WandaVision Episode 7: “Breaking the Fourth Wall”
Director: Matt Shakman
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kat Dennings, Evan Peters, Julian Hillard, Jett Klyne, Josh Stamberg, Debra Jo Rupp, Emma Caulfield Ford, Jolene Purdy, David Payton, Alan Heckner, Selena Anduze
Runtime: 38 minutes
WandaVision has so far exposed Wanda’s grief and depression only in small doses but they’re much more omnipresent and obvious in the seventh episode. “Breaking the Fourth Wall” homages relatively recent mockumentary-style sitcoms such as The Office and Modern Family (more so the latter) and the characters within the hex frequently speak directly to the camera in the titular manner. Wanda’s “interviews” are very telling and while she tries to put up a humorous façade like the ones she’s used in past episodes it’s nowhere near as effective this week. Wanda’s taking a “quarantine-style staycation” as a self-imposed punishment for her reckless decision to expand the hex on Halloween. This leads to her ignoring the boys and even handing them off to Agnes for the day. While Wanda stays home in her pajamas objects around the house start glitching, with the hex shifting them back to their forms from previous years (a bottle of almond milk turns into a regular carton with dairy before reverting even further to an old-timey glass bottle, for example). Her control over her “reality” is obviously lessening but Wanda assures the camera that she and everything else are fine, though Elizabeth Olsen’s performance makes it clear she doesn’t even believe it. Kathryn Hahn is thrust more directly into the spotlight this week for reasons I’ll get to but this is still Olsen’s show and it’s truly impressive how she continues to find new nuances and energies to bring to Wanda. She brings an air of disinterest to most of her scenes this week that does a devastating job of capturing the loss of enthusiasm that comes with depression. Wanda’s lack of interest in her kids isn’t as obviously dramatic as her speech about loneliness from last episode or her tense confrontation with Vision from the one before but it subtly represents the more mundane but no less heartbreaking effects depression has on the people who suffer from it and their families. Unfortunately there’s no reason to think things are going to improve for Wanda and company as her shattered state plays directly into the hands of one of her mysterious enemies, who reveals themselves this week.
When Wanda heads into Agnes’ basement looking for the kids she discovers a creepy lair. Agnes saunters out and tells Wanda that she’s not the only magical woman in Westview and introduces herself as Agatha Harkness, before seeming to cast a spell on her. A new title sequence then goes back through key events in the series, including Pietro’s arrival, to show how Agatha was manipulating them, set to the very creepy but surprisingly catchy tune “Agatha All Along”. Throughout it Agatha often looks straight at the camera and is shown sitting in a director’s chair filming Wanda’s latest interviews before telling the viewer that she killed Sparky the dog and cackling mercilessly before the credits (WandaVision‘s actual credits, not ones for any of the various shows within the show) roll. Hahn has done a good enough job in earlier scenes focusing on Agnes’ comedic, likable side that it seemed possible she could wind up not being a villain but this was always the more likely outcome and most comic fans who have been following the show have assumed Hahn was actually playing Harkness. But Shakman creates such an unsettling atmosphere and the writers have taken us to this point so masterfully that the reveal is still effectively devastating. In fact, this episode more than any of the others made me realize that despite it’s colorful, comedic exterior, WandaVision is easily the most frightening and least family-friendly product in the MCU proper. Tangentially related properties like the Netflix shows are “darker” in a straightforward sense and feature more gore but WandaVision is more deeply unsettling than any of them other than maybe Jessica Jones ever got. I would certainly have been really freaked out if I was watching it as a young kid and I’m wondering if Marvel might get some backlash from viewers who watch with young families. But for mature viewers the show is still a treat and the Agatha reveal sets the stage for a couple of final episodes that should be darkly thrilling. Hahn is at her best embracing the gleefully evil side of the character, making sure Agatha is still a funny presence, if only in a twisted way, while also making her utterly terrifying. In the comics the character is morally gray and has been an ally to Wanda more than an enemy but here it’s hard to see her being anything but the latter in the show and the change definitely works.
Olsen and Hahn’s performances and the reveal overshadow everything else but there’s a lot of other strong stuff going on in “Breaking the Fourth Wall”. Eight miles away from Westview at the hex’s new edge Hayward has set up a new command post, still intent on going to war with Wanda. Jimmy reads Monica a message from Darcy stating that the Cataract program was intended to reactivate Vision’s body. Monica and Jimmy then meet up with military contacts who were loyal to Monica’s mother and brought her an advanced Sword space rover that they believe will be able to drive through the hex. I can see why some might assume that it is but I really don’t think the lead soldier, Rachael Thompson’s Major Goodner, is the mysterious engineer Monica knows, or if she is she’s almost certainly going to be revealed to be more than meets the eye. Marvel Studios has mastered teasing audiences properly so I doubt they’d let fans think someone like Blue Marvel or even Reed Richards is the engineer only for it to be a generic military friend. Regardless, things don’t go according to plan as the rover promptly begins changing into an old car once it hits the hex. But, having already gone in and out of it Monica takes a chance and charges through herself and after a psychedelic sequence in which she again hears important voices from her past she gets inside and heads for Wanda. After this, her eyes glow blue and a shot from her perspective shows that she’s now able to see what appears to be different types of energy.
Also heading for Wanda is Vision, who is healthy and uninjured back inside the hex. He teams with Darcy after waking her up from her hex life as a circus escape artist and the two begin to drive back to Westview in a stolen funnel cake truck. Vision apparently has none of the memories of his actual life before Westview so Darcy spends the ride essentially filling him in on past MCU movies. When Vision grows frustrated with existential angst Darcy assures him that, regardless of the reality, or lack thereof, of his past the love between him and Wanda is real. It is a little bit weird for Darcy to believe in this so strongly despite the knowledge she has about at least some of what’s really going on but Bettany and especially Dennings makes the scene work. WandaVision hasn’t really showed us anything about Darcy we didn’t already know but Dennings is so likable in the role that the character still winds up adding a lot of heart and humor to the show. The scene also adds a nice touch to the show’s analysis of television. Darcy is aware of the fact that the events of Wanda’s life are not really as they seem but she’s still convinced of the authenticity of her and Vision’s romance, just as TV viewers experience genuine emotions as the result of the shows they watch, despite knowing they’re fictional. WandaVision mostly critiques the artificiality of sitcoms (though in a loving way) so it’s nice to have a note of positivity about how those shows can also express truth. Despite this sweet moment Vision quickly gets frustrated again when an absurd number of delays slow their trip. He briefly talks to the camera about it before realizing that’s crazy and flying off himself, leaving Darcy on the road.
When Monica gets back to Wanda’s she tries to warn her about Sword’s incoming attack but Wanda roars that all she does is lie. Monica explains how she felt Wanda’s pain while she was under her control and that she understands it, having just lost her mother, and urges her to accept reality even though she knows how hard that is. As strong as Parris is in the role Monica’s always seemed like a somewhat random choice of character to connect with Wanda but the line about her mother snaps her importance as someone else who has faced recent tragedy into focus. Still, earlier episodes could have done a bit more to foreshadow this, as Monica’s belief in Wanda had previously seemed like an arbitrary way to get the audience to root for the former. And despite Monica’s best efforts, Wanda isn’t having any of it. Olsen’s always done great work at invoking Wanda’s rage and the line about lies is up there with her ripping out Ultron’s heart and going after Thanos. Eventually Wanda tries to blast Monica out of the hex again but the latter’s new abilities let her stop in the air and powerfully land back down. Which makes this as good a time as any to talk about Monica’s future. In the comics Monica Rambeau is a longtime superhero and Avenger. She’s gone by many names, including Photon (the nickname Sword had for Maria, which will likely be her MCU moniker) and was even the first woman to call herself Captain Marvel, back when Carol Danvers still went by Ms. Marvel. I’ve avoided talking about this so far so as not to spoil things for any viewers who don’t read the comics, or at least not many of them, but between Monica’s burgeoning powers and Parris being cast in the Captain Marvel sequel it seems like she’ll probably be stepping up as a hero before the show is over and Parris definitely seems like she’ll make a compelling one.
But as of now, things are still looking pretty bad for Monica. Before she can continue to reason with Wanda “Agnes” shows up and ushers her into her house, leading to the final twist. The Agatha reveal is set up by more creative uses of television form. When Wanda is talking to the camera about her life falling apart the camera operator, who we now know to be Agatha, asks if she thinks maybe she “deserves it,” and Wanda is shocked to be spoken back to. Similarly, when Vision leaves the interview he unclips a microphone from himself and pushes a boom mike out of the way. Not only do these things set an ominous tone that indicates that something is very wrong, even by Westview’s standards, but they also are an extra bit of homage to this week’s sitcoms. Mockumentaries often deconstruct their narrative realities in ways like this and The Office in particular used the fictional film crew as part of the narrative in several instances.
“Breaking the Fourth Wall” features WandaVision‘s first brief mid-credits scene. It sees Monica finding an outdoor entrance to Agnes’ basement before Pietro sneaks up behind her and says “Snoopers gonna snoop.” It’s possible Pietro could have gotten free from Agatha’s control off screen but there’s no evidence indicating that’s the case and Monica doesn’t have the experience with her powers (whatever exactly they even are) to fight such a high-powered speedster, so another one of our heroines is probably in enemy hands. Vision is going to have his hands full saving his family and allies, especially since, as this episode emphasized, Wanda isn’t in the mental state for any kind of fight.
- After last week’s especially weird commercial we get probably the most straightforward one. A brand of anti-depressant called Nexus is advertised, though the warnings comically state that users might become out of touch with reality or more depressed. The significance of the depression stuff to Wanda is obvious and the Nexus reference is also pretty direct, although to a rather obscure part of Marvel mythology. In Marvel Comics Nexus Beings are individuals with power over probability that can influence the future and are vital to the construction of the multiverse. Each universe has one Nexus Being and they exist in the same form in every possible timeline. They are also central in the mystical ecology of their respective universes. Wanda Maximoff is the Nexus Being of Earth-616 in the comics. The children of Nexus Beings are also said to be extremely powerful.
- He’s barely in it but this episode actually made me more interested in the Hayward plot than I have been so far. Agatha was only shown manipulating things inside the hex so the Sword corruption seems like its own problem.
- Señor Scratchy is back this week. In the comics Agatha Harkness’ evil son is Nicholas Scratch so it’s possible the bunny is the real mastermind.
- Billy’s telepathic powers are driving him crazy but he likes spending time with “Agnes” because he doesn’t “hear” anything from her.
- The camera lingers on a glowing book in Agnes’ lair. Fans are speculating that it’s one of two dark magic books from Marvel Comics. The first option is the Darkhold, which was previously featured in both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Runaways. It looked different in those shows although between what Agatha and the book itself have been shown to be capable of, changing its appearance wouldn’t be a big deal. The other frequently mentioned option is the Necronomicon, which was actually created by famed horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and is used in many other fictional canons.
WandaVision Episode 7
Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn continue to shine in a WandaVision that delivers an unsurprising but effective reveal and cleverly homages a relatively modern style of sitcom.