Spoilers for Episode 8 of Wandavision follow!
Since its premiere earlier this year, Wandavision has been a show that’s thrived off fan theories. It has radically changed not only what an MCU project could look like, but also how fans interact with the content. For the first time in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, people have had their release given to them in pieces, and this has spawned a fan culture of attention to detail. Audiences began to tune in not to see what new action scene we could possibly get (and as of this moment we haven’t gotten a single one), but rather what clues they could dig out to try and piece together what’s going on. Through the promise of a hint at Mutants or Mephistos, the series has drawn the attention of viewers to performance nuances, set design, and even aspect ratios. With that said, episode 8 of WandaVision builds off the dramatic ending of last week, providing us with a balance of reveals and necessary emotional payoff.
Elizabeth Olsen recovers from her subpar performance in episode 7 to turn in one of her better ones of the season, much to this week’s benefit. With episode 8 turning its focus more on a literal presentation of Wanda’s inner struggles and past trauma where past entries have only alluded to the subject, Olsen manages to communicate the anger and pain effectively. Opposite Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff is Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness, Wandavision‘s twist villain and new addition to the MCU’s growing list of charismatic antagonists. Episode 8 gives us a glimpse of her own history, though the context is largely missing. Besides that opening scene, Agatha mostly spends the time shepherding Wanda through her memories, taunting her as she goes.
This episode side-steps some of the pitfalls of what came before, particularly in its lack of S.W.O.R.D. segments, which had at best broken up the flow of the show and replaced interesting filmmaking with a flat, traditional Marvel style and at worst had devolved into characters narrating what was fairly clear cut already (when it wasn’t purposefully trying to be unclear). Visually, episode 8 is acceptable. The unique sitcom framing of earlier entries is lost, and besides one or two specific scenes, none of what we see on screen is particularly striking. Agatha’s method of weaving through Wanda’s mind provides a neat effect, allowing them to frame events in something more than flashbacks. Despite Wandavision‘s less-than-perfect pacing (gaining it notoriety for its awkward cut-to-credits cliffhangers, which also make an appearance here), this episode never drags and keeps us invested in the story. The emotions run high in this week’s script, and its structure as essentially a back-to-back retell of Wanda’s loss gives the episode lots of opportunities for emotionally honest storytelling.
A return to the past also provides Wandavision with a unique obstacle. With this dive into Wanda’s mind, the lack of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro Maximoff becomes that much more noticeable. While the Quicksilver-shaped hole in the Marvel Universe has been filled by Evan Peters (whose true role remains unclear), the lack of Pietro makes the pain that Wanda’s feeling land slightly lighter. In an episode focused on Wanda’s various losses throughout her life, having her brother’s death be contained to the “Previously on Wandavision” opening segment feels like a disservice, though we do at least get to see her mourn his loss, something that hasn’t been so much as hinted to in the movies before this.
Along with a mature exploration of trauma and grief, Agatha’s use of magic turns Wandavision into the most explicitly magical entry in the MCU. Gone are the semi-grounded, high-science aesthetics that were introduced in Doctor Strange, replaced with spells, shape-changing, and incantations. The suggestion of deeper lore here is really interesting and adds a new angle for the MCU to explore in the future, obviously in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness but possibly even in projects like Blade or Moon Knight. Unfortunately, this acts as a double-edged sword, as does the task of exploring Wanda’s backstory. By returning to Wanda’s origin, Wandavision has deliberately pointed the spotlight to the part of Wanda’s story that particularly brings to mind the issue of the MCU’s whitewashing of the Maximoffs (packaged with an especially weak hand-wave of the twins signing up with HYDRA).
This is further amplified by the suggestion that the title of Scarlet Witch isn’t just a superhero name but rather a mantle of some sort. This idea was first established in the comics following the 2014 retcon that revealed that Magneto wasn’t truly the father of Wanda and Pietro (itself believed to be a response to the MCU’s inability to use Magneto at the time). When she and Pietro discovered their true parentage, Wanda found that the name of Scarlet Witch/Warlock had been passed down through the magic users of their family for generations, last used by their mother, Natalya. This expansion of the lore happened concurrently to Marvel exploring Wanda’s Romani identity, and the concept is certainly tied to the theme.
With it ramping up for a big finale, episode 8 of WandaVision lays the groundwork for the final battle while also taking the time to slow down and have the penultimate episode be a personal exploration of Wanda’s grief, a choice that works in its favor.