CAST: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Josh Stamberg, Julian Hilliard, Jett Klyne
RUNNING TIME: 47 mins
PREVIOUSLY, ON WANDAVISION (MILD SPOILERS): Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) and Vision (Bettany) have, until now, lived blissfully in the sitcom town of Westview, which in reality has been taken over by Wanda in a mighty display of her telekinetic powers. Several people on the outside of Wanda’s “hex” are desperate to get answers, but none more so than a witch named Agatha Harkness (Hahn), who has transplanted herself into the fictional sitcom world as Wanda and Vision’s neighbour Agnes, and has just captured Wanda’s twin sons Billy (Hilliard) and Tommy (Klyne) in order to lure Wanda into her underground lair.
IN THIS EPISODE: Agatha dives deep into a reluctant Wanda’s memories to uncover how, and why, she was able to take over an entire town and bring Vision back to life…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
They always say that behind every comedy, there is a tinge of sadness – but in the case of WandaVision, a series which up to this point has rooted itself deeply in homages to sitcoms past and present, everything appears to originate from some pretty devastating details.
The penultimate episode of the miniseries – subtitled Previously On… – is a marked improvement upon last week’s episode, because the sitcom elements are stripped away entirely and in their place is an emotionally sadistic study of a long-standing MCU character whose lifelong grief, until now, has not been fully explored on screen. That changes with this 47-minute episode (the longest of the series to date), where we finally get to see up close what ticks poor young Wanda Maximoff, and everything throughout her life that caused her to finally snap.
Picking up directly from last week’s not-especially-surprising cliffhanger – Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) neighbour Agnes is really a witch named Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), as had already been surmised by keen-eyed viewers online – Previously On… sees Agatha forcing Wanda to face her deepest, darkest memories head-on in an attempt to understand the true weight of her powers. This involves Wanda having to relive traumatic memories such as the tragic death of her parents during an air raid in her native Sokovia, how she acquired her powers after volunteering at a HYDRA facility, the aftermath of the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (the character’s screen debut), and eventually the circumstances that led her to the New Jersey town of Westview and the creation of its sitcom environment.
There’s plenty of answers to unpack here, from where Wanda’s apparent obsession with sitcoms came from in the first place (hint: the connection is a lot more horrific than one might think), to what really happened in previously-seen surveillance footage when Wanda visited the dead Vision’s body in the S.W.O.R.D. labs, and it’s enough to satisfy viewers until next week’s promising finale. However, the main attraction of this episode is Wanda herself, and in particular Elizabeth Olsen’s astutely emotional turn as the character, which after all of her screen-time thus far in the MCU finally becomes apparent in the course of this episode. The character’s tragic backstory has been no secret to viewers ever since her debut in Age of Ultron, but here as we see Wanda literally seeing her life flash before her eyes, we finally get a chance to see how devastating the emotional consequences have been for her, and Olsen deserves tons of credit for her sympathetic performance that allows us to really get into the mindset of this character who, over the course of the movies, has experienced tragedy after tragedy until, at last, she’s decided that enough is enough. This is definitely a performance-heavy episode, and Olsen delivers a quietly powerful turn here that does not deserve to be shunned just because it is a superhero property.
Previously On… adopts a more traditional MCU tone, which feels appropriate given the severity of the content being unpacked here, but there are also some new areas that this universe hasn’t yet explored. An opening prologue takes us much further back in time as we get a glimpse of Agatha Harkness’ own messed-up personal history, basically confirming that magic has had a presence long before Doctor Strange entered the scene, while the complexity of Wanda’s own powers hints at several new possibilities that, given the character’s future appearance in the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, are likely to be fully realised in next week’s sure-to-be action-packed finale. Once again, props to series director Matt Shakman and its many writers for maintaining an enticing and mysterious feel all throughout this episode, which gives us some truly fascinating world-building insight that further expands on everything we thought we knew, including within the world of WandaVision itself. It’s been fun seeing how everything falls neatly into place for this mystery to really feel as though it’s worth the wait, especially as we see here that it all amounts to one incredibly unnerving therapy session.
It’s hard to know what’s in store for next week’s grand finale, but a mid-credit scene – which I completely forgot to mention last week that they’ve finally started doing on WandaVision now – sets up something rather unexpected which could either solve the situation, or make it far worse (not to be pessimistic, but given its nature my money’s on the latter). The vast majority of Marvel movies usually end with a rather big blow-out, and whether or not we’ll actually see both Wanda and Vision using their extraordinary powers to fend off against the teased big bad is fruitless when we know it’s bound to trigger some kind of extreme emotional response from at least one of them. After this episode, where we’ve seen Wanda at such a low point that she can do unprecedented and magnificent things because of them, who knows what we’re in for as everything comes to a close. Will Wanda finally relinquish her dream life to save everyone held captive in her hex? Is Evan Peters’ Pietro actually the Quicksilver from the X-Men universe? And is Darcy Lewis still stuck in traffic after last week? All shall most likely be revealed next week on WandaVision, for the ninth and final time.
SO, TO SUM UP…
WandaVision: Episode 8 – Previously On… offers an emotional exploration into the tragic backstory of Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, which explains some of the long-standing questions some might have had over this miniseries, and explores some intriguing new areas of the MCU while also setting up a sure-to-be action-packed finale.
WandaVision: Episodes 1-8 are now available on Disney+. Episode 9 will be available next week.