Tuesday, May 25, 2021

WandaVision 1x08 Review: “Previously On” (A Clip Show of Trauma) [Guest Poster: Hannah E.]

“Previously On”
Original Airdate: February 26, 2021

Wanda walks through a clip reel of her traumatic past in this WandaVision episode.

Spoilers for all nine episodes of WandaVision!

“Previously On” is the crown jewel of WandaVision. Everything the show set out to do is delivered upon so beautifully in every scene. It plays on the idea of two TV tropes — the "previously on" segment and the clip show, and stretches them to their limits. I love the episodes that are straight-forward pastiches, but I also love the transformative approach this episode takes to the genre recreation. And apart from two brief scenes at the very beginning and end, the episode is able to devote every moment to Wanda. Every scene of this show knows its main character so well that layer upon layer of meaning can be found in almost every line. The more work you put into this episode, the more you’ll get out of it; the attention to detail makes every scene worth analyzing...


Using the idea of a "previously on" segment as a framing device to give Wanda exposure therapy is absolutely brilliant. So much of the previous episodes had been dedicated to the subtle build-up of Wanda’s character and motivation; her grief and trauma was the undercurrent that ran through all previous episodes, pushing the show downstream. By making Agatha’s motivation be finding the root of all that pain, the writers give themselves the perfect excuse to stop dancing around their central theme and give it the center stage it deserves. And because the show is so focused on moving on from grief, it’s great that they found a clever way to show how important therapy is for mental health. 

The opening scene between Wanda and Agatha is the first time we get to see them interact free of artifice. I think the show slightly misses the mark on Agatha in the finale, but in this one they hit the bullseye. Free of having to force her into the trappings of a Marvel villain, here she’s scripted somewhere between a therapist and a bully. Much like a member of the audience, Agatha has been studying Wanda; while she’s been doing it for nefarious purposes, the insights she gained are true. Seeing Wanda through Agatha’s eyes is the most ruthless the show gets in laying bear Wanda’s shortcomings. The insecurity that made it so easy for Agatha to trick her. The denial that runs so deep that even now, as Wanda knows she can control the town, she still doesn’t believe she created it — telling Agatha she can’t explain how it exists because she didn’t do it.

Agatha is the perfect foil to break through Wanda’s denial. Her whole goal is to discover how Wanda runs the Hex, and nothing is going to stop her from getting what she wants. She knows from her spy, Pietro, that the feeling of “endless nothingness” is the last thing Wanda remembers before Westview. Unlike the other two characters we’ve seen try to break through to Wanda — Vision and Monica — Agatha has no love or sympathy for Wanda and doesn’t hesitate to cast a spell forcing her to relive all of her most traumatic memories. 

One of the things that makes this episode so good is the amount of care that went into the small moments, making sure every line added to characterization. When Agatha first pushes Wanda to start her walk down memory lane, Wanda refuses; having to relive her memories is the most extreme version possible of facing past trauma — it would completely destroy Wanda’s coping mechanism of denial. She would never agree to do it, even under threat of death. But the one thing Wanda cares most about is her family; she would do anything to protect them. As soon as Agatha threatens her kids, Wanda relents. With that, the two witches take their first step into the past.


The first flashback brings us to Sokovia in 1999 when Wanda was just a kid, and her parents and brother were still alive. We watch as the four Maximoffs form the perfect family. The theme they composed for Sokovia, that plays over adult Wanda watching her younger self, is eerily reminiscent of the Stark theme from Game of Thrones and any time I hear that cello, my eyes immediately tear up. 

There’s something tragically beautiful in the way Wanda’s mother sees the men fighting outside and chooses to close the window and go back to her family. Their homeland is war torn and fighting rages right outside the window, but inside their home none of it matters. Much like Westview, Wanda’s childhood home was a refuge from the real world, complete with sitcoms — Wanda gets to pick her favorite episode which is The Dick van Dyke Show, “It May Look Like a Walnut.” In that episode, the horror of Rob’s life slowly escalates into an episode of The Twilight Zone until he wakes up and realizes it was all just a nightmare. It’s not hard to see why Wanda loves it so much. 

Then comes the moment when Wanda’s life changed forever. Bombs rain down on the Maximoff family home, obliterating it. Wanda and Pietro, buried in rubble, are forced to watch as a bomb that landed in their living room beeps and beeps, never going off. On the side is written STARK, the name that would motivate Wanda and Pietro for the next 10 years. We know from previous MCU films that they were left in an orphanage and never adopted. Eventually they went on the run together, making do the best they could on their own, waiting for the opportunity to kill Tony Stark.

It’s a huge evolution for Wanda’s character that she’s the reason the bomb never went off. When Wanda was first introduced to the MCU, Marvel Studios didn’t own the rights to the X-Men franchise. In the comics, Wanda has always been a mutant, but the movies weren’t even legally allowed to use the word. That’s why in Age of Ultron they say she didn’t have any powers until she was experimented on by Hydra. WandaVision is the first MCU project to come out since Marvel acquired the rights to X-Men from Fox, and presented a great opportunity to redo Wanda’s origin and make her a mutant. Even though this is definitely a retcon, it doesn’t feel like it because they do such a good job incorporating it to the story Wanda told in Age of Ultron, of the defective Stark bomb. If there’s one thing we know about Tony Stark, it’s that he doesn’t sell defective tech. Of course Wanda saved her and her brother’s lives with her latent mutant ability. 

Again in this scene we see Agatha accidentally helping Wanda through her trauma. When she says “the only way forward is back,” she means it to be condescending and cruel — one more jab at the fact that she’s forcibly dragging Wanda into the worst memories of her life. But she’s not wrong; the only way Wanda can move on from her pain is to acknowledge that it exists, and there’s no better way for her to do that than to go back through her past in a form of intense exposure therapy. Agatha doesn’t know it but even as she moves one step closer to her goal, she plants the seeds of her eventual loss.


The next stop along Wanda’s memory lane is the moment Hydra experimented on her with the Mind Stone. Marvel made some pretty huge missteps in the changes they made to Wanda’s origin story, but I actually really like the specific change of her powers coming from an Infinity Stone; the comics never provide a good explanation for why she’s so powerful, and they’ve given it many, many attempts (each attempt makes it progressively funnier that Pietro is just like, a normal speedster — even though he endured all the same things that made his twin into a god). Having her be exposed to an Infinity Stone is such a simple way to explain her powers, and having the Mind Stone also be the Infinity Stone that created Vision adds another layer of meaning to their love story. 

The shot where the Mind Stone reveals itself to Wanda is the most stunning visual in the entirety of the MCU. The image of the Scarlet Witch, shrouded in golden light as if haloed by the sun itself, reflected through Wanda’s irises, is breathtaking. The force of the vision knocks Wanda out. When the Hydra agents watch the footage back, the whole scene is missing; even before Westview, Wanda was editing out the parts of her life she didn’t want.

It’s another great moment of character consistency that as the door appears to lead Wanda into her next memory, it’s the only one she doesn’t fight; as soon as she sees that it’s the door to the Avengers compound, she walks through eagerly. Wanda doesn’t want to face her past, but even more than that, she just wants Vision back — and she’ll face any bad memory in the world for a chance to see him again. 


In a TV season full of great scenes, this is the greatest scene of the show and it’s not even particularly close. In three and a half minutes the show articulates all of its themes, pays tribute to the love story at its center, and writes some of the most insightful lines to explain grief I’ve ever heard.

It’s a small moment, but I love that when Wanda is explaining to Agatha the significance of the Avengers’ compound, she says she felt all alone in a new country. The only time previous films ever addressed that Wanda is an immigrant was a throwaway line from Civil War in which Tony implies she doesn’t deserve human rights because she’s not a U.S. citizen (the absolute biggest of yikes to how casually the MCU made its leading hero parrot anti-immigrant sentiment!). WandaVision is the first time where her immigrant status is meaningfully incorporated into her character. She feels like an outsider in this foreign place and it’s part of what draws her to Vision, and vice-versa; he too is an outsider, human enough to want to be human, but not human enough for humans to see him that way. Except for Wanda.

The scene takes place right after Pietro died, and Wanda’s description of grief — the feeling of waves crashing over and drowning her — shows the writers did their research to portray it accurately. A very famous study of grief from 1944 described it thusly: Sensations of somatic distress occurring in waves lasting from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat, choking with shortness of breath, need for sighing, and an empty feeling in the abdomen.

Grief takes on physical side effects, and the most common experience is waves that feel like drowning. The description of “emptiness” Wanda gives in episode six is textbook. A lot of television portrayals of grief seem more consumed with the idea of it, the pageantry of sadness, rather than the reality. This show took its time to make sure they presented the real thing.

Like I’ve said before, the one thing I think the MCU consistently does well is understand that its heroes are humans — it’s cool to see Captain America and Iron Man punch stuff, but the emotional core of the films comes from Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. They have normal lives they want to go back to. That concept is never more true than when it’s applied to Wanda and Vision. Both of them are extremely reluctant heroes. What Wanda wants most in life is to go back to the small, normal life she had before her parents died. What Vision wants most in life is to simply have a normal life, one that would let him fully understand what it means to be human. They’re the two most powerful beings in the universe, constantly thrown into the biggest and craziest events in the world. But there’s nothing they’d rather do than sit down in a room together, watch a sitcom, and share a laugh. 

The show never takes its central love story for granted; in this scene they really put in the work of showing why these two people love each other. Wanda’s barely keeping her head above water as she struggles with the death of Pietro, and Vision gives her the one thing she needs to keep going: a way to understand her loss. Vision sees death from a perspective only he can see, as something slightly apart from humanity. He’s able to see the forest where humans only see trees. The way he puts it to words is just beautiful: "I’ve always been alone, so I don’t feel the lack. It’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve never experienced loss because I’ve never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?"

The people who genuinely disliked this line fundamentally misunderstand the nature of profundity. Sometimes something’s great because it’s simple. Great lines don’t stick with you because they’re a complicated puzzle you have to solve. They stick with you because they managed to say something profound about humanity in a way that resonated. There’s something beautiful in Vision, a man trying to become human, taking something as insurmountable as grief and distilling it down to one sentence that makes Wanda smile. 

The line is also deceptive in its simplicity. Grief is almost always portrayed as a burden that must be overcome, something the main character must move on from to be happy again. But moving on from grief is its own problem; no one wants to forget the memories they shared with someone they loved. Presenting grief as the perseverance of love manages to synthesize the idea of moving on and keeping the memories. It finds beauty in moments that would otherwise be the worst of Wanda’s life.

A less talented team of writers probably would have ended the scene there, letting their best line hang in the air for the audience to think on, but this team were smart enough to give Wanda and Vision one more moment. Instead of ending on a statement of the profound, the scene again draws the attention back to the small moments of normalcy between them. Vision laughs at the show, now understanding the humor Wanda helped him see in it. He looks back at her, desperate for approval, for evidence that he’s starting to be human, and she meets his eyes, laughing too. He was able to give her something profound in his understanding of grief, and she was able to give him something equally profound in return — a loved one to lose. 


Seeing Vision right in front of her, so close but impossibly far away, is enough to push Wanda forward into the memory Agatha’s been trying to reach this whole time: the moment she created the Hex.

This scene does such a good job slyly subverting expectation. Hayward’s lie from episode five already made us believe Wanda went to SWORD to resurrect Vision. The vision Wanda has in the Hydra flashback, of the Scarlet Witch coming down like an angel, puts the idea in your head of her as an almost godlike figure. This should be the moment when her power is unleashed. She should never feel less human than she does in this moment. The scene even leans into expectations at first, having her power walk across SWORD like a woman possessed.

Then it pulls the rug out. Wanda’s not here to resurrect Vision. All she wants is to bury him, the most human form of grief imaginable. Elizabeth Olsen is never better than in this episode, and in this scene she’s devastating. The writers knew how to take lines that were already sad and make them hit even harder. Take this line for example: "When I came back, he was gone — his body."

At first she says that Vision was gone when she returned from the blip, but then has to stop herself. Vision was already gone before that. She’d already lost him. She corrects herself and says that it was his body that was gone. The only piece of him she thought she hadn’t lost. 

An artist who worked on the show released the Storyboard for this scene, and the original dialogue read like this: "I’m sick and tired of everyone acting like Tony Stark is the only person we lost. Like he’s the only Avenger there ever was. Too bad, then, if you’re Natasha, but at least she was flesh and blood, right? But where are the memorials for Vision? No moving tributes for the synthezoid?"

I wouldn’t have begrudged them if these lines made it to the final episode, but I really love how subtle the version that made air is. The show never outright says that people are bigoted against Vision because he’s a synthezoid; instead, they leave just enough evidence for the audience to notice if they pay attention. It feels subtle and pervasive the way real world prejudice does; no one will ever say outright they’re a bigot, and we live in a world too often willing to turn a blind eye. Especially re-watching the series, there’s so many moments of Hayward treating Vision like less than human; it’s clear in the way he only ever calls him “The Vision,” cruelly parades the body in front of Wanda, refers to him like a computer, and the way he calls him “this thing” in the post credit scene. 

When Wanda is begging for his body back to be buried, she says, “He deserves a funeral at least.” Then she adds, “I deserve it.” Vision is not a person to SWORD, and she knows that. Appealing to what he deserves won’t get her anywhere because they don’t believe he’s human. She says, “I deserve it”, because she’s human and they can’t deny that. If they refuse to see the humanity in her husband, all she can do is force them to see the humanity in her.

The scene where Hayward shows Wanda the corpse is genuinely heartbreaking. Because Hayward sees Vision as less than human, he shows Wanda the body as it’s being taken apart; a gesture so casual in its cruelty I think some of the audience missed it. He doesn’t show her Vision in an act of compassion; he shows her Vision because he knows she’s capable of bringing him back to life. He lies and says they’re dismantling Vision — we know from the post credit scene that SWORD spent all five years trying to resurrect Vision — because telling the truth would incriminate him if Wanda ever told anyone. So instead of taking a risk in asking Wanda to bring Vision back, he tries to emotionally manipulate her. Throughout the whole scene he’s baiting her, trying to push her over the edge. He wants her to snap because then his toy will work again. 

At first, Wanda doesn’t recognize that it’s Vision. She’s the only one who ever saw him as completely human and can’t comprehend as she watches SWORD agents take the person she loved apart like a car being scrapped for parts. He was a man and they treat him like nothing more than a machine. If you pause the screen at the right second, you’ll see that Wanda breaks the glass in the shape of a heart as she flies down to say goodbye; every second of this episode was crafted to add something to the story, and here the visual effects bring the emotion of the scene to life — it literally breaks Wanda’s heart to see Vision’s corpse. 

Having all of Hayward’s men point their guns at Wanda also creates a parallel to a similar scene from an earlier episode. In this one, Hayward tells his men to stand down because he thinks Wanda is about to resurrect Vision. He decides to hand over control to Wanda because he thinks it will get him what he wants. But he bit off more than he could chew; in episode five he and Wanda are in the exact situation, but when Hayward tells his men to stand down it’s because they’re pointing guns at him and instead of taking orders from him, his men are under Wanda’s control. Hayward played with fire and got burned. He bears some amount of responsibility for Wanda creating the Hex (which is why he’s so desperate to clean up the mess before anybody finds out).

The line “I can’t feel you” is a callback to the last words Vision ever said to her, but also a tragic parallel to their first meeting in Age of Ultron. As a telepath, Wanda can read anyone’s mind; but Ultron, the prototype for Vision, wasn’t quite advanced enough to be human — Wanda couldn’t read his thoughts. The first sign that Vision was truly alive came from Wanda being able to look inside his head. Now, as he lays in pieces on the table, Wanda tries for one last time to read his thoughts. But she can’t feel him. The thing that first let Wanda know he was alive is no longer there. Vision is gone. Wanda doesn’t steal the body, as Hayward claimed. Instead, she hangs her head and leaves. 

Finally we see why Wanda came to Westview. Not to resurrect her husband or kidnap the town. She came to see the home Vision bought for them. All of their shared dreams and desires made real in a small plot of land; the promise of home, of normal life, that both of them wanted for so many years. Everything Wanda ever wanted was right in her grasp until it slipped through her fingers like water. Instead of seeing a home for her and Vision, she sees a vacant lot. When Vision bought it he saw promise – a blank space for him and Wanda to build upon together. Now instead of holding their future, the emptiness just holds nothing. Endless nothingness. 

Wanda opens the deed on which Vision left her a note: "To grow old in."

And suddenly the heart on the calendar from the first episode makes sense. As Wanda drove through Westview, she saw a dreary town hit hard by the Snap. Wanda’s chaos magic bursts forth in an involuntary extension of Wanda’s subconscious, changing everything she saw that was broken down and rewriting it to be brand new again. The sad people sleepwalking through their lives are rewritten into the happy characters we see in Wanda’s sitcom. She turns everything that made her sad into something that brings her comfort. That’s why the heart Vision drew, which had become a symbol of the future she would never get to have with him, is rewritten on the calendar to mark a future date. It becomes a promise that her and Vision have more days together. 

The opening title sequence from the first episode, of Vision and Wanda driving into town, is nearly identical to the scenes of her driving into town alone in this episode. The first thing Wanda’s subconscious chose to broadcast was re-writing that memory into what it was meant to be. Her and Vision were supposed to come here together to settle down. As viewers we intellectually know that Wanda made the Hex to get back her life with Vision, but making that real through visual storytelling is a great touch. 

It’s no coincidence that we see Wanda recreate Vision in the same episode that we see Hayward resurrect him. The two scenes work as incredible foils to highlight how different Wanda and Hayward are. While both of their actions may end up in the same result, their motivations could not be more different. Hayward takes one weapon — the missile — to make another, even more powerful weapon out of Vision. He takes all the life away from him — literally drains him of his color — to make him the robot he always saw him as. 

Wanda does the opposite. The things she loved about Vision was not his power or his abilities. What she remembers most about him is what made him human — his kindness and compassion, his sense of humor, the way he smiled. When she brings him back, he literally comes from her heart. The Vision she creates is even more human than before. And unlike the one Hayward revives, stripped of his free will, Wanda’s Vision is entirely his own, uncontrolled by her. She didn’t want to bring back a puppet. She wanted the real Vision. 

The musical score in the background of this scene is titled “Genesis.” Fitting, considering this is Wanda’s creation myth. As the story goes in the biblical genesis, God created Adam and seeing that he was lonely took one of Adam’s own ribs to create Eve. A piece of Adam lived forever in her, tying them together as the only two things in the whole of creation who were alike. Wanda, straddling the fence between god and mortal, plays the role of both God and Adam in her genesis. Through her loneliness, Wanda’s subconscious took a piece of herself — the piece of the Mind Stone that lives in her — and gave it to Vision, recreating his memory around a fragment of the stone. The only two beings in the whole of the universe to share a piece of the Mind Stone. 

Wanda loved Vision to the point of invention; an entire world built to hold her love for him. In a parallel to the first time Vision was created, in Age of Ultron, Wanda is again the first person that he sees. His life always begins with her. 

The moment after Wanda creates Vision, when she steps forward, is achingly beautiful. It parallels an earlier scene from the episode, from the flashback of her and Vision in the Avengers Compound; in that scene present-day Wanda stepped forward, reaching out to touch past Vision, but he disappeared, only a memory. Here, there’s a beat that’s just Wanda looking at Vision, trying to comprehend what she sees in front of her. Then she steps forward; just like before, she can’t help but reach out to him. As she takes the step she transforms into black and white, entering the world of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Her denial wasn’t a conscious choice but merely a side effect of how much she loves Vision.

As the scene draws to a close, for the first time, present-day Wanda fully understands what she’s done. Her eyes well with tears as they run over the studio set and cameras, destroyed by the realization that none of it is real. 

Odds and Ends:

  • Even though the first seven episodes of this show are largely dedicated to Wanda and Vision playing house, it’s still such a weird feeling to watch a superhero do something as mundane as drive a car. Just imagining Wanda taking a driver’s ed course is so funny to me.
  • “Vhere are vy children? That accent really comes and goes.” Kathryn Hahn’s delivery of that line is so funny, and it’s nice to see the MCU poking some fun at how inconsistently they’ve had Elizabeth Olsen do the fake accent. It’s so funny to me that Infinity War and Endgame were shot back-to-back, but Wanda has an accent in one and not the other.
  • “Fake Pietro. Fietro, if you will.”
  • It’s a strong piece of continuity that Wanda’s description of her grief to Vision is nearly identical to Monica’s description of what it felt like to be in the Hex. Both were expressions of the same feeling.
  • Hayward tells Wanda it’s his “legal obligation” to dismantle Vision. Sometimes I think I must be watching a different show than other people, because one of the main criticisms of WandaVision I’ve seen is that they never explain what Hayward did that was illegal. But on multiple occasions, through several different characters, the show states that Hayward resurrecting Vision is a violation of the Sokovia Accords.
  • As it’s being rewritten, the theatre marquee changes to advertise “Big Red” and “Kidnapped.” I wonder what that could mean.
  • In the very last line of the episode, Agatha becomes the first person to ever drop the name Scarlet Witch in the MCU. That’s been a long time coming. 
  • Having a government agency re-assemble Vision free of his personality and color is a plotline ripped straight from a West Coast Avengers comic book run. I personally hate the direction that comic went in and much prefer the way White Vision is used here.


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