I imagine the gist of the pitch meeting for ‘Previously On’ went somewhat like this:
Producers: So, how much trauma and heartbreak do you think we should include on this one?
Packed to the brim with moments of agony and genuine suffering, ‘Previously On’ is an emotional punch in the gut like no other episode on WandaVision so far. This week, the show takes a deep dive into Wanda’s past, recontextualizes key moments in MCU history, and finally names Names.
Last week’s episode left off with Wanda being trapped in Agatha’s creepy basement, her powers blocked and her children out of reach. ‘Previously On’ is almost solely about these two women and how they came to be where they are at the moment. Agatha’s background is a welcome piece of information for the viewers, and cleverly subverts the Salem storyline of the comics. In the comics, Agatha actually encouraged the witch trials in 1693, but the show makes her the one tied to a stake – by members of her own coven.
This reviewer has not been reticent in the past about her admiration for Kathryn Hahn in every episode. Her comedic chops have really shone on WandaVision, and she did a great job on this episode as well, walking the thin line between making Agatha a complete caricature and making her not much of a threat at all. That being said, I do feel that her performances were the most unique when she was being funny.
It’s not that she was below par this week, but with all of her previous appearances, I could not imagine anyone else that could pull off Agnes’s character the way she did. Agatha Harkness, on the other hand, I can imagine being played by other actors to similar effect. Granted, the show has decided to go with comic book accuracy, but the Witch Character with the wild hair, goth makeup and flowy robes seems rather generic compared to how groundbreaking WandaVision has been so far.
Speaking of Agatha Harkness, this episode has not given us much in terms of her motives. Yes, she wants to ‘know how Wanda did it’, but for what? Could her intentions really be as generic as just taking Wanda’s powers for herself? In the comics, Agatha Harkness was actually an ally of Wanda’s and a ‘magical tutor in the use of witchcraft’, which is more in line with the ‘chaotic (pun intended) neutral’/ ‘neutral evil’ route that Agatha’s character seems to be taking.
We always knew that Westview was born out of grief and sorrow, and this episode takes us all the way back to the beginning. Agatha makes Wanda (and the audience) relive every painful and repressed memory, breaking both parties into a million pieces, bit by bit. Elizabeth Olsen has gone from strength to strength on WandaVision, and her nuanced portrayal of despair and desolation cements Wanda’s status as the emotional core of the show. I could practically hear Kleenex being pulled out of boxes all over the world when she said ‘I can’t feel you’, the same way I can predict that ‘what is grief, if not love persevering’ is definitely going to show up on the caption of every third motivational textpost on Instagram.
‘Previously On’ suggests that rather than giving Wanda her powers as we had thought, the Mind Stone simply amplified powers that were already latent. Agatha calls her a ‘baby witch’, but that would not explain why Pietro also survived Hydra’s experiments. The more likely theory is that Wanda and Pietro were both born mutants, and came into their powers after contact with the Mind Stone.
We also find out why Westview in particular was the site of Wanda’s protective bubble – before the Snap, Vision had bought a plot of land there for them ‘to grow old in’. This is of course, a melancholic moment, but a second viewing of the episode detached from emotion had me wondering with what money Vision bought the land and who would sign over a plot to an evident synthezoid. But those are secondary.
‘Previously On’ also reveals that Wanda did not, in fact, drag Vision’s dismembered corpse away from the S.W.O.R.D facility to use as her personal prop – it was Hayward all along. Operation Cataract (the one mentioned in the email that Darcy forwarded to Woo) was about resurrecting Vision’s body to use as the planet’s most powerful sentient weapon, and the post credits scene shows us White Vision (a clever play on the word cataract, which is a pale, cloudy area that impairs one’s vision). It would not be a leap to predict a showdown between the two Visions next episode, and one can only imagine what could happen if Wanda is faced with destroying a version of Vision for the third time.
And of course – the pinnacle of the episode – the first utterance of the phrase ‘Scarlet Witch’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, most viewers following the movies would have come across the term in the context of Wanda Maximoff at least once, and the fact that Wanda was the MCU’s equivalent of Scarlet Witch from the comics was never in question.
Indeed, with the consistently scarlet theme, red hair, red powers in her hands, and Wanda’s comic book-accurate costume in the Halloween episode, the MCU has not exactly been subtle. However, this episode is when Wanda Maximoff from the cinematic realm and Scarlet Witch from the comics merge into one character, and it is a big moment for Marvel.
While the emotion of ‘Previously On’ was superlatively crafted, it does feel ever so slightly off in the grand scheme of things. Considering that the previous episode ended with Fake Pietro (who, unfortunately for all the X-Men crossover theories, seems to be just fake after all) confronting a newly powered Monica as well as Vision and Darcy on their way to confront Wanda, the audiences were mostly expecting a progression of those plot points.
If WandaVision had ten episodes, or had clubbed some decades together to make space for the emotional backstory earlier in the show, ‘Previously On’ would have made much more sense in terms of placement. But now, with only one episode to go and about a dozen unresolved plot points, one wonders whether the finale can live up to the hype that WandaVision has created for itself.
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‘Previously On’ is a beautifully heartrending episode that provides ample backstory but would have fit in better earlier in the season.
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