Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kathryn Hahn steals the show on a revealing WandaVision

Illustration for article titled Kathryn Hahn steals the show on a revealing WandaVision
Photo: Disney Plus/Marvel Studios
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Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen)’s dream life has become a nightmare. Her kids, Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne), complain that their video game controls have turned into a deck of UNO cards. Wanda’s bottle of almond milk changes to dairy, which I consider an improvement, but I respect Wanda’s dietary choices. The house itself begins a spontaneous remodel, as if the series WandaVision’s spoofing this week is the Property Brothers. That damn stork from “Now In Color” has even returned. Everything’s falling apart around her, and she can’t fix it.

After expanding the boundaries of the Hex in “All-New Halloween Spooktacular,” Wanda is now overwhelmed with guilt, and she struggles to even get out of bed. This doesn’t seem like the superpowered terrorist S.W.O.R.D. Director Haywood (Josh Stamberg) is convinced he’s battling. Wanda has sentenced herself to a day of house arrest in schlubby clothes as “punishment for her reckless behavior.” She’s hiding from her own Shangri-La. Vision (Paul Bettany) hasn’t returned home, and she doesn’t seem to care. She definitely doesn’t want to see her “brother” Pietro (Evan Peters) again. She’s all alone, almost exactly in the same emotional space she was when this all started.

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Wanda’s isolation is reflected in The Office-style opening credits. We see Wanda’s name, by itself, on a name tag, a coffee mug, an old-school VHS tape, and a license plate. A store window sign states “Sorry We’re Wanda,” reinforcing her self-loathing. The solo Wandas are everywhere, and Vision’s name doesn’t appear until the last possible moment. The couple don’t even share a scene together.

Wanda no longer believes she’s worthy of her dream life, and her unseen “interviewer” during the Modern Family-inspired cutaways smashes the fourth wall to pieces and questions whether she even deserves happiness. The superhero genre doesn’t get much credit for nuance, but the show’s Big Bad is pummeling Wanda into submission and we don’t even notice. The one, brief fight scene between Wanda and Monica (Teyonah Parris) is a distraction from the main event, and by that point, Wanda’s already lost. She willingly surrenders her children to a monster, who pounces when she’s at her lowest point.

That monster is Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), of course, who conveniently arrives just as Wanda has gone full Sartre and told Billy and Tommy that life is meaningless before settling on the couch for a day of binge-TV viewing. She’s spiraling into depression, and there’s nothing funny to see here. Agnes generously offers to take Billy and Tommy so Wanda can take care of herself. It’s what a good friend and neighbor would do, but Agnes is neither, not really.

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Photo: Disney Plus/Marvel Studios
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No, “Agnes” is actually the witch Agatha Harkness. Most viewers suspected Hahn was playing the Marvel Comics character, but that’s not the big plot twist. Agatha was Wanda’s mentor and friend in the comics, and there was speculation that she was either another prisoner in Westview or had infiltrated the fake reality to help Wanda overcome the true villain. However, the MCU’s Agatha Harkness appears unquestionably malevolent. All praise goes to Hahn, who avoids the trap where the friend turned secret villain feels like two separate characters. Agatha is the same Agnes we’ve enjoyed seeing throughout the series. Hahn just subtly reveals what was barely hidden beneath the surface. Rewatch past episodes and you’ll see the layers she adds to seemingly benign words and deeds.

Hahn voiced Dr. Olivia Octavius in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and the scene where she reveals her true, sinister nature remains one of my favorite moment in an amazing (sorry, not sorry) movie. She outdoes herself in “Breaking The Fourth Wall” with a masterful performance that would chill Hannibal Lecter. Agatha has wanted to get her hands on Wanda’s kids from the start. It’s possible that “Geraldine” might’ve derailed her original plans but if so, she quickly adapted. She got Vision out of the way last episode when she pretended she was under Wanda’s influence, and she’s likely the one setting up farcical delays (multiple red lights, construction crews, endless school crossings) as Vision and Darcy (Kat Dennings) head back to Westview. Vision is worried about his sons and with good reason.

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We know something’s horribly wrong when we see the inside of Agatha’s house for the first time. Effectively subtle set design and lighting create a sense of immediate discomfort without screaming “supervillain lair,” even though that’s exactly what it is. Billy demonstrated telepathic abilities last episode when he felt his father’s excruciating pain. Now, his head “feels weird” and is “really noisy,” but he likes being with Agatha because she’s “quiet on the inside.” I don’t think it’s because he can’t read her mind. She might just lack a soul for him to sense.

Elizabeth Olsen is so consistently amazing you can risk taking her for granted, but I want to make sure we don’t. Olsen has convincingly played versions of Donna Reed, Mary Tyler Moore, Meredith Baxter, and now Julie Bowen, and she never slipped into simple parody. She’s still always, deep down, Wanda Maximoff. The Emmys should give her every award they don’t give Kathryn Hahn. Wanda searching for the twins at Agatha’s house completes a seamless transition from mockumentary sitcom to horror movie. Agatha casually sends Wanda to the basement, which feels sickly alive and festering with evil. The children are nowhere to be found, but “Agnes” properly introduces herself before placing Wanda under her control. Westview is Agatha’s world. Wanda’s just been living in it, and Agatha doesn’t plan on letting her leave.

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Stray observations

  • Agatha has taken over WandaVision! It’s now Agatha All Along, starring Agatha and with a groovy theme song that reveals how she’s pulled the strings as Westview’s secret puppetmaster. She sabotaged the talent show in “Don’t Touch That Dial” and put Herb (David Payton) under her spell in “Now In Color.” She’s even responsible for Fake Pietro’s (Evan Peters) arrival in Westview.
  • Stay for the end of the credits this time. I promise it’s worth it.
  • Monica defeats the Hex and re-enters Westview without being “rewritten.” She can even “see” the false reality, sort of like Neo at the end of The Matrix. It’s a triumphant moment in an otherwise downbeat episode.
  • Vision’s scenes with Darcy are a treat. He’s in his synthezoid form and superhero garb, but Bettany still conveys an affecting normality. He’s just a guy, trapped in a circus his wife created, trying to reach the scientist who thinks she’s an escape artist. I hope this new Vision survives the series.
  • Did they release versions of the Marvel movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Darcy is way too aware of the specifics of Vision’s death in Avengers: Infinity War. This would normally annoy me, but it works within WandaVision’s meta format.
  • Westview’s five-day weather forecast is very San Diego.
  • Agatha flat-out tells Wanda that she has a “suspicious” mole on her back that she can’t see. This refers to a witch’s supposed hidden “mark of the Devil.” Agatha is a cat playing with her food at this point.
  • She also asks Billy and Tommy if one of them could take a quick look at the mole. Ewww.
  • Señor Scratchy returns. Rabbits were also considered popular familiars for witches. I applaud Agatha for not choosing a black cat. That’s a little overdone.
  • When Vision releases Darcy from the Hex, he asks if she’s “awake.” There’s just way too much “dream” imagery for it not to be intentional. My wild mass guess is that Agatha is either working with the Dr. Strange villain Nightmare or she’s the MCU’s version of the character, which I’d actually prefer. Her corruption of Wanda’s dream world feels very much like Nightmare’s MO.
  • Physical manifestations of Agatha’s magic has a purple cast to it. Yes, I know some superheroes wear green! I should’ve clarified that it’s primarily a villain color. However, with all respect to Prince, purple is almost exclusively villainous.
  • In the comics, a less diabolical Agatha Harkness described Wanda’s children as the “fulfillment of a dream,” but not real in a practical sense. Wanda couldn’t literally create life with an artificial man. But WandaVision has so far implied that Billy and Tommy are real live boys. 
  • The Hex is evident everywhere now, even on Wanda’s duvet cover.
  • Wanda plans to take a “quarantine-style staycation.” If COVID-19 happened in the MCU’s 2020, social distancing would’ve been much easier with half the population erased.
  • This week’s opening credits have the line “Created by Wanda Maximoff,” a reference Wanda’s belief that she’s entirely to blame for the false reality. It’s also a nod to a period in TV sitcoms where series showrunners were almost as famous as their stars.
  • I knew Agatha killed Sparky! A dog-killing, child-snatching villain is far scarier than Thanos. Marvel’s Phase Four has started with a bang.
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