WandaVision – Season 1 Episode 8
WandaVision digs into Wanda’s history and fills in the blanks that led to the current situation while answering more lingering questions.
Mystery storytelling inevitably has to get to the point where answers are delivered and whether those answers are satisfying will be partially down to the personal taste of the viewer with the other side of the coin being if they make sense in context of what has been established when building the mystery. WandaVision has done a routinely great job of presenting a mystery to its audience where clues are frequently thrown in designed to lead viewers along certain thought processes before confirming some aspects while subverting expectations in others. To me everything has made sense so the storytelling remains engaging and I have so far found every answer satisfying.
The previous episode ended with the reveal that Agnes is actually called Agatha Harkness and has been manipulating events literally behind the scenes in pursuit of her own agenda. As I mentioned the reveal by itself is meaningless as it’s unclear why it’s relevant in the context of what the show is trying to do so this episode goes some way towards exploring who Agatha Harkness is. The opening where she is identified as a Witch in Salem all the way back in 1693 highlights that she is a Witch, has lived a very long time and has no issues with draining the life force of those who threaten her. The flashback doesn’t begin with her in full villain mode; initially she seems terrified of what is happening to her and even begs for her life before her abilities appear to manifest when she’s under attack. She even declares that she could be good before being attacked and the retaliation leaves her the last person standing. This could point to addiction on her part poisoning what would otherwise be a good person. In some ways the episode doesn’t do enough with Agatha as she sometimes feels more like a presence that drives the plot rather than a character in her own right but such instances are rare.
Using magic to prolong life has been previously established as a possibility with the Ancient One in Doctor Strange so there is consistency within the universe this show belongs to but more importantly it sets up Agatha as a less than moral presence who represents a threat to Wanda. She hasn’t entirely been painted as the villain quite yet though it seems to be heading that way which is perhaps disappointing for a show that seemed to be building itself along less than conventional lines. I’ll concede that I haven’t seen the final episode yet so have no idea how this will play out but she is definitely positioned as an antagonist.
Agatha talks about being drawn to Westview because of what Wanda has been doing and that she wants to understand how Wanda could be so powerful so that she can understand what she needs to do to reach that level. In order to do that she needs to figure out where it comes from which means taking a trip down memory lane which provides a natural excuse to explore Wanda’s past and the roots of her current mindset. Agatha is in a mentor role of sorts albeit one that Wanda is unwilling to have with her abilities enabling the stroll down memory lane so that both of them can understand where this power comes from and what caused the situation they’re currently in to exist. It is detailed how impressed she is at the scale of what Wanda has created and that she needs to understand it before she presumably leaches it off her.
There are four flashbacks. The first is from her childhood, the second is from her time being experimented on by HYDRA, the third is during her tenure with the Avengers prior to the events of Captain America: Civil War and the fourth is immediately before the events of this show. All four flashbacks are at significant points of change in her life -or inbetween after in the case of the third- and they are all defined by grief. Something the films would never have time to explore is the extent of the tragedy in Wanda’s life. Everything here has been referenced in the films to varying degrees but there wasn’t time to really dig into it in the way that this TV show can. The first flashback shows the bomb that didn’t go off as referenced in Avengers: Age of Ultron but now we have time to explore the lingering impact the event had for example. Since the focus of that film was elsewhere there isn’t a lot of time to fully consider how young she was or that both of her parents were lost in an instant.
At first it seems like a deliriously happy memory with the family sitting down to watch old sitcoms together and enjoy the simple pleasure of being in each other’s company. It’s clear they weren’t a wealthy family but they were a happy and loving one which is ultimately all that is important to them. The sitcoms are used to help the children learn English and it paints a very idealistic view of what life outside Sokovia is like. It’s not accurate but it brings comfort all the same. In an instant that moment of tranquillity is destroyed by an explosion that kills her parents instantly while leaving her and Pietro trapped in their home with an unexploded bomb with an unending blinking red light. Every second promises death but death never comes and Wanda tries to keep positive citing that in a sitcom traumatic events such as this turn out to be nothing but bad dreams. As she and Pietro wait for the bomb to explode the sitcom is still playing which brings her some measure of comfort and hope. It’s notable that the advert in the first episode featured the blinking red light which suggests a lingering unprocessed trauma for Wanda even if she was putting a positive spin on it as a child.
The second flashback details her gaining her powers from Loki’s staff/the Mind Stone. It gives her powers along with the silhouetted image of what looks like her comic book costume which might suggest it’s granting her something she was destined to have. Agatha does make reference to having something latent awakened within her though that is just a theory that may not be accurate. The first flashback does suggest that she might have done something but that might just be a theory on Agatha’s part. When Wanda was introduced there were some theories that she was an Inhuman with the sceptre activating what was already there but that was never confirmed and fit in with the notion that Marvel were going to use Inhumans as an alternative to Mutants because at that point they didn’t have access to use the X-Men in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now that they can it’s entirely possible that Wanda could have been a Mutant all along and that seems to be at least hinted at here.
Wanda agreed to be experimented on because of what she lost. She felt powerless so probably thought that having powers could help her protect both herself and Pietro plus there is likely a belief that there isn’t a lot left to lose so that all justifies her decision to agree to be experimented on. As she reflects on what happened to her there is another sitcom on the TV which connects this flashback to the previous one as well as the events taking place in the present day. Attached to every painful memory is a sitcom giving her comfort. This is something she holds onto and informs what happens to Westview. It’s a really clever way to seed her coping mechanisms by highlighting how much she has endured alongside her desire for life to be as simple as it is in a TV sitcom.
The third flashback is also punctuated by a sitcom and takes place in the aftermath of her losing Pietro. Vision tries to make her feel better which leads to a really moving and fascinating conversation about grief and how consuming a feeling it can be. Wanda talks about feeling as if she is being continually knocked over by a wave that is eventually going to drown her which resonates with me on a personal level and Elizabeth Olsen’s pained performance as Wanda explains it is particularly effective. Vision’s perspective on it is a fascinating one especially when he refers to grief being “love persevering”. I found this to be really thought provoking as people do grieve for those that meant a lot to them. The stronger the connection the more overpowering the experience is. Part of what makes it so difficult is having that connection be completely one sided with no way for it ever to be returned. Vision has that perspective because the unique circumstances of his creation mean that he doesn’t have the same emotional baggage that others would. He is viewing Wanda’s grief through an analytical lens and making unique conclusions from a distance.
Wanda is suffering because she feels alone but Vision doesn’t know anything other than being alone since at that point in his life he never had anyone to lose. This conversation probably marks the beginning of Wanda and Vision’s connection and having that founded on Vision offering her support in a way that nobody else can was a great way to do it. Once again this is all referenced in the films these characters appear in but now we’re getting the detail of what connects them and it’s welcome.
The fourth flashback details Wanda’s side of the story told by Hayward about Vision’s corpse. According to him she broke into the facility and stole the body but the truth is that she went to the facility to ask for the body so that she could give him a proper burial. Hayward refuses because of how valuable an asset Vision is and what she sees is a group of technicians breaking down the body. The best way to describe what they’re doing is mutilating the body which is difficult to watch and Wanda’s reaction is perfectly played. Her realisation that there’s no life inside the mutilated corpse is heart-breaking to watch though it doesn’t bring her the closure that is necessary. Upon returning to her car she finds an envelope that is eventually revealed to be the deed to a plot of land where she and Vision can build a home together. Two of the other flashbacks take place in places Wanda has considered home and her desire to have a place where she belongs has been evident throughout the season so her strong reaction to seeing that Vision planned to make a home with her makes sense and plays wonderfully. It’s a nearly empty plot of land meaning that Vision intended for them to build this together from scratch.
Her reaction to this is to unleash the full force of her powers, build a home, change the town to conform to the simple life detailed in the sitcoms that comfort her and create a construct of Vision to live a happy life with her. This answers the ongoing question of how Westview was changed and who was behind it. It was always possible that some outside force created this altered reality but now it’s clear that Wanda did it and bought into her fantasy. This was motivated by her inability to process her own grief and basically got out of hand. The contrast between the loud creation of the fantasy and the tranquillity of her idyllic life with Vision beginning is beautifully handled and brings everything full circle on a situational level.
A few things still need to be answered such as whether the twins and Vision are real beings that can exist outwith the Hex or whether they will be lost as soon as she decides to end the spell. The original Vision corpse has been repurposed by Hayward as detailed in the mid credits scene but is it possible that the Vision Wanda created can live on following these events? Nothing is impossible at this point and the important thing is that these things are real to Wanda.
It’s very clear that Wanda has no idea how to control her abilities so can’t answer Agatha’s questions around how she has managed to pull this off. This is understandably frustrating for Agatha who talks about how much effort has gone into learning the spells and magical abilities that she knows so the prospect of someone casually changing the world around her with no training or awareness is something she finds difficult to accept. She talks a lot about how she uses her knowledge to gain the upper hand and is surprised at Wanda’s ignorance of what she considers to be the basics.
Another observation she makes is in line with what this show is all about. Agatha points out Wanda’s unwillingness to accept her truth and how much that is holding her back. In one way or another everything this show has been doing has been pointing towards that fact. Wanda can’t control her abilities because she doesn’t understand the connection between them and her emotional state. Once she realises that and finds a way to contextualise her grief then she will be able to start healing. At this point she is hiding from it and willingly living a lie in order to avoid facing the pain that she’s experiencing. Using Wanda as a metaphor for grief being a powerful internal struggle that has wide reaching external consequences is brilliant and has masterfully underpinned everything the show is doing. This is an exposition heavy episode but never feels like an information dump because everything comes right back to Wanda. Character is at the forefront of everything with the information feeding into who Wanda is and how she feels.
An outstanding episode that clears up some major questions, features a heartbreaking look at Wanda’s past and keeps every detail focused on Wanda as a character. The opening flashback to Agatha’s origin suggests that there’s a lot of complexity to her character that may or may not be explored. At times she comes across as a presence that drives the plot though it’s rare and the way she helps things move forward works well. Using the four flashbacks to punctuate Wanda’s grief and clear up what prompted the present day situation was great. Threading sitcoms through her most painful memories and showing them as a source of comfort explains why they have informed the creation of this reality and having the flashbacks be at times of immense change in her life made for some powerful exploration of Wanda as a character. Her life has been full of tragedy and loss which definitely takes a toll on her and eventually culminates in the changes to Westview. In particular her conversation with Vision about grief and his perspective on what grief is was incredibly powerful with a unique thought provoking account of what grief is and why it’s so consuming. Two of the flashbacks detailing places she has called home in the past with the final one revealing that Vision intended them to build a home together was a strong throughline and Wanda’s reaction clearing up that she’s responsible for Westview as it appears now keeps everything relevant to her character. The contrast of the loud creation of the altered reality and the tranquillity as she accepts her idyllic life with Vision is wonderfully handled.
There are still some questions to be answered such as whether the twins and her Vision construct can exist outside Westview and whether the reactivated original Vision corpse will co-exist with Wanda’s fantasy of him. It’s clear that Wanda has no real control of her abilities and Agatha references her inability to accept her truth therefore reinforcing her ignorance to her connection between her abilities and her emotional state. She can’t heal until she understands that and the fact that she has no idea how she created this altered reality is a source of frustration for Agatha who wants to understand that. She points out that Wanda doesn’t know what she considers to be the basics so grows more confused as time goes on. This is actually an exposition heavy episode but never feels that way because everything that happens connects to Wanda on a personal level. What she thinks and feels is important and the plot perfectly supports that so everything feels intrinsically connected rather than coming across as a simple information dump.
- flashing back to key moments of change in Wanda’s life to highlight the impact tragedy has on her life
- threading sitcoms as a source of comfort through her painful memories
- Wanda’s account of how grief makes her feel
- Vision’s unique perspective on grief and his thought provoking take on the meaning of it
- clearing up how the Westview situation came about while keeping it closely tied to Wanda’s emotional state
- the contrast between the loud creation of the Hex and the tranquillity of Wanda’s acceptance of the fantasy
- reinforcing Wanda’s ignorance of the connection between her powers and her emotional state
- Agatha’s interpretation of how her abilities work
- Agatha occasionally appearing as more of a plot driver than a character
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