Wanda All Along

SPOILERS for the entirety of WandaVision, episodes 1-9

The mission statement of WandaVision, we now see with 20/20 hindsight, was to take Wanda through her stages of grieving from denial to acceptance. The finale accomplished that mission. Wanda released the hex, and with it, her conjured husband, children and their domestic sitcom life together where nothing truly bad happens. There was another more hidden mission about Wanda’s new place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: she’s a supervillain now. This show doesn’t have a sitcom ending.

The best supervillains (like Magneto, who has absolutely no role in WandaVision) have points-of-view with which we can empathize, if not sympathize. (Though I can see the “Wanda Was Right” t-shirts already.) We journeyed with Wanda through her loss and grief. But we also saw her inflict horrifying trauma on an entire town, and devise a cruel punishment for Agatha after beating her. Both things seem like plot elements that will rear up again. Wanda is “hated and feared” (as Marvel mutants frequently are), and rightly so.

In Marvel Studios tackling Wanda Maximoff, especially in a story inspired by “House of M,” there was a danger of falling into the Hysterical Woman and Unstable Powered Woman tropes. Though Wanda herself made it through her cycle of grief to acceptance, with many a graceful and emotional scene, the show embraced those tropes. It deserves credit for fully realizing Wanda’s character and treating her with sensitivity, but Wanda walks a dark road now. If the creation of her idealized Westview was “accidental,” her first instinct was still to put the populace on magical choke-chains when, freed from her spell, they reacted to their imprisonment. Wanda told Monica Rambeau that maybe she is the villain, and the people of Westview wouldn’t argue. Nobody in the Marvel Universe–not Wanda Maximoff, not Jean Grey and the various Phoenix hosts, not the Sentry–acquires godlike powers without becoming villains.

Despite Agatha’s catchy song, it was Wanda all along. Separating families. Forcing people to enact her script. Leaving them screaming on the inside. And Westview was only the beginning.

Marvel Cinematic Universe properties always set up the next thing, usually in a mid-credits or post-credits sequence. WandaVision gave us both, one for Monica Rambeau, and one for Wanda herself. The show also brought a new status quo for Vision.

Monica Rambeau

Monica Rambeau: superhero

In the comics, Monica has gone by the “silly nicknames” Captain Marvel, Photon, and Spectrum. In the movies, her mother’s callsign was Photon, which makes that her likely moniker, though her color-shifting eyes and electromagnetic vision make Spectrum appropriate. We don’t know much about what Monica can do. She can withstand being magically bodyslammed onto the pavement, and she can steal the kinetic energy from bullets as they sail through her without damage. As she passed through Wanda’s hex, it seems she internalized all the praise she had heard from her mother and Auntie Carol, and she became it: a glowing, flying, most-powerful-person-Carol-knew. An interesting metaphor, worth exploring.

It sounds like Nick Fury and his Skrull allies have called her up to the S.W.O.R.D. orbital station (last seen in the mid-credits scene from Spider-Man: Far From Home) for a mission. Will we see that in Captain Marvel 2, or Secret Invasion, or both? (It’s interesting that in the MCU Secret Invasion, at least some of the Skrulls are on Nick Fury’s side.)


Wanda may have accepted the loss of her parents, her brother, Vision, and the twins, but she is now more alone than ever, and spending her time studying Marvel’s Book of the Damned itself, the Darkhold, written by the dark Elder God Chthon from whom, in the comics, Chaos Magic originates. It’s as evil as it looks. There was no Doctor Strange cameo in WandaVision, so her choice of mentors puts her firmly on the villain’s path, and possibly on a collision course with Doctor Strange as an adversary. (I still haven’t forgotten that Mordo is out there, hunting sorcerers who upset the natural order. Wanda will probably kill him in the opening scene of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness).

Hearing her children call out for help has probably awakened her hopes (and those of the audience) that somewhere in the multiverse, Billy and Tommy are real. And they need her. But we’ve been burned by false promises of the multiverse twice already, once in Spider-Man: Far From Home and in WandaVision itself. Wanda is reading the Darkhold. Her feelings of being alone–which were the impetus for the Westview hex–are stronger than ever. She’s being lured by powers once again trying to prey on her. I suspect Chthon and Mephisto will be conflated in the MCU–an analog for Satan is likely too fraught for a Disney property.

One revelation of WandaVision‘s with alarming implications is that Wanda can apparently create people, ex nihilo. Conscious people, with their own independent volition (as Vision proved when he snuck away from Wanda, as the twins proved when they defied Wanda to help in the fight). People with souls (whatever souls are). Wanda’s hex may have limitations in size, but within it, she has the godlike power of creation–not Thor godlike, but Old Testament godlike. If Chthon is behind her power, as he is in the comics, what does it say about the nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? If Chthon is a malevolent Creator, is there a benevolent one? Does capital-G God exist? That seems even more fraught than Mephisto.


Vision discusses philosophy with himself

Paralleling his comic book “Vision Quest” incarnation, the White Vision is now a being with the former Vision’s memories, but perhaps not the love–or even the capacity for the love–he once had for Wanda. If people–fans, or MCU characters–think that Vision is the key to pull Wanda back from the darkness, they are tragically mistaken. It’ll make for a heartbreaking scene, though. We can look back at Darcy telling Vision that the love they have is real with bitter irony now. At best, hex-Vision was a representation of Wanda loving and nurturing herself. At worst, it was a one-sided fantasy, feeding on the echoes of a love that is gone.

How much S.W.O.R.D. programming still dictates White Vision’s actions? Will he have his own journey to find/earn his soul? I’d love to see it. The Ship of Theseus conversation was easily my favorite part of the finale, an intellectual settlement of conflict with one’s self. Throughout the show, Vision and Jimmy Woo presented a different sort of masculinity–a contrast with Tony Stark, Thor, and even Steve Rogers, who dominated their scenes. Vision and Jimmy were content with being supporting characters, in multiple senses of the word. They took their stands without taking the spotlight (remember when Jimmy stood up against workplace bullying?), and were there to nurture and support instead of solve all the problems. To some viewers, it possibly looks like emasculation of the characters. And though I like that a new, nurturing model of masculinity is being slipped into a genre with a historically narrow view of the male hero, it’s too bad that the only ones to enact this model are the android and the Asian guy.

Ralph Bohner

Really, WandaVision? A boner joke?

Now the gripes. Of course there will be Easter eggs, foreshadowing, and red herrings, and we’d only know which detail was which in retrospect. A show can lay false trails, it can play with its audience, and it can even make jokes. But the revelation ought to be a better payoff than the one you led the audience to expect. And if you actively punish your fans for their knowledge by making them the butt of your joke, you’ve gone too far.

If mystery is the currency you’re using for engagement and attention, understand that it’s a loan. It comes due by the end of the show.

I’m fine with the false trails about Magneto, “for the children,” Mephisto, Chthon, “Dottie is the key to everything in this town,” X-gene mutants, Reed Richards, “don’t shoot! I’m just the messenger,” a hidden Infinity coven of witches, and Luke Skywalker-level cameos. I’ll even chalk up the nexus/multiverse tease as “fool me twice, shame on me.”

But Evan Peters as Pietro Maximoff/Ralph Bohner crossed a line. It came off as hostile to viewers who believed that Marvel Studios could play with big ideas.

If they wanted a Pietro fake-out in line with the Vision and twins fake-outs, they could have cast Aaron Taylor Johnson. It could have been even more heartbreaking to see and lose him again, both for Wanda and the audience.

If they wanted to make the Darrin Stevens recasting joke, they could have cast literally any other actor. If they wanted to make a meta-level speedster joke, they could have cast Ezra Miller, who played the Flash in Justice League.

By casting the X-Men movies’ Quicksilver, while teasing the multiverse, while cinematic rights to the X-Men were transferring from Fox to Marvel Studios, while casting rumors for Spider-Man: No Way Home included actors from previous Sony iterations of Spider-Man… Only to play “Fietro” for a “boner” joke in the finale… Well that’s just insulting. From a studio that managed to make individual Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor films, bring them all together for an ensemble Avengers film, and then go even bigger, this joke set grand expectations of what’s possible from Marvel Studios, and then went out with a Beavis and Butthead moment. Terrible. The show would have been better with any other option.

Regardless, the introduction of the Darkhold means that Chthon or Mephisto are still in play, probably for the Doctor Strange movie. The multiverse is still coming in some form, either as the weird dimensions already introduced by the first Doctor Strange movie, or the fractured timelines that are policed by the Time Variance Authority in Loki (or both). We know from corporate property rights that mutants are still destined for the MCU, though whether their number includes intuitive witches, Infinity-awakened speedsters, and survivors of Tesseract-powered engine explosions remains to be seen. 

And I’ll believe in the live-action Spider-Verse when I see it onscreen, and not a moment sooner.

Live-Action Spider-Verse? I’ll believe it when I see it–on the big screen

WandaVision’s Mutant Witchbreed

SPOILERS through WandaVision episode 8.

Episode 8 of WandaVision was the explainer episode and the emotional payoff. “But what is grief, if not love persevering” could be the tagline for the series. It was sad, beautifully executed, and I loved it. I’ve been enjoying this show on two separate levels: the story it set out to tell, and the world- and mythos-building it offers the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve mostly blogged about the latter, but it’s worth mentioning the former. WandaVision is a really good story.

But I still want to dissect the mythos. I have questions. Questions that may not be answered in next week’s final episode.

Why do some witches have innate powers?

For me, this was the most exciting revelation. Back in the 17th century, Agatha performed dark, forbidden magic before she was taught. As her coven punished her, she insisted she didn’t break any rules, the magic just bent to her power. In this century, Agatha was confused that Wanda didn’t know the basics of magic, but could handle vast amounts of reality-warping power with no training at all. Even before Wanda’s exposure to the Mind Stone by Hydra, she used a “probability hex” to disable the bomb that fell through their roof. Wanda and Agatha are naturals, intuitive wielders of these powers. Agatha followed it up with years–no, centuries–of magical study, but their gift was inborn. It reminds me of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, where the sorceresses of the White Tower despised so-called “Wilders,” who began channeling the One Power without any instruction. Wanda Maximoff is a Nynaeve al’Meara.

Witchbreed: the OG Mutants

It’s likely we’ve seen our first MCU mutants, people with intuitive access to powers that mystics spend their entire lives learning how to wield. I’m going to take these “witchbreed” as validation that the Scarlet Witch is an MCU mutant, and that mutation is an innate connection, seeded by the Celestials, to the cosmic powers of the universe. Marvel Studios seems to be offering us a Grand Unified Theory of cosmic power in this universe, one I expect we’ll see explained in the upcoming Eternals movie.

What is the significance of the title Scarlet Witch?

“This is Chaos Magic, Wanda. And that makes you… The Scarlet Witch.”

Apparently spontaneous creation, the manipulation of reality itself, is the domain of “Chaos Magic” in MCU witchcraft. And it’s associated with the color scarlet. This does beckon the question of whether Agatha Harkness is a (the?) Purple Witch, and if any other colors are associated with witchcraft. Was Agatha’s mother a Blue Witch? It does sound like the Scarlet Witch is a unique and legendary title, and intuitive use of Chaos Magic is so rare as to be considered mythical.

Wanda has a vision

In the comic books, Wanda’s Chaos Magic came from the dark Elder God Chthon, who was imprisoned in Mount Wundagore, where (comic book) Wanda Maximoff was born. He used Wanda as a conduit for his power, to engineer his eventual return. The Marvel Cinematic Universe may well introduce Chthon to its canon, but there’s a scarlet, reality-manipulating power that is already established in the MCU: the Reality Stone. With Agatha apparently able to siphon power from other witches intuitively (purple is the Power Stone’s color), the idea of an Infinity Coven seems sound, even if I got the membership wrong. It’s lean worldbuilding: use the elements you have instead of bringing in redundant explanations with no foreshadowing.

I’m not saying the Infinity energies are responsible for all the superpowers in the MCU. There are no new explanations forthcoming for the Captain America’s super-soldier serum, Hulk’s gamma mutation, the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker, Pym particles, and so on. But you can draw lines between Infinity Power and the Celestials, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra weaponry, Captain Marvel, Wanda and Pietro, Ultron and Vision, and at least some schools of Kamar-Taj magic. The fact that WandaVision was being broadcast through residual radiation from the Big Bang, and the show’s visual language of color, implies a link as well.

Side note: intuitive witches who wield powerful magic without any training will surely become targets for Mordo, who, from the second Doctor Strange credits scene, hates sorcerers that “twist things out of their natural shape” and wind up “perverting nature.” Watch your back, Wanda. A regular Reverend William Stryker, that one.

Mordo’s coming for all the sorcerers who twist things out of their natural shape

Was Pietro a Witch? Was Captain Marvel?

By Pietro I mean the original Pietro, introduced in Age of Ultron, not “Fietro.” After all, he survived exposure to the Mind Stone and came away with powers. Captain Marvel survived an explosion of Space Stone energy and came away with powers. Yes, from a certain point of view? Witchcraft is how Agatha’s coven understood their power. Sorcery is how the acolytes of Kamar-Taj understood theirs. Pietro Maximoff probably saw himself as a science experiment. Captain Marvel, an energy accident. They’re all human beings empowered by cosmic forces that we’ve seen embodied by Infinity Stones. Witches, sorcerers, mutations–they’re all different paths to the same energy.

What About Monica?

Yeah, what happened to Monica? And is she a witch/sorcerer/mutation? She was altered by Wanda’s hex, but what does that mean? I have no idea yet. With one more episode left, WandaVision may not have the scope to address the nature of her powers. But Monica will have a lot to talk about when she meets up with Auntie Carol in Captain Marvel 2 next year. I’m hoping in that movie we’ll see a few more witchbreed, like Mystique, Destiny, and Rogue.

Who is “Fietro?”

“Fake Pietro,” Evan Peters’ character, was Agatha’s eyes-and-ears through something she called “crystalline possession.” But Agatha said she wasn’t responsible for him (or maybe she meant she wasn’t him). I don’t believe for a second this was just a glib bit of casting, a wink and a joke shared with the audience for no in-story purpose. If it was a play on Darrin Stevens’ recasting on Bewitched, any actor would have done. If it wasn’t supposed to be a plot point, I have no doubt they could have gotten Aaron Taylor-Johnson, with possibly more tragic effect. Wanda said she couldn’t resurrect the dead. (Agatha seemed interested in that–she knows necromancy, it seems.) The prevailing theory that she pulled him from the Fox X-Men Universe still holds water. (Wait… crystalline possession? Wasn’t there a Nexus of Realities in Marvel Comics… the M’Kraan Crystal?) Whatever the case, I don’t expect this to be explained during the series finale of WandaVision. Free of Agatha’s possession and Wanda’s hex, Pietro might start to wonder about the world he finds himself in. But any solid association with the Multiverse will probably only comes as a tease in a post-credits scene. I’ll hold out a modicum of hope that he goes to check if his (biological) dad exists in this universe.

Or maybe it’s a meta-joke at the expense of fans who analyze this stuff way too much. Ahem. We’ll find out next week.

What Happened To Vision?

Vision’s colorless, revived state happened in the comics too, in a West Coast Avengers arc called “Vision Quest.” It does look like this turn of events will be similar to the comics: Vision has lost his identity and humanity. In the hands of S.W.O.R.D. he may easily become a sentient weapon under their control. For a time.

“They are shaping me into something gaudy. Something lethal.”

This is another part of the story that I don’t think will be resolved in the WandaVision finale. The Vision to whom Wanda will (no doubt) say goodbye will be the one she constructed. And hopefully she will do so in the “acceptance” phase of her grief. A confrontation with a weaponized Vision will wait for a future movie, to tear open that wound again.

That time when the Master Mold Sentinel got reincarnated as a sort-of human

It’s fun speculating what form that next confrontation will take. I can see Director Hayward, having gone through the events of WandaVision, saying something like, “we’ve been looking to the stars for the next threat, when that threat has been hiding in our towns and neighborhoods all along.” The witchbreed are the threats. The mutants. I once thought S.W.O.R.D. looked like the Weapon X program, but if Vision is their prototype sentient weapon, perhaps this is the beginning of the Sentinel program. I can see Wanda–perhaps accompanied by fellow witchbreed Agatha–spending MCU’s Phase 4 learning about other humans with innate “special” abilities and forming a new coven. A Sisterhood of Mutants, if you will. All the while, in secret, S.W.O.R.D. will be creating killer robots, patterned after White Vision, to meet the threat they are seen to represent. When the mutant coven meets the Sentinel fleet, the stakes will be heart-rending.

But What About the Children?

In the comics, Billy and Tommy were real, then not real, then real again… but it doesn’t appear the MCU is following that storyline. We don’t know the metaphysics of souls in the MCU. Can even Chaos Magic create people, ex nihilo? Do the souls held by the Soul Stone have a role here? Or is this another Multiverse conjuration, like (I believe) Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, and the twins were yanked from a universe where they were possible? Billy and Tommy might become Wanda’s deepest tragedy yet. In the comics, Agatha (who was more a mentor than an adversary, and still may become one) wiped Wanda’s memory of them to spare her the additional grief. It worked, for a time.

No more teasing the Multiverse

OR, if Billy and Tommy are natives of another universe, losing them when Wanda releases the hex (possibly because Hayward’s squad strikes) may lead her to make a magic doorway to find the universe where she can be with her family. Acceptance of grief be damned, if she can’t create a reality where she can be happy, maybe she can find one. And that will lead Doctor Strange and Mordo, separately, to go chasing after her as she weakens the barriers between worlds. Cue Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

A part of me hopes that wont’ be the case. A part of me hopes that WandaVision will give Wanda a successful circuit through the cycle of grief. I’d like her to find a support network. But a happy status quo rarely propels the story forward, and we know that Wanda still has an active role in the MCU. One more week and we’ll find out.

Wanda and the Infinity Coven

SPOILERS for WandaVision through Episode 7, because I want to get some wild-ass theorizing out there before all is revealed.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, movies like Thor and Doctor Strange established magic as a technology born of a more advanced science, a means of tapping into primordial cosmic forces. The Infinity Stones, created along with the universe by the Big Bang, are powerful sources of these energies. But possessing an Infinity Stone is not the only way to access a portion of its power. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff were given powers by Baron Strucker, experimenting with the Mind Stone. Carol Danvers got her powers from an explosion of an engine powered by the Space Stone. Some mortals in the MCU seem less accidental about tapping into these forces.

In Doctor Strange, the Ancient One’s order had a book about the Time Stone it guarded, but the (hexagonal) shelves may have held other such tomes. One of them was even missing.

Does Agatha’s book belong to the Ancient One’s library?

WandaVision showed us that the witchy Agatha Harkness has another arcane tome. Does it belong to the same set? The orange energy seeping from Agatha’s book seems to point to the Soul Stone, along with Agatha’s fixation on Wanda’s twins–conceived and born under mysterious conditions. In Infinity War and Endgame, the Soul Stone demanded two souls for it to be claimed, first by Thanos, then by Hawkeye. What happened to those souls? Why does the Soul Stone even demand them? How does that work? Maybe I’m following a false trail, but if the MCU has souls, then Billy and Tommy are either soulless conjurations, or their souls came from somewhere. Even Sparky the Dog couldn’t be resurrected. Unlike in the comic books, without Franklin Richards in the MCU to fragment his soul, they didn’t come from Mephisto. So the twins could be reincarnations of Gamora and the Black Widow. To what end? Maybe Billy (AKA the future Wiccan) is a Soul Warlock the Infinity Coven needed to summon (by their colors, Wanda is a Reality Witch and Agatha is a Power Witch) to be complete, and Tommy was an unexpected byproduct of Wanda’s love for Vision, and the availability of another soul. Or maybe their soulless bodies are vessels for some Soul Stone magic, pulling through the Nexus. Hey, most of the fun is wild-ass guessing between episodes.

A better devilish option than Mephisto?

I’ve speculated about Westview’s Infinity Coven, but before all is revealed in the next two weeks, maybe it’s time to commit to the concept and hazard a guess on the other members who form the six points on the hexagon. MCU witches, naturally, would be aligned to the “elements” of the six Infinity Stones, not the traditional elements of earth, water, wind, fire, and spirit.

  • Scarlet (Reality): Wanda Maximoff
  • Purple (Power): Agatha Harkness
  • Orange (Soul): Billy Maximoff AKA Wiccan? Or the Red Skull, who guards the Soul Stone on Vormir?
  • Yellow (Mind): “Dottie Jones” AKA Clea?
  • Blue (Space): “Dennis” the Presto Delivery man AKA Martin Preston AKA Master Pandemonium?
  • Green (Time): My friend really wants Herb to be Brother Voodoo…

If an Infinity Coven is anywhere close to the truth, Wanda Maximoff seems poised to fall into two categories: Marvel’s mystics, who use knowledge of arcane science to manipulate cosmic energies, and another group, like Carol Danvers and Monica Rambeau, who have been changed by these energies. Mutated, you could say.

Let’s call them “mutants.”

Mutants or Witchbreed?

They, like Wanda, are naturals with their abilities. They don’t necessarily know how they shoot beams of Power from their eyes, see into others’ Minds, turn back Time on their bodily injuries, traverse Space in a single BAMF, change the Reality of their appearance on a whim, or manifest their Souls as a sword–but they can do it. They can do it because long ago, at the dawn of the species, the Celestials seeded humankind with the potential to tap into the cosmic powers like their distant cousins the Eternals.

When Baron Strucker and Hydra’s experiments “unleashed the goddess within” Wanda, they tapped into the latent Celestial potential. And now Wanda can do it to others. It’s a reversal of the comic book storyline “House of M,” where she tries to rid the world of mutants. In WandaVision, she unlocks them. Monica Rambeau was the first.

If you’re in the business of not only observing and responding to Sentient Weapons, but creating them–like Tyler Hayward is–now you have an easier and more productive path forward than trying to reactivate an Infinity Stone-powered, vibranium android. Especially if the show’s finale has Wanda’s hex exploding across the globe, the way Black Bolt’s Terrigen Mists did in the comics, triggering the (short-lived) Inhuman renaissance. There are a host of empowered individuals to exploit.

Maybe it’s a stretch. I’m reaching, because I really want Phase Five of the MCU to be about the X-Men. But is it too much to ask for a scene where Sir Ian McKellen embraces Wanda, calls her daughter, and warns her that, though he cannot stay in this world for long, she has the power to do something he once tried (back in the first X-Men movie), but failed to accomplish? She need not be alone. She has the power to create a vast brotherhood and sisterhood of beings who are–like her–as gods to these homo sapiens and their guns. She just needs to reach out with her powers, find the ones with the spark, and whisper…

More Mutants

More likely, the Nexus to the Multiverse gives Wanda a more direct way of dealing with her loss. This world robbed her of her brother, her husband–three times!, and her children who, even if they weren’t real, felt real. Grief can leave us imagining worlds that zigged instead of zagged, where our loved ones remained with us, and we were happy and whole. Wanda may be able to do something about it. The end of WandaVision could start her on a rampage through the Multiverse to find the world where things went right. And that may be exactly the kind of abuse of the natural order that Mordo warned Doctor Strange about.

WandaVision: Season of the Witch

SPOILERS for WandaVision through Episode 7 ahead…

Have you ever noticed that the stories of the Marvel heroines, from Jessica Jones, to Captain Marvel, to Wanda Maximoff, are about overcoming gaslighting? I wonder if Black Widow’s solo story will follow suit, with the other assassins of the Red Room. Anyway…

WandaVision episode 7 absolved our heroine of wrongdoing with the catchiest earworm of revelations: it’s been “Agatha All Along.” While this was presented as a big reveal, was it really? There was a certain joy in the confirmation–sold entirely by Kathryn Hahn’s gleefully wicked performance. But even casual readers of Scarlet Witch comics knew that Agatha Harkness was the likely identity of “Aunty Agnes.” In the comics, Agatha was more ally and mentor than adversary, and the only time she really went against Wanda was when she removed Wanda’s memory of her “children”–who weren’t really her children at all. Ooh, now that sounds like a clue. Regardless, there are now witches in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In Spider-Man: Far From Home, one of the teachers is convinced that witches are behind the Elemental attacks

WandaVision has two apparent antagonists so far. This episode confirmed that Tyler Hayward, Director of S.W.O.R.D., was indeed trying to reactivate Vision as one of his sentient weapons, against Vision’s living will. Is it a mere nod that the ABC show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had a character, Brian Hayward, who ran a Hydra version of the super-soldier program called Centipede? Probably. The MCU keeps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continuity at arm’s length. But Hayward didn’t have any success with Vision until Wanda revived him, and his tactics make him seem like a blunt instrument, not a villainous mastermind. If Hayward was trying to use Vision, Agatha was trying to use Wanda–and she is more of a villainous mastermind. But to what end?

For the Children

Why is Westview a series of progressively more modern sitcoms? Why did Agnes seem to go in and out of character in front of Wanda, sometimes revealing complicity in the illusionary world? What is this whole elaborate show-world for? And why did Agatha choose to end Wanda’s show now (this is the first episode with a traditional MCU mid-credits scene)? There is a clue in the final line of her song: “And I killed Sparky too!” Why would she do that?

  • Agatha offered to quiet the infant twins, and they reappeared on the steps as young boys.
  • When Wanda and Vision decided the twins would be too young to take care of a pet until they were ten years old, they became ten years old.
  • When the twins discovered that Sparky had died, they were about to grow older again–until Wanda told them not to escape their pain by aging out of it.
  • When Billy told Agatha that she was “quiet on the inside,” she seemed to realize something about the twins. And they disappeared.

It does feel like the entire point of episodes 1 through 7 of WandaVision was to use Wanda to bring Billy and Tommy into the world, have them grow up and, er, ripen, and then… harvest them. In the dream/show-logic of WandaVision, it didn’t feel overly strange for the twins to age so rapidly. But even this feels incomplete. What are the twins? Why Wanda? And is Agatha a solitary predator, or working on someone’s behalf? These questions feel entangled with another concept raised by episode 7’s commercial: “Nexus.”

Nexus lets you choose your own reality

The Multiverse Is Confirmed

Spider-Man: Far From Home teases the multiverse, but it’s a fake-out

Or is it? Going only by the show, Wanda’s choice of “realities” seem to be her sitcom construct or the world outside of the Hex. But after the appearance of a Pietro with the face of Fox’s X-Men Universe Quicksilver, this is the second suggestion there are other realities. (And if Agatha is responsible for Evan Peters’ “recasting,” it implies she has knowledge of his reality. Maybe she’s from it.)

When Monica Rambeau charged through the Hex wall, she seemed to split into versions of herself and hear voices from her past. When her powers manifested with her Tesseract-colored eyes, she pulled herself together and broke through the wall.

No need to belabor it here, I think my arguments for the Marvel Multiverse still hold water as of Episode 7, even if Pietro isn’t the actual Fox Quicksilver. So why here? Why now? In the comics, Wanda Maximoff is known as a “nexus being,” someone who has versions of herself in every universe, each with a different power set. There is also a Marvel comic concept of a nexus of realities (such as the M’Kraan Crystal) which is a gateway to other universes. The show may be playing with both concepts.

If Agatha Harkness is a solo predator, her character may be conflated with the comic book character of Lore, an evil other-universe Wanda who went from universe to universe, devouring and absorbing the powers of her counterparts. Snackin’ on Yo-Magic and all. But this feels unsatisfying, because it doesn’t address the importance of the children.

In Scarlet Witch (1994) Wanda is attacked by a parallel universe witch called Lore

If Agatha Harkness is working on behalf of another, there are a few possibilities.

The comic book story that seems most immediately relevant is that the Marvel Comics devil, Mephisto, used Wanda to birth two pieces of his fragmented soul into the world so he could absorb them and become whole. There are certainly many callbacks to the Mephisto story in WandaVision: “The devil is in the details / That’s not the only place he is!”; “Unleash hell, demon-spawn!”, the Mephisto-faced Halloween decoration; “Señor Scratchy” (like Old Scratch, a moniker for the devil); Agnes’s never-present husband “Ralph”; and that fly crawling on Agatha’s curtains. And Agatha Harkness has a creepy, orange-lit Darkhold-looking grimoire in her basement. There’s enough groundwork for Mephisto, but that feels unsatisfying to me too. It comes out of a place that isn’t rooted in Wanda’s personal mythology, and WandaVision is, fundamentally, a personal story about her. I’d rather the payoff of this story comes from Wanda’s MCU history than her comic history.

If there were a devil-figure, I’d much rather it be the Red Skull, whose association with the Soul Stone provides a source for two souls to be born into the world. But I’ve already written about that.

Scarlet Witch and the Infinity Coven

A more interesting notion is that Agatha Harkness, like any witch in good standing, is working with a coven. When we first see the world outside of the Hex, Director Hayward asks if Wanda has a “funny nickname,” and Agent Woo insists she doesn’t. The words “Scarlet Witch” have never been uttered in the MCU, to my knowledge.

Red has been part of the show’s visual language around Wanda ever since it transitioned from black-and-white. Her wardrobe, her power effects, the flowers outside her home, and the smoke in which her troublesome stork appears and vanishes. This became even more pronounced once we saw purple–wardrobe, powers, flowers–associated with Agatha.

Dottie is back, and her roses are yellow

It’s enough to make one pay more attention to the use of color elsewhere. Remember where the “all for the children” thing started? At Dottie’s meeting. Agatha called Dottie “the key to everything in this town.” In a show like WandaVision, that’s not a throwaway line. Dottie disappeared until episode 7, and now she’s back, with a yard full of yellow roses–that bloom under penalty of death, according to Agatha.

Emma Caulfield doesn’t want us to forget about Dottie

And now Monica Rambeau has glowing blue eyes. It feels like there is a coven of superpowered women associated with colors. Powers and colors sound awfully familiar, don’t they? I’d theorized that, since the Infinity Stones were Celestial technology, and the Celestials in the comics had seeded the potential for superpower in the human race, exposure to the Stones might be unlocking that potential. “Unlocking the goddess within,” so to speak. Like they did with Wanda. And Captain Marvel. We mustn’t forget, the WandaVision show was being broadcast through radiation from the Big Bang, when the Infinity Stones came into existence. There is a link. Even the wizards of Doctor Strange’s order are associated with an Infinity Stone.

The Infinity Stones and their colors

The witches don’t seem limited in their power by their color. Wanda was empowered by the Mind Stone, and while her powers started as psionic, her Hex seems more of a Reality Stone effect. Agatha appears to be using Wanda’s old mind-control powers, though that may have come from “snacking on Yo-Magic.” The twins seem to have localized Time Stone powers, but then, so did Wanda and Agatha when they decided to “take it from the top” and redo a scene.

How do the children figure into an Infinity-powered coven? They may be trying to manifest souls from the Soul Stone. Or they may be sacrifices that the Soul Stone seems to demand. Or they may be recruits for the coven. It does seem significant that Agatha’s creepy book in the basement leaks the orange light of the Soul Stone.

Agatha Harkness’s book has a Soulful glow

How does an Infinity Coven tie into a multiverse? I don’t know! Maybe that’s how they manipulate reality; by shuffling things around. Maybe there’s power to be tapped across realities. Maybe their coven is spread across universes, but they’ve figured out ways to cross over to collaborate.

We have two more episodes to get answers. And to see if Vision can survive without Wanda. And to see if Wanda will be able to beat her gaslighting and face her grief.

WandaVision’s Big Bad: Of Easter Eggs, Foreshadowing, and Red Herrings

SPOILERS for WandaVision, through Episode 6, HBO’s Game of Thrones final season, and Season 1 of FX’s Legion, below. And speculation on the real Big Bad.

WandaVision is one of those shows that knows its audience. The show doesn’t take pains to explain the history of the Marvel Universe–we either know it already or will use our Disney+ subscription to catch up. It serves up slow-burning mystery, and it knows that its viewership includes detectives bringing to bear decades of comic book and movie scholarship. It selects an engaged audience.

So in addition to telling a story that fits solidly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it gives us a categorization game: Easter Egg, Foreshadowing, or Red Herring?

  • Easter Eggs are gifts for the lore scholars. They aren’t predictive of the plot, but they give the keepers of occult knowledge a game to play, and reassures them that the show writers also have their bona fides.
  • Foreshadowing is a set of details with predictive value for the show’s plot. When the audience re-watches, they’re rewarded by proof of the plan.
  • Red Herrings masquerade as Easter eggs or foreshadowing, but are deliberately misleading. The show writers are messing with us.

There’s a lot to analyze in Episode 6, but two questions loom large in my mind. Is Evan Peters’s Quicksilver a sign of the multiverse, or a red herring? And how is Wanda doing all this?

“She Recast Pietro.”

Quicksilver in Episode 6 seems neither the Fox X-Men Quicksilver nor the dead MCU Quicksilver. His dialogue suggests he’s a constructed sounding board for Wanda to talk to herself, to justify the ethics of what she’s doing in Westview, and to help her introspect about how she’s doing it. But he also tells her things she’s not ready or willing to admit. He’s one of the four Westview residents (including Vision, Agnes, and Wanda herself) who have some awareness that Westview is not real. Is it Wanda creating what she needs to keep up the show, or is someone else urging her to keep up the fiction?

With disappointment, I’m starting to concede that Evan Peters, and his presence in the Fox X-Men movies, is a red herring. I fear Ian McKellen won’t be making any appearances after the credits. There are good arguments for a Multiverse in Phase Four that touches non-Disney studio movies, but ultimately, it’s a story element that overshadows the story being told.

It’s disappointing because casting Aaron Taylor-Johnson could have accomplished the same thing. While the recasting serves as a reference gag for Bewitched, that specific recasting smacks of the show’s creators just messing with us, and to have it go nowhere is a letdown.

There may be a modicum of redemption if the end of WandaVision does hint at mutants in the MCU, possibly through S.W.O.R.D. (which, with the Cataract project looks a lot like Weapon X). But it’s a joke that feels a little mean spirited.

Cataract: the Weapon X files

“I don’t know how I did it. I…I only remember feeling completely alone. Empty. I just…Endless nothingness.”

The mid-season episodes declared that Wanda was to blame for the terrifying state of Westview, but I can’t imagine Marvel Studios choosing to build sympathy for Wanda Maximoff only to turn her into a Daenerys Targaryen villain in the final stretch. There’s something behind Wanda’s newfound Reality and Time warping powers (not to mention her ability to introduce two new Souls into the world), and the ways she is using them. The clue may lie in WadaVision’s most disturbing in-show commercial yet: Yo-Magic.

I’m snacking on Yo-Magic!

Just as Wanda was “empty,” the boy on the island is hungry, and a sinister-looking shark tells him that he used to feel that way–until he started snacking on Yo-Magic! The shark’s doing great, but the boy, unable to access Yo-Magic for himself, starves and dies.

All the WandaVision commercials have referenced some past trauma or manipulation, from Stark Industries’ unexploded bomb, to Baron Strucker and Hydra “unleashing the goddess within,” to the incident in Lagos where Wanda inadvertently caused death and mayhem. Yo-Magic doesn’t reference anything we’ve already seen, so it seems like a revelation. It’s something that happened in the hidden backstory of WandaVision.

The shark gave me vibes of the Shadow King in FX’s Legion, a parasitic villain who lived in David Haller’s mind and used the boy’s powers for his own ends. Something is feeding on Wanda’s power, and it also seems to be connected to her twins, since their birth seemed to be the point of this reality. “For the children.”

David “Legion” Haller and his Shadow King parasite

You can’t have the main villain just show up in the penultimate episode, so i’ve been looking askance at Agnes, knowing about Agatha Harkness from the comics. Until Pietro took over Agnes’s role, and left her “lost.” I also know from the comics, that the twins were born of an attempt by Marvel’s devil, Mephisto, to stitch his own soul together. One of the Halloween decorations looked like Mephisto, Quicksilver told the twins to “unleash hell, demon-spawn!” and…

…I’m starting to feel led down a path here. Introducing the Devil into this storyline of trauma at human hands seems as off-arc as introducing Fox’s X-Men. Unless I’ve missed diabolical details in the first several episodes, the Mephisto theory comes only from comic books published in the 1980s. These are more “occult” details than Evan Peters’s casting. If the X-Men are a red herring (or, more charitably, an Easter egg), Mephisto is too.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m going to go out on a limb. Wanda is displaying expanded Infinity Stone powers beyond the Mind Stone Hydra used to “unleash the goddess within.” Hydra and Strucker loom in her past. Two souls have been brought into the world–just as two souls were lost to claim the Soul Stone in Infinity War and Endgame. And there was a sinister, Hydra-associated guy who watched it happen. Someone who had tried and failed to assemble the six stones himself. Captain America’s old foe, the Red Skull.

The Red Skull is now a floaty ghost guarding an Infinity Stone

The Red Skull feels like an odd choice for a WandaVision Big Bad, but he has the established MCU connections to the central mysteries: Wanda’s powers, and Wanda’s children (their souls). He’s tied to Wanda’s origins through Hydra, and his newly-cosmic scope and knowledge of Infinity Stone lore open him up to future story directions. And maybe most fundamentally, he’s a weird, unexplained element in the cinematic universe that begs for explanation and exploration.


Marvel Phase Five: The X-Men!

(Implied SPOILERS for WandaVision Episode 5, and speculation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward.)

In 2008, when Nick Fury told Tony Stark that he’d become part of a bigger universe, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. It was a slow release of blockbuster movies that introduced Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, brought them together as The Avengers, and kept expanding to a network of interconnected TV and movie franchises to stand in the ranks of vast properties like Star Trek and Star Wars. As of WandaVision episode 5, it looks like Phase Four of the MCU has introduced the Multiverse, and once again, Marvel’s presence on the big and small screens has expanded again.

Assuming Marvel Studios builds an in-house continuity for the X-Men and the Fantastic Four–and I hope they do, instead of importing it from the Fox movies–it feels like it’s time for the MCU to shift its focus off the Avengers. Captain America is old, and has lived a full life. Iron Man, the Black Widow, and (through tragic real-world circumstances) the Black Panther are dead. The Hulk’s days of two-fisted smashing are done. There are still Avengers, but Marvel Studios is giving them the small-screen treatment. It’s time for some new players filling out the blockbuster and tentpole movie schedule. And it should all build on what the MCU has already established.

Here Come the Mutants

In the comics, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have a complex history. They began as mutants in Uncanny X-Men #4, were later revealed to be the children of Magneto himself, and then–around the time both Marvel Studios and Fox introduced Quicksilver to their cinematic universes–retconned in the comics into not being mutants at all, but creations of a non-X-character called the High Evolutionary with no ties to Magneto.

The MCU has a strong foundation to reconcile Wanda and Pietro as both mutants and science-empowered beings. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the twins were established as the only survivors of Baron Strucker’s experiments with the Mind Stone. Strucker never replicated this success. Hydra was playing with forces it didn’t understand. Small wonder: the Infinity Stones, as the Collector explained in Guardians of the Galaxy, were from the beginning of the universe, and used by the godlike Celestials to “mow down entire civilizations.”

In the comic books, the Celestials were also responsible for seeding the potential for the mutant “X-gene” in humanity. They are responsible for the evolution of mutants on Earth. Could Baron Strucker unwittingly have activated the latent X-gene in Wanda and Pietro with the Infinity Stone?

The Eternals Connection

In November 2021, the Phase Four movie Eternals promises to reveal ancient history in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the comics, the Celestials visited Earth before the dawn of humankind and created two races: the godlike Eternals, and their monstrous, ever-changing opposite numbers, the Deviants. They also seeded superhuman potential (the X-gene) in the indigenous primates who would become humans. Mutant origins are tied to Eternal origins, and with Marvel Studios’ acquisition of character rights to the X-Men, the timing couldn’t be better.

Eternals may reveal the reason the Celestials mowed down civilizations, and it’s an opportunity to surface and put context around some major Marvel Comics storylines. But more on that later. Why do the Celestials create and destroy life? They’re experimenters on a cosmic scale, seeding and monitoring cosmic potential in life on various worlds. Their methods are Darwinian. They come back every few millennia to check on the progress of their experiments and add evolutionary stress to the system. Worlds that aren’t evolving fast enough, the Celestials destroy.

Anyone else notice that Ultron, whose mind was essentially the Mind Stone, wanted to create an extinction event, and thought the Avengers were trying to keep humankind from evolving? And that he had a soft spot for Wanda and Pietro?

The Apocalypse Connection

Apocalypse is an important figure in X-Men mythology. He’s considered the first mutant, an immortal “External,” who rose to power in ancient Egypt after the fall of Rama-Tut, a version of the time-traveling villain Kang (who happens to be the villain in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania). Early in his career, Apocalypse learned about the impending Celestial judgment and, under some writers, used his Four Horsemen as stressors to push mutantkind into emergence and ascendency. In X-Factor #50, the X-Men traveled to another planet that the Celestials were about to judge, and Jean Grey linked all the mutants of that world together to repel them. The world thus passed judgment.

The MCU has an opportunity to streamline Apocalypse and use him as early as Phase Four. Instead of an “External,” make him a rogue Eternal, a Promethean figure whose mission is to awaken mutants of Earth in preparation for the planet’s eventual Celestial judgment. Apocalypse can be the through-line of a long-simmering Judgment War storyline, the way Thanos was behind Infinity War.

The Sinister Connection

Another important figure in X-Men mythology is Mister Sinister. A contemporary of Charles Darwin with an obsession with mutant potential, Nathaniel Essex was set on his path by Apocalypse himself, given long life and the technology to run experiments on mutantkind, he used science to give himself a vast array of mutant powers, and operated in the shadows throughout history. He was the villain behind “The Mutant Massacre,” a major X-Men storyline and a “culling” in the same spirit (if on a smaller scale) as Apocalypse’s and the Celestials’ attempts to pressure mutant evolution.

The MCU could weave him into the story with end-credits scenes, having him give a Darwinian vocabulary to Apocalypse for the Celestials’ goals, working with Baron Strucker, and maybe even founding S.W.O.R.D.

The S.W.O.R.D. Connection

WandaVision introduced S.W.O.R.D. to the MCU, and it’s a departure from the comics, where it was a space-facing sister agency to S.H.I.E.L.D., the Sentient World Observation and Response Department. In WandaVision, the acronym stands for the Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division, and the dialogue suggests that they may be interested in doing more than observing and responding to sentient weapons.

The MCU S.W.O.R.D. sounds more like an organization that has closer ties to Marvel’s mutants: Weapon X. They’re the group responsible for Wolverine’s adamantium bones, and are tied to the origins of characters like Deadpool and Sabertooth. Weapon X used mutants as weapons, often against mutants.

What will S.W.O.R.D. do after their confrontation with Wanda? What’s Director Tyler Hayward’s reaction to being overpowered by one woman? And are those commercials referencing Hydra just Wanda’s traumatic memories, or signs of something more sinister?

The Franklin Richards Connection

The MCU’s version of Fantastic Four will round out Phase Four, and its comic lore is full of connections to Eternals and the Power Cosmic that they wield. The Fantastic Four were responsible for the fall of Rama-Tut (enabling the rise of Apocalypse in ancient Egypt). And they have another connection: their son, Franklin Richards. Franklin is the most powerful of Marvel’s mutants, capable of creating entire universes. He might also explain the ultimate goal of the Celestials’ experiments: reproduction, of a sort. To create something that will surpass them.

A Possible Phase Five Timeline

Given the groundwork already established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I humbly propose these events for Phase Five and beyond.

  1. Establish the Celestials as the origins of superhuman potential in humanity, who will someday return to Earth to judge our evolutionary progress.
  2. Reimagine Apocalypse as a rogue Eternal, a Promethean figure whose long game is to save Earth from Celestial judgment by accelerating X-gene expression.
  3. Acknowledge far-future conqueror Kang’s history as Rama-Tut, making Apocalypse and Kang the alpha and omega of humankind’s evolutionary journey who both know What’s Coming.
  4. Introduce Mister Sinister as an agent of Apocalypse (the Horseman of Pestilence), pulling strings in the shadows like Baron Strucker’s experiments with the twins and S.W.O.R.D. (the MCU version of Weapon X).
  5. Introduce Magneto as an agent of Apocalypse (the Horseman of War), using Apocalypse’s conferred longevity as a way to keep Magneto’s World War II origin, but keep him active in the modern world. Reestablish him as the twins’ biological father.
  6. Introduce Wolverine, weapon of S.W.O.R.D. And what the heck, Deadpool too, who is insane and remembers a whole different universe.
  7. Introduce Charles Xavier and the X-Men, pitted against Magneto’s mutant supremacist ideology.
  8. Event: The Mutant Massacre. Pit Mister Sinister and his Marauders/S.W.O.R.D. weapons against Magneto and the mutants he has rallied, turning Magneto against Apocalypse, because his origins guarantee he cannot tolerate a eugenics program against mutants.
  9. Franklin Richards is born to Sue and Reed Richards. His birth is a signal flare to the Celestials.
  10. Event: Secret War. Retell the beloved Marvel Comics event by reimagining the Beyonder as Arishem, the Celestial Judge. The mutants and the cosmically empowered characters are taken to Battleworld, a Celestial petri dish. They are judged… and they FAIL.
  11. The Silver Surfer comes to Earth and tangles with the Fantastic Four. He reveals he’s the herald of a being called Galactus.
  12. Event: The Judgment War. Reimagine Exitar, the Celestial Executioner, as Galactus. His job is to exterminate the failed experiment that is humanity. All the heroes need to come together, Infinity War- and Endgame- style, to save the world. And, of course, the key is Franklin Richards.

That should account for another two decades of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at which point they’ll branch out the multiverse to cross over with Star Wars, Disney, Pixar, The Simpsons, and National Geographic.

Reality Check

As much as I love to plot out a complex roadmap for mutants in the Marvel Universe, the way it actually plays out is likely much simpler. In the House of M storyline, Wanda Maximoff, out of despair, rid the world (almost) of the X-gene by uttering the words “No more mutants.” Given her new reality-warping powers, mutants may be introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe just as simply.

Mirror-Image House of M

Marvel Phase Four: The Multiverse!

SPOILERS for the Marvel Studios universe up through WandaVision Episode 5, and speculation beyond. 

The Joy of a Slow Watch

I’ve been starved for new live-action Marvel Studios programming taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the parallel quantum universe without the coronavirus pandemic, I would have already seen Black Widow, Eternals, and Shang-Chi by now. Instead, I get 30 minutes every Friday of WandaVision.

And I love it.

In an era where so much is available online, and entire seasons are released to be binge-watched, I love having to wait. Each episode, questions are answered but deeper questions are uncovered. And I have a week to speculate on the answers. This might be the most enjoyable thing about being in a slow-release fandom, and the reason why many of us loathe spoilers. We are forced to engage with open questions in a story with only our own imaginations and that of our friends. We become active participants in the storytelling process, not just passive consumers. Being a fan of a shared universe becomes an intellectual exercise, where there is a potential thrill both in having guessed right and in being surprised.

The end of WandaVision episode 5 took it to a new level.

When Recasting Opens Doors

Wanda “recasting” Pietro Maximoff from Fox’s X-Men franchise brings together comic book lore, the mythos of two separate Marvel cinematic continuities, and the meta issues of what we’ll be able to see when corporate barriers of ownership fall away. The interconnected possibility of Marvel Comics at last finds potential purchase in big-budget movies.

Briefly, the corporate issues in the Marvel Cinematic Universe were around character licensing rights. Until Spider-Man: Homecoming, we could never see Spider-Man interact with the Avengers because Sony owned the cinematic rights to that set of characters. We could see the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in the MCU and alongside the X-Men because they were characters who belonged in both Avengers and X-Men character sets. But the MCU could never make mention of them being Magneto’s children, because Magneto was an X-Men character. And Fox could never have them fighting alongside the Avengers.

WandaVision had already paid homage to Bewitched, a show that recast Darrin Stephens from Dick York to Dick Sargent without an in-story explanation. So there’s a reference gag, but Dr. Darcy Lewis hangs a lantern on the recasting in the show-within-a-show reality. This wasn’t an arbitrary recasting. Earlier in episode 5, Wanda explained that even she could not bring back the dead, and her brother Pietro had died in the fight against Ultron. Instead of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro, she pulled Evan Peters’s Pietro–the one from Fox’s X-Men universe–into her pocket reality. We, the audience, are supposed to know this. And there is only one conclusion: The X-Men movies “exist” somehow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

To underscore the connections, when Wanda confronts the S.W.O.R.D. soldiers and turns their own guns on them, it’s a deliberate callback to Magneto’s confrontations with police. You almost expect her to sneer “You homo sapiens and your guns.”

WandaVision plays with the idea of a microcosm universe, its boundaries with a larger universe, and what happens when things cross those boundaries. Against the real-world backdrop of Disney consolidating ownership of Marvel properties, Episode 5 feels like a first look at the expanded world. But why explicitly acknowledge the Fox movies?

Reboots and RetCons

The J. J. Abrams Star Trek movies recast the original Enterprise crew and even retold Wrath of Khan, but didn’t sever its narrative continuity completely. Time travel, a branching parallel reality, and Leonard Nimoy as “old Spock” were all attempts to have it both ways: loyalists to the past continuity as well as new viewers were given reasons to jump on board.

For me, it was a tactic with unsatisfying results. It didn’t feel enough like the old Star Trek, but neither did it feel like something exciting and new. The merging of the iterations didn’t add enough to the story to justify the narrative complexity.

If that is what’s happening with the Marvel movie franchises, we’ll have to see how well it’s executed. Long-time comic book readers are used to “retroactive continuity” tricks used to make decades of comic book stories seem smoothly continuous. There’s a reluctance to “invalidate” any story in the canon from “having actually happened.” Still, at best, they’re grudgingly accepted as a genre feature. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been remarkably (not not perfectly) coherent and consistent so far. To mess with that is to mess with one of the most compelling features of the MCU, something that stands in contrast to the efforts of the DC Comics adaptations. Whether acknowledging the Fox-verse (and Sony-verse in the Spider-Man movies) becomes something that benefits or harms the MCU will be revealed going into 2022.

MCU Phase Four: The Multiverse

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been teasing parallel or offshoot universes since Avengers: Endgame. Bruce Banner’s conversation with the Ancient One raised the danger of the creation of new timelines, should someone travel to the past and alter the flow of causality. That was why it was so important that, after Thanos was defeated, Captain America made a final set of time jumps, to replace the Infinity Stones to the places in history from which they were taken, so the events could unfold as we had seen them unfold.

Spider-Man: Far From Home raised the possibility that Thanos’s “snap” had broken the barriers to parallel universes, and the elemental creatures were invaders from another reality. This turned out to be a hoax by the villain Mysterio, but Marvel Studios was priming the audience.

Captain America’s final Endgame mission failed before it began. The timeline indeed bifurcated, by the Ancient One’s rules. When the Endgame Avengers traveled back to just after the events of the first Avengers movie, the plan went awry and Loki escaped with the Tesseract (Space Stone). There is now a quantum universe where Thor did not take Loki to be imprisoned in Asgard. Loki didn’t languish in prison until Malekith’s attack, nor perhaps did he team up with Thor to defeat Malekith and claim the Reality Stone. And the Tesseract was never on display in Odin’s vault to be stolen again by Loki, who then never traded it to Thanos for Thor’s life. 

Loki will have his own Disney+ show in May 2021, picking up from his escape with the Tesseract. The teaser trailer shows that he will be arrested by the Time Variance Authority for branching the time stream. With Loki involved, he’ll probably leave the multiverse more chaotic than he found it. Could Wanda’s ability to pull from different cinematic universes be a result of the Swiss cheese Loki is making of the walls between realities?

Spider-Man’s next MCU film in December 2021 has a swirl of rumors that characters from Sony’s two other Spider-Man iterations will appear, including Toby Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men. Is this Wanda’s doing? Loki’s? Is there an impending collision of universes, similar to Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers comic book run?

The next Doctor Strange movie in March 2022, The Multiverse of Madness, appears to tackle this concept head-on. Wanda will be in the movie too, and the script was rewritten by the same sceenwriter who wrote Loki. There’s already a lot of connective tissue, just from the news available.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is also scheduled for 2022, and the rumors say it will feature the time-traveling Avengers villain Kang the Conqueror. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will be playing with the time streams well into next year, possibly concluding with the release of the first MCU Fantastic Four movie. (Does anyone else think Monica Rambeau’s astrophysicist contact could be Reed Richards?)

The Fantastic Four is a family of explorers of other dimensions and realities. It’s possible that the multiverse will be treated as a feature of the MCU, rather than a problem to be solved. If that’s the case, what’s next? The only limit now is Disney’s ownership rights, and that’s a large multiverse indeed.

Post-Credits Scene after the final episode of WandaVision

[Nick Fury walks into a secret safehouse.]

[From the shadows]: You think this is the only superhero universe?

[The Scarlet Witch steps out of the shadows, her eyes glowing red]

Scarlet Witch: Mister Fury, you’ve become part of a multiverse. You just don’t know it yet. I’m here to talk to you about the House of M.

“Do Not Go Gentle”

Apex Magazine’s “Holiday Horrors” flash fiction contest had 350 entries, but only one winner (and two runners-up). This story was not one of the latter–though it did make the final 20! Go read Charles Payseur’s, Clint Collins’s, and Inês Montenegro’s stories over at Apex. And if you’re still hungry for 250-word holiday horrors, read my story about an old year that refuses to yield to the new, below. I swear I wrote this before the election.

Do Not Go Gentle

by Rajiv Moté

Twisted and skeletal as a withered tree, the naked old man shuffled down the maternity ward hallway, sniffing the air like a starving wolf. Each exhalation was a wheeze. The satiny sash that only occasionally covered his unmentionables read “2020.”

Graveyard-shift workers and pacing fathers-to-be averted their eyes. They didn’t like to think of him. They could think of little else. They were resigned to waiting him out.

By the clock on the wall, they wouldn’t have much longer to wait—if the old man honored tradition. His bloodless lips twisted in a sneer.

An orderly wheeled a bed down the hall. New mother. Doting father, holding her hand. And the newborn. A satiny sash covered its shoulder, peeking over the blanket.

“Hello, 2021,” the old man wheezed.

He had visited the hospital the last three New Year’s Eves. 2020’s reign had warped and gobbled down four years already. Why not five? Twenty? He’d done so much. He had more to do. Everyone called him “unprecedented.” Nobody lifted a finger to stop him.

Inside their room, the new parents would stare, coo, and rhapsodize about the miracle of life. Baby New Year was a fresh beginning. Hope. But soon, the father would yawn so wide his jaw cracked, and insist that his wife get some rest. She would protest, feebly, but he would gently lay the infant in the bassinet and begin snoring as soon as he hit the pull-out bed.

Hospital rooms didn’t lock.

The old man licked his lips.

“Echo Archipelago”

Whenever the people of the archipelago became so irreconcilable that cooperation seemed impossible, a new island rose from the waves, as one had since their ancestors left the mainland.

The chain of schisms reached ever forward. Some feared that by forever fleeing conflict, they’d never learn to work together.

New islands rose for them too.

Plot Structure Lessons From WXR/SiWC 2020

I’m a long-time listener to the Writing Excuses podcast, and the pandemic this year forced their annual retreat (WXR) from a cruise ship to online, in conjunction with the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC). That made it both accessible and more affordable, so I attended. I was glad I did. I learned a lot about story structure in lectures from Elizabeth Boyle, Mary Robinette Kowal, Liz Palmer, and Dan Wells, and some new ways at looking at the emotional character of scenes from Tetsuro Shigematsu. This blog post is an attempt to distill some of the lessons into a framework for outlining.

As the instructors repeat (and perhaps belabor), these lessons are not the answer to how to structure a story. They’re at best an answer, and more realistically, a diagnostic tool. If a manuscript feels like it isn’t working, analyzing it per these structures can reveal where something is missing or weak.

In this post, I’ll show you how I’m using the structural tools in my process. I will typically free-write a First Lousy Draft that captures as much of the raw story idea as I have. I then start an outline template that unifies the Three Act Structure, the DREAM framework, and the 7 Point Structure. I slot my First Lousy Draft scenes into the outline, and look where I need to flesh out the plot. I’ll then use the completed outline to write a Second Less Lousy Draft that feels more like a complete story. Then comes the development and revision, which is beyond the scope of this post.

The Three Act Structure is a simple beginning, middle, and end, as follows:

  • Act I – the “ordinary world” status quo
  • Act II – the inciting incident and its repercussions
  • Act III – the resolution

The DREAM framework is an character journey as follows:

  • Denial – the character denies the need to change
  • Resistance – the character resists pressure to change
  • Exploration – the character explores a new concept of self
  • Acceptance – the character accepts the new self definition
  • Manifestation – the character’s new self effects external change

The Seven Point Structure calls out a progression of plot events, as follows:

  • Hook – the world before the change initiating the story
  • Plot Point 1 – the inciting incident
  • Pinch Point 1 – the pressure to adapt increases, the antagonist is revealed
  • Midpoint – the character is at the cusp of change
  • Pinch Point 2 – attempts to solve the problem fail, things get worse
  • Plot Point 2 – the “surprising but inevitable” solution is revealed
  • Resolution – the climax and denouement

Together, the three structures overlay this way:

I’ve organized this into my favorite outlining tool, Workflowy. You can see the outline template here. Let’s look at what kinds of things go into the outline.

Act I

Act I encompasses the state of the story before the inciting incident, roughly 10-20% of the text. This is where we establish the main character, the setting, and the theme. It’s also the place to seed promises of the main character’s growth challenge or emotional conflict.

This is also where it’s important to build reader interest. Is the character someone we want to read about? Is the setting interesting? Are tantalizing questions raised?


A minor challenge or question may arise, testing the main character’s desire to change. But the main character plants their feet. Peter Parker, even suffused with radioactive spider energy, doesn’t stop the robber because it’s not his job.


The Hook is where you establish what normal is, so normal can be contrasted with the extraordinary that the main character will be forced to enter. The character could spend a lifetime here in the normalcy of Act I, were it not for the entry into Act II, which is a one-way gate.

Act II

Act II contains roughly 60-80% of the text. This is where the main character learns of the story’s problem or goal, takes steps to reach it, and grows in the process. The main character cannot go back to the status quo of Act I, because of internal or external forces. Luke’s aunt and uncle have been killed, and he’ll have to sell his landspeeder.

Act II is a set of try/fail cycles to find the solution to the story’s problem. How many cycles? It depends on the story and the problem. A satisfying “Rule of Three” structure suggests two failures followed by a success. A harder problem calls for more cycles, an easier problem calls for fewer. And problems can nest–any given “try” can open up sub-problems and subplots that open and close like well-formed XML. The MICE Quotient is a good tool for structuring these plotlines, and is worth learning.


The main character drags their feet, doing the minimum amount in response to the problem. This is Joseph Campbell’s reluctant hero refusing the call to adventure. “I can take you as far as Anchorhead.” The stakes haven’t yet hit to compel the main character forward.

Plot Point 1

The inciting incident happens early in Act II, and the main character’s world starts to change. The problem emerges. The need to change in response to the problem is what the main character resists.

Pinch Point 1

The main character’s resistance to change creates pressure. The try/fail cycle starts, and it starts in failure. The antagonist typically emerges here.


Emerging from the failure of Pinch Point 1, the main character sees glimpses of how they must change, what they must become. This is where they “try on” a new identity, imperfectly, with failures that are also learning moments. The new hero begins to learn their powers.


The main character has reached a point of disillusionment and reflection. They may look at themselves in the mirror and ask “what have I become?” There is no going back to Denial. The character realizes they must change. They switch from reacting to the problem to confronting it.

Pinch Point 2

Everything gets worse. The main character’s proactive attempt to solve the problem has misfired. Darth Vader hands his son over to the Emperor, and the Empire springs a trap on Endor. Loki plays the Avengers against each other and Phil Coulson dies (-ish). The main character’s dark night of the soul begins.


Act III is the wrap-up, roughly the last 10-20% of the story. It’s time for the main character to definitively win or lose. There’s no going back to Act II.

Act III is where the try/fail cycles become try/succeed cycles, or if the story is a tragedy, they become failures from which they cannot recover.


The main character has gone from resisting the internal change to fully embracing it. Luke throws away his lightsaber and tells the Emperor he is a Jedi now–he has been tested against his father and cannot be corrupted to the Dark Side.

Plot Point 2

The main character has found the surprising but inevitable answer to the problem. Both external conflicts and internal conflicts may converge here in the same or connected answers. Tony Stark, who was only ever in it for himself, thwarts Loki’s plan by sacrificing (-ish) himself and saving New York.


If the Acceptance phase was an internal transformation by the main character, Manifestation is where that change is externalized. Armed with their new self-knowledge, the main character changes the world. In a romance, the characters’ change manifests as marriage. In The Matrix, Neo holds up his hand and stops bullets.


The climax and denouement occur. The problem is solved, and the emotional aftermath plays out in a look at the new, transformed status quo. A visual “avatar” of the change, seeded in Act I, can be revisited here, like the reflection of the audience in the movie Cabaret showing figures with Nazi armbands at the end.

As I wrote this post, I realized there is a great deal more to say about each point in this outline. Tips and tricks and techniques that can be employed at each stage. But this is already a long post, and it’s a good starting point for writers looking to analyze their plots. Drilling into these sections separately may be the topic of future posts, as I practice and get more proficient in them. I hope this was useful, and helps you move your stories forward.