[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for WandaVision, Season 1, Episode 8, “Previously On.”]
So here we are with the penultimate episode of WandaVision and… well. No fictitious commercials. No catchy original theme song. No changing the aspect ratio. No post-modern commentary on sitcoms at all (sort of). Instead, Episode 8, “Previously On,” eschews whimsy and fantasy to focus on reality.
Well, sorta. The speculation here at Collider HQ over the last week was that this episode would focus largely on revealing Agatha’s real backstory, after last week’s discovery that she’s been the source of Wanda’s troubles all this time. (All along, you might even say.) And at the beginning that seemed like it would be the case, as we got to see a key part of Agatha’s history — being hauled to the stake by her coven in Salem, circa 1693. Accused of betraying her fellow witches in the pursuit of forbidden knowledge and power, Agatha tries to deny it before admitting that “I didn’t break your rules — they simply bent to my power.” And when they attack, she turns their magic back on them, ultimately killing the entire coven.
But from there, we hop back to the present where it’s all about Wanda… Well, Wanda, and Agatha’s determination to figure out who/what Wanda really is, by using magic to trip through a few important moments of Wanda’s past.
The first flashback features the deceased Maximoff parents the night a Stark Industries bomb killed them, leaving both Wanda and Pietro alive to stare down another unexploded missile for two days. It’s a bit of Wanda’s history established by Avengers: Age of Ultron (though with a difference or two, as noted below). Here’s what matters: While fighting on the streets of Sokovia wages outside, Wanda’s father comes home with a suitcase of classic sitcoms on DVD — Who’s the Boss, Addams Family, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and Malcolm in the Middle — because it’s TV night in the Maximoff home, when they practice their English and watch comedic favorites.
Her father lets Wanda choose, and she goes for The Dick Van Dyke Show, for which the DVDs are hidden in a “special place for extra safekeeping” (something dropped so deliberately here that I’m emphasizing it as a potential clue for whatever might be coming in the finale). When the bomb drops, it’s a visceral shock — a haunting moment of direction by Matt Shakman — but in the aftermath, Agatha gets the clue she was looking for: evidence that the reason the second bomb never exploded was that Wanda used her wee baby witch powers to cast a “probability hex” and save herself and Pietro.
Agatha then pushes Wanda onto her next key memory; volunteering for the Hydra experiment that would ultimately grant her a new level of super-abilities prior to her introduction in Age of Ultron. While we hear the two scientists monitoring her say that no one has lived through direct contact with whatever’s inside the scepter, Wanda survives her exposure to what we know to be the Mind Stone. (That’s of course the same Infinity Stone that would later give Vision sentience in his vibranium body.) And not only does Wanda emerge transformed, but in the process she has a vision of a woman wearing a pretty familiar-looking headdress:
I guess Agatha saw Age of Ultron in the theater, because she doesn’t bother rehashing the events of that film — instead, the next memory we leap to is a moment of connection Wanda shares with Vision, while mourning the loss of her brother. The two sit together while an episode of Malcolm in the Middle plays, Bryan Cranston‘s wacky dad getting into shenanigans while Paul Bettany delivers a gut-punch of a beautiful line: “But what is grief, if not love persevering?” It’s the beginning of Wanda and Vision’s love story, which makes it even sadder to watch when Agatha pushes them forward.
The next sequence takes place immediately post-Blip, as Wanda relives the trip she made to S.W.O.R.D. headquarters to try to claim Vision’s body so she can bury him properly. Technically, we’ve seen some of this before, after Director Hayward showed footage of Wanda storming into the facility to, according to him, take Vision’s body by force. But it turns out Hayward is a little bit of a lying liar who lies, manipulating the video to hide the truth: That while Wanda did burst into the lab where S.W.O.R.D. was literally dissecting the mechanical corpse of the man she loved, she left the body behind after realizing she could no longer.
Wanda drives from S.W.O.R.D. to, of all places, Westview, New Jersey — albeit the modern-day, non-fantasy version, where some of the folks we’ve grown familiar with over the course of this season look pretty glum. Her choice of destination isn’t random, as she arrives at an empty lot in a suburban neighborhood, one for which she has the deed:
Looking at Vision’s note here, on the unfinished site of the home they’ll never share together, is what makes her break, and the grief blasts out of her, not just building a perfect ’50s suburban home out of nothingness, but transforming the rest of Westview into a picturesque town to match. And out of nothingness Wanda also creates a new Vision, black and white and ready to welcome her home.
Wanda sinks into the couch and her happy fantasy — until Agatha snaps her out of it, the sitcom fantasy shifting to the unreality of a multi-cam soundstage. When Wanda hears her boys calling out for her, she finds an exit and runs out… onto the street outside her home, where Agatha, having gone full witch in the blink of an eye, is choking Billy and Tommy with magic purple ropes. Kathryn Hahn goes full supervillain in the best way as she tells Wanda that she’s figured out that Wanda is the incarnation of a mythical figure, “a being capable of spontaneous creation… and here you are using it to make breakfast for dinner.”
In short, Agatha names her: “that makes you the Scarlet Witch.” And credits!
Well, credits, and then a mid-credits sequence delivering a major reveal: Specifically, what Hayward’s been working on all this time on the outskirts of Westview. Wondering what happened to Vision’s body, since Wanda didn’t really steal it? Turns out S.W.O.R.D. has transformed it into a monochromatic version of Vision, a real Sentient Weapon they’ll now be ready to deploy in the season finale.
“Previously On” didn’t include nearly any of the elements that have made this show so enjoyable to track over the last several weeks, and there was a pretty large amount of exposition packed into this episode. However, it also spotlighted the incredible talents of both Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn, and delivered something we don’t often get in stories about superheroes — an honest and sometimes heartbreaking look at the mind-numbing truth of grief. WandaVision has been playing with the concept of fantasy versus reality all season long, and this was the week that made it clear there are some things you can never escape.
And Now, For These Messages…
- It’s a real trip to see scenes in a “Previously On…” segment that I first saw in a movie theater. But the fact that WandaVision is really treated as an extension of the MCU here is appreciated.
- I hate to be that person pointing out continuity errors in a show about undead superheroes and literal witches, but here we go: according to my research, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff were allegedly born in 1989, and were 10 years old when their parents were killed in the explosion seen in this episode. While there’s some wiggle room there to accommodate for the fact that Malcolm in the Middle premiered in 2000, there’s no getting around the fact that Malcolm Season 1 wasn’t released on DVD in the United States until October 29, 2002. (And it wouldn’t be available on Region 2/3 DVDs for another 10 years.)
- Also gotta say, if you told me at the beginning of this season that Malcolm in the Middle would end up being one of the show’s most significant reference points — yeah, wouldn’t have believed you.
While talking about the real sitcoms featured in this episode, here is the Wikipedia description for “It May Look Like a Walnut,” the Dick Van Dyke Show episode Wanda picks to watch for TV Night:
Rob enjoys a scary sci-fi movie on TV while Laura cowers under the bed covers so as to not hear it. When the show ends, Rob further tortures Laura by telling the tale of Kolak, a visitor from the planet Twilo who resembles Danny Thomas and deploys walnuts to steal Earthlings’ thumbs and imaginations. Rob awakes in the morning to a living room strewn with walnuts and Laura preparing scrambled walnuts for Rob’s breakfast. Everyone at the office is acting as if Kolak really existed. Is Rob dreaming or is Laura having her revenge?
There might be some stuff to unpack there.
- Crap, I’m nitpicking again, but in Age of Ultron, Quicksilver tells the story of his parents’ death, and in this version, instead of watching TV they were eating dinner when the bombs hit. Okay, I’m done.
- One episode left, and if nothing else I’m pretty excited to find out who the rumored Big Name Guest Star might end up being. (Fingers crossed for M.O.D.O.K.)
New episodes of WandaVision stream Fridays on Disney+.
Here’s the spoiler-free 411 on this pivotal scene.
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