TV REVIEW: WandaVision Episode 8 (2021)
WandaVision has excelled thus far by hopping between genres at will, all of it seamlessly blending to create arguably the most talked-about television event in years. Not since the true crime documentary golden age of Netflix’s Making A Murderer, has Twitter been so absorbed in unravelling the mysteries that lie within it. The latest episode, to the critique of some, abandons the formula that has served WandaVision so well over the last two months, and serves up a galling portion of exposition to answer many – but not all – of our burning questions.
Agatha takes centre stage for much of “Previously On,” in which she takes Wanda on a voyage through her past, and dives into what makes Wanda and the Hex tick. It’s less of a peek behind the curtain and more tearing down of the curtain entirely, as the show attempts to set up the climactic confrontation in the series finale. We see Wanda’s life as a 10-year-old in Sokovia with her family, a glimpse at her life as a SHIELD guinea pig, and at her life as an Avenger in the time before the snap ever took place. These trips down memory lane serve as an efficient if entirely unsubtle method of providing answers into Wanda’s psyche throughout WandaVision, but more importantly, provide interesting insights into Wanda’s powers.
Over the years, Wanda’s abilities have developed from being able to cast probability hexes (one that saved her and her brother’s life by stopping another bomb going off in Sokovia) to the revelation that Wanda’s magic has been boosted by the Mind Stone, the same one that powered Vision for all those years. It’s often mooted that Wanda is the strongest Avenger, something the show even made canon during a conversation between Darcy, Monica, and Jimmy Woo (all sadly absent this week) a few weeks back. This was a smart bit of retconning by Team Marvel, providing an answer as to why Wanda was the one capable of destroying the Mind Stone in Infinity War and one of the few able to go toe-to-toe with Thanos. Answers these may be, and they’re surely enough to satisfy Marvel’s most passionate fans, but the reason for the show’s massive success has been a combination of its mystery and its love for its central pair.
Elizabeth Olsen, quoth JumpCut’s Editor-in-Chief Fiona Underhill, acts the shit out of this. The second half is less interested in answers and more in its impact on Wanda herself and herein lies the biggest success of the episode. Wanda’s desperation to get the love of her life back, the last thing that tethers her to Earth, is felt with every shakily delivered line, offering a level of vulnerability we haven’t seen before. Their relationship has been the surprise package of the MCU in recent years, and some of their most lovely lines get heart-breaking call backs (“I just feel you” / “I can’t feel you”) that are a testament to how well these two have been written and developed over time. Wanda and Vision were a brilliant focal point for a series like this, and Olsen and Bettany continue to give them the treatment they deserve.
Bettany is hardly seen this week, though his finest moment is one you’ve surely seen knocking around Twitter for several days. WandaVision has been a thoughtful look at loss over the last few episodes, and it all comes to a head with a touching conversation between the two, back in the wake of Age of Ultron when their relationship had barely begun to bloom. Having just lost her brother, Wanda’s loneliness was at an all-time low, but Vision consoling her was a tenderly written scene that spoke both to Wanda and the audience. “What is grief if not love persevering?” is a beautiful sentiment beautifully delivered by Bettany that means just that bit more coming from a being like Vision. Having never experienced love or loss for himself, his understanding of it comes from studying others, and such an acute observation could only come from him without sounding corny. WandaVision has done a lot of things right over the last eight weeks, but its gentle look at overcoming loss has been one of its strongest elements.
All of that said, it’s important to state that this episode is likely to go down as the weakest entry in the series so far. For all the answers it provided, it was lacking the same spark that enamoured so many of us to it so quickly. Without the sitcom element to ground us (an argument could be made that this episode was a clip episode, looking at highlights from years gone by, but many straws are being clutched for that one), WandaVision loses the creative vigour that has coursed through its veins for so long. Gone are the aspect ratio switches, the dramatic tonal shifts, the throwaway one-liners, the fun set design; they’ve all been replaced by a much more Marvel paint-by-numbers visual aesthetic to simply get to the point as efficiently as possible. Without Olsen’s brilliance and the ever-captivating Kathryn Hahn (a delightful villain, it must be said), the episode would surely have fallen completely flat. Still, there is enough here to keep you engaged, despite its lack of flair.
With only an episode to go, the key central mystery of why Wanda created the Hex has been answered, but there is a bounty of mysteries left to be resolved in the series finale. The finale must deal with Pietro’s existence; is he merely an Agatha creation to spy on Wanda, or is he actually the X-Men Universe Pietro who was mind-controlled up until the mid-credits sequence of episode 7? It must also answer questions around Billy and Tommy, Wanda’s children, as there are many theories that the children don’t exist at all and were created by Wanda as part of the Hex. Then, we have Vision; if he was created by Wanda directly, how has he been sentient all this time? How has he been able to talk with Darcy and go on his own little investigation adventures? Plus, there’s Monica’s recently acquired superpowers, Vision’s fate, the rebuilt body of Vision (in the comics he’s referred to as White Vision) by SWORD and reanimated by chaos magic, and the meta-mystery of Paul Bettany’s teased mega cameo.
While episode 8 may have been a bit of a step back in overall quality, “Previously On” provided answers in abundance to keep the show ticking to set up its grand finale. It was a necessary deep breath en route to diving headfirst in what’s sure to be a chaotic, surprising, supercharged final battle between Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff and Agatha Harkness and all the answers that lay in wait. If it manages to answer all its biggest mysteries, provide a satisfying conclusion to a story that has captured the entire world, excite us with some magical fights, and set up wherever the hell the MCU is going next, it’ll be WandaVision’s biggest success yet. Buckle up everyone. Here we go.