In the spring of 2008, the first Iron Man was released in theatres. I, of course, went to see it, judging it to be about on par with the rest of the superhero movies that graced the auditoriums of my local multiplex, right up there with the Spider-Mans, Batmans, and Supermans. Here was yet another “-man” to keep us entertained for 2 hours or so. Maybe the movie will get a sequel, maybe it won’t, but at least we had fun right?
Flash forward 13 years, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become all but synonymous with the idea of wide-appeal superhero storytelling that spans across mediums, with each chunk of the story being delivered in a carefully planned out “phase”. We have since seen other larger intellectual properties attempt the same model, but Marvel’s MCU remains a gold standard.
WandaVision had the potential to go big — but I’m so relieved they kept it small
For me, personally, I have never been much of a comic book fan. As a completionist kind of reader, the idea of diving into a story without all the necessary background, and of having to locate and consume random back issues to make full sense of something stressed me out immensely. Not to mention the fact that comic books are famous for having multiple continuities, with different “official” versions of the story, depending on which universe or timeline you choose to engage with. For some, this is a feature – if you don’t like what you get in one continuity, here are several others to choose from. For me, it’s a bug.
Hence why I came to appreciate the MCU so much, and why it became my definitive Marvel timeline. Because they couldn’t directly adapt any one continuity of comics, they became one all on their own, picking and choosing which elements to include, and doing so in a way that is exciting for those who are familiar with the comics, and accessible for those who aren’t.
Their first three phases wrapped up with great fanfare with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame (technically with Spider-Man: Far From Home two months later, but it is Endgame that was seen as the big event), and then everything fell quiet on the MCU front. The retroactively-titled “Infinity Saga” was at a close.
So what comes next? Why, WandaVision of course!
Whatever the intended release order of Phase 4 was meant to be, WandaVision is now the first piece of that story released to the world. And with a slate of exciting, unique projects on the horizon for the MCU, it is little wonder this series had a lot of expectations riding on it. Prior to the events of WandaVision, all we really knew about Wanda’s powers within the MCU was that they bordered on the supernatural. With a quirkier, more supernatural-leaning Phase 4 up ahead, the question became just how much of this would be set up by this first Marvel Studios' series.
While I certainly had no idea where it could all be headed, as the first couple of episodes dropped, it seemed like in this I was in the minority. What to me appeared to be merely an homage to 1950’s and 60’s sitcoms with a vaguely sinister “something bigger is going on” undertone was, to my more comic book savvy friends, an absolute feast of references to some of the better known Wanda Maximoff/Vision comic book arcs.
I cannot tell you the number of times I heard “House of M” thrown around in those early days. By the time Episode 3 rolled around, I was more familiar with the idea of Mephisto and Agatha Harkness than I ever expected I would be. And, frankly, that left me overwhelmed and feeling just a tad left out.
I have never been a passive viewer of the MCU. I have seen all of the movies several times, though naturally, I’ve rewatched some more than others. But the point is that up until now, despite my inexperience with the rich, vast comic world from which these characters and plot points draw inspiration, I never felt as though I couldn’t follow what was happening on screen in front of me. And at face value, I was having no trouble following WandaVision either. Then the theories started to pour in. The further we got into the season, the more these things started to build on each other, and gain traction in nerd spaces.
A quick sketch of Mephisto’s helmet in the opening credits of Episode 2 on its own seems like an Easter egg. But combine that with multiple, seemingly random references to the devil and suddenly the character’s appearance seemed all but guaranteed. Lines like “the devil is in the details”, or a rabbit being named “Señor Scratchy” possibly being a reference to “Old Scratch” aka the devil. These were so heavily read into – by myself as well, albeit without a comic book background – that my friends and I were starting to sound a little bit like SNL’s Church Lady on our weekly WandaVision livestream recaps.
Then the speculation became littered with a whole host of smaller items: the significance of bees and honeycombs, what S.W.O.R.D’s new role in the MCU would be, and how close it would stick to the comics. Whether Agnes (who I will touch on in a moment) is in league with Mephisto or whether she is a separate agent of chaos. All small details on their own worth speculating over, but when added together they made me feel increasingly like the one comic book universe I felt comfortable in was being pulled away from me.
Things really kicked into overdrive at the end of Episode 5 and the start of Episode 6 when Wanda and Vision are visited in their idyllic Westview home by a man claiming to be Wanda’s “long lost brother” Pietro aka Quicksilver, a brother she believes to be dead. Only he isn’t played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson as he is in Age of Ultron, he’s played by Evan Peters, who played a different version of Quicksilver in the reboot of the X-Men series. To paraphrase Captain America, I did understand that reference. But did I understand the Multiverse discourse that followed? Absolutely not.
Beyond knowing that the second Doctor Strange film will be titled Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and knowing that Elizabeth Olsen is set to appear in the film, I knew nothing else about the comic book Multiverse and Wanda’s role in all of it. I assumed things would proceed the way they always did with Marvel – a concept will be slowly introduced for those who are not familiar with it and gradually worked into the fabric of the story. But if the hype was to be believed, then WandaVision would conclude with Wanda herself tearing open the Multiverse and unleashing mutants and the X-Men onto the MCU world.
And we only had 4 more episodes left, with plenty of other plots to wrap up.
None of these theories came to pass. It became clearer each week that there was no way all of these plot points could conceivably happen, so it became a matter of narrowing it down to the most likely.
Ultimately, two of the prevailing theories did come true on-screen: Agnes the Nosy Neighbour was revealed to be Agatha Harkness, as many had believed she would be (say it with me now: it was Agatha All Along!). Though her introduction as a witch interested in Wanda’s powers mercifully wasn’t a segue into bringing in Mephisto, it did come so late in the game that her introduction was lacking and felt a little rushed.
Then again, it’s Marvel, it’s the MCU, I have no doubt we’ll see her again.
The second of the theories was that the character of Monica Rambeau would come into some kind of superpower, as her character in the comic books has done so on several occasions. Much like Agatha, this was not especially explored in the series, beyond Wanda’s Hex being the reason she develops superpowered abilities in the first place. But the wonderful Teyonnah Paris is expected to reprise her role as Monica in the upcoming Captain Marvel 2 and it is likely there that we will dive in deeper with her story. Or really, dive in at all. We don’t even know what her superhero name is yet!
The writers of WandaVision certainly played their part in all of this speculation. The show relied very heavily on misdirection, putting in many blink-and-you-miss-it moments that might have gone overlooked in a single-day binge, but were able to be picked apart by a rabidly invested fanbase as they waited week after agonizing week for the next installment.
Some of this feels like it was done to misdirect the audience for fun, or to feed into the obsessive desire within a nerd space to obsess over details so minutely that we – myself included – sometimes miss the forest for the trees. Some of it, according to director Matt Shankman, was unintentional. Either way, now that we’re on the other side of it, I feel that it was a rather brilliant move.
In getting us to focus so much on the minutiae of the story, and in having us believe that the cause of Wanda’s confusion and sadness stems from an outside agent, the central thesis of Wanda’s grief often fades into the background. It is only in realizing that she was the driving force behind everything we saw, whether or not she knew what she was doing, that it becomes clear how all-encompassing grief can be, how even the smallest things in our lives can be affected by it, and how those around us may not be aware to what extent we are hurting.
I know that’s giving them way too much credit. But I must give it where it’s due, and ultimately commend them on wading through a sea of speculation and a mountain of stories that could have been directly adapted, to tell an excellent story that is setting up the supernatural chaos of Phase 4 while remaining accessible and distinctly MCU.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of similar conversations had during the second season of The Mandalorian. There too, every little detail was analyzed and picked over for meaning or for a sign of things to come in future stories. Now I fully admit that I do have a wider Star Wars knowledge base, and I was able to speculate a little more readily for a series set in that universe.
But the story of The Mandalorian is arguably bookended by many, many other stories, so the “end point” of our characters' journeys is at least somewhat known. At the very least, viewers can make an educated guess. But the beauty – or pain, I suppose, depending on your point of view – is that the world of comic books is vast, the timelines are many and as of this writing, WandaVision is the furthest point we’ve reached in the MCU’s story. We have no idea what comes next and the possibilities are endless.