Last week’s episode of WandaVision gave us a moment that rocked our world and Wanda Maximoff’s alike. Much to do has already been made about just what it might all mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large—but maybe it’s not quite worth getting ahead of ourselves just yet.
“On a Very Special Episode...” is fascinated in the dread of watching Wanda Maximoff slowly unravel. In moments quiet and loud, we see some new truths of just what’s going on in Westview exposed, not just for us but for Wanda and Vision—truths that begin to address the degrees of trauma these two characters are grappling with (or attempting to not grapple with) simmering beneath the surface of its sitcom facade. The most pertinent running through the episode is Wanda’s memory of her brother Pietro, who sacrificed himself to save Hawkeye in the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
When previously confronted with the truth about her brother by “Geraldine” (now known to us as SWORD agent Monica Rambeau)—that her brother died in the Sokovia Incident—Wanda’s response was to deny its reality in its entirety, exiling Monica out of Westview altogether. But when her twins Billy and Tommy ask their mother about her family now, she has a different one: not entirely acknowledging the reality of Pietro’s death, but accepting his absence. Uncle Pietro isn’t here, she tells them, but not because he’s gone, just that he is far away, and that she misses him.
It’s a small but interesting step for her to take, as if she is, in time, slowly beginning to realize that denying reality is doing her harm. There’s enough truth in the lie this time that when Wanda is presented with her fantasy on her doorstep in the episode’s climax—that Pietro is in fact back—it’s clear to her that something is very wrong. Just as it’s clear to us and Darcy alike, when it turns out that the Pietro on Wanda and Vision’s doorstep isn’t played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, but instead Evan Peters, who played Pietro Maximoff in the X-Men: First Class era of Fox’s mutant movie franchise.
The questions are racing in our collective heads and Wanda’s alike. How is it possible, when she knows deep down what she told Tommy and Billy was a lie of omittance? How does she know this is Pietro when at first neither she nor Vision seems to recognize him? What does it mean that, as far as we know textually, Wanda very specifically did not introduce this twist to her sitcom reality, something she did clearly do just moments before by pulling up WandaVision’s end credits to shut down an argument with her husband?
But the question on Marvel fans’ lips has been less of the emotional ramifications than it has the metaphysical, metatextual ones: is this the Marvel Multiverse in action, are the Fox X-Men films canon now, does this mean mutants are coming, familiar or new to us, sooner than we’d be lead to expect? Fans have looked to the show’s closed caption audio descriptions for confirmation, we’ve breathlessly wondered what it all means—not for Wanda, no, but for Marvel itself.
We do this, in part, because all we have to go on right now is the last few minutes of the most recent episode of the show. Despite showrunner Jac Schaeffer’s assurances, we don’t know yet if Peters’ Pietro is there to say something about Wanda’s trauma, or if it’s something as simple as doffing a cap to the sitcom genre’s long history of simply recasting important characters and asking us to go along like nothing’s happened. Or even if, as we’ve breathlessly been excited about, he’s there to usher in the underpinnings of a pan-company, pan-franchise, pan-medium Marvel Multiverse. We honestly don’ t know—because he’s been in WandaVision for about a minute. But we immediately leap to that latter conclusion because, likewise in part, we’re trained to by the Marvel machine.
Marvel movies have spent over a decade sowing future entries, predicating themselves on the primal thrill of those connections and the promise that one story will always lead into another, whether through plot points or character crossovers. WandaVision is no exception to this tried and tested rule; we’ve known going into it that this will set the stage for the Doctor Strange sequel—titled Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and co-starring Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda, so we’ve collectively braced for the idea of parallel universe storytelling to be seeded somehow. We’re trained to be as intimately familiar with the canon of these stories as we are the business around making them.
Sure, you could be watching unaware, but a “true” Marvel fan cannot be consuming WandaVision without the context that we know Doctor Strange 2 is on the way to deal with these concepts. Or that it was made post-Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the movies rights to the X-Men characters returning to Marvel. Or that a movie as seemingly disconnected as the third Tom Holland Spider-Man is heavily rumored to tap into the stars of Peter Parker’s cinematic past to leverage some kind of multiversal-storytelling conceit.
Pole vaulting straight over what this particular Pietro re-appearing in Wanda’s life means for her arc to wonder if X-Men Apocalypse can logistically co-exist with Avengers: Endgame now is not so much a failure on the part of WandaVision’s audience as it is laying bare what the wider behemoth of the MCU has always been about. WandaVision has made it clear that while there are going to be threads to pull on in future projects, that this is a story first and foremost concerned with the plight of Wanda as she processes a lifetime of grief. In being confronted with this presentation of her brother—a facsimile as jarring to her as it is to us, metatextually—and focusing so much on the potential mechanical and structural ramifications of it all, we lose sight of what the show’s really trying to tell us about its characters.
Time will tell if Peters’ Pietro has more to say about Wanda’s arc than it does the public canonization of the X-Men films he came from, but even if it doesn’t—even if it is, just like with J.K. Simmon’s J. Jonah Jameson before him, the chance for metatext to become text in a fandom increasingly in awe of factoids—jumping the gun on a new Age of Marvel Mutants feels like we’re missing the point of his arrival in the first place, even if it’s what we’ve been trained to do by the MCU’s architects.
That’s just show business. Just like Wanda would like her life to be right now.
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