WandaVision: Previously On

Don’t make me come down there!

WandaVision has been consistently impressing me since it started. Considering some reports have it as the most popular tv show in the world right now, I’m guessing I’m not alone. While I’ve praised various things about the show as I’ve been reviewing it, I haven’t really mentioned the titles so far. They’ve managed to pull various stock phrases from tv shows and make them serve as perfect episode titles, often with a darker twist. This week, “Previously On” is not only perfectly on target for an episode title, but the Marvel Studios credit at the beginning undergoes a slight change, in keeping with the story.

Last episode revealed that nosy neighbor Agnes was, as many of the comic fans predicted, Agatha Harkness. This episode opens with a flashback to her origin story, which is longer ago than most would believe. She really does look great for her age. In the present, Agatha taunts Wanda, telling her that Wanda can’t get to her thoughts and mocking her accent as it “comes and goes.” That’s a fair critique. Agatha demonstrates that, no matter how powerful Wanda actually is, Agatha is in control at that moment. The older witch is also clearly puzzled about some of what Wanda is doing. Agatha keeps asking questions that Wanda can’t answer, and doesn’t take the results well. After a casual display of her power and a not-at-all-subtle threat, Agatha decides the only way to learn about Wanda is to revisit her past, and creates a doorway to do just that.

The first stop on “This Is Your Life, Wanda Maximoff,” to borrow from classic game shows instead of sitcoms, is Sokovia. We see young Wanda and Pietro, and their parents. The scene of domestic happiness shows is that Wanda has long been a fan of sitcoms, that the Maximoff family was happy, and that Agatha doesn’t care for kids. Interestingly, Wanda’s favorite episode of the Dick Van Dyke show is “It May Look Like A Walnut,” in which a character wants to wake up from a nightmare. There’s some foreshadowing. We see the infamous bombing that claimed the Maximoff parents’ lives, and gave Wanda her early hatred of Tony Stark. That may well have had something to do with which side she picked during Captain America: Civil War. This scene does conflict slightly with Pietro’s account of their parents’ deaths in Age of Ultron, but there are a few decent explanations for that.

Agatha watches the tragedy, going from bored to amused, and makes a few interesting comments. She’s definitely not a sympathetic observer. Agatha’s take on Wanda’s life is a bit different from what we’ve seen so far in the movies, but I think both versions actually work. After Agatha asks her questions, she pushes Wanda ahead to the next major event- Hydra experimenting on her and Pietro. Agatha has more cutting questions and observations, and Wanda tries to justify what she did back then. We see her encounter with the Mind Stone, which hasn’t been shown before, and it hints at some interesting things to come in addition to empowering her (and presumably Pietro, although we don’t see that). After her encounter, Wanda watches the Brady Bunch, an episode featuring the doll Vision recently used to practice changing diapers. The Hydra scientists are at a loss to figure out what happened with Wanda and the Stone. Agatha again takes over, offers a few vague ideas, and pushes them along to another part of Wanda’s history.

This fills in another bit of Wanda’s history we haven’t actually seen before: her time living at the Avengers’ Compound. Her love of sitcoms remains, and she tries to explain them to Vision. It’s clearly the beginning of their relationship, and it’s interesting to watch. Vision makes a very insightful comment about love and grief that I expect will get quoted a lot. After a bit of the two of them together, Agatha offers a heartless recap of Wanda’s major traumas, and then moves along again.  

Now in the very recent past, Wanda pays a visit to the SWORD base. After some less than satisfying interaction with a receptionist, Wanda ends up getting a meeting with Director Hayward. I don’t know which, if any, of the theories about him might prove to be correct, but I will say it seems he was a dick before the series started. He’s utterly heartless, and shows Wanda something devastatingly traumatizing. What in the world he thought he would gain by antagonizing one of the most powerful beings on the planet, I’m not sure. Wanda, shaken, leaves the base (and shows Hayward to be a liar, as I suspected). Crushed, she goes for a drive and answers another question about the series, which is very sad and also a nod to Vision’s solo comic series a few years ago.

Utterly confused, the present Wanda watches her recent-past self, then looks around. After the beginning of the series is explained via flashback, Wanda sees their house is a soundstage, and Agatha sits in the audience, applauding. She causes another major scene shift, and Wanda frantically runs down the street, searching for her children. She finds them, and Agatha, and the older witch is not at all ready to give up her leverage. Agatha lazily floats and offers more threats and insights, and finally brings up a few terms from the comics we haven’t heard until now.

The episode ends on an ugly note, but the ol’ Marvel mid-credit scene makes a return. Outside the “Westfield Anomaly,” Director Hayward is still smug, despite his recent losses. He and his reduced staff are running some more experiments, and we see something that hints at some interesting possibilities for the future, as well as giving another nod to a character’s comic book past. They have a lot to wrap up for the finale next week.

What I liked: Just about everything. The insights into Wanda’s past are interesting to watch, and provide both more detail about her, and context for the show so far. Agatha is an interesting adaptation from the comics. It was a great fleshing out of the story, of Wanda’s character, and the background of “How did we get here?” I’ve already seen some online complaints that we’ve never seen Wanda’s interest in sitcoms before; my counter is we’ve never seen any of Wanda’s personal life before. The closest we’ve come is her cooking just before Hawkeye recruited her for Civil War. I’ll also point out that people learning English from watching American television is a very real thing. Vision’s quote about grief was really well done. The nod to one of the character’s lesser-known comic book look was a nice touch. Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn both gave phenomenal performances.

What I didn’t: I get making decisions and cuts to tell a story, but it was a little both jarring and disappointing to not see Darcy, Monica, Jimmy Woo, or Pietro at all. They made an off-hand reference to Pietro, but who or what he is in this series didn’t get explained.

This was another great piece of a fantastic story. I’m giving this a 4.5 out of 5.