«WandaVision», Episode 8: «Previously On»
First off: this discussion of the series includes spoilers! So watch the eighth episode of «WandaVision» before you read on.
«Who’s been messing up everything?»
«It’s been Agatha aaaaaaall aloooooong!»
Oh, don’t even try to fool me. I know for a fact that this song has been stuck in your head, too. Seriously, if this isn’t the best «I’m-the-bad-guy-song» song of all time, I don’t know what to say, either.
Let’s recap: last week, we found out that Agnes, Wanda's cheeky neighbour, is really Agatha Harkness – an ancient, powerful witch. What we don’t yet know is what her endgame is. Though one thing is for sure: it can't be good. After all,
«And I killed Sparky too. HAHAHAHAHA!»
This is the second to last episode of the series. I really don’t consider myself to be an easy crier. But boy, was Episode 8 good. Really, really good. And now, more than ever, I foresee a truly apocalyptic finale. One of proportions yet unseen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And that’s counting «Infinity War» and «Endgame».
The Marvel origin of Agatha Harkness
Salem, Massachusetts, 1693. Agatha Harkness, a young witch, is tied to the stake, doomed to die for using dark, forbidden magic. Such is the verdict spoken by a coven of witches. And not just by any coven; rather, her own coven. Led by Agatha’s own mother. She accuses Agatha of stealing knowledge and breaking the rules.
But Agatha pleads with her, countering that she didn’t break the rules; the rules had simply bent to her power.
It's no use. The sentence is carried out. Half a dozen witches and their leader, the mother, direct their magic at Agatha. But the young renegade is too powerful. Instead of destroying Agatha, the witches end up destroying themselves.
I’ve mentioned my suspicion that Agnes, the cheeky neighbour, is, in fact, the mysterious witch Agatha from the comics. And every time I mentioned it, I’d touch on Agatha's story, but never dive deep into it.
Time to change that.
Agatha Harkness makes her first appearance in the 94th issue of the «Fantastic Four» comics, titled «A Frightful Night». Looks-wise, she appears to be an old, harmless woman with white hair. She’s supposedly an expert in child rearing, and becomes governess to Fantastic Four leader Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s son.
One day, while staying at Agatha’s house in Whisper Hill, the Fantastic Four are ambushed. The Frightful Four, led by the evil Bentley Wittman aka the Wizard, shanghai the Fantastic Four. But they weren’t ready for Agatha Harkness.
Not only are the Frightful Four caught off guard by Agatha's abilities, they also come to a huge realisation: they’re powerful enough to defeat even the Fantastic Four. But they don’t even come close to Agatha’s power.
Agatha defeats the Frightful Four with playful ease and frees the Fantastic Four. A happy ending. At the end of the comic book, we catch a glimpse of a book in Agatha’s house titled «Tales of old Salem».
Agatha’s secret is only gradually revealed in the comics. It turns out this book is the key to her past. Agatha belonged to a powerful coven of witches as early as in the late 17th century. So, she personally experienced the first of many witch trials in Salem. It was a horrific time period.
To protect herself and other witches, wizards and further magical creatures, she establishes a secret community in remote Colorado. She names it New Salem. The most important rule is not to socialise with «mortals». Harry Potter, anyone?
Agatha runs this community with an iron fist. She exterminates all weakness. Literally. Only those who are strong enough to defend themselves survive. And then, Agatha disappears for decades without a trace. She only reappears when Reed Richards brings his son Franklin to Whisper Hill.
From then on, Agatha crosses paths with the Avengers every now and again. Initially, she remains Franklin Richard’s governess, even helping him develop his powers... until Pietro aka Quicksilver and Crystalia Amaquelin aka Crystal’s wedding. As fate would have it, she meets someone very special there:
The wedding goes anything but smoothly. Ultron strikes. It’s all a big mess. But Franklin Richards manages to defeat Ultron with his powers. Agatha then announces that the Fantastic Four no longer need her and that she wants to devote herself to a new task: training Wanda.
Not everyone’s happy about that, because Agatha demands to be left alone, in isolation. Apparently, this is the only way she can fully develop Wanda’s potential.
Agatha keeps her word. First, she teaches Wanda conventional magic – especially transformation. And then... Chaos Magic. And spontaneous creation. Agatha teaches this to Wanda in secret. Not even Wanda’a aware of what she’s learning.
Finally, Agatha decrees that Wanda’s apprenticeship is complete. According to her, Wanda has learned everything. Everything about what, though? And to do what? The questions just keep coming – as do the secrets. Agatha’s definitely up to something. Her next step is to go back to New Salem and attempt to reclaim leadership of it. That doesn’t quite go according to plan. Agatha’s old followers turn against her and burn her at the stake.
And so, Agatha dies for the first time.
But she’s not silenced. From the grave, Agatha’s ghost steers Wanda and Vision to New Salem. Upon their arrival, they meet the community’s new leader, Vertigo. Wanda manages to channel all the magic of the place and defeat Vertigo. It’s an epic battle. But it doesn’t stop there. Agatha’s spirit urges Wanda not to merely channel the magic, but also to use it.
And she does. Wanda doesn’t just destroy Vertigo; she simultaneously creates her and Vision's children by the power of her mind. Tommy and Billy.
Months pass. At first, everything’s great. Then the government decides Vision is too dangerous. So, they dismantle him. Well, that’s not good. But the Avengers reassemble Vision.
That leaves its mark on Vision, who comes back pale and devoid of emotion.
Wanda’s psyche starts cracking. But the worst is yet to hit her. Out of nowhere, Agatha reappears – very much alive, very much with no explanation. But what she does have is a terrible revelation: Wanda’s children are actually fragments of Mephisto’s soul. And as we know, Mephisto’s one of the most dangerous, immortal demonic beings there is. Maybe even the devil himself.
And apparently, the devil wants his soul fragments back.
Wanda can’t stop Mephisto. Her children – Tommy and Billy – are absorbed and killed by Mephisto. Instead of helping Wanda, Agatha simply erases Wanda’s memories of the children.
Again, months pass – until a stranger from another reality emerges. Immortus. He informs Wanda that she’s a Nexus – that is, an incredibly powerful being that can change reality and, with it, the flow of time. He also tells her that, as a Nexus, she acts as a pillar in the multiverse, ensuring coherence and stability in the reality she’s in.
Remember the Nexus commercial from last week?
Wanda, however, is anything but stable. And now, Agatha’s magic is also starting to dwindle. Memories of her children and their death creep back into Wanda’s mind. Accompanied by grief; heartache; pain. And insurmountable anger. Wanda confronts Agatha and, in her icy rage, kills her.
This time, for good.
Wanda’s at her end, as is her mental health. It’s the perfect moment for Mephisto to manipulate Wanda. And so, the events known in the comics as «House of M» take their course. TL;DR: a grief-stricken Wanda loses it and changes the fabric of reality – with devastating effects on all living beings on Earth.
With just one spell, she decimates the mutant population. Where there were thousands, only 198 are left.
So, there you have it: Agatha's story. There’s one more thing, though...
Wanda's touching past
Back to «WandaVision». All we know so far about this Agatha is that her own mother had wanted to kill her out of fear and shame. And that, as Agatha reveals, it was Wanda’s manipulated TV show reality that led her to the Westview anomaly. After all, she could feel the powerful magic at work here. Mind control. Transformation. Spontaneous creation.
And all this being done «on autopilot».
We then learn Wanda’s story. It all started in a run-down apartment in the war zone of Sokovia. Wanda and Pietro are watching old series with their parents, Irina and Oleg Maximoff. The «Dick Van Dyke Show», for example.
That explains Wanda’s love for nostalgic TV series.
But it’s not long before this peaceful scene is interrupted. There’s a loud bang, followed by silence. Darkness. Then light. Yellow light. Agatha has a theory: she believes that during Hydra’s radical human trials, it’s the light of the Infinity Stone – or Mindstone – that activates something in Wanda that would otherwise have died on the vine. In the glow of this yellow light, Wanda sees a silhouette. A silhouette we know all too well from the comics.
The story continues. Pietro dies. «What is grief if not love persevering?» asks Vision as he comforts a grieving Wanda. A very touching scene. Fast forward to S.W.O.R.D. headquarters: Wanda wants Vision’s dead body in order to give him a proper burial. But Director Hayward has other plans. He says that because Vision’s the most complex living weapon in existence, it’s his duty to disassemble him.
Interesting... ring a bell?
Anyways, Wanda admits defeat and heads to an empty plot of land in Westview. Land that Vision had bought when he was alive where he and Wanda could «grow old» together. Wanda can’t stand the pain anymore. The red Hex magic literally explodes out of her, creating the Westview anomaly we learned of in Episode 1. And...
Wanda's true lineage – also in the comics
Finally. We finally get the full story. It’s marvellous, magnificent and infinitely sad. What Marvel has created with «WandaVision» is simply breathtaking.
But what follows is even more important.
«I know what you are. You have no idea how dangerous you are. You’re supposed to be a myth; a being capable of spontaneous creation,» says Agnes. And Wanda’s entire little world – including Tommy, Billy and Vision – is Chaos Magic.
«And that makes you the Scarlet Witch.»
This last sentence is genius. I swear Marvel has been building up to this moment since 2016. What’s nasty is if you’re not familiar with the comics, you don’t even realise this. But hey, that’s what I’m here for.
Here we go: up until 2016, Wanda and Pietro were considered to be the children of Magneto from the X-Men universe. But because Fox held the film rights to X-Men in 2015, Disney had to make a special deal so that Wanda und Pietro would be allowed to appear in «Avengers: Age of Ultron». The caveats: they couldn’t use their mutant aliases (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) and they weren’t allowed to have the exact same abilities or be mutants.
In other words, Oleg and Irina Maximoff are officially Wanda and Pietro’s parents in the movies. There’s not a word about Magneto or mutants. Then, in 2016, this comic appears. It turns Wanda’s comic-book origins upside down, too.
Here’s the rundown of that story. Long after Wanda’s killed her former mentor Agatha and decimated the mutant population, Agatha’s ghost appears to her. Or rather, reappears. Wanda, racked by remorse, tries anything she can in an attempt to make up for her mistakes.
She seeks redemption.
Agatha’s spirit speaks of the Witches’ Road, a place in Ireland... hey, aren't Wanda and Vision in Ireland at the beginning of «Infinity War»? Anyways, it’s a place that only the magically gifted can enter; a place where Wanda might find redemption. So, Agatha and Wanda travel to the Witches’ Road, where they meet another ancient spirit, Natalya Maximoff – Wanda’s real mother.
Wanda learns that she and Pietro aren’t mutants at all, but descendants of an ancient and powerful family that’s always been full of magic. The magic of the Scarlet Witches, to be precise. A magic that, most importantly, gave Wanda the ability to tap into the energy of the universe and change reality.
This makes her – should she ever unlock her full potential – the most powerful being in the universe. And thus, powerful enough to undo the damage done in «House of M».
Now, back to «WandaVision».
«And that makes you the Scarlet Witch.»
And then the post-credits scene
You can guess where the series is most likely headed. But we’re not quite there yet. First the credits, then a final scene. Hayward’s done it. He’s put the real Vision (not the one Wanda created) back together. But the reassembled Vision isn’t brightly coloured; he’s very pale.
Think back to Agatha’s story.
Now, the apocalyptic finale may come.
What did you think of this episode? Are there any more Easter eggs I've missed? Let me know in the comments. See you next Friday for the next episode discussion.