WandaVision Recap: Big Trauma’s House


Previously On
Season 1 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating 5 stars


Previously On
Season 1 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Marvel Studios

Dammit. Dammit. Fine, I loved this episode! I adored it! It made me reevaluate everything about WandaVision! I was very possibly wrong about this show at a fundamental level! I concede! Are you happy now??

The thing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that the people behind it have a talent for pushing buttons in the human brain. Like any major brand in 2021, they’ve gotten as far as they have largely by figuring out how to cut past people’s mental defenses and make them feel something. It doesn’t work on everyone, of course, nor does it work with every MCU product. But, far more often than virtually every other entertainment franchise, this one is able to hit your pleasure receptors and turn you into a giddy, drooling, and/or bawling mess.

I don’t like how much power this corporate entity has over my emotions and those of countless millions of other humans — but when it works, it really works. Sure, a big portion of that success comes from the focus-grouped science of social engineering and attention manipulation. But it’s not just science that has made Marvel the dominant force in global entertainment. It’s also magic.

Speaking of magic, we open in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693, a location/period combo that you may recall from your high-school production of The Crucible, and one that has long been inauspicious for fictional witches. We see a whimpering and pleading Agatha (we can dispense with all that “Agnes” nonsense now) being led to a wooden platform by a group of hooded figures, but, rather than being townsfolk attempting to eradicate female sorceresses, her captors are, themselves, witches, and they bind her to a stake with spectral handcuffs.

One of them appears to be the leader and accuses Agatha of betraying her coven by stealing knowledge and practicing “the darkest of magic.” Agatha counters that she “did not break your rules, they simply bent to my power” and wrinkles her formerly panicked face into a smirk. The witches chant and she begs them to stop, especially the main lady, to whom she calls, “Mother, please!” Everyone fires purple magic-blasts at Aggie and she screams in apparent agony, but the scream becomes a low grunt, then a groan, and then the other witches are the ones in pain, turning into desiccated husks. She waves her arms and they all collapse in death. Mom rises into the air and fires a blue bolt of energy at Agatha. Curiously, a kind of crown, not unlike that of Wanda’s comics incarnation, starts to form around Mom’s head. But it’s no use — Agatha overpowers her forebear and kills her, too. She climbs off the platform, takes Mom’s brooch, and flies away. Kathryn Hahn completely nails every second of this scene, it should be said.

Back to the present and the basement of modern Agatha’s abode, where she’s holding Señor Scratchy with sinister gentleness like the supervillain she is. Wanda tries to mind-whammy Agatha, but the latter says her “thoughts aren’t available” to our heroine. Wanda asks where her kids are in a Sokovian brogue and Agatha replies, “That accent really comes and goes, doesn’t it?” Wanda again tries to do magic and Agatha says it’s no good in the basement because there are “protection spells” in the form of runes on the upper walls that make it so only the witch who put them there can use them. Agatha’s condescension is met with Wanda’s confusion, presumably over the notion that she’s a witch, as opposed to an Infinity Stone-powered superhero. Hmm.

Wanda demands to know who Agatha is. “Who are you?” the elder witch replies. “All those costumes and hairstyles? I was so patient, waiting for you to reveal your true self.” She says she got “so close with Fake Pietro — Fietro, if you will — but no dice.” It wasn’t literally Agatha as Fietro, he was just her eyes and ears, “a crystalline possession” because real Pietro’s body was a bullet-riddled mess on another continent, making necromancy impossible. But Wanda was so crippled by self-doubt that she believed in the illusion. So I guess that means no X-Men crossover anytime soon. It’s a testament to how good this episode is that I didn’t feel cheated by what now appears to have been mere stunt-casting, rather than a multiversal tease.

Agatha says she sensed this place, where a lot of spells were cast at once, but she couldn’t understand what happened. To demonstrate what Wanda pulled off, Agatha grabs a bug from a pillar and chants in Magic Latin, doing mind control on it and making it fly onto Wanda’s face. Agatha then muses on the situation Wanda has created: “Thousand of people under your thumb, all interacting with each other according to complex storylines. Well, that’s something special, baby.” (Wait, are we talking about Wanda or Kevin Feige? Ya gotta respect the balls of such a metatextual self-congratulation!)

Agatha then demonstrates Wanda’s “transmutation” of Westview by turning the bug into a dove. Wanda, she says, has pulled off an astounding feat in the town, and it runs like clockwork. “Magic on autopilot,” Agatha croons. “What’s your secret, sister?” Wanda pleads that she didn’t do anything, but gets tossed into a wall. Agatha grabs a hair from Wanda’s head and makes it glow purple, then tosses it at an ancient-looking door, which then turns into a more standard, nondescript door. “It’s time to look at some real reruns,” Agatha says, then points out she has to do what she tells her to do if she wants to see her kids again.

Agatha opens the door with a wave of her hand and we see a woman in a slightly run-down, Eastern Bloc-ish apartment. Wanda and Agatha enter, and so, too, does a man — neither he nor the woman seem to notice the magical pair. “Mama … Papa …” Wanda mutters in wonder; these are Olek and Irina Maximoff. Irina opens a suitcase that Olek brought in and sees DVDs of American sitcoms through the ages, many of them the ones that we’ve seen aped in the series so far. Little Pietro runs in and demands that everyone speak English (they’d previously been speaking some other Slavic language, ostensibly “Sokovian”) because that’s what they do on “TV night.” The parents ask where Wanda is. “That’s your cue, lady,” Agatha says. “You’re on.”

Wanda suddenly turns into a youth with brown hair and hugs her dad. She’s allowed to pick the TV show for that night and goes with the legendary walnut episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Mom, meanwhile, looks outside and we see that it’s a war zone out there, all bullets and flame. No one seems fazed and the family discusses the word “shenanigans.” Dad defines it as “a silly mischief that always becomes fine.” We see them watching the episode in montage while melancholy music drifts. Suddenly, an explosion and a cut to black. Wanda wakes up in rubble, Pietro runs to her, and they hide under a bed. A bomb lands right next to them, one emblazoned with the logo for Stark Industries. It blinks and beeps. But it doesn’t go off.

Wanda reaches out to the bomb, but is pulled away and becomes an adult again. “You used a probability hex” to prevent the bomb from going off, Agatha tells her. Wanda says it was just a dud, but Agatha is unconvinced. “So much trauma!” Agatha mockingly cries. “And yet, you were safe as kittens the whole time. So what I see here is a baby witch, obsessed with sitcoms, and years of therapy ahead of her.” It doesn’t explain how she pulled off the Westview job. She conjures a new door, one with the HYDRA logo. “The only way forward,” Agatha says, “is back.”

Wanda walks through the threshold and is now seeing a stone chamber with scientific equipment in it. “The rebellious years,” Agatha says, then points out that Wanda’s solution to her parents’ deaths was to join an “anti-freedom terror organization.” Wanda replies, “We wanted to change the world,” then is urged to walk forward, where she’s transformed into her pre-Age of Ultron self, in nondescript sackcloth. The room, we see, is populated by two scientists and … Loki’s Scepter from the early MCU movies, complete with glowing blue Infinity Stone. Wanda takes a step and the Stone flies toward her, glowing and revolving in the air. She touches it and it turns yellow, then explodes into a nova. She looks upward and sees a figure in silhouette gliding down to her, seemingly in a crown like the one on Agatha’s mama, but before we can identify the person, the light stops and they disappear. The scientists send her to an isolation chamber, and then we see her watching The Brady Bunch on a ceiling-mounted TV in said chamber. Agatha tells Wanda that the Infinity Stone, rather than granting her powers, in fact, just “amplified what would have died on the vine.” She has a theory, but needs more.

Another door appears. Wanda walks through and sees herself in the Avengers compound, watching Malcolm in the Middle by herself. “Pietro was dead and I was in a new country; I was all alone,” she mutters, then becomes this past self. She calls out Vision’s name and he phases through her wall in civilian clothing. She beckons him to sit and he does. They watch the show. Vision, in classic robot fashion, can’t figure out why the comical business is funny and asks if what she’s seeing comforts her. Wanda says the only thing that would comfort her would be seeing Pietro again. An awkward silence. “I’m so tired,” she says, and says she feels as though there’s a wave washing over her again and again. “It knocks me down,” she says, “and when I try to stand up, it just comes for me again, and it’s like it’s just gonna drown me.” “It can’t all be sorrow, can it?” Vision says, and explains that he’s always been alone, and has never experienced loss because he’s never had a loved one to lose. “But what is grief,” he muses, “if not love persevering.”

(Sheesh, what a line. Goddamn it.)

Vision laughs at something that happens on the show, they look at each other with tender awkwardness, and then Wanda is back to her present self and Agatha says, “Parents dead, brother dead, Vision dead — what happened when he wasn’t there to pull you back from the darkness, Wanda?” Wanda says she wanted him back, walks through yet another door, and is in SWORD headquarters. News footage on TV screens informs us that the Blip has just ended, meaning she just came back from her disappearance — this was basically the first thing on her agenda. She tells a guy at the front desk that she wants to see Vision’s body. “He deserves a funeral, at least.” she says. “I deserve it.” The guy gets a call from someone and tells her where to go. She magics a door open and marches down the hall to Room 101, the director’s office.

Sure enough, inside is Tyler Hayward. He introduces himself and walks her through a door to show her, through a window, a room where technicians are working with the pieces of Vision’s body. “We’re dismantling the most sophisticated sentient weapon ever made,” Hayward says. “Vision’s not a weapon,” Wanda counters. She says she wants to bury him, but Hayward says she can bring him back online — “Forgive me, back to life.” Wanda says that’s not why she’s here, can’t do that, and wants to bury him. Hayward says he can’t let her just dispose of expensive vibranium and that “he isn’t yours.” She smashes the glass and flies to his body. Hayward tells the guards to stand down. She tries to do magic on Vision’s severed head, to no avail. “I can’t feel you,” she whispers. A single tear runs down her cheek as she says again, “I can’t feel you.” (Olsen completely nails the delivery. I’m getting all teary-eyed just writing this!)

She walks out of the room and marches back to her surprisingly sensible and relatable car in the parking lot. She starts the engine and sees an empty envelope in the passenger seat. She drives to New Jersey, gets to Westview, and rolls around the downtown area, seeing various characters who we recognize from all her sitcom variations. She gets to a plot of land and pulls up into a driveway. She walks to what looks like an area where a house was being built, but which has been abandoned with cinder blocks at the base. She’s holding the contents of the envelope, a sheet of paper that she unfolds to reveal its nature: it’s a photocopy of the deed for her and Vision’s suburban dream home. It bears a little red heart in the middle with the text, “To grow old in. V.” She looks again at the plot and starts weeping. She screams.

Suddenly, she’s exploding with magic, which builds the house, then expands outward throughout Westview, changing everything into the black-and-white, 1950s style of the first episode. She’s inside this newly constructed magic house and her power turns yellow, like it did in the HYDRA cell, then builds Vision (who, remember, is powered by a yellow-colored Infinity Stone) in a corporeal form. He’s dressed up in his ’50s garb. “Wanda,” he says. “Welcome home. Should we stay in tonight?” They sit on the couch and kiss. Behind them is Present Wanda, in color. She looks up and sees that she’s on a soundstage. Everything is in color now, and we can see abandoned cameras and the bleachers of the live studio audience. We hear the sound of two hands clapping. It’s Agatha, sitting in one of the rows. “Bravo,” she says, then disappears in smoke.

Wanda hears the cries of her boys and runs outside into Westview, where she sees Agatha floating above the lads, who are held to her by magic snares around their necks. She’s wearing old-timey clothing, including her mom’s brooch. “I know what you are,” she intones. “You have no idea how dangerous you are. You’re supposed to be a myth: a being capable of spontaneous creation, and here you are, using it to make breakfast for dinner.” The camera zooms in on Agatha’s face as she drops the bomb: “This whole little life you’ve made — this is Chaos Magic, Wanda. And that makes you …” a pause for emphasis, then, “… the Scarlet Witch.” Cut to the end credits. (This might be one of those moments that’s slightly baffling to the novice viewer, who doesn’t know that “the Scarlet Witch” was Wanda’s codename in the comics. But I’m not one of those viewers and dammit, I loved it.)

But that’s not all! In a mid-credits sequence, we see Hayward at the SWORD operating base outside Westview, gazing at the glowing Hex in the distance. An underling says the “team” is “ready to launch.” Hayward says it’s about time and walks into another room. He and the underling look at something that we can’t see while he says they took “it” apart and put it back together, trying different power sources, until they found energy “directly from the source.” We then see that it’s a drone that is glowing with Wanda-power red light. The viewer may be excused for thinking, “Okay, who gives a crap?” But then we pan to the left and see the prize pony: an all-white replica of Vision in some kind of glass box. This Vision opens his eyes and silently looks at his hand. Cut to black. Roll the rest of the credits.

This recap has been way too long, but I wanted to make sure you got all the details, because I love you. And I love this episode! It was everything you want out of an outing with the MCU, but done in a way that felt fresh, creative, and filled with genuine emotion. I may resent that Marvel Studios is capable of twisting my neurons to a point where I’m having a good time, but I cannot deny that a good time was had. Next week: the big finale! Stay tuned!

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WandaVision Recap: Big Trauma’s House