WandaVision, the first Marvel project to hit our screens in a year and half, stands out from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On its face, the show, which debuts on Disney+ on Jan. 15, is a send-up of family sitcoms throughout the years. The main character, Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, has mind-control superpowers. After suffering great trauma in the MCU films, she seems to have retreated into a fantasy of her own creation, specifically living with her paramour, an android named Vision (Paul Bettany), in a suburban home with a white picket fence.
In each episode, the two characters play a married couple in a different decade of television: in the first, Wanda and Vision play a married ’50s couple a la I Love Lucy; the second pays homage to the 1960s’ I Dream of Jeanie; the third references the mostly ’70s-set The Brady Bunch, and so on.
The series appears tailor-made for TV buffs. But beware: the MCU-averse should not enter WandaVision cold. At its heart, WandaVision is actually a mystery. The first episodes beg many questions: How did Wanda create this world? Is someone forcing her to do it? What are the real-world ramifications of Wanda escaping into a dreamland, and possibly taking real-world characters with her? As Wanda’s delusion begins to crack, hints of the outside world begin to sneak in, a la The Truman Show.
Sharp-eyed Marvel fans will recognize characters, references and easter eggs from the Marvel movies popping up in Wanda’s fantasy world, like a bright red helicopter that flies into her black-and-white universe. Understanding Wanda and Vision’s story in the MCU is not only essential to comprehending what, exactly, is happening in the show, but it’s essential to following the future of the Marvel story on film. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has said that WandaVision will set up the events of movies to come, particularly Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man Homecoming 3.
So for those who have not obsessively followed the travails of Wanda and Vision—or simply need a refresher—here’s everything you need to know before diving into the new series.
Wanda and Vision are two key superheroes on the Avengers team. They fight evil and protect innocent lives, as superheroes do.
They both have weirdly ill-defined powers in the movies. Wanda can control things with her mind—via telekenesis, telepathy, mind control. She can shoot energy balls out of her hands and create protective barriers around herself and others and hover in the air. But there’s also a scene in which she seems to use her mind to torture a bad guy.
Vision is an android created by Tony Stark (Iron Man). He can pass through walls, which is more unsettling than useful. He can fly. He can shoot energy from a gem in his head (more on that gem later). He kind of has precognition: he uses super-logic to determine what will happen in the future.
They both have superhuman stamina, speed, strength, etc. You know, run-of-the-mill superhero stuff. Or, in Wanda’s case, mutant stuff.
Technically, yes, in the comics Wanda is a mutant, which is defined as a human born with a specific gene that gives them powers. Most of the Avengers are humans who gained their powers later in life, like Captain America did when the military injected him with super-soldier serum or Spider-Man did when that pesky Spider took a bite out of him.
That difference is significant in comics because mutants tend to be treated worse than other humans: they’re feared and discriminated against and hunted down. It’s unclear whether the movie version of Wanda is a mutant. She was experimented upon, but it’s ambiguous whether those experiments gave her her powers or just awoke powers that already existed. it’s a truly nerdy debate.
Why does the distinction matter in the context of WandaVision? Well, Disney didn’t own the rights to the X-Men until they acquired Fox in 2019. Wanda (Scarlet Witch) and her brother Pietro (Quicksilver) were border cases, so both Fox and Disney were allowed to use the characters. Now that Disney owns both the Avengers and X-Men properties, some fans have speculated that Disney will use WandaVision and some crazy parallel universe logic to usher the X-Men into the MCU.
The show seems to be very loosely based on several comic book stories in which either Wanda or Vision tries to “fit in” to life in suburbia with disastrous results. In the comics, Vision and Wanda married in 1975’s Avengers #4 and even got their own spinoff comic, Vision and the Scarlet Witch, in 1982. They fought alongside the Avengers and had twin boys named William and Thomas.
In the 1989 comic storyline “Vision Quest,” Vision is destroyed by an international network of spies who decide he’s a threat to the world. Though Hank Pym reassembles him, the Vision that emerges has no emotional connection to his wife or children. Wanda’s world begins to fall apart. She is even told by her neighbor and mentor, a witch named Agatha Harkness, that her children aren’t real but rather an illusion conjured by a combination of her own powers and those of Maphisto, the devil of the Marvel Universe.
The influential 2008 comic event series House of M revisits a similar plot. This time, Wanda accidentally kills several Avengers. In her grief, she toys with the fabric of reality to bring back her husband Vision and create non-existent children for them. The effects of Wanda’s delusions reverberate into the real world. Wanda’s powers are so strong that when, at the end of the series, she wishes there were no more mutants, tens of thousands of mutants, including some X-Men, lose their powers.
Another comic series, 2016’s The Vision, riff on the theme of superheroes trying to blend in. In that comic, Vision creates an android wife and two kids for himself and moves them all to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Their white picket fence lifestyle ends in tragedy when a Vision’s android wife kills a human viciously trying to attack the couple’s android daughter.
So, yeah, all of this points to the likelihood that WandaVision won’t end with a pretty little bow on it.
Wanda and Vision both enter the MCU in the second Avengers film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. A Nazi splinter group called HYDRA gets its hands on an Infinity Stone called the Mind Stone. If you have no idea what the Infinity Stones are, stick with me! Just know that they’re powerful gems that, if collected together, can be used to destroy the universe. No biggie. The mind stone, in particular, can be used to control people’s minds.
HYDRA uses the mind stone to experiment on a bunch of people and try to build a super army. The only ones who survive are Wanda and her twin brother Pietro. Wanda gains telephathy, telekenesis and a mishmash of other abilities. Pietro gets super speed, which is cool, but not nearly as cool as Wanda’s powers. Such is life. At some point they name themselves Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.
Eventually the Avengers acquire the Mind Stone from Hydra, and Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, uses it to create a defense program called Ultron because Tony is an egomaniac who can’t see how that plan might go horribly wrong. Predictably, Ultron goes berserk and tries to kill the Avengers. Ultron recruits Wanda and Pietro to his cause.
Tony then uses the Mind Stone to create an android who can fight Ultron. Shockingly, that plan actually turns out fine, and Vision is born. The Mind Stone is embedded in Vision’s head and is powered by it. Meanwhile, Wanda and Pietro figure out that Ultron actually wants to destroy all of humanity and decide that maybe they shouldn’t be fighting alongside this genocidal AI program after all. They team up with the Avengers, but Pietro dies in battle.
In a future movie, Captain America: Civil War, Wanda accidentally kills a bunch of innocent citizens while saving Captain America’s life. She’s put under house arrest, and she and Vision begin a flirtation while she’s stuck in the Avengers’ compound, and he’s sent there to guard her. (It sounds like a Stockholm Syndrome situation, but somehow it doesn’t play out that way.)
There’s an implication that the two are bound in some way by their relationship to the Mind Stone: Both of their sets of powers are derived from its essence. By Avengers: Infinity War, the two run off to Europe to get away from their superhero duties and explore their romantic potential.
In Avengers: Infinity War, this big purple evil alien named Thanos wants to destroy half of the universe’s population for somewhat admirable environmental reasons. Still, murdering half the planet is bad, so the Avengers fight him.
Bad news for the robot-witch couple: Thanos needs all the Infinity Stones to accomplish his goal, and Vision’s got one in his head. Wanda and the other Avengers spend most of the movie fending off Thanos, but at the end, Thanos manages to kill Vision, rip the stone from his head and snap his fingers. Poof—half of humanity disappears, including Wanda! (That, in case you missed it, is what most of the moviegoing world was freaking out about in the summer of 2018.)
Five years go by before, in Avengers: Endgame, the Avengers dream up some time-hopping shenanigans to undo The Snap (TM). The disappeared people return—though there’s now an awkward five-year age gap between those who did fade away and those who didn’t. Sadly because Vision was killed, not Snapped, the Avengers can’t bring him back. (Spoilers: Iron Man and Black Widow die too.)
Wanda mourns Vision’s death. At this point she’s had a rough go of things. She’s lost her brother and her boyfriend. She’s lost two mentors. She has no family. It’s unclear what she will do. Who can blame her if she decides to go create an alternate, happier universe for herself?
A number of supporting characters from various MCU films are set to appear in WandaVision. Here are their backstories:
In the 1990s-set Captain Marvel, we meet Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), a fighter pilot and Captain Marvel’s best friend. Maria has a daughter named Monica, who appears as a little girl in that film. In the present day, when WandaVision is set, Monica is a full-grown adult played by Dear White People and Mad Men‘s Teyonah Parris. Presumably, she has followed in the footsteps of her godmother, Captain Marvel, and become some sort of do-gooder.
Randall Park plays Jimmy Woo, an FBI agent attempting to apprehend Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang in Ant-Man and the Wasp. He eventually learns that Scott Lang, despite technically being a criminal, is actually a pretty great guy. Woo appears to still be with the FBI or some other law enforcement agency in the trailers for this show.
Kat Dennings appeared in the first two Thor movies as Darcy, an intern to scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård). Jane and Erik are the ones who discover Thor when he first comes to earth, and Darcy is the one who nicknames Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, “meow meow,” which is honestly the best part of either of those so-so movies. It’s unclear what Darcy has been doing since the second Thor film, but likely continuing her study of weird inter-planetary and superheroic phenomena.
HYDRA plays a big part in Wanda’s past. The Nazi splinter group is behind many of the terrible things that have happened in the MCU. They kidnapped Captain America’s best friend and brainwashed him. They infiltrated the American government. Their leader during World War II, who called himself Red Skull, tried to use an Infinity Stone to rule the world.
One of HYRDRA’s leaders, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, was the one who experimented on Wanda and her twin brother. (Ultron eventually murdered Strucker.) There are hints in the trailers that either Wanda’s memories of HYDRA are seeping into her created reality or that HYDRA is, in fact, manipulating Wanda in some way.
SHIELD was a government counterterrorism organization run by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. Fury brought together the Avengers and gave the Avengers their orders, for the most part. But in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America discovers that SHIELD has been infiltrated by HYDRA, and SHIELD is disbanded.
Since that movie, however, Fury has popped up in various Marvel properties talking about starting a new government organization, one that is designed to fight threats from space. (Probably a good call considering half a dozen aliens have tried to build armies to destroy earth in these movies.) In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Fury is hanging out on a space ship overseeing the creation of some new defense system. Fans have speculated that this is SWORD, SHIELD’s space-based counterpart in the comic books.
It’s worth noting that in the trailers for WandaVision, Wanda sees something truly bizarre: a menacing beekeeper emerging from a manhole. Assuming that Wanda isn’t literally attacked by bees, we can assume that this person is a figment or her imagination or a real person trying to break into her fantasy. On the back of his suit is a symbol that looks like a sword.
It certainly seems that way. It’s unclear why Wanda has not been a bigger part of the Avengers’ story up until this point. When she fought Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, he asked her, “Who are you again?” which is just rude considering she and Thor are the only ones who came remotely close to actually defeating him in Infinity War.
Sure, Hulk is strong, Thor can control thunder and Captain Marvel can fly and shoot energy beams. But Wanda can control people’s minds, control objects with her mind and, apparently, build entire universes with her mind. On top of that she can fight physically by throwing energy balls and levitating, which is basically flying.
Feige recently weighed in on this very debate. During a talk at the New York Film Academy, he was asked who he thought the strongest superhero in the MCU was: “I think it’s interesting, if you look at Endgame, Wanda Maximoff was going to kill Thanos. That’s as scared as I’ve ever seen Thanos, and if he hadn’t said decimate my entire team to get her off of me, I think she would have done it.”
Whether she becomes a hero or a villain in the future of the MCU, she’s sure to play a big role.
Everything You Need to Know Before Watching WandaVision The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ TIME.