Warning: This article contains full spoilers for the first eight episodes of WandaVision!
Marvel fans have really taken to WandaVision, and it’s certainly not hard to understand why. The series breaks new ground for the MCU, pivoting away from traditional, big-screen superhero drama in favor of a smaller, weirder story about an android and a witch enjoying their quiet slice of suburbia. Even with the series nearly finished, we’re still only just beginning to understand the true nature of this sitcom-flavored Twilight Zone and Wanda’s role in creating it.
As fans continue to pick through each episode and make sense of the many clues and teases, one question is emerging above all else. Who’s the real villain here? Is Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness (a.k.a. “Agnes”) truly the malevolent string-puller she appears? Is there another, even more powerful baddie controlling Agatha, like Nightmare or Mephisto or Cthon? But maybe there’s a different question Marvel fans should be asking themselves: Does there actually need to be a villain in WandaVision at all?
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The MCU’s Supervillain Formula
As popular and acclaimed as the MCU has become over the past decade, it’s hardly been without its storytelling flaws and missteps. One particularly frustrating trope has nagged at these movies and TV shows from the very beginning. There seems an almost instinctual need for every MCU project to pit a hero against their polar opposite. Iron Man vs. Iron Monger. Ant-Man vs. Yellowjacket. Daredevil vs. Guy Wearing Daredevil’s Costume. In almost every case, none of these stories can wrap up without the hero confronting a villain who serves as a twisted reflection in both powers and motivations, culminating in a flashy, VFX-heavy final battle.
That’s not to say this formula doesn’t have its merits or that it hasn’t resulted in some great stories. Just look at Michael B. Jordan’s scene-stealing Erik Killmonger in 2018’s Black Panther. And in the rare cases where the MCU commits to developing a hero’s archrival over the course of several movies, a la Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the results are satisfying. But too often, the MCU suffers from an emphasis on one-and-done villains and ending every new movie in an epic battle between a hero and their twisted counterpart.
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Marvel Conflicts Without Villains
The issue here is that not every superhero story needs to revolve around powerful heroes fighting even more powerful villains. Not every conflict necessarily needs a “villain” to begin with. Often, the most compelling battles in the Marvel Universe are the ones heroes wage against themselves (e.g., Spider-Man’s perpetual struggle to balance the two sides of his life, Daredevil’s Catholic guilt) or against society as a whole (the X-Men fighting for tolerance). In these cases, the actual villains should be taking a backseat to the deeper conflicts at hand.
Of the many MCU movies to date, 2016’s Captain America: Civil War comes the closest to showing us an MCU movie without a traditional villain. In that film, the Avengers are at war with each other, divided firmly down the middle over the issue of superhuman registration. There’s no good or evil side in that conflict, because neither faction is wholly right or wrong. It’s a shame, then, that Civil War couldn’t fully commit to that idea. The movie still relies on Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo to act as a plot catalyst and the secret mastemind pulling the strings. That’s one area the Civil War comic got it right in 2006 – there doesn’t need to be a secret villain manipulating the Avengers into declaring war on one another. There only needs to be an instigating tragedy and two opposing figureheads unwilling to compromise on their ideals. The Civil War movie never actually needed Zemo at all.
2019’s Avengers: Endgame also gives us a taste of what an MCU movie with no real villain could look like. The first act of Endgame is all about the Avengers coming to terms with their collective failure. Even killing Thanos is an empty gesture in the wake of Earth’s population being cut in half. In many ways it’s a shame the MCU didn’t dwell a bit longer on this idea of failure or give us an entire movie set in those dark five years before the Blip is undone. Defeating all-powerful alien armies is one thing. Confronting the fact that you failed to stop trillions of lives from being wiped out is another struggle entirely.
Wanda Maximoff’s Grief
Even more than Civil War or Endgame, WandaVision has the opportunity to show MCU fans a story without a traditional villain. Wanda’s grief is the the real driving force of the series. She’s a woman who’s lost literally everyone she ever cared for – her parents, her brother, her Synthezoid lover. Even as most of the world’s population celebrate being reunited with their friends and family, Wanda is a woman with no family and no purpose. All she has is an immense power she barely understands, let alone knows how to control. That’s a true recipe for disaster.
Clearly, WandaVision doesn’t need a traditional villain, because Wanda is very much her own worst enemy at this dangerous stage in her life. There are few consistent rules to magic across the pop culture landscape, but one thing always remains true – it comes with a deep cost. Wanda can’t simply rewrite the reality of an entire suburban New Jersey town, recreate her dead roboyfriend and conjure two children out of thin air without serious consequences coming into play.
Given the MCU’s track record with these matters, there’s certainly reason to worry WandaVision will lose focus in its final episode and devolve into another splashy superhero throwdown. Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness is certainly heading in that familiar MCU villain direction, and we’re practically guaranteed a major battle between Vision and SWORD’s white copy of Vision in the finale. WandaVision’s entire selling point is that it’s so different from everything else in the MCU. Will that still be the case in the finale?
There is one encouraging sign to be found in Episode 8. As Agatha forces Wanda to relive the most painful and formative moments of her life, we see exactly how “The Hex” came to be. Critically, this episode seems to confirm it was Wanda alone who created this false reality. She hasn’t merely been brainwashed by Agatha this whole time. Whatever Agatha’s true goals, and whatever other supernatural villains she may have aligned with, Wanda is still the one to blame for what’s happened in Westview. Winning the day isn’t as simple as punching the villain into submission. It requires her to push past her grief and find something worth living for again. There’s no need for a true villain in this case, and we can only hope the series capitalizes on that fact in its final episode.
For more on WandaVision, find out how the series is expanding the scope of magic in the MCU, see every actor and character who’s appeared so far and learn how the series is setting up Captain Marvel 2.