WandaVision is finally out in the world in its totality. And between its long-form look a grief, its look back at classic television, and its playfulness with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it became far more of a sensation than showrunner Jac Schaeffer predicted.
“I didn’t know that the show would air at the peak moment in all of human history where we’re all relying on our TVs, and our iPads, and our phones for total solace and comfort. The way that it resonated in such an intense way, because of our current circumstances, that was a surprise,” Schaeffer recently told Rotten Tomatoes ahead of Marvel Studio’s Assembled episode “The Making of WandaVision,” which is now streaming and dives deeper into the production on the series.
Schaeffer, along with director Matt Shakman, and co-executive/supervising producer Mary Livanos spoke with us about some of those surprises, Marvel Comics deep-pulls, fan theories in one last look back at the series.
(Photo by Suzanne Tenner/Marvel Studios)
Agatha (Kathryn Hahn) possessing and invoking Marvel’s book of the damned served as a great reveal in the later part of the series and may yet prove to be a source of solace or sorrow for MCU characters.
According to Livanos, who pitched the use of the book, it also answered a question about Agatha herself.
“The idea of introducing The Darkhold as this higher-level dark-magic power felt like it could really elevate the danger level,” she explained. “Agatha’s an incredibly powerful witch, yet she’s not the Scarlet Witch and she wants to be, so how is she able to infiltrate Wanda’s world to begin with? How was she able to manipulate Wanda without revealing herself? How is she able to combat Wanda in the finale?”
The book served first as an amplification totem. But beyond enhancing Agatha’s power, it is also a signal to Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) that she “has a lot to learn about magic.”
“It was a really great way to inject some exposition about how we define the Scarlet Witch,” Schaeffer added.
Besides its purpose within the story, it is also a rather amazing call back to earlier television shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Runaways, which used the book’s black magic for its own ends. Although, as Schaeffer explained, that connection is more accidental than a direct reference.
“It was much more looking at the comics and how it functioned [there],” she said.
Focusing on its place in Marvel Comics lore also led Shakman to initiate the creation of a new Darkhold prop.
“It was a long process of trying to figure out what that would look like and how it would be created and how it would appear and disappear,” he said of the design phase and its physical placement within scenes.
(Photo by Marvel Studios)
Though each of WandaVision’s recreations tended toward a specific program, Shakman was interested in creating an overall “authentic to the era” atmosphere. This is part of the reason the program jumped over ABC’s TGIF line-up — which included Full House and Just The Ten of Us, which Shakman starred in — to the late-1990s with its Malcolm in the Middle pulls. Those shows overlap with Family Ties. Although, the director noted episode five’s love letter to ’80s sitcoms features a few Full House references.
“You can see it in the opening title sequence. There’s a couple of direct nods to the Full House opening titles,” Shakman said.
And though not a TGIF sitcom, Ralph Boehner (Evan Peters) is a reference to Growing Pains‘ Richard Milhous Stabone (Andrew Koenig) — aka “Boner.” Shakman appeared on the series as his Just The Ten of Us character a handful of times.
He also noted that though many of sitcoms seem a key element of certain times, there is a surprising amount of overlap in regards to when they aired. The Dick Van Dyke Show started late in the 1950s and ran into the early ’60s, for example.
“[Malcolm in the Middle’s] pilot was shot late ’90s and came out the beginning of 2000,” he added.
That fuzziness allowed for a bigger picture: the evolution of sitcoms and the audiences who watched them. Beyond the obvious elements of lighting and sets, Shakman worked with a “laugh track expert” to subtly change the quality of the laughs from “a live recording of an audience to something that was actually added after the fact.” Also, outside of the house, the march of time was reflected in Wanda’s red Buick, which was parked in the driveway the whole time.
“It’s the same car iterating from generation to generation,” he said.
(Photo by Marvel Studios)
We loved the use of “The Vision” to distinguish the synthezoid corpse from the being inside Westview (both played by Paul Bettany), but Schaeffer told us that distinction was hard to see on the page and a different naming convention was used in the script: “Soul Vision” and “White Vision.”
“We felt so attached to that Vision, and to everything that we had gone through in the sitcoms with him, that it felt to us that he was the one with the soul, he was the one with the heart, and the one that we as an audience felt so attached to, and obviously Wanda felt attached to,” she explained.
As the same time, “The Vision” offered its own sort of horror.
“It’s also dehumanizing. It’s objectifying,” she said. “It is another layer of separation between these two Visions, one that is so wholly defined by his emotional life, and the other who is very much defined by his lack of emotional life and love.”
(Photo by Marvel Studios)
Although Monica debuted as an 11-year-old in Captain Marvel (played there by Akira Akbar), WandaVision re-introduced her as a grown woman. For Schaeffer, bringing forward the character’s “liveliness” from the film was key to establishing the grown-up Monica (Teyonah Parris). She also wanted to seed her searcher qualities and “nascent hero elements.” Also, her experiences in Captain Marvel and the circumstances of her absence during her mother’s death created a “strong sense of empathy and that desire to always look at a problem from all angles” the team definitely wanted to highlight.
For Livanos, who continues to journey with Monica as an executive producer of the upcoming Captain Marvel sequel, the empathy she ultimately shows for Wanda was important to establish as it is, ultimately, her key power.
“It’s her emotional capacity for empathy that makes her a real leader [in the comics],” she explained. “That felt at the core of her journey. It was really the thing that you see propel her into becoming an actual superhero. So illustrating Monica’s emotional depth and Teyonah’s portrayal of that was really special.”
Although she couldn’t say much about Captain Marvel 2, Livanos said she feels lucky to continue with Parris and Monica: “Teyonah is going to rock it with Captain Marvel, too.”
Although a scene in episode 6 — the one with Agnes and Vision at the edge of Westview — led us away from the Agatha Harkness fan theory, Schaeffer admitted they never really intended to make it hard to discover.
“Early on, we talked about how much do we want to hide that or obscure that, and I think it was [Marvel Studios President] Kevin [Feige] who said, ‘Yeah, people will figure it out, but that’s OK.’ Not everything has to be a thoroughly six-foot-under buried Easter egg. Some things are hiding in plain sight and that’s OK,” she said.
“We did give some clues,” Shakman added. “The comic book fan would see [Agatha’s] cameo or the color purple, and it didn’t shock me that folks were guessing that.”
Also, all three agreed Hahn’s presence — from the moment she was announced — led fans to the right conclusion.
“[She’s] such an incredibly talented actress with such depth and an amazing potential for darkness,” Livanos said.
Though the theorizing online proved correct for Agatha, episode 6’s now-infamous Kick-Ass joke led plenty down a X-shaped rabbit hole. Shakman even went as far as apologizing for what was, in his mind, a joke about Tommy’s (Jett Klyne) new way of speaking.
“It was really just about Uncle Pietro’s bad influence,” he said. “And then on the day we were improvising, and I suggested to Lizzie [Olsen] that she repeat it because it’s a mom commenting on what’s happening to her kid. And so she said, ‘Kick-Ass?’ And then the internet was on fire because of our Aaron Taylor-Johnson reference.”
No matter the intention, it definitely lit a new fire under the possibility of the X-Men appearing on the show in some small way. Like the way Monica’s “aerospace engineer” friend ignited theories about a Mr. Fantastic appearance, Shakman was surprised by the passionate responses.
For Schaeffer, finding those moments where a series can reward the viewer is part of the thrill.
“I think it’s very satisfying for people when they call things,” she said. “It’s case-by-case and person-to-person, because there’s so much in the comics.”
Nevertheless, characters like Magneto, Mephisto, and even Doctor Strange — who Wanda will encounter in the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — were never part of the plan.
And though it is fun to think about who could appear in a given Marvel series, Shakman said those things never really fit the core of the show, which to him was “this story about a woman overcoming grief and dealing with loss and trying to rebuild herself after experiencing so much trauma.”
“We weren’t trying to open up the Multiverse or introduce the X-Men,” he said. “But Marvel’s got your back, just wait.”
While some viewers may see Wanda’s end state as fairly ambiguous, Schaeffer, Livanos, and Shakman all agree that she finally learned how to grieve.
“You can never completely move past a loss [or] the many losses that Wanda has felt. But this show really was structured to follow the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross stages of grieving, from denial, bargaining and all the way to acceptance And the conclusion of this is, hopefully, moving Wanda to a place where she’s ready to say goodbye to Vision for the last time,” Shakman explained. “That’s why she’s able to say goodbye to him and why she’s able to tuck in the kids.”
At the same time, Wanda’s personal journey to that acceptance left the citizens of Westview traumatized and the audience with a final image of the Scarlet Witch reading The Darkhold.
“We love the texture at the end of the series that the world may still label Wanda Maximoff as a terrorist,” Livanos said. Like the final image, the tension between understanding her pain and the feeling she should be held accountable is no accident. “We as audience members have been privileged in being able to be close to Wanda throughout her journey, but it’s interesting at the end of the show to see that she’s still on the run, she’s still judged by those she has inadvertently harmed. And so that has been really fantastic and interesting and something to be tackled at a future time.”
Will Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness be that future time? No one can say for sure.
But one element going forward with Wanda is her alias; a name with a new, added meaning thanks to WandaVision.
“It was a two-year-long conversation, because it was a little bit of a blank slate. She’s had so many appearances, and so many storylines, and there’s so much known about her, but the actual definition of the Scarlet Witch, there is none,” Schaeffer said.
Through the years, Wanda’s costumed identity never took on a greater meaning despite her absolutely essential (and sometimes chaotic) contributions to Marvel Comics lore. Tying it to that chaos and a destiny she is yet to deny or embrace also created the possibility of further defining magic within the MCU.
“The witch zone was not explored,” Schaeffer said. “We hadn’t seen witchcraft. We’d seen magic in the space of Doctor Strange and a sort of, I would argue, more of a masculine magic not at all aligned with Salem and our sort of Americanized version and feminized version of witches and magic.”
Deciding how much of that mythology to embrace offered the name and iconography of the Scarlet Witch something Schaeffer felt “gives some shape to her, but without being too prescriptive and too limiting, because ultimately where we land her is that she wants to know more and we want to know more.”