posthumous performance. And my expectations for the next wave of Marvel Disney+ shows are at an all-time high after the resounding success of Loki. I was always excited for What If…? because I’m a big fan of animation, but I’m sold on the concepts at play here too after this amazing trailer.
The finale of Marvel’s WandaVision – the studio’s first official foray into streaming television – left many fans conflicted over how to view the entire series in retrospect. Thanks to weeks of intense speculation and theorizing (and, to be fair, some unnecessary trolling from WandaVision‘s own cast and crew), the slim fifty-minute finale was hyped up in audiences’ imaginations to the point where a cameo from Patrick Stewart or Dick Van Dyke didn’t seem out of the question, and Wanda ripping open the Marvel Multiverse felt like a done deal. So there were a lot of fans left unsatisfied by what was, instead, the inevitable conclusion to a much smaller and more intimate saga of love and grief.
Personally, I found it quite satisfying for that very reason: but let’s play devil’s advocate (too soon? Sorry, Mephisto fans). Did the WandaVision finale really contribute nothing to the overall jigsaw-puzzle that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is that even necessarily a bad thing? It’s true that WandaVision was far more introspective than expected, and didn’t deliver some of the paradigm-altering surprises certain fans decided they were owed. But I don’t think I’m being biased when I say that WandaVision‘s mid-credits and post-credits scenes actually did plenty to set up future MCU storylines, allowing the episode itself to wrap up Wanda and Vision’s tragic romance without distraction.
Minutes after Wanda took flight and vanished over the rooftops of Westview (escaping any and all consequences for her actions, because the status of the Sokovia Accords in the MCU post-Endgame is unclear at best), a mid-credits scene allowed us to catch up with Captain Monica Rambeau and Jimmy Woo, both of whom were slightly underutilized in the episode proper. Woo, tasked with leading the clean-up of Westview and the arrests of villainous S.W.O.R.D. agents like Tyler Hayward, strikes up a conversation with Rambeau – which probably would have been the perfect moment for Monica to acknowledge her superpowers, since she missed her chance to ask Wanda about what to do now that she can turn into light and even phase through things like Wanda’s husband, Vision. The two chat, but are swiftly interrupted by a detective who directs Wanda to the movie theater in the town square. There, in the dimly-lit interior, the detective reveals herself to be an unnamed shapeshifting Skrull alien with her own mission that has nothing to do with Westview.
Now, we don’t know if or when Monica has interacted with Skrulls since her eventful childhood in Captain Marvel, but her cool demeanor in this scene (combined with her veiled reference to “allies” in space, back in episode four) implies a degree of familiarity with the aliens – which is interesting, given that her relationship with Captain Marvel herself seems to have had hit a rough patch, based on other clues throughout WandaVision. This particular Skrull doesn’t work for Carol Danvers, but for a male friend of Monica’s late mother, Maria Rambeau; someone who’s heard about Monica’s recent exploits and wants to meet with her, probably about a job opportunity. This friend’s identity isn’t explicitly confirmed, but the Skrull reveals that he’s somewhere in space – which means “he” is almost definitely Maria and Carol’s friend, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, and the job opportunity probably involves working on Fury’s top-secret space-station, where he was last seen enjoying a beach-holiday simulation in Spider-Man: Far From Home alongside a small army of Skrull and human agents.
The thing I find most interesting about the entire exchange, which beautifully sets up Monica’s important role going forward, is the backstory still being hidden from us about Nick Fury and Maria Rambeau’s partnership, how and why S.W.O.R.D. got started, and whether the space-station is linked to S.W.O.R.D. or not. After Far From Home, the prevailing theory was that Fury had founded S.W.O.R.D. (which in the comics stands for Sentient Worlds Observation and Response Department) to protect Earth against future alien threats: but WandaVision revealed that Maria Rambeau founded the organization, and that its core purpose is to observe and respond to “Sentient Weapons”, implying a more grounded role in the MCU and bringing into question their affiliation with Fury’s space-station. S.W.O.R.D. did have a pioneering space-division, but it was dialed back in the years following Thanos’ Snap, attention being redirected towards AI and nanotech under the leadership of Tyler Hayward. So did Hayward know about Fury’s role in S.W.O.R.D. and the space-station? Or was Fury pulling a reverse-HYDRA?
Those questions will likely be answered in the upcoming Secret Invasion series, which seems like the most logical place for Monica Rambeau to appear next, alongside Nick Fury and the Skrull leader Talos in an adaptation of one of Marvel’s most ambitious comics crossover events. My belief is that, throughout Phase 4, the MCU will expand outward in three major directions – with earth-based stories, cosmic stories, and mystical stories. WandaVision, fittingly, weaves all three together and lays the groundwork for Monica to continue along a cosmic path, culminating in a major role in Captain Marvel 2.
And the mystical stories will continue to follow Wanda Maximoff, who is now established to be more goddess than human, with the ability to redesign or simply destroy the universe as she sees fit. The post-credits scene gives us a quick look at what the Scarlet Witch has been up to since leaving Westview: isolated in a charming yet lonely cabin by a lake in the wilderness (and within the shadow of a breathtaking mountain some fans think is Wundagore, Wanda’s fictional birthplace, where she was cursed by the primordial deity Chthon), the sorceress appears to be taking that quarantine-style staycation she promised herself back in episode seven. She’s dressed in casual clothes, and seems almost content. But the camera’s long tacking-shot moves past her, proceeding into a darkly lit room where we discover – another Wanda.
The MCU’s sorcerers have long practiced the art of “astral projection”, a technique by which a person’s soul can leave their unconscious or sleeping body and do pretty much anything that their body can do, except with the added benefit of flying and moving through walls. Thus far, Wanda is the only person we’ve seen achieve this while her body is still conscious, which effectively means she’s mastered “bilocation” – being in two places at once. But while her conscious body is just going about her daily routine, her soul is dressed up in the full Scarlet Witch costume and is levitating in the lotus-position, reading Agatha Harkness’ ancient book of magic, the terrifying Darkhold.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans would warn her this is a phenomenally bad idea, since the Darkhold has previously displayed a tendency to drive its readers mad with power-lust. Being in possession of it at all is a risk – particularly if Wanda is currently residing in the vicinity of Wundagore, where Chthon actually wrote the Darkhold and imbued it with all manner of horrors, nightmares, and demonic powers waiting to be unleashed. And yet here comes Wanda, not merely tempting fate by reading the book of the damned, but seeming to use it as a textbook. When she told Monica she would learn how to use her Chaos Magic, I thought we might see her seek out a magical mentor like Doctor Strange or even Karl Mordo – but Wanda’s instead opted for a masterclass in dark magic and demonology.
A dark take on Doctor Strange’s theme music plays as the camera zooms in on Wanda’s concentrated face, before the voice of Billy Maximoff suddenly cuts through the sound – screaming for help, and begging his mother to find him. The screen flashes red, then slams to black: and until Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness rolls around, we probably won’t know for certain what Wanda’s next move will be – or even how Billy (and presumably Tommy) is back from the dead. Remember, both of Wanda’s twins disappeared when she pulled the Hex back into herself: the episode made it explicitly clear that the twins were her creation and thus subject to the same rules as everything else she’d created in Westview, from her dream home to her perfect husband to her fleeting illusion of happiness. All of it had to go.
But there’s always been something strange about the children. They may have been part of The Hex, but they never obeyed Wanda’s ground-rules – and not in the usual way that children disobey their parents; I mean Wanda literally couldn’t control them, even when she exhausted the full extent of her magic on trying to do so. They appeared seemingly out of nowhere, proved impervious to her spells, and were able to age themselves up whenever they wanted – and, of course, they soon revealed their own superpowers, including Billy’s telepathy and Tommy’s enhanced speed. By the end of the series, Wanda seemed to have come to terms with this unexpected development, telling the children before she left that she was thankful to them for choosing her to be their mother. I think by then she must have realized what I now suspect, that Billy and Tommy are beings from another dimension or alternate universe who ended up in her reality but were never really hers.
And that means that the real Billy and Tommy are somewhere out in the Multiverse – of that I’m sure, because both need to return to the MCU so they can join the Young Avengers team, which is currently being assembled. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re really the ones calling out to Wanda for help. It could be an elaborate trap meant to lure the Scarlet Witch into the vast expanse of the Multiverse, where she’ll be at her most vulnerable. Some fans are already jumping back on the Mephisto bandwagon, though to be honest I’m more inclined to suspect Chthon is behind this latest shenanigan – and the more I learn about the Elder God, the more I think he’d be a truly terrifying villain: perfect for Multiverse Of Madness. But even if the twins actually are in danger, that still means someone must be threatening them – and that could also be Chthon, or any number of other dark forces from the pages of Marvel Comics.
And depending on the nature of the threat, Wanda might need to call on multiple allies – including Doctor Strange, and Agatha Harkness, who’s being kept alive and imprisoned in Westview for a reason. Agatha’s knowledge of Chaos Magic and long ownership of the Darkhold would make her a valuable (and delightfully untrustworthy) guide through the Multiverse. Any excuse for more Kathryn Hahn in the MCU is a good enough excuse for me.
But what did you think of WandaVision‘s mid-credits and post-credits scenes, and how would you like to see Wanda and Monica’s journeys continue? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
In eight weeks, Marvel’s WandaVision took us on a wild and occasionally bizarre journey for which I will forever be thankful – there was something about the experience of waking up at three o’-clock in the morning to watch episodes as they aired on Disney+ (or, in the case of the WandaVision finale, having to resist the temptation to do so because I’d promised my family to watch it with them for the first time) that felt truly special, and which I can’t wait to repeat in two weeks once The Falcon And The Winter Soldier gets going. Along the way, I and other fans contributed to the experience by crafting complex fan-theories, and losing ourselves in elaborate worlds of our own creation, not unlike the series’ grief-stricken heroine.
But in the end (and much to the shock and dismay of fans who got too invested in their theories), WandaVision was never a story about Multiverse shenanigans, or the enigmatic aerospace engineer’s true identity, or Mephisto. Did that revelation blindside me too, to some extent? For sure. I was rooting for Dick Van Dyke to show up as Marvel’s Satan until the very end. But the true plot twist was that WandaVision was always a deeply personal and excruciatingly intimate story about one woman (well, witch) processing overwhelming grief; one man (well, android) trapped in an existential crisis; one unusual couple who now stand alongside Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s FitzSimmons as the MCU’s best-developed and most romantic duo. And the finale, while it could certainly have better served other characters and subplots, never once lost its focus on Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, turning in Emmy-award deserving work) and The Vision (Paul Bettany), nor diminished the painful love that binds them together – and that’s what truly matters, at least to me.
That painful love nearly gets Wanda killed just a few minutes into the episode, as the White Vision (also Bettany, a cameo he blew way out of proportion) lands in Westview. Wanda, who hasn’t seen her husband since the morning of the Halloween episode, is slightly perturbed by the android’s unfamiliar appearance, but ultimately accepts his proffered embrace and gentle caress – which quickly turns into a death-grip. The White Vision is close to popping Wanda’s head open (he may have no emotions, but his voice certainly sounds gleeful as he mocks Wanda: “And they said you’d be powerful) when the real Vision suddenly arrives, punching his alabaster counterpart down the street and into a gas-tank. But even as White Vision is rising from the flames and Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) is recovering from an earlier fight with Wanda (which left her lace-up boots trapped under a car in a clever nod to The Wizard Of Oz), Wanda still finds time to apologize to Vision, and fill him in on their situation – because their love and concern for each other’s feelings precedes all else.
But to save Westview, they have to divide and conquer their opponents. Vision takes to the skies, battling the White Vision in an evenly-matched fistfight that makes good use of their respective laser beams and phasing abilities. But Wanda is up against an experienced sorceress who effortlessly absorbs every one of her hexes and sporadic outbursts of Chaos Magic, slowly leeching Wanda’s strength and stamina in the process: the distinction between Agatha and Wanda, which Agatha exploits, is the latter’s lack of knowledge about either her supernatural powers or her destiny as the heiress to the legacy of the mythical Scarlet Witch, whom Agatha claims is “forged” rather than born, possessed of no coven yet stronger than the Sorcerer Supreme himself, the subject of an entire chapter in the mysterious Darkhold, Agatha’s book of dark magic – which was previously seen on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., albeit in a slightly different form.
But all of Agatha’s cat-and-mouse games only serve to enrage Wanda, until the sorceress hits her where it hurts, by releasing all of the inhabitants of Westview from their enchantments and watching them turn on Wanda: forcing her to confront the pain and trauma that she’s caused her neighbors, random strangers whose lives she’s completely upended. It’s clear that Wanda never meant to hurt any of the people she absorbed into The Hex, and that she convinced herself she was actually doing them all a favor by giving them new identities and storylines of their own, but that’s not how it feels to people like Dottie (Emma Caulfield), who’s revealed as a frightened mom named Sarah, or Mrs. Hart (Debra Jo Rupp), who literally begs for death. And Wanda, in one desperate selfless act, listens to their pleas and opens the boundaries of The Hex – giving the townsfolk an escape-route, and allowing in a handful of armored vehicles from S.W.O.R.D.
But when faced with the choice of saving Westview or her family, who begin to crumble away before her eyes as The Hex’s walls come down, Wanda wastes no time re-establishing the barrier: trapping everyone inside for a final confrontation that splits the family up still further, with Billy and Tommy going after the S.W.O.R.D. intruders (neither using their powers very impressively, I’m sorry to say), Vision and White Vision wrecking the public library, and Wanda chasing down Agatha. Meanwhile, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is still trapped in Agatha’s house across town, being held captive by…well, I suppose it’s time we talked about that. Despite wearing the face of the Fox X-Men universe’s Peter Maximoff, the character played by Evan Peters on WandaVision is revealed to be a random guy named Ralph Bohner, with no role to play in the finale, no relation to the Maximoffs, and only a vague association to Agatha despite being the “Ralph” she’s referenced since episode one. And then Monica overpowers him and leaves, and we never see him again. So, uh…yeah.
As for Monica, however, she arrives in the town square just in time to save Billy and Tommy, whom S.W.O.R.D. Director Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg) tries to gun down. Monica throws herself in front of the children, and her body absorbs the bullets. The CGI in this sequence is a bit weak, and honestly Monica deserved an action scene involving flight or photon-blasts, or just…I don’t know, anything but essentially turning into glowing jelly. It doesn’t help that Hayward is also a pathetic villain, who runs from Monica like a coward before Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) totals his armored vehicle with her funnel-cake truck.
In the library, a completely different kind of battle rages between Vision and White Vision – a quiet, yet strangely intense intellectual debate over the ancient “Ship of Theseus” puzzle, which trended on Twitter today. Vision pulls out the philosophical thought experiment to convincingly persuade White Vision that neither of them is the true Vision, and that both are, meaning that White Vision’s orders to “destroy the Vision” cannot be fulfilled. A tender moment ensues as Vision restores White Vision’s memories, ultimately resulting in him abandoning his mission and flying away. Whether he’ll return is hardly in question: it’s only a matter of where and when.
But of course the climax revolves around Wanda and Agatha, who engage in an arguably more traditional duel. Wanda even revisits tricks from her early days in the MCU, plunging Agatha into a hallucination from which the sorceress easily breaks free. The pair twirl dangerously through the skies above Westview, as Wanda’s attacks seem to grow more frantic and her spells miss Agatha, hitting the sides of The Hex instead. But the clever twist here is that Wanda’s been purposefully missing – so that when Agatha prepares to end Wanda, she finds she can’t cast a single spell: because Wanda’s been painting the walls of The Hex red with glowing runes. And as we all know from Agatha herself, “only the witch who cast the runes can use her magic in a given space”. Wanda might not have received formal training, but she’s a good listener.
And what better moment is there for her to finally embrace her role as the MCU’s Scarlet Witch? Reabsorbing all the energy Agatha stole from her, Wanda bursts into magical flames, which weave around her to form a sleek, upgraded version of her comics-accurate costume – including long gloves, a cape, and the iconic tiara! The MCU’s slow-burn approach once again pays off, as Wanda’s transformation feels fully earned after years of wearing designer jackets, high-heeled boots, and perfectly-styled hair: all of which worked at the time, but wouldn’t have felt appropriate going into Wanda’s primordial goddess era.
Descending to earth in her new look, Wanda’s first order of business is to imprison – not kill – Agatha, whom she reverts back to her identity as Agnes the nosy neighbor and leaves in Westview. Although we don’t know of any plans for Agatha in the future, I’m sure there’ll be reason to revisit her at some point: Agatha even tells Wanda as much, and Wanda assures her that, if that’s ever the case, she’ll know where to find her.
But as for Wanda herself, she can’t stay in Westview (certainly not with the neighbors giving her death-stares everywhere she goes). She also can’t keep WandaVision going, and that means it’s time for the “incredibly sad” ending Teyonah Parris warned us was coming…as the magical boundaries of WandaVision quietly close in on Wanda’s home, giving her a chance to spend a few more moments with her family before they must inevitably disintegrate. Outside The Hex, it’s broad daylight. Inside, it’s twilight time: Wanda and Vision put the kids to bed, with Wanda thanking the twins for choosing her to be their mom – an intriguing line. But while she chooses to let Billy and Tommy go peacefully in their sleep, Wanda shares one final scene with Vision downstairs in the living room: and it’s the most beautiful scene in the series.
As the room revolves gently around them, changing backwards into black-and-white and bursting into vivid golden light, Wanda and Vision say their goodbyes – and Vision finally gets an answer to the question that has long plagued him: “What am I?” As Wanda explains it, he’s the piece of the Mind Stone that still lives inside her, but he’s more than that: he’s her sadness, her hope, her grief and thus her love. He’s her every emotion and memory made real, and because of that he is deeply, intrinsically human. It’s a beautiful conclusion to Vision’s journey: at least for the present. He tells Wanda in his last moments that he’s been so many impossible things, there’s no knowing what form he might take next.
And as Wanda leaves Westview, taking to the skies on a new journey of her own, I feel certain that someday, somehow, this unusual couple will find each other again. At the very least, the post-credits scene promises a reunion between Wanda and her twins somewhere down the line (we’ll talk about that in a separate, later, post).
WandaVision quietly did what everyone wanted Marvel to start doing in Phase 4, which is to craft more unique, artistic, character-driven stories in multiple new genres. That the biggest complaint being weighed against it now is that it didn’t have enough of the plot twists and action we’ve come to expect from the MCU is a testament to just how exciting this show really was, that it didn’t need to rely on those elements to tell a compelling and beautiful story about grief, love, and the fullness of the human experience.
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).
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.
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.
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.