Spoiler Alert: I'm going to discuss the TV show WandaVision in its entirety. If you haven’t seen the show yet go watch and then come back here.
On the podcast, we’ve spent the last 9 weeks discussing each episode of WandaVision. In last week’s podcast, we were joined by friend of the show, Patrick “Patty” Sturdivant. Patty is our resident Marvel-expert. He first joined us for a live recording to review Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Then he joined us to discuss the big Disney marvel announcement in December 2020. I recommend all that material, it’s great, and not just because you get to hear me talk, a lot.
WandaVision is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's (MCU) first foray into stream television. Sort of. Marvel has had a pretty sizable catalog of TV Shows, including on ABC and Netflix. We’re told though, that these are not canonical. So while they bear a lot of references to the MCU, Disney says they’re not legit. I think this was stupid, but regardless what WandaVision is doing is fundamentally different.
Marvel’s Agents of Shield attempted to tie in with the movies when it bridged the Winter Soldier storyline. If you watched the show in real-time the episode before Winter Solider released was setting the scene for the fall of Hydra. Then when you watched the episode that came right after Winter Soldier’s release it picked up moments after the movie concluded. The remainder of that season and the next followed the collapse of Shield, a part of the MCU that is largely glossed over in the movies. Agents of Shield also brought characters from the movies, most notably Phil Coulsen, but also Nick Fury and even Lady Sif from the Thor franchise. But Disney says that’s not MCU canon...
Netflix released several shows, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Iron Fist, The Punisher, and The Defenders. These shows often made references to the attack on New York from The Avengers. Yet they never directly referenced primary MCU characters or any of the other MCU events that had taken place. When the Netflix deal ended with Disney these shows seemed to evaporate into time. There are rumors that The Punisher might come back, as well as rumors that Charlie Cox from Daredevil might appear in Spiderman 3. I hope these rumors pan out because The Punisher was excellent and Charlie Cox is the gold standard of Daredevil casting (sorry Ben Affleck). One wonders if there will be references to The Iron Fist in Shang-Chi. But again, Disney says all this material is not MCU canon…
WandaVision doesn’t split hairs about where it stands in the MCU. There is no ambiguity here. It picks up shortly after Endgame and follows Wanda as she is coping with the loss of her love, Vision. The show follows the VisionQuest arc of the 1980’s West Coast Avengers comic run. The arc is mostly good, but it gets quirky at times, like when it introduces the Great Lakes Avengers. That arc does have Wanda losing Vision, having children, and ultimately losing her grip of things in grief.
This show kicks off right in the middle of a town called Westview, but it looks like a 1950’s sitcom. We’ll progress through sitcom styles of the ’50s to the ’60s and ’70s in the first three episodes. At first glance, this seems gimmicky, like it was something someone on the production side wanted to do for fun. In episode 8 we learn that it was sitcoms that got Wanda through war-torn Secovia. Secovia looks like the Eastern block of Germany from the clips that we see. This sitcom style might have run one episode too long for me. Watching the Avengers Assemble episode on WandaVision made me realize, though, the level of creativeness that went into these episodes. It also left me suspicious that the writers might have got lost in the fun of it too.
The sitcoms are there to show us Wanda’s idealism and the things she’s never had: a stable suburban life with a husband and kids. There’s no grief for Wanda in the sitcoms because she’s displaced it to the townspeople of Westview. She is channeling her grief to them through the magic of what we'll come to know as The Hex.
The Hex is a reddish bubble that exists over Westview, and Wanda has control of everyone inside of it. This is a stunning use of magic. Wanda transforms matter, creates people (like Vision and her children), and controls the minds of thousands of residents. She controls who gets in and who doesn’t. It seems horrific. We’re left through the first 7 episodes wondering if Wanda made The Hex or if it was someone else, and she’s trapped too.
Meanwhile, we have SWORD, which is like SHIELD but for space. Remember, SHIELD is gone, having been dismantled after it was revealed that Hydra had infiltrated it in Captain America: Winter Soldier. After a run on the sitcoms, we focus in on Monica Rambeau, who for a time is actually in the hex as a character named Geraldine. We’ve met Monica before in Captain Marvel; she is Maria Rambeau’s daughter and Maria is Carol Danvers’ best friend. Monica is all grown up now and works for SWORD, an organization we learn her mother helped create. Monica was snapped up during the blip, and while she was away her mother passed away from cancer. Monica comes back confused, but ready to jump back in with SWORD. It’s during her re-acclimation that we meet Director Hayward, who you can’t help but feel is just a bit creepy. It turns out that Hayward has ulterior motives in the show; he wants Wanda’s power to help create a new Vision and use it as a weapon.
Monica will eventually gain powers as she tries to enter The Hex a second time. It’s not clear what happens here, but we know in the comics that she is a superhero known both as Spectrum and Photon. WandaVision seems like a setup for this storyline. Unfortunately, they’re just scratching the surface. I was left feeling like they must have cut a lot of Monica’s storyline from the final show. It feels incomplete and forced. The entire SWORD storyline is there, but almost as an afterthought at times.
In the end, Monica, with the help of Agent Woo from Ant-Man and Darcy from Thor will try to get to Wanda to convince her to end The Hex. Monica teases us into thinking Wanda might not be in control, but in the end, this is thrown in as misdirection. Monica goes rogue from SWORD and decides to try to end The Hex despite Director Hayward telling her not to. Monica then teases us that she’s going to call an aerospace engineer. This created quite the buzz on the internet, and I admit, I wanted it to be Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). It wasn’t, and it shouldn’t have been. Mr. Fantastic deserves a better introduction to the MCU than what WandaVision could have offered. There was nothing especially significant of the character. This seems like a missed opportunity. Couldn’t it have been Amadeus Cho? Or Ironheart? The writers could have capitalized on plenty of other Marvel characters here.
Finally, we get to Agatha, the suspicious nosy next-door neighbor. She turns out to be more than just another resident of Westview. Our first clue is when she doesn’t appear on Woo’s board of identified residents in the SWORD camp. The internet suspected she was Agatha Harkness. Agatha is a witch from the comics who goes back to the days of the Salem Witch Trials. Agatha’s special gift is stealing the power of other witches. By the end of the series, she will identify Wanda as the Scarlet Witch. This name was off-limits in the MCU until Disney acquired 21st Century FOX. This is the first time we hear her with that mantle. It’s a big deal, because it’s the first crossover event of mutants into the MCU.
In the comics, Agatha is like a deranged mentor to Wanda. She helps Wanda get through her grief at the loss of her children at one point. That’s not the MCU’s Agatha, at least not yet. Agatha here has been manipulating Wanda inside of The Hex. She was drawn to The Hex because of its chaos magic, the most powerful magic that exists. She will eventually tell Wanda that she is more powerful than the Sorcerer Supreme, who is Dr. Strange. Does Wanda know this? It’s hard to say because both she and Strange blipped and the only actual crossover we’ve seen was in The Battle for Earth during Avengers: Endgame.
Agatha’s big reveal takes us through the history of Wanda’s grief. It’s at this point we learn the significance of the sitcom episodes. We see Wanda loose her parents, her brother Pietro and ultimately Vision. We also get some background on how Wanda and Vision came to be an item. It was here that we see Vision consoling Wanda with the epic line, “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
As with every MCU installment, WandaVision ends with a big battle. Hayward tries to shoot Wanda and her family but Monica (Spectrum) stops them in the first clear demonstration of her powers. Wanda’s kids, who in the comics are Wiccan and Speed of the Young Avengers, take care of Heyward’s military support. Vision and Heyward’s incarnation of Vision faceoff (fake vision aka “fision) in an aerial battle that ends in a library with them debating the Ship of Theseus. Wanda takes to the sky against Agatha. Agatha thinks she is absorbing Wanda’s power when in reality Wanda is building runes all around The Hex. The runes hearken back to a remark that Agatha makes to Wanda, “Only the witch to cast the runes can use her magic.” Ultimately Wanda dupes Agatha. She wins the battle and confines Agatha to her nosy neighbor persona. Agatha appears to have her power neutralized.
At this point, Wanda faces the hard reality of ending The Hex. As The Hex is shrinking Wanda begins to say her goodbyes. First she thanks the twins for “choosing me to be your mom”. Then she converses with Vision in what is arguably some of the best dialogue of the show. Vision’s goodbye is a profound tear-jerker, “I have been a voice with nobody, a body but not human, and now, a memory made real. Who knows what I might be next? We’ve said good-bye before, so it stands to reason…” Wanda replies, “We’ll say hello again.”
Heyward’s fake Vision is gone, we know not where. The people of Westview have been freed. Wanda’s family is gone. Monica faces Wanda and says, “They’ll never know what you sacrificed for them.” It all seems like Wanda might be the superhero of the show, but she’s not. She’s tortured an entire town to cope with her grief. She’s a monster in every sense of the word. Lest there be any doubt, Agatha, who is a villain in her own right, is trapped by Wanda still. The show is over, at least, the sitcoms are.
There are two post-credit scenes, the first where Monica is approached by an agent, maybe of SWORD? It turns out to be a Skrull, the species persecuted by the Kree in Captain Marvel. Monica has met the Skrulls before so she’s not surprised to see an alien. The Skrull says, “I was sent by an old friend of your mother’s.” Odds are this is Nick Fury, but there’s also the possibility it could be another character in the MCU. We know that the MCU is working on Secret Invasion, which is a story about the Skrull infiltration of earth. Does that mean Monica will be in that show? It seems likely. It also seems increasingly likely that Captain Marvel 2 will tie into that show as well.
The final post-credit scene shows Wanda in a small house near a mountainside. As we zoom in we find her astral form in a back room with a book. That book is The Dark Hold. This book has a few names, The Book of Sins and The Book of the Damned are the two big ones. It’s a spellbook containing a bunch of magic made of dark matter, which comes from the Dark Dimension. We’ve seen the Dark Dimension before in the MCU. That’s where Dormammu, the main villain in Dr. Strange, resides. That’s the stuff that Wanda appears to be studying. The very appearance of the astral form is a connection to Dr. Strange. The Dark Hold also points us to potential plots for Dr. Strange and The Multiverse of Madness. To top it off we hear the voices of Wanda’s kids off in the distance.
By and large, I think the show was very well-written. The dialogue excelled in so many places that I agree with my friend Patty, this is some of the best of the MCU. Elizabeth Olsen’s acting is next level. Kathryn Hahn’s Agnes/Agatha is nothing short of brilliant. Paul Bettany seems to be having pure fun in this role. It’s a great cast and the acting is brilliant.
As I mentioned earlier, I think the sitcom angle was taken a little too far. One less sitcom episode and I think we would have still gotten the point. The writers waited to cross over to the SWORD storyline a little too late as well. The show probably would have benefited from some of that context earlier. When I went back and rewatched the show, the first three episodes were so much richer with the SWORD context. That said, the SWORD storyline itself seems unfulfilled. Monica Rambeau is undeveloped. But it’s a great show and a great start for the MCU’s canonical foray into television. I’m excited about Dr. Strange and hopeful that there’s more to this story in that forthcoming movie.
I can’t decide how approachable this show is to those who aren’t familiar with the MCU. At the same time, who even are those people? If you have a passing familiarity with the MCU then you probably have enough background for WandaVision. If you’ve seen Civil War, Dr. Strange, and Captain Marvel you’ll benefit from the additional insight. But I don’t think those are required. Those first sitcom episodes are especially catchy for those not fully immersed in the MCU as they’re generally light on MCU-lore.
If you want WandaVision to be your entry point into the MCU it’s going to be tough. I think that at the very least you need Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Infinity War to have enough context to know what’s going on with Wanda. Of course, no one in their right mind will watch Infinity War and not watch Endgame. Those are great movies though, so it’ll be worth the investment. With those three movies, you’re all set in my opinion.
I’m glad Disney took on the challenge of this long-form episodic story. It was a treat each Friday to tune in with the family and see what’s next. I’m really glad that Disney did not drop the whole series at once like Netflix does. Releasing an episode each week helped the build up and created a lot of conversation around the show. This past week Disney released an episode of Avengers Assembled showing how they made WandaVision. It's worth watching. You’ll get a sense of how much creative energy went into the design and writing of the show. It’s a ton of fun and even my kids were glued to the screen.
Next up is Falcon & the Winter Soldier. The stakes are high on this one. I fully expect it to be a sequel to Captain America: Civil War, which is my favorite non-Avengers movie in the MCU. They’ve got a great set of characters that are perfectly cast. I’ll be shocked if it’s not as enjoyable. As for Wanda, we’ll look to Dr. Strange: Multiverse of Madness, where we know she will return. Odds are Wanda plays the villain there thanks to another contributing villain. My money is on Mephisto, the Devil-like character in the Marvel universe. Some folks have speculated Nightmare may show up, and I think that’s possible as well. My friend Patty suggested that Scarlet Witch will make a literal deal with the devil to get her boys back, and I think he's probably onto something there. That’s not too distant from the 1980’s story arc involving Mephisto and Wanda, either. Regardless of how this shakes out, I think we’re in for a treat and more great storytelling from the MCU.