WandaVision: 1.08 Previously On
As befitting an episode titled Previously On, this penultimate instalment of WandaVision takes its viewers back in time and reveals just about everything that has brought us up to this point. After last week's reveal that Agnes was not who she said she was and that it was "Agatha all along," we get to take a journey through Wanda's life. It's a sort of "Ghost of Christmas Past" affair as Agatha guides Wanda through her memories in search of the answers to her questions. The main one being just how the hell has Wanda managed to do everything she has.
Previously On is the first episode of WandaVision that loses the conceit of being a television sitcom and just gives us a straightforward story set in the MCU. Gone are the meta-style opening credits and fake ad breaks; we have caught up to the present day. But before the story can end, we need to get up to speed on everything that Wanda has done to create her fictional version of Westview. As Agatha tells Wanda "to move forwards you have to go back" and that is the theme of the entire episode.
Firstly we go right back to the Salem witch trials where we see Agatha getting tied to a stake. However, this turns out to not be a witch burning at the hands of an angry mob, but rather the punishment of a witch by her own coven - and not just her coven but her own mother. It appears Agatha is powerful and has been using magicks forbidden to her. Unfortunately for her would be punishers, she is more powerful than they could have ever imagined. This little glimpse of backstory for Agatha is just enough to give us a taste of exactly who and what she is and just how powerful a foe Wanda is dealing with.
The remainder of the episode is Agatha leading Wanda through her, mostly painful, memories in an effort to discover the secret of her seemingly infinite powers. It's fantastic to see scenes that we've only heard about before in various other Marvel movies. We witness a very young Wanda and Pietro experiencing the death of their parents during the unrest in Sokovia. The unexploded Stark Industries missile that Wanda talks about in Avengers: Age of Ultron is shown, keeping the twins trapped for two days and afraid that at any moment it will explode.
There are also scenes showing Wanda being experimented on by HYDRA and how exposure to one of the Infinity Stones unlocks and amplifies her dormant powers. We are then treated to a lovely scene showing Wanda and Vision bonding at the Avengers compound in the aftermath of her brother's death. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany put in particularly great performances during this moment of tenderness, which really helps cement their relationship and explains the lengths Wanda will go to for their future happiness.
Some of the most interesting scenes are when Wanda goes to S.W.O.R.D. headquarters to retrieve Vision's body. It is quite harrowing to see Vision's corpse being dismantled like an old appliance and it's easy to see why Wanda would spirit him away. Only that isn't exactly how it goes down. it seems that Director Hayward hasn't exactly been forthcoming with the truth. Wanda leaves without Vision showing once and fore all that the S.W.O.R.D. director is not to be trusted, a fact proved by the shocking end credits scene that has potentially massive ramifications for the finale.
Finally we see exactly why Wanda has chosen Westview for the location of her little experiment in a televisual paradise. An empty lot that Vision has bought for them to build their dream home and dream life in, becomes the catalyst for the tremendous burst of witch energy that sets everything up as we know it, including the spontaneous resurrection of Vision conjured up by Wanda, and nothing else, completely.
The other big reveal of Previously On is just why we have the entire premise of old sitcoms forming Wanda's reality. The last thing we see of Wanda and Pietro's home life before it is explosively ripped apart is everyone sitting down to enjoy a DVD boxset of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Wanda's father sells these DVD's to make a living and we see all the other shows that have been replicated in his tradesman's case. For Wanda, these shows represent far happier times and it is to these she has reverted to in her Westview construct. Unfortunately, these idyllic times are over, Agatha has Wanda's twins hostage and has finally figured out the source of her enormous power. For the first time in the MCU, Wanda is given her full moniker of the Scarlett Witch. Just what implications this has will doubtlessly be revealed in the next episode but it certainly impresses Agatha.
If there is a negative to this penultimate episode, it's that it pretty much stops the story dead and is essentially a huge exposition dump. We see nothing of Darcy, Jimmy or the newly powered-up Monica. Instead we just get all the gaps in the story filled in so that the potentially huge battle can occur in the finale. Personally though I think this done in such a successful way that for me it doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment. I loved seeing events that have been hinted at before as the answers we have long waited for are dished out, even as new questions are raised regarding S.W.O.R.D. and its real intentions with Vision.
A lot of the episode is essentially a two-hander, so in this regard it's imperative it's leads are up to the job. In Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn Marvel couldn't have asked for better actresses. If Olsen isn't showered with awards for her performance in WandaVision, I'll be highly surprised. The core of the show is her relationship with Vision and how her grief at his loss has shaped her and everything around her. The emotion she displays at seeing her memories dragged up and picked apart is absolutely visceral, and the moment she bursts from all the grief and creates her own fantasy world is executed perfectly. Hahn is equally impressive as the sinister yet playful Agatha and is a great addition to the Marvel universe.
So once again Marvel play against expectations and deliver a slower more emotionally fuelled episode that fills in all the gaps in the story. Doing this during the penultimate episode of the season is a ballsy move and hopefully it pays off. All the pieces and players are now in place and I would like to see a longer runtime for the finale. There still seems to be a lot of story to get through. Although we've been told Agatha is behind most of the events, it's clear that she is still not totally in charge and has been quite in the dark with concern to Wanda's potential power. There is also Monica's fledgling powers to address and the whole of S.W.O.R.D.'s secret plot involving Vision. But if anyone has shown they can provide satisfying conclusions to multiple storylines it's Marvel.