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WandaVision, Ep. 8: Previously On

Note:  Welcome back to our episode-by-episode exploration of WandaVision.  As always, there are spoilers ahead; this article assumes you’ve seen up through the eighth episode.

The eighth and penultimate episode of WandaVision serves as an origin story for the two witches of our tale, Agatha Harkness and Wanda Maximoff.  Once upon a time, back before the internet, origin stories were routine in super-hero comics.  It was felt that periodic reminders of who these characters were and where they’d come from were helpful to readers new and old.  The origin stories in this episode are presented as flashbacks — a nice blending of comic and TV tropes, one laid over the other — and each witch’s origin story, bound by magic and tragedy, serves as a contextual frame for the other.

Our story opens in Salem, Massachusetts, the Year of Our Lord 1693, with the young Agatha Harkness being condemned by her fellow witches for betraying her coven, and stealing knowledge ‘above her age and station.’  Not sure what that means, but it’s apparently pretty bad, as even Agatha’s mother stands among her accusers and would-be executioners.  Agatha professes her innocence — that things simply bent to her power, and she can’t control that — but Mom & Co. aren’t buying it.  They sentence Agatha to execution by magical death ray…but whatever that was supposed to do, Agatha’s power winds up overwhelming theirs, turning each member of the coven into a desiccated corpse.  (It were me, I like to think I would’ve advised someone in the coven to just bring a musket and shoot her.  Quicker, more humane, and with the added benefit of, you know…working.  Also, the musket method is less likely to leave everyone dead and looking like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Those death rays were shockingly inefficient….but I digress.)  Agatha takes the brooch from her mother’s body — you can see her wearing this brooch in several previous episodes — and flies off towards her destiny.

Magical death rays, ca. 1693. Should’ve brought a musket.

We resume in the present day where we left off last episode, with Wanda down in Agatha’s creepy-assed basement / chamber of horrors.  Neither Wanda’s telepathy nor her magic (assuming those are two separate things) work in this chamber, thanks to the runes of protection Agatha’s placed on each wall.  According to Agatha, only the magic of the witch that cast these runes will work in the protected area.  What’s puzzling to Agatha is that a witch of Wanda’s evident power — someone who could cast so many spells all at once that Agatha says she couldn’t make heads or tails of it — doesn’t seem to know something as fundamental as what the runes do or how they work.

In fact, Wanda doesn’t seem to know any of what Agatha would call the fundamentals, despite what Wanda has done and continues to do in Westview.  Agatha demonstrates mind control — ‘a classic,’ she says — on an insect, noting it’s but a quick incantation coupled with the insect’s feeble psyche, and ‘you’re good to go’…but Wanda has thousands of people under her thumb, all of them interacting with each other according to complex storylines.  How?

And transmutation?  Agatha changes the insect into a bird.  “Years of study to achieve even the smallest convincing illusion; but Westview through your lens, Wanda…every little detail in place, down to the crown molding.  You’re even running illusions miles away at the edge of town.  Magic on auto-pilot.”  Again…how?  It’s like someone doing four complex neurosurgeries at once, by instinct, without ever learning the first thing about the frontal lobe or the cerebellum or even how to apply a band-aid.  It ought to be impossible.  “Hey, Wanda.  I need you to tell me how you did this.”

When Wanda tells Agatha she didn’t do anything, Agatha tells her, “I tried to be gentle, to nudge you awake from this ridiculous fantasy, but you would rather fall apart than face your truth.”  Agatha determines to take Wanda on a tour of her past.  She conjures a door, plucks a hair from Wanda’s head with which to cast a spell — “I think it’s time to look at some real re-runs.” — and the two step through the door to Wanda’s childhood home in Sokovia.

“Love the Cold War aesthetic,” says Agatha.  While the apartment that Oleg and Irina Maximoff shared with their two children could hardly be called opulent, the family appeared happy enough, if Wanda’s memory is a reliable indicator.  Like Rose’s recollections in Titanic (1997), there’s some reason to believe that what we’re seeing here is less objective testimony and more composite mythology, given a nostalgic luster by time and longing.  (At one point, Irina looks out a window upon what looks like an active firefight on the street, which doesn’t quite jibe with the family’s behavior inside, settling down for what looks like a very normal and comfortable TV night.)

Oleg sells black market DVD’s of American sitcoms, which his daughter Wanda loves.  Oleg’s open case of contraband contains most of the shows that Wanda has used (will use?) as templates for Westview — “Always sitcom, sitcom, sitcom!” her brother complains — but Wanda’s favorite is The Dick Van Dyke Show.[1]The episode the family watches isn’t S2 E21, but S2 E20, ‘It May Look Like a Walnut‘ from Feb 6 1963.  Rob and Laura have the most fun shenanigans, according to Irina.  Wanda defines shenanigan for Pietro as a type of problem that’s more silly than scary.  Like mischief, says Irina.  Silly mischief that always becomes fine, says Oleg.  They’re the last words her parents say in Wanda’s memory.

A bomb destroys the family’s apartment, killing Oleg and Irina instantly.  Wanda and Pietro, miraculously still alive, take shelter beneath a bed.  Another bomb drops — Stark Industries clearly stenciled on it — but fails to go off, its blinking red light and the sound it makes evocative of the Stark Toastmate 2000 from way back in episode 1.

Wanda is pulled from the memory by Agatha, who suggests that Wanda stopped the second bomb from detonating with a probability hex.  That’s both how Wanda describes her powers in the comics, and how her powers actually work — she changes the probability of events happening or not happening — though it’s ascribed to magic here, and  to her mutant powers in the comics.  Wanda suggests the bomb was just defective.  Agatha points out that Wanda and her brother survived two days unscathed, safe as kittens, in an active war zone, feet away from a heavy-duty piece of unexploded ordinance designed by a guy whose ordinance isn’t known for failure.

“What I see here,” says Agatha, “is a baby witch, obsessed with sitcoms, and years of therapy ahead of her.  Doesn’t explain your recent hijinks.  Where’d you get the big guns, Wanda?”

Agatha conjures another door, this one steel and vault-like, with a Hydra symbol on it.

“I don’t want to go back there,” says Wanda, fearful.

“I know you don’t.  But it’s good medicine, angel.  The only way forward is back.”

The door opens to a Hydra laboratory.  The memory in this flashback is Wanda’s initial contact with the Mind Stone, which at this time was still part of Loki’s scepter from Avengers (2012).  Wanda’s put in a room with the scepter, a pair of Hydra scientists observing from behind a partition.  One Hydra scientist seems to have some reservations about this plan, seeing as how literally no one they’ve exposed to this scepter has survived the process, but the scientist in charge suffers no such pangs of conscience.  He orders Wanda to touch the scepter.

Before Wanda can take more than a couple steps forward, however, the stone in the scepter detaches itself and floats to within arm’s reach of her.  She reaches out to it, and the blue stone shatters to reveal the warm amber of the Mind Stone, before that too shatters, becoming a sun-like radiance too bright for Wanda to gaze directly into, the force of it like standing in a high wind.  For a moment, Wanda sees a female figure with a distinctive silhouette approaching out of the blaze, before she collapses to the floor.

The mysterious silhouette from the Mind Stone.

All of this seemingly takes place in Wanda’s mind, as after she collapses we see the lab just how it was before, the scepter still intact, its stone still nestled in its setting.  The Hydra scientists discover Wanda is still alive, and place her under observation (where Wanda passes the time watching The Brady Bunch).

When the Hydra scientists attempt to review their film of Wanda’s collapse, there are several seconds of footage missing, prefiguring similar editing that will happen in the WandaVision broadcast from Westview.  From the Hydra scientists’ perspective, one moment Wanda has entered the room, standing upright and preparing to touch the stone; the next she’s collapsed to the floor, with no footage in between.  “It makes no sense,” one of them says.  “What happened in there?”

“So,” says Agatha, “little orphan Wanda got up close and personal with an Infinity Stone that amplified what otherwise would have died on the vine.  The broken pieces of you are adding up, buttercup.”

The next door opens to a room in the Avengers compound, a post Age of Ultron (2015) Wanda sitting on her bed, dazed by grief, half-heartedly watching Malcolm in the Middle.

“Pietro was dead,” Wanda explains to Agatha, “and I was in a new country.  I was all alone.”

The Vision enters the room to watch TV with Wanda, and he tries to comfort her, but she’s inconsolable over Pietro’s loss.  She likens her grief, in what’s a recurring theme in WandaVision, to a wave that threatens to drown her.  The Vision tells her that won’t happen.

“How do you know?” says Wanda.

“Well, because it can’t all be sorrow, can it?  I’ve always been alone, so I don’t feel the lack.  It’s all I’ve ever known.  I’ve never experienced loss because I’ve never had a loved one to lose.  But what is grief, if not love persevering?”

It’s a lovely line and a lovely moment — these two people sitting quietly, watching TV and enjoying each other’s company — and it’s wisely given room to breathe.

“So to recap,” says Agatha.  “Parents dead.  Brother dead.  Vision dead.  What happened when he wasn’t around to pull you back from the darkness, Wanda?”

“I can’t do this anymore.”

“Come on, Wanda.  You’re on the precipice.  You are right there.  Tell me how you did it.  Vision was gone, but you wanted him back.”

“I wanted him back.  I wanted him back.”

Another door is conjured — a glass office door this time, which is a nice touch — to S.W.O.R.D. headquarters.  This flashback is to a few days past, when Wanda arrived to secure the Vision’s body for burial.  Curiously, this memory is nothing like the story Hayward concocted for the benefit of Monica, Jimmy, and Darcy, of Wanda forcing entry and stealing the Vision’s body.  According to Wanda’s memory, it didn’t happen like that.

“I know you have him,” Wanda tells the man at the desk.  “Please.  When I came back, he was gone.  His…body.  And I know he’s here.  He deserves a funeral, at least.  deserve it.”

She’s invited back behind the curtain by no less a luminary than Director Hayward himself.  Hayward shows Wanda a horrifying scene, the Vision’s body being disassembled in a room behind glass and below Hayward’s office, reduced to parts for study and repurposing.

“What is this?  Why are you showing me this?”

“Because you asked to see it,” says Hayward.

Hayward explains they’re dismantling the most sophisticated sentient weapon ever made, that doing so is S.W.O.R.D.’s legal and ethical obligation.

“I just want to bury him,” says Wanda.  “That’s all I want.”

“Are you sure?”

“Excuse me?”

“Not everyone has the kind of power that could bring their soulmate back online — forgive me — back to life.”

“No, I can’t do that,” Wanda says, uncertain, as though the idea that she could do that is just now dawning on her.  Oh, those tricky S.W.O.R.D. directors!  “That…that’s not why I’m here.  I just want to bury him.”

“Okay.  But I cannot allow you take three billion dollars’ worth of vibranium just to put it in the ground.  So, the best I can do is let you say goodbye to him here.”

“He’s all that I have,” she whispers.

“Well, that’s just it, Wanda.  He isn’t yours.”

It’s the wrong answer, or at least it’s not any answer she’s willing to accept.  Wanda shatters the display window with her powers and floats down to the Vision’s body.  Armed guards arrive, but Hayward orders them to stand down.  Wanda reaches out to touch the Vision, inert and empty, his face cold and lifeless.  “I can’t feel you,” Wanda says, tears streaming down her face.

“I can’t feel you.”

She leaves the S.W.O.R.D. base and drives to Westview, New Jersey, the same route Monica Rambeau will take a few days later.  She rolls slowly through the center of town, seeing places and faces for the first time that will become familiar to us.  She drives to a residential lot that’s been abandoned these past five years, nothing on it but the basic foundation for a house that was never built.  She opens a property deed given to her by the Vision before his death — a place to grow old in, he wrote — and this is it.

The moment when Wanda Maximoff, in her unbearable grief and sadness, simply decides, consciously or otherwise, to rewrite at least one small corner of reality into something she can live with.

Her power emanates out from her in a rush, changing the town and the land for miles around.  She builds the house on the empty lot, piece by piece…and then reconstructs the Vision, layer by layer, in what looks like a painful process, not unlike birth.  But when it’s done, there’s the Vision, recreated in black and white, in a smart tie and sweater combo.  We’ve come full circle to episode 1’s set and aesthetic.

“Wanda,” he says.  “Welcome home.  Shall we stay in tonight?”  Past-Wanda joins him in the black and white sitcom set, and the happy couple settle down next to each other on the couch, sharing a kiss….while present day-Wanda looks on, the emptiness of what she’s created dawning on her.

“Bravo,” says Agatha, sitting out where the studio audience would be and sardonically slow-clapping.  She teleports herself outside, where Wanda can hear her children calling her for help.  She runs out of the studio and into the street to find Agatha, levitating in full purple witch glory, painfully restraining both boys with energy leashes.

“I know what you are,” Agatha tells Wanda.  “You have no idea how dangerous you are.  You’re supposed to be a myth.  A being capable of spontaneous creation…and here you are, using it to make breakfast for dinner.  Your children, and Vision, and this whole little life you’ve made…this is chaos magic, Wanda.

“And that makes you the Scarlet Witch.”

Aaaaaaand….scene.

Holy shit!

____

The hand strikes…and gives a flower.  We got a lot of answers this episode, but I’m finding they were replaced by yet more questions.  Let’s get after it.

  • Love the Marvel Studios branding turning from red to Agatha’s purple at the top of the episode.
  • The Agatha Harkness of the comics is thousands, not hundreds, of years old.
  • “We’ve got work to do.”  I’m still not convinced Agatha Harkness is some sort of villain.  She strikes me as more of a tough-love therapist here:  part detective, trying to figure out who this young woman is and how it’s possible for her to be doing what she’s doing; and part lion-tamer, trying to keep the world’s biggest, most dangerous predatory cat from escaping the circus and doing more harm to itself and others.  These motives — training and constraining — would very much be in line with what the Agatha Harkness of the comics would do.  She’s the Obi Wan to Wanda’s Anakin, The Shining‘s Dick Hallorann to Wanda’s Danny Torrance.[2]“Naw, you got a flashlight, he the one with the searchlight.” — The Shining, pp. 481 And, as we see in this very episode, the Agatha Harkness of the MCU has some experience with the exercise of raw power that’s neither understood nor fully controlled.
  • If we assume that Agatha sensed Wanda’s sorcery from afar and came to investigate its cause and effects, it’s worth asking:  where’s Doctor Strange?  If Agatha Harkness can sense this sort of ‘disturbance in the force,’ surely this dimension’s Sorcerer Supreme can.  Doctor Strange lives in Manhattan, less than 160 miles away from the furthest point in New Jersey.  Doesn’t seem far enough away to mask a magical event of this scale from the likes of Doctor Strange, if indeed any distance would be sufficient to mask it from him.
  • Young Wanda and Pietro appear in their traditional super-hero colors.  Red for Wanda, blue and grey for Pietro.
  • Wanda looking back at her mother who gives her a kind of kiss was a sweet detail.
  • Does the Mind Stone in the Hydra lab reach out to Wanda of its own accord?  Or does Wanda reach out to it, bringing it to her?
  • The figure coming out of the blaze of the Mind Stone looks like it could be a silhouette of Wanda herself in the comics.  Could also be the Enchantress — she also wears a funky horned headdress deal — though that’d be coming out of left field by this point.
  • A close look at Agatha’s brooch shows what look to me like three figures beneath flowers or a cloud…?  Three is a number oft associated with witches (Macbeth, the Fates, etc.).
  • It’s odd to the hear the Vision talk about having always been alone, how it’s all he’s ever known, when he’s been in existence for maybe a week or so at this point.
  • I want to point out how good Elizabeth Olsen is in her scene talking to the fellow at the desk in S.W.O.R.D. HQ.  Twice, she has to stop and compose herself before she can continue speaking.  She’s good just in general in this series and in this episode.
  • Wanda’s the only source of bright, warm color in a S.W.O.R.D. base full to the brim with cold neutral blues, greys, and whites.
  • The actor who plays Director Tyler Hayward, Josh Stamberg, was born and raised in Washington, D.C., the son of a state department official and a former co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered.  I’ve never met a federal official, but Stamberg’s Tyler Hayward is absolutely what I imagine such an official would look and sound like.
  • Here’s where we speculate on what Tyler Hayward does or doesn’t know about Wanda Maximoff and her powers.  Presumably, as a government official in charge of the department most likely to spearhead American efforts into the super-hero arms race — what are super-heroes like the Avengers if not sentient weapons? —  Hayward would have easy access to pretty much everything ever written about Wanda and the other Avengers.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he knows things about what she can and can’t do that she herself doesn’t know.  I’m assuming that’s what happening here, with him practically daring Wanda to just up and take the Vision’s body.  Because otherwise, it’s a pretty big leap to go from a person moving objects with their mind to reanimating dead people.  Wanda seems genuinely surprised when Hayward suggests that she could use her powers to bring the Vision back to life.
  • It’s a bold game Hayward’s playing here, agitating an already agitated person who could pretty much end your life just by thinking about it.
  • The Vision was shown disassembled in a manner similar to this in West Coast Avengers #43, April 1989, by John Byrne.
  • If Elizabeth Olsen was good in the scene at the desk, she knocks it out of the park touching the Vision’s face and telling him, “I can’t feel you.”  This is far and away the most genuine and emotional thing I’ve seen in an MCU production.
  • Wanda’s car, a Buick, is scarlet — what else? — and is the only car of that color in the S.W.O.R.D. parking lot.
  •  This Scarlet Witch business, just hearing it out loud, well…it warms my atrophied geek heart.  I don’t care if it’s cheesy.  This is the Opposite of Cool blog, not the Too Cool to Care About Comic Book Movie Bullshit blog.

The post-credits scene this go-round has Hayward being told the team is ready to launch.  It’s unclear to me whether that means some sort of ground assault team, or whether it refers to the team and the operation going on within a nearby tent.

“We took this thing apart and put it back together a million times,” Hayward says to his staff in the tent.  “Tried every type of power supply under the sun, when all we needed was a little energy directly from the source.”  He gazes at the drone Wanda disabled back in episode 5, still coruscating with red energy.

Hayward gives his approval to go ahead with the operation.  A switch is thrown, and energy flows from the drone to animate what looks like a spooky-as-fuck, all-white version of the Vision.

Director Hayward’s Vision.

Well…!  Who saw that coming?!

Last observations:

  • Such a big deal was made about Dottie in episode 2, aaaaaaand…that was literally the last we ever heard about it.
  • We haven’t seen or heard anything about that book that may or may not be the Darkhold in Agatha’s basement either.  I get that it’s probably nothing important, but why make a point of showing it to us otherwise?  It’s not something just seen in the background either, but an object given its own specific shot.
  • Given what we know by the end of the post-credit scene in this episode, why would Hayward send Monica Rambeau to Westview?  Surely he could’ve sent Monica literally anywhere else, and sent someone much more loyal to his own cause to chaperone the drone Jimmy Woo requested.
  • Did Wanda recreate the Vision flying around in Westview from nothing?  Or did she use material from the Vision she’d just left at the S.W.OR.D. base in her Vision’s creation?  If it’s the former, then what was Hayward tracking in episode 6 and how was he tracking it?  If it’s the latter, then who’s this pale imposter in the post-credits scene?  I guess it’s possible that if S.W.O.R.D. had a working model of the Vision — and we know they did, for years — that they could conceivably reverse-engineer their own version.
  • Also, if the Westview Vision turns out to be a fictional creation of Wanda’s, what would that make Tommy and Billy?  There’s a parallel to this in the comics, and it involves Agatha Harkness, but I’ll wait until next episode to address it, after seeing how this shakes it.

And that’s that.  Next up is the final episode of the series!  Questions or comments?  Hit me up!

‘Til next time…!

References

References
1 The episode the family watches isn’t S2 E21, but S2 E20, ‘It May Look Like a Walnut‘ from Feb 6 1963.
2 “Naw, you got a flashlight, he the one with the searchlight.” — The Shining, pp. 481

2 replies on “WandaVision, Ep. 8: Previously On”

Another glorious entry. “Magical Death rays…should’ve brought a musket” was a big laugh! Can’t wait for the last episode. Are you going to do a post-Morten of the series as a whole? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it ties together in light of your earlier prognostications!

Re: the post-mortem, I think so. I tried to avoid reading anything about WandaVision while I was watching and writing about it. So yeah, my thinking right now is to write up ep. 9, and then go back, see what other people caught that I missed! I’m sure there’s a whole lot of TV stuff that went right over my head, and probably some comic book stuff as well.

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