Plot summary: Demanding to know how Wanda gained enough power for the Westview incident, Agatha Harkness forces them on a trip through Wanda’s memories.
Episode Title: ‘Previously On’
Air Date: February 26th, 2021
Directed: Matt Shakman (8)
Written: Laura Donney (1)
Wanda’s favourite episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, ‘It May Look Like a Walnut’ is a nightmare that can’t be woken up from.
In the flashback where Wanda is watching The Brady Bunch a doll goes missing. This same doll appeared in Episode 3 which Vision used to practice changing diapers.
The all-white Vision is a nod to the ‘Vision Quest’ arc of West Coast Avengers.
Different child actors are used to portray the young Wanda and Pietro than in the flashback from Episode 6, a nod to the fact ‘Pietro’ was making it all up (Wanda stated she did not remember it in that episode).
In 1693 Salem, a young Agatha Harkness is magically bound to a wooden stake and accused of betraying her coven by practicing forbidden magic. Her accusers hit her with their combined powers, but she’s able to break free and murder them all, including her mother.
Back in the present, she mocks Wanda’s attempts to use her powers as she’s bound by runes that block her magic. She demands to know how Wanda achieved mind control and illusions on the scale of Westview, but Wanda pleads ignorance.
Frustrated, Agatha leads them on a tour through Wanda’s memories, starting with her watching some of the American sitcoms that have been parodied throughout the show with Pietro and her parents.
The wholesome scene is ruined by an explosion, and it’s suddenly revealed to be the origin story described by Wanda & Pietro in Age of Ultron. Curiously, Agatha claims that the young Wanda hexed the Stark bomb into not detonating…
Unsatisfied, they move on to her time in a Hydra research facility being exposed to the Mind Stone, which briefly revealed to her a mysterious floating figure before she collapses. Agatha surmises the stone merely enhanced her dormant natural powers.
Next on the tour is Wanda in Avengers HQ beginning to bond with Vision, who had not yet gotten the memo about not walking through walls. He does his best to council her on grief and they share a lingering look.
Agatha correctly deduces that the true catalyst was Wanda’s attempt to bring Vision back, returning us to the moment she visited S.H.I.E.L.D., where Director Hayward denied her request to be allowed to bury him.
Instead, she uncovered a deed for a plot of land in Westview that Vision had secretly bought for them to start a suburban life together. Destroyed by the romantic tragedy of the gesture, she conjured the house, gave the town a 50’s makeover, and manifested a new Vision from thin air.
Returning to the present, Wanda finds Agatha levitating outside, magical ropes around Billy & Tommy’s necks. She claims all of this is the result of Chaos Magic, making Wanda the legendary Scarlet Witch!
In a mid-credits scene, Hayward and his minions successfully switch the real Vision – with a different paintjob – back on using energy from the drone that Wanda threw at them in episode 6!
This episode nicely mirrored ‘We Interrupt This Program’, acting as an enormous info-dump for the audience, only this time we get the whole picture, from how the Westview incident came about (including seeing all of the ‘cast’ as normies when she arrived to town), to Wanda’s obsession with sitcoms, and even a retcon of her origin and powers. That last one might have been the most underrated masterstroke of the entire show, slapping The Scarlet Witch name on her almost a decade after her debut, and turning it into a myth that makes her sound even more powerful than they’ve been potraying her to date. I loved Agatha’s line about her using her insane powers to make breakfast for dinner.
And while 30-minute exposition episodes might sound awful on paper, both worked because we were given an emotional through-line to guide us through all of the reveals. Last time it was Monica, reacting to the death of her mother, and this time it’s the tour through the key events of Wanda’s life. This one worked better because it stuck around for the duration, vs Monica getting sucked into Westview halfway through the episode. Combining sincere emotional character moments with answering lingering questions is generally a recipe for success, and they even sprinkled in some MCU fan service with the walk down memory lane.
I liked that we got to actually see the origin story described by the Maximoff Twins in Age of Ultron, as well as more Hydra experiments and the beginnings of her falling for Vision. We’ve seen or heard these before but this time they felt more authentically personal to Wanda, rather than her being a plot device in an Avengers story. And while I can understand why people got sick of seeing it quoted to death, “But what is grief, if not love persevering?” is an absolutely killer line.
All of that was bookended with Witchy Things, and the inversion of a Salem witch trial was a fun way to open the episode, with Agatha not accused of being a witch, but of betraying her coven. There’s also a subtle touch with Evanora (her mother) manifesting a blue crown when unleashing her full power, which is something to keep an eye on.
Most Marvellous Player
There’s obviously a lot of silliness to all the witchcraft, but Kathryn Hahn does well to push past that with a brief, but complete emotional mini-arc. She starts out pleading and wailing of her innocence to garner genuine sympathy, but then quietly, cockily admits to the accusations, leading to her murder of her coven and culminating in her callously taking the broach from her mother’s corpse. She’s also clearly revelling in getting to play the out and out campy villain, mocking Wanda mercilessly, and finding the flashback children annoyingly loud. She seemed to greatly enjoy the wirework required for the final scene, and it was cool to see her in full ridiculous witch regalia. I was actually gearing myself up to declare her the winner here but…
Elizabeth Olsen does a tremendous job of expressing her rampant grief at different stages of her life, with her tearful admission that she can’t feel any trace of Vision in his lifeless corpse, and her breakdown in the empty lot being the high points. A lot of it is non-verbal and body language. She’s just so sad, and if absolutely none of it got to you, then I don’t know what to tell you.
But I have to assume the line about Wanda’s accent coming and going is a fun little jab at Olsen, because as electric as she has proven herself to be in this show when given substantial material to work with, her attempts at the eastern European accent have always been bad, and the decision to have her naturalise was a wise one.
Agatha Harkness is a delightful antagonist, adhering to one of the golden rules of villainy: have fun! She’s an actual, factual witch! We’ve dipped our toes in magic with Doctor Strange, but it felt like something else entirely to confirm that the Salem era witches were real and one has survived to this day. But it made for a nice change, as she coldly subjugated Wanda and forced her to relive some of her biggest traumas while she provided sarcastic running commentary. Plus let’s not forget she has her kids!
Director Hayward’s choice of language when talking to Wanda about Vision cements him further as the secondary villain, referring to her dead lover as a sentient weapon and saying “back online” instead of “back to life”, as well as denying her the right to bury him as he fears she will use her powers to restore him (and that it would be a waste of vibranium). But it’s a nice touch that he put the idea in her head, and that he’s a hypocrite as he is revealed in the end to have been lying about dismantling Vision as they were instead tirelessly trying to restore him under their control.
Check out The Matt Signal, in which I recap episodes of Batman the Animated Series every Saturday and Sunday. This weekend Mr. Freeze returns with an extreme makeover, and The Ventriloquist struggles to leave his past behind him.
The Superhero Pantheon also reviewed the whole series, obviously.