It only took six years and most of a season of television to finally give Wanda Maximoff the origin she deserved. Let’s talk about it.
We’re at the Salem Witch Trials, though not the way history told them. Instead, we see Agatha Harkness brought before her coven of witches (led by her mother), and accused of using dark magic. She insists that she isn’t, but her mother knows better, and the coven begins an execution ritual. Agatha reverses the spell and absorbs the life-force of everyone in the coven, including her mother. Then she takes her mother’s cameo brooch and goes on her merry way.
Back in Westview, we learn that Agatha came to the town because she wanted to know who was doing all that magic. She insists that Wanda take her on a trip through her memories to explain what’s happening here, using her kids as the bargaining chip. The first set of memories shows Wanda and Pietro in their Sokovia home with their parents. Turns out that Wanda’s dad would get American sitcoms for them to watch so they could practice their English. Wanda is particularly fond of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which is playing on their television when the bomb hits their house and kills mom and dad. But contrary to the story we’ve been told, Agatha sees that Wanda already had the abilities of a witch, and never realized that she had used a spell to prevent the next bomb from going off in their home.
The next memory shows Wanda in the Hydra base as a volunteer, being exposed to Loki’s old scepter for the first time. The other participants all died of their exposure to the staff’s Infinity Stone, but Wanda’s presence lifts the stone from the scepter and she sees a shade of herself and her true power before collapsing. Agatha realizes that the stone triggered the powers that might have stayed dormant in Wanda. At the Hydra base, Wanda watches The Brady Bunch in her cell.
They then move to the Avengers compound, the first place where Wanda and Vision lived together. Wanda is watching Malcolm in the Middle to distract herself from the pain she’s feeling over Pietro’s death, and Vision comes in to keep her company. He tries to engage her about sorrow, thinking it might help her feel better, but Wanda insists that the only thing that would help her would be to see Pietro again. She talks of how her grief is subsuming, like endless waves, but Vision has a different view; he suggests that grief is also a sign that love continues on. This helps Wanda, and they continue watching Malcolm in the Middle together.
The final piece shows Wanda arriving at SWORD headquarters to collect Vision’s body, but it’s not the video we were shown before. Instead, we see Wanda ask for access at the front desk, explaining that she wants to give Vision a funeral. She is allowed back to Hayward’s office, where he reveals to Wanda the pieces of Vision’s body, and explains that he’s not capable of handing over the body of the world’s most dangerous sentient weapon to her. He also says that he can’t let her bury three billion dollars worth of vibranium, housed in Vision’s body. Wanda breaks into the room where they’re keeping him, but Hayward tells his officers to stand down. When Wanda checks in on Vision, she cannot feel his mind—so she leaves SWORD and drives to Westview, New Jersey, looking around the town. She arrives at her final destination; a parcel of land that Vision purchased for them, the deed scribbled with a note that reads “To grow old in.” Wanda’s pain emanates out from her in an explosion of power that overtakes the entire town, transforming everything around her. She creates a new Vision to occupy it with her.
Agatha finally has the full picture. She holds Billy and Tommy before her, and notes that what Wanda is doing is powerful Chaos Magic… making her the Scarlet Witch.
A mid-credits sequence shows Hayward using energy obtained from the Hex to bring Vision’s reconstructed body back to life.
This was exactly what I was hoping for with Agatha’s involvement. She’s not responsible for what’s happening; she just wants to know why and how and who is doing all this delicious magic and can she maybe have it. She demands the tour; she wants to see where all this comes from. And it’s important because the question at the heart of this show was always: Is it possible for grief to do all of this?
For weeks, rumors have been circling on “what’s really behind the Hex” with everyone from Agatha to Mephisto implicated, and I get why there’s a subset of fans who want that as the answer. Because then it’s all about knowing the comics and knowing the arcs Marvel has done before, and watching it all get reskinned for television. But this is a far more powerful choice, one that the MCU occasionally neglects to its detriment—the cause of this is suffering grief from continual loss. Not a tricky person, or a demon, or a subdimensional alien, but one of the most powerful emotions a human being can experience.
Of course it’s possible for grief to do all of this. Of course it is. Anyone who has ever experienced the emotion knows this.
And this still doesn’t really make up for how the films ignored Wanda, or the way that grief was bound up in flippant jokes up until now. Thanos’s insistence that he doesn’t remember Wanda at all is one of the worst moments of Endgame, a place where she should have been allowed the space to come into her own, waylaid by the MCU’s commitment to telling the stories of men and only (white) men for its first decade. We’re not allowed to see Wanda end this fight on her own terms because Endgame was devoted primarily to seeing off Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, and nothing else mattered. But here, on television, after years of waiting, Wanda is finally permitted the full breadth of her pain.
The seeding of sitcoms throughout Wanda’s life is deftly done here as well, first as a happy activity that becomes forever linked to trauma (watching the Dick Van Dyke DVD skip on their TV after their home has been bombed), then as a coping device when further trauma occurs. It’s also great because Wanda is a character who has been given so little development that we’ve been waiting for these gaps in personality to fill in. It was impossible to tell if the sitcom conceit was her own when the show started, because we genuinely never knew enough about her to guess if this was something she cared about or even had knowledge of. (Which is not a positive thing, by the way—develop your female characters more consistently, Marvel Studios.) Now we know that these shows are a significant part of Wanda’s life, something about the character that will carry forward as Phase Four continues. Wanda the sitcom nerd.
Hayward’s stand-in status as privileged-man-who-has-no-business-being-in-charge just keeps layering its awfulness. After insisting earlier that Wanda had broken into SWORD violently, we now know that he lied about this encounter in its entirety—yet again projecting emotional instability onto women in order to discredit them. Wanda walks into their HQ with a totally reasonable request, the desire to bury someone she’s lost. Hayward not only belittles her grief (insisting that Vision doesn’t belong to her, but to them), but lies to her about what they’re doing with his body, and even goes so far as to insist that it’s a monetary issue with the billions of dollars of vibranium housed in Vision. Wanda leaves of her own accord, a little fact that he fails to mention to his team.
The sequence also highlights one of the other aspects of Endgame that was deeply unsatisfying—the lack of closure for most of the characters lost, as the film lingered on Tony’s funeral alone.
And now we know that the Hex had a specific trigger, being Wanda heading to a plot of land that Vision intended as their home together. Aside from the many questions this prompts (Where did Vision get enough money for this—is the Avengers pension packet that good? It says guarantor on the deed, did Tony do this for Vision, or maybe Pepper? Why this town in Jersey??) it’s a sensible place to begin. All of Wanda’s empty spaces cascading in upon her, the absence of anyone she loves compounded by the loss of any friends and mentors she had (Steve left, Natasha is dead), and this is what you get. An explosion of magic and sorrow and need that coalesces into the only places where Wanda ever felt safe… the sitcoms that she used to keep her sadness at bay.
But it means that this iteration of Vision is not real, at least, not in the sense of being the Vision she knew. And it probably means that Billy and Tommy aren’t real either. (Although, as I mentioned before, that doesn’t stop them from becoming real in the comics eventually, so it won’t necessarily here either.) Agatha talks about Wanda almost as though her arrival is a prophesied thing, something that she’s heard of and maybe anticipated: the coming of the Scarlet Witch. But we’re not sure what Agatha’s angle is going to be here going forward. Will Agatha try to steal that power for herself? Will she try to get rid of it? Will everyone have to team up to battle resurrected Vision? And if so, has that been the goal all along—bringing Wanda to a place where she can reenact the choice she and Vision made together in Infinity War, but this time with no do-overs available?
Thoughts and Asides:
- Here’s a thing that hasn’t been addressed yet: Does this mean that Wanda is somehow responsible for Pietro’s powers? Because contacting the Mind Stone is what triggered her ability amplification, but Pietro had no latent witch abilities as far as we know. And Wanda heard the Hydra guys mention that contact with the stone had killed their previous subjects. Which makes it seem like Wanda maybe did something to her brother to ensure his survival and it resulted in his powers?
- So X-Men Pietro is literally just some dude hanging around Westview? That’s what Agatha’s explanation seems to be (she claims to be controlling him, as necromancy on Pietro’s body wasn’t feasible from that distance), which is an interesting idea… but still doesn’t explain how he would know what MCU Pietro knows. Because Agatha doesn’t.
- Okay, but now that we know Wanda is super into sitcoms, that means we know for sure that she spent a lot of time watching Full House, which will mess with your brain a lot if you think about it too hard.
- The MCU started off pretty “science” heavy, with the introduction of magic often being couched in science. (Thor tells Jane Foster that where he comes from science and magic are the same thing.) But acknowledging that there have been witches on Earth this whole time is a very different can of worms to open up, one that offers far more possibilities going forward. After all, if witches have always been here, then it stands to reason that vampires could have been too. (Don’t forget… Blade is coming.)
- This is a great way of introducing the concept of the Scarlet Witch as a title for Wanda, much better than “this was her cute public-selected superhero name.” Though I imagine that Loki is gonna be all kinds of jealous that he’s not the one wielding the Chaos Magic when/if he ever finds out.
- Look, all I’m saying is that when a character is like “I could be good” and someone is like “No, I don’t think you can” you know that character is going to be evil forever, so the point is never tell anyone that?
And next week… well, it’ll all be over. Time to hold our breath.