The following is a recap and review of the eighth episode of WandaVision, available exclusively on Disney+. Expect story spoilers and general Marvel Cinematic Universe spoilers.
In the eighth episode of WandaVision — titled Previously On — we learn more about who Agatha Harkness (played by Kathryn Hahn) really is, before she and Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen) take a trip down memory lane to rewatch and expand upon pivotal moments in Wanda’s life, which reveals why the Hex bubble universe was even created in the first place.
At the end of the previous episode, as Wanda Maximoff walked down the stairs to the basement and then found out that ‘Agnes’ was really Agatha, it seems like the outward sitcom reality of the Hex bubble universe basically came to an end. Of course, it could make its return in the final episode, but, by now, everyone except for the civilians in Westview know what is going on. But the Agatha Harkness-reveal in the previous episode was to non-comic book readers really just a name reveal paired with an undeniably catchy tune. So, naturally, this episode had to introduce us to our villain, and, as a result, this penultimate episode got dark fast.
Because the episode opened with a flashback to 1693 and an MCU witch trial in Salem, Massachusetts. Apparently, Agatha had used dark magic, and, as a result, her coven — led by her mother — decided that her actions, which we are not privy to in this episode, were apparently so horrible that Agatha Harkness had to be ‘put down,’ so to speak. But they clearly underestimated the scope of Agatha’s powers, because as the coven use their magic on her, she actually manages to absorb the members of the coven’s life force. This flashback felt like a pretty clear way of saying that Agatha was the one who wanted to siphon off Wanda’s powers all along.
As we return to the basement in the present-day, it becomes clear that Agatha is trying to figure out exactly how Wanda became powerful enough to create this Hex reality and this episode is essentially about Agatha looking into Wanda’s past to see how she got this powerful and this grief-stricken. Of course, there are also some interesting comments about Evan Peters’ ‘Pietro Maximoff’ who I believe Agatha dubs ‘Fietro’ (I may use that nickname for him going forward), but the major events of this episode overshadow tiny details that perhaps suggest that Evan Peters’ character is or isn’t who he seems to be (i.e. Peter Maximoff), and, by any means, we should know more after the next episode (though, rest assured, I am very intrigued by his character, and I want him to be an actual version of Quicksilver).
This episode is titled Previously On because it forces Wanda to relive her past trauma and, as a result, gives us a new perspective on her origin (the origin of the Hex) and her grief. Agatha’s ‘guided’ tour through Wanda’s past begins in Sokovia. It is so nice to see Wanda look at her family, and herself, with such softness or joy as Elizabeth Olsen pulls off here. This scene does a great job of establishing why the Hex is a sitcom reality. As some have suggested, Wanda Maximoff’s Hex is built on her attachment to classic sitcoms and the simple joys that they contain. There is always another sitcom, another episode, and the status quo of a sitcom rarely changes significantly. This is Wanda Maximoff’s safe space, and it now makes so much sense that the Hex became a sitcom reality when the grief-stricken Wanda unthinkingly created a bubble universe.
What is particularly significant about this scene in Wanda’s childhood is how it ends. Because as we all know — which is what makes this scene bittersweet — Stark-weaponry was used to kill her parents. If you’ve seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, then you know that Wanda and Pietro stared at a Stark explosive for two days, but what this episode reveals — or retcons — is that perhaps Wanda already had powers as a child. Agatha suggests that she was casting a spell on the undetonated bomb back then and that that is why it never exploded. Later, when we see Wanda come in contact with the Mind Stone which granted her, or amplified, her superpowers, we get a small glimpse at Wanda’s potential, which is a fully-suited up and all-powerful Wanda Maximoff descending from the heavens. This is the power that Agatha Harkness wants Wanda to grant her.
“But what is grief, if not love persevering.”
As Wanda and Agatha move past the origin of Wanda’s powers, we get to a really touching scene at the Avengers Compound (the scene most likely takes place somewhere around the time of Captain America: Civil War). This is essentially meant to be the time that Wanda fell for Vision. As Wanda watches Malcolm in the Middle, Vision walks in and they start to discuss her crippling grief. Vision comforts her with an emotionally resonant line of dialogue that is sure to be his most memorable quote in the MCU: “But what is grief, if not love persevering.”
Having now realized why Wanda has her powers and why Wanda is so attached to Vision, Agatha now only needed to know how the Hex was created, and, for that, we return to the S.W.O.R.D. HQ. Up until now, we’ve been under the assumption that Wanda broke into the headquarters and ‘stole’ Vision’s lifeless body. Director Hayward basically said as much in a previous episode. But it turns out that Hayward is a liar. Wanda does go to retrieve his body, but when she inspects Vision’s body, which has been torn apart by S.W.O.R.D. scientists, she exclaims that she can no longer feel him, which is a reference to Vision’s last words to Wanda in Avengers: Infinity War.
But, no, Wanda did not steal Vision’s body. In fact, she left him at the facility and then drove out to Westview on her own. For what purpose, you ask? Well, this was where Vision and Wanda were going to grow old together. And this is the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back for the grief-stricken Maximoff twin. Seemingly without intending to do so, Wanda screams in agony and spontaneously creates the Hex and Vision-himself in mere moments.
Seeing Wanda smile at the sight of 1950s Vision is so incredibly nice at this moment. But we don’t get to enjoy it for long, because mere moments later Wanda hears Billy and Tommy scream from the nearby street. It turns out that Agatha, now dressed in witch clothing, is holding both of Wanda’s twins by the throat, and, as Wanda gets ready to fight for her children, Agatha Harkness reveals the full extent of Wanda’s powers. Wanda is using chaos magic, and she is the Scarlet Witch (her alter ego in the comics), which we must assume is a fabled character in the world of the MCU.
We cut to credits on an exciting cliffhanger, but there is one more scene to discuss in this recap. In the mid-credits scene, we find out exactly what Hayward’s Project Cataract was all about. Hayward has used the Stark drone that Wanda attacked to power up what appears to be the original Vision ‘body,’ but, like Marvelites will recognize from the comic books, he is now without his infinity stone and completely white from head-to-toe. We are clearly about to see two versions of the Vision face-off in the series finale!
Naturally, I hope that the series finale will be a fantastic and thrilling conclusion to the series, and I am very excited about everything we are going to see in that episode. But, structurally, I think this is the episode that the show has been building towards since the very beginning. The show has been using somewhat of a mystery box structure, which may have frustrated some viewers in the first couple of episodes, but I absolutely believe that this episode was well worth the wait.
I think this is the best episode of the series, even though it technically abandons the experimental episode structure of previous episodes. One of the reasons why is the level of acting on show here. I can’t praise Paul Bettany and especially Elizabeth Olsen highly enough. Bettany doesn’t have a lot to do in this episode, but his one scene is possibly the best moment in the show, and it probably is the best scene that he has ever had in the MCU.
This aforementioned scene along with all of the other pivotal scenes that Elizabeth Olsen is front and center of in this episode is genuinely moving. This is easily the best performance that Elizabeth Olsen has ever given in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it should earn her, at the very least, an Emmy nomination. The way she communicates her character’s grief, as well as her joy in seeing her lost loved ones again is so impressive. I really love the way that the cast has managed to make you understand the titular character’s bond, and I think the writers have done a phenomenal job of really communicating the show’s central themes. I really do think this is a phenomenal episode of streaming television, and I think the showrunners deserve a lot of credit for having already handled a theme such as deep-seated grief this well.
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.