WandaVision Just Gave Us 2 Very Different Origin Stories

Billy and Tommy playing a video game.
Billy and Tommy playing a video game.
Image: Disney+/Marvel

Just as WandaVision’s stakes have grown—both literally and metaphorically— the show’s begun answering of some its most mysterious questions with revelations that have only made it that much more difficult to parse what the show’s building to. “Breaking the Fourth Wall,” WandaVision’s seventh episode, lives up to its name...up to a point, as Westview has been warped to mimic the comedic beats of sitcoms like Modern Family and The Office.

As much time as people spend talking directly to the camera, though, what makes “Breaking the Fourth Wall” one of WandaVision’s most deliciously twisted episodes is the way it effortlessly reveals who the characters are actually talking to. The truth isn’t exactly “surprising,” per se, but it fundamentally changes basically everything that WandaVision’s led viewers to believe up until now, and it’s almost certainly going to change the tone of things going forward.

Illustration for article titled WandaVision Just Gave Us 2 Very Different Origin Stories
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When Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) wakes up alone in her bed as the episode opens, both she and WandaVision have let their hair down in the sense that they’ve gotten to a point where they no longer feel the need to maintain some of their illusions. Where Wanda previously went to great lengths to avoid acknowledging previous “days” within Westview whenever the town shifted to new decades, here, she’s well aware of how she turned on her newly returned brother and expanded the Hex in order to save Vision’s life and attack SWORD.

The plot of this one plays Wanda’s awareness for laughs as she realizes that she went to bed in her Halloween costume and, elsewhere in the house, Tommy (Jett Klyne) and Billy (Julian Hilliard) notice that a number of the appliances around them keep glitching out and being remade as alternate versions of themselves. Much as the boys try to get their mother out of bed and snap her out of whatever funk she’s in, what she explicitly wants is to be left alone. When she does finally come downstairs, she scarcely interacts with her children before Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) shows up to take them off Wanda’s hands and bring them over to her place for snacks.

The self-imposed “quarantine-style staycation” that Wanda explains to the in-universe show’s off-camera, Modern Family-esque producer easily reads like the writers’ room nodding to our real-world quarantining to slow the spread of covid-19. But within the context of WandaVision, her time out is one of the many ways the story calls back to Monica Rambeau’s (Teyonah Paris) line of deduction about the Hex actually being Wanda’s way of reigning in what’s happening in Westview. “Breaking the Fourth Wall” establishes this throughline when it shifts outside the Hex to catch up with previously established characters like SWORD director Hayward (Josh Stamberg) and introduce newcomers like major Goodner (Rachel Thompson).

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When Monica first mentioned, a few episodes back, that she had a friend who might be able to help them breach the Hex, there was an understandable wave of speculation that WandaVision was setting up the origins for the Fantastic Four because of how the show has incorporated people being changed by cosmic radiation into its story. Other details—like the first SWORD agent sent into the Hex being named Franklin, and the Fantastic Four’s involvement in the Marvel comics WandaVision draws inspiration from—made it easy to see how this series could introduce the Richards family ahead of their MCU debut. But going that route would only have kept in the long tradition of stories about Scarlet Witch, doing her a disservice by spending too much time focusing on what everyone else in the larger world thinks about her.

Wanda trying to make herself some breakfast.
Wanda trying to make herself some breakfast.
Image: Disney+/Marvel
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From a more zoomed-out perspective, the clamor for a connection between WandaVision and Marvel’s upcoming Fantastic Four project has, in a way, felt like a segment of the fandom not being able to appreciate WandaVision for the show it’s trying to be. Watching “Breaking the Fourth Wall,” it seems almost as if the show’s creative team saw all of this coming a mile away and was being very intentional by matter-of-factly dismissing the Reed theory. They dropped Goodner right into the story and immediately established that she, like Monica, perceives the Hex as Wanda exercising self-control, and knows that Hayward isn’t the hero he makes himself out to be.

With Wanda’s TV signal having gone dead following the Hex’s expansion, no one at SWORD is able to see at first how out of sorts everything is within Westview. This loss of connection ends up making this episode one of the best examples of how WandaVision’s capable of blending its two realities together seamlessly, even when characters from the respective spheres aren’t interacting with one another across their divide. Agonizing as being torn apart by leaving the Hex was for Vision (Paul Bettany), it’s little surprise that when he wakes up in what’s now become the town’s outer fairgrounds, his immediate instinct is to begin inquiring whether anyone else remembers.

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Though Vision’s fully in the thrall of this episode’s Modern Family styling, all he wants to do is establish what the source of all the chaos is, and he reasons that even though the Hex has warped Darcy (Kat Dennings) into an escape artist chained to a car, there’s a chance he can still break through to her. Vision’s right, as it turns out, and unlike Norm, when Vision unlocks Darcy’s mind, she doesn’t have the same sort of full-on breakdown, likely because her Hexing’s quite fresh. What Vision and Darcy do find, though, is that aware or not, it’s still difficult for them to avoid getting involved in the Hex’s sitcom distractions that manifest themselves as literal situational comedic moments and a number of interviews with the in-universe’s producer.

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Where Vision and Darcy’s fourth-wall-breaking comes across as lighthearted, WandaVision takes a dark turn during one of Wanda’s interviews when the off-camera producer actually speaks and asks her whether she thinks she deserves everything that’s happening to her. Unstable as WandaVision’s suggested that Wanda might be, the way it makes a hard cut from the interview to a commercial (for the depression drug “Nexus”) underlines how the Hex’s reality is now trying unsubtly to fight against her in the way it’s fought others to her benefit in the past.

Wanda discovering that she’s a nexus being.
Wanda discovering that she’s a nexus being.
Image: John Higgins, Mark McKenna, Jim Novak, Kev Somers/Marvel
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Unlike some of WandaVision’s other commercials, whose metaphors have made it possible to interpret them in a number of different ways, the Nexus ad reads pretty clearly as a direct nod to the Scarlet Witch being known in Marvel Comics as a “nexus being.” In 1994's Scarlet Witch #4—from Andy Lanning, Dan Abnett, John Higgins, Mark McKenna, Jim Novak, and Kev Somers—Wanda learns that, as a nexus being, she’s the focal point for the whole of the world’s mystical energies. In the comics, this is part of how Scarlet Witch’s original ability to manipulate probabilities was further reframed as her controlling chaos magic, so here in WandaVision, the reference feels very much like clarification of what’s going on.

Earlier in the season, Darcy pointed out just how large an amount of energy Wanda must be throwing off to maintain the Hex and rearrange all the matter contained within, and the Yo-Magic commercial told the story of a boy starving to death as a shark danced around talking about gobbling up his magic. Someone in Westview has been fiending for magical energy, and “Breaking the Fourth Wall” reveals them in spectacular fashion. The show very much frames them as at least one of WandaVision’s villains, but riffs on its own ideas about how the sitcom logic often demands that we see characters as clearly cut goodies and baddies by introducing a new-ish hero into the mix just before its new-ish foe steps into the spotlight.

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Given everything that’s happened recently with the Hex, it’d be understandable if Monica came to the conclusion that it might be too dangerous to try literally ramming her way in with a massive rover. But despite every obstacle that’s been thrown her way by both Wanda and Hayward, Monica’s resolve that she can fix whatever’s happening is unshakable, perhaps in part because of the time she spent interacting directly with the Avenger. Beyond her belief in Wanda’s innocence, Monica also reasons she might be able to get through to her by sharing intel Jimmy (Randall Park) gathered—that Hayward and SWORD were actively looking to weaponize Vision before Wanda arrived to steal his corpse. Though Jimmy and Goodner have faith in Monica, all of their fears prove to be more than justified when Monica’s super-duper space rover bashes into the Hex and barely makes a dent. Almost immediately the anomaly begins to lift the truck into the air and begin rewriting it before tossing it away.

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While Monica’s able to jump out of the vehicle before being flung to death, nothing about the Hex’s might deters her from trying to get into it on her own. She takes the briefest of beats before deciding to charge at the glowing wall. Before Wanda expanded the Hex, WandaVision established that, in some instances, it would simply pull people in and remake them instantaneously. Whether it’s because of Monica’s repeated exposure to cosmic background radiation or because Wanda’s in a different state of mind is unclear, but when Monica presses against the Hex, she’s able to push her way through it with considerable difficulty in one of WandaVision’s most gorgeous, moving transformation sequences.

Monica fighting her way through the Hex.
Gif: Disney+/Marvel
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As Monica pushes herself through the Hex, her physical form begins to warp and split into something almost like a collage of the various versions of her that we’ve seen so far. The look on the different Geraldines and Monicas faces are ones of fear and pain, but as they’re all fighting not to be torn apart, they can all recall and hear the voices of people from their lives reminding them of who they are. This isn’t the first time that WandaVision’s touched on Monica’s connection to Captain Marvel, but the moment that Carol’s (Brie Larson) voice comes clearly into Monica’s mind is significant because it reminds her of the love that both Carol and Maria (Lashana Lynch) felt for her. Carol’s voice also seems to be what gives Monica the push to pull herself together and emerge in Westview with a snazzy new set of eyes that can see all sorts of new things on the electromagnetic spectrum that normal human vision can’t perceive.

Though WandaVision would have been well within its right to have Monica look into the camera and say “You know who’s fantastic? Me,” she instead wastes no time in shucking off her bulky SWORD suit and making a beeline for Wanda’s house where she really just wants to get a word in edgewise. In Wanda’s defense, Monica should have expected that barging in unannounced wouldn’t go well considering that the last time SWORD showed up on her doorstep, the organization fired a missile at her and her kids. So while everything she tells Wanda is quite true, Wanda can only believe that Monica’s lying. This prompts her to grab the woman with her powers, lift her into the air, and parade her out onto the front lawn in front of the mailman and Emma Caulfield’s Dottie, who’s been missing since the show’s second episode.

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Between some of the ways that Geraldine’s been depicted and the optics of this scene on its face, it would have been easy for this chunk of WandaVision’s handling of Monica to fall flat at best and offensive at worst. But the cheesiness of Monica’s first proper hero landing is perfectly cut through by her pointed observation that the only time she’s ever lied to Wanda is when Wanda was manipulating her mind and body. Important as Monica’s impassioned speech to Wanda about embracing one’s pain is, the way Agnes is brought into the scene is deliberate and worth paying attention to because of the messages it conveys about a very specific kind of power that exists outside of the context of genre fiction.

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As the series’ embodiment of best friend sitcom archetype, Agnes has served as Wanda’s emotional support throughout the series, always showing up in the nick of time to help her good pal out of whatever mishap she wandered into. Here, though, the “mess” that needs cleaning up is Wanda’s having quite literally threatened to murder a Black woman in the broad daylight of a fictional suburban neighborhood. Both Agnes casually calling Monica “young lady” and insisting that Wanda’s actually the person in danger here are textually insidious because of what they suggest about WandaVision’s explicit plot. But the way Agnes coddles Wanda as she again threatens to hurt Monica, and none of the civilians around them react, all feel like the show drawing attention to the ways that the very concept of white women as victims has been historically weaponized and canonized within pop culture.

Monica and Wanda facing off.
Gif: Disney+/Marvel
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Whether these ideas are present in Wanda’s mind is interesting to consider, but unclear as “Breaking the Fourth Wall” begins to wrap with Agnes bringing Wanda over to her home for the very first time to help her calm down. Everything from the eerie music to the drab lighting and conspicuous fly on the drapery (which could be a nod to Mephisto) immediately clues you in to the twist WandaVision lays out as Wanda asks Agnes where her children are.

Well-versed in sitcoms as Wanda’s apparently been, she seems to have missed Horror Movie 101, something that would have told her not to go down into the basement after Agnes mentions that Billy and Tommy might be there. Down she wanders, though, and what she finds is the not-so-secret-gem WandaVision’s been hiding in plain sight. If you recall all the way back to Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of the earliest signs that there was way more to Wanda’s power set than just telepathy and telekinesis was the way in which Wanda warped the minds of Captain America and Iron Man specifically. What was interesting wasn’t just that Wanda’s nightmares were actually potential visions of the future (which only became clear in retrospect), but the literal choppy, glitchy, and almost wraith-like way she moved about Strucker’s compound.

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That Wanda all but disappeared in her subsequent appearances in Marvel movies, but the way Agnes steps into frame and reveals her true identity as Agatha Harkness more or less apes early-Wanda’s erased witchiness. It’s taken a step further by having Agatha make clear that everything that she’s been doing has been magical all along. The way Agatha enchants Wanda with a puff of purple imagery mirrors the way Wanda’s enchanted others, but here the effect serves as WandaVision’s stealth way of sneaking in its best song yet, narrating every step Agnes took to mess with Wanda’s reality from the shadows.

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There are likely going to be debates as to whether Agatha All Along is actually the show-within-a-show that everyone in WandaVision’s been watching. It could very well be, for the sake of fun superhero TV logic, that the two programs have actually running simultaneously or even as a larger joke, that the in-universe show’s seventh “season” just got canceled and replaced by a spinoff ala Moesha and The Parkers. What’s quite clear though is Agnes can’t be trusted, as she’s been hiding things like her being a child-snatching witch this entire time.

Agatha revealing that it was her all along.
Gif: Disney+/Marvel
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It has, it seems, been Agatha all along as she cackles with glee and “Breaking the Fourth Wall” cuts to its credits sequence. In a series first, though, WandaVision starts back up in a mid-credits scene outside of Wanda’s house where Monica’s still poking around because...well it’s not like there’s anyone around to threaten her. As she looks around for clues using her new spectrum-vision, she finds that there’s a pocket of energy radiating from Agnes’ basement, only to be caught by nu-Pietro (Evan Peters) who calls her out for snooping before the scene cuts back to the rest of the credits.

With just two episodes left to go and Agatha letting the audience in on at least one of her little secrets, WandaVision’s now squarely in “oh shit” territory that’s likely going to involve more than a few of these empowered people throwing hands and hexes at one another. WandaVision’s hasn’t missed yet, and it’s going to be interesting to see if and how it sticks the landing as it comes to a finale, especially once the show finally gets around to explaining just what the hell people are trying to do “for the children.”

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WandaVision’s now streaming on Disney+.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

marshallryanmaresca
Marshall Ryan Maresca

D’arcy knows WAY too much about the private details of Infinity War and other movies, and the only way she could is if sometime during the five years Thor drunkenly showed up at her place and told her EVERYTHING and that’s my headcanon now.