WandaVision (2021) s01e08 – Previously On

I was not expecting that mid-credits reveal; I read the comics, I even read some threads, I even recognized the comics I’d read from the thread but not how they’d end up using it. They’re jumping around a lot from source material, but that mid-credits reveal… I may end up with the Paul Bettany as the Vision being the best wholesome superhero since Christopher Reeve as Superman doing a famous scene better. But it’ll be next episode. And there’s more than enough to discuss this episode.

It’s the secret origin of Agatha Harkness: The MCU Version (Kathryn Hahn, whose performance this episode is quietly extraordinary; very curious who came up with the mannerisms), then it’s the untold secret origin of Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen). Then it’s the secret history of “WandaVision.” The stuff with Hahn’s backstory is… fine. It’s easily the weakest material just because it’s a bunch of reveals in a short flashback prologue and all the special effects are energy beams from the hands, which–we get it–the special effects folks know how to do it. But Hahn’s having a great time so it works.

But Olsen’s stuff—starting with a flashback to her childhood (establishing some of the show’s gimmick in narrative)—is awesome. The childhood flashback, which is mentioned in Avengers 2 (but the single scene’s better than anything in that movie), is Matt Shakman’s best directing in the episode. He’s got a lot of good directing, but that childhood flashback is the hardest; they’re showing their hand and then they’re going to talk about every card, so Shakman’s got to sell the concept in addition to the least supported scene. Because Olsen doesn’t play her eight year-old self—was anyone else expecting them to try with the de-aging CGI—and everything else in the episode is going to partially succeed because Olsen’s so good.

Previously On gives Olsen a bunch of quiet scenes, reacting to the flashbacks (she and Hahn go on a literal trip up memory lane—down first, then up) as Hahn narrates for the tweens whose parents don’t care about the TV ratings and also so she can chew the scenery in an immediately unparalleled fashion for the franchise. Hahn’s performance portends great things for the character work on the villains in the Marvel movies and TV going forward. It’s been a decade since they’ve let a character actor loose like they do with Hahn here.

But Olsen also gets to do big noisy melodramatic scenes too, the superhero equivalents of Douglas Sirk melodrama and she blows through the targets. The less Hahn narrates the more relatively abstract some of the ideas get—including Olsen meeting professional wiener Josh Stamberg (did we know his first name was Tyler, it should’ve been a warning) and getting some major reveals on Paul Bettany’s pre-“WandaVision” situation. There’s also a bunch of post-Blip fallout, but it’s actually done very muted and very well. Shakman and editor Nona Khodai do particularly excellent work on that sequence. Though the whole thing’s beautifully cut; it’s the longest episode in the series so far and it zooms along.

Then there’s Bettany. He’s only got one real scene, set post-Avengers 2, pre-Captain America 3, and it’s this lovely peek at he and Olsen’s developing relationship. It’s also a wonderfully written scene. The writing’s really good this episode (Laura Donney has the credit).

The cliffhanger comes as a shock, but for the timing; it can’t be over just yet, can it?

Sadly it is. But big promises for next time, ones it seems entirely likely “WandaVision” will be able to realize.

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