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‘WandaVision’ Review: The Ghost of Grief’s Past Ushers in the Series’ Best Episode Yet — Spoilers

With a little help from Kathryn Hahn (OK, a lot of help), "WandaVision" finally puts its full focus on Wanda's grief and finds the emotional resonance it's needed all along.

WandaVision Episode 8 Elizabeth Olsen Kathryn Hahn

Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn in “WandaVision”

Courtesy of Disney+

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “WandaVision” Episode 8, “Previously On.”]

Near the end of Episode 8’s third flashback — Wanda’s “Christmas Carol”-esque trip to the Avengers’ compound where she first lived with Vision — the sentient android sits down next to the all-powerful witch and tries to understand the healing nature of sitcoms. His struggle, like all things with Vision, is completely reasonable. Even for us humans, “healing” likely isn’t the first word that comes to mind when thinking of sitcoms. “Fun,” sure. “Nostalgic,” absolutely. More negative terms like “distracting” and “mindless” might seem more appropriate, especially given what Wanda is watching when Vision walks through her bedroom wall.

Playing on the television is an episode of “Malcolm in the Middle,” and Bryan Cranston’s dad (Hal) has just suffered a scary-looking accident. To Vision, it’s upsetting. Devoid decades of context provided by other over-the-top TV comedies, Vision only sees an injured man. But Wanda knows better. Earlier in Episode 8, when watching “The Dick Van Dyke Show” as a young girl, Wanda cues up an episode where Dick takes a performative spill over his ottoman. She doesn’t worry if he’s been hurt because her dad has already assured her that everything will be OK. So she does the same for Vision: “It’s not that kind of show.”

Vision, in turn, offers Wanda a similar reassurance, and in doing so, helps “WandaVision” resonate more forcefully than ever. He can see she’s in pain, and unlike what’s on TV, he knows that this time, it’s real. Wanda has lost her family. As experienced first-hand in Episode 8, she lost her parents, in a bombing, and she lost her brother, Pietro, in another kind of war. With a gentle offer to talk about it, Wanda tells Vision she’s trying to be strong, to move forward, but her waves of grief keep knocking her down. Eventually, she worries, they’ll “drown me.”

“No, it won’t,” he says. “It can’t all be sorrow, can it? I’ve always been alone, so I don’t feel the lack. It’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve never experienced loss because I’ve never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?”

This last line is such a powerful statement, such a succinct encapsulation of a profound feeling, it’s hard to believe it’s just eight words long. Vision, as he’s wont to do, reverses the algorithm in Wanda’s head and reframes what she’s going through; rather than struggling to overcome everyone and everything she’s lost, Wanda can honor them by remembering. Grief isn’t caused by painful memories, after all, but loving ones. Acknowledging as much is a matter of perspective, and perspective is difficult to change without the help of loved ones.

WandaVision Episode 8 Kathryn Hahn

Kathryn Hahn in “WandaVision”

Courtesy of Disney+

Written by Laura Donney, this is the moment “WandaVision” has been building toward for eight episodes. Yes, Episode 8 is ostensibly an answer to the season-long mystery of how Wanda took control of an entire town, and why she turned it into her own decades-spanning sitcom. As an explanation, it works fine, but the question of how was always going to be answered with, “Wanda is crazy powerful, look at her use her powers via lavish visual effects” and the sitcom tie-in was always going to be somehow rooted in her past. Arguably, the latter point needed to be acknowledged much sooner, to help audiences accept so many episodes built around homages to classic TV, but what’s really mattered all this time isn’t “Why so sitcom-y?” but “What happened to Wanda?” and Episode 8 answers that with resounding pathos.

It’s not just that Wanda has been repressing her past instead of honoring it; it’s that in repressing her past, she’s buried the counsel that would’ve helped her avoid her current calamity. Vision’s guidance was given long ago, to help her cope with losing Pietro, but it is just as applicable for her now. “What is grief, if not love persevering?” If she could have remembered that after Vision’s death, perhaps she would have focused on the heart inscribed on the deed to her Westview plot rather than the ill-fated words, “to grow old in.” The best way to love Vision wasn’t to forget what they had and build a false reality, but to remember and move forward.

So the question becomes as we now get ready for the series finale: “What will Wanda do now that she remembers?” Agatha may have discovered how Wanda harnessed her unprecedented power, but she’s also given Wanda her memories, her tether to reality, and that’s where her power stems from in the first place. Episode 8 is the only entry completely devoid of side plots and sitcom structures. Wanda is clearly awake now. Were all those weeks of formulated domestic bliss via “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Malcolm in the Middle” part of her healing process, or were they just a distraction from reality? Were the sitcoms her memories trying to fight through and honor her lost loved ones, or were they a magic spell to keep her in hiding? For the first time all season, Episode 8 dug deep into Wanda through honest engagement with her grief. TV can be healing, or it can be a distraction. As far as “WandaVision” goes, this week was definitely more of the former.

Grade: A-

“WandaVision” is scheduled to release its series finale Friday, March 5 on Disney+.

Bonus Footage:

  • Man, Kathryn Hahn, huh!? After Episode 7, MCU fans and Hahn-atics let loose with their effusive praise of a top-tier actor who’s never really gotten her due. (Check IndieWire next week for more on this subject.) But really, last week’s reveal was just a tease for this week’s episode-long investment in Agatha as well as next week’s big showdown between hero and villain. So if last week was Kathryn Hahn Anticipation Week, let’s go ahead and christen this week Kathryn Hahn Appreciation Week.
  • In addition to everything else, Episode 8 also provides Agatha Harkness, the season’s villain, with an origin story of her own, complete with key thematic ties to Wanda through magic, family tragedy, and buried trauma. The cold open, set all the way back in 1693 (yes, during the actual Salem Witch Trials), showed Agatha begging her coven and her mother for help. She wanted to control the power within her, but they didn’t listen. They simply tried to destroy the dark magic, and her along with it. “Please, I can be good,” Agatha said. Let’s see if that long repressed desire reemerges next week.
  • “Did you forget who’s got your children stashed away in her bewitched* basement?”
    a) What a line.
    b) Kathryn Hahn is perfect.
    c) *Is the proper punctuation here, “in her bewitched basement” (because Agatha’s basement is literally enchanted with powerful spells) or “in her ‘Bewitched’ basement” (because it’s a play on words tied to the Maximoff family’s favorite witchy ’60s sitcom)?
  • OK, one more Kathryn Hahn line: “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 seething inflection she puts on “dinner” carries so much vehement rage, I cannot wait to see Hahn go full dark-side next week. Let’s go!
  • Not to dismiss the great work done by Elizabeth Olsen (who has a unique talent for expressing grief) by praising every other performer, but Paul Bettany also deserves a mountain of credit for not only his magnificent line deliveries (enhancing the good ones and rescuing the bad), but for being able to turn on a dime in Episode 8. Right after dropping the most critical line of the series, Bettany has to look back at the TV and laugh, in order to close the scene. That is not an easy task! Forced laughter, especially after a moment of poignant self-reflection, is hard to make convincing (not to mention he’s playing a freaking robot), but Bettany finds just the right emphasis to make the transition graceful. Bravo, indeed.
  • Mid-credits scene! There’s another one this week, and this one is a bit more meaningful than last week’s. (Though, we probably shouldn’t forget that Monica Rambeau is being held captive by Agatha.) After we learned that Wanda conjured a new Vision for her make-believe world, the mid-credits scenes showed Director Hayward (Josh Stamberg) activating Vision’s old body… and he looks a bit different. IndieWire’s MCU expert Leo Adrian Garcia pointed out a similarity between this creepy all-white Vision and a comic book storyline titled “Vision Quest,” which you can read more about here in anticipation of next week’s inevitable confrontation.

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