Script to Scene: ‘WandaVision’ Writer Breaks Down Emotional Moment When Wanda Faces Her Traumatic History

“We always knew we were going to have an episode dedicated to looking at Wanda’s past, basically because we needed to figure out how we got here,” says Laura Donney, who earned an Emmy nom for writing “Previously On.” Since WandaVision brings more weight to the character of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) than has been seen in the Marvel films, this allowed the show a chance to dig deeper into the trauma she experienced, which is the root of the TV sitcom-inspired alternate reality that has held captive the residents of Westview. “We wanted Wanda to have this sort of therapy episode where she has to look at all these moments in her life that she has not spent enough time processing — and in a lot of ways, that was also a tool for our audience.”

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney+

“It’s like Wanda’s giving a tour of a museum and Agatha is the loud, rude patron,” says Donney. In the previous episode, Kathryn Hahn’s nosy neighbor Agnes is revealed to be the witch Agatha Harkness, who has placed a hex on Wanda. “We wanted her there, first of all, for comic relief,” the writer explains. “What Wanda has to do is so heavy, and we wanted her to have a scene partner who can lift the moment as well. Agatha was always a foil to Wanda. In these moments, which are sad and hard, to be a foil means to be sassy and a little cheeky.” By being the antagonist to Wanda, Agatha also serves as a way into Wanda’s emotional breakthrough. “We needed Wanda to have someone pushing and challenging her.”

The goal for WandaVision was to bring more dimension to these supporting Marvel characters. “We know her parents died, we know her brother died. We know at some point she and Vision fell in love,” Donney says. “We got little peeks [at Wanda’s story], but we never really stayed in those moments very long.”

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney+

“Vision’s very nature is that he is not human,” explains Donney. Despite the connection he shares with Wanda, Vision is still missing elements of human expression — he (along with the audience) is learning to process Wanda’s grief at the same time she is. “She can’t talk in shorthand with him. She can’t say, ‘You know how it is when someone dies?’ “

“Vision likes clarity and is pretty direct, and in a lot of ways he always finds the poetic reality of a situation,” Donney says. “It pushes Wanda to say what she’s really feeling. She knows he’s not going to come at her with judgment — he’s never had this experience. It really opened the door for Wanda to be vulnerable with him.”

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney+

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney+

While the more comedic moments of WandaVision allowed its actors to play around with dialogue and timing, the heavier material in this scene also evolved once the actors were on set. “My original line didn’t have ‘grief’ in it,” Donney reveals of this moment, which became more specific — and thus, more honest and direct. “I think everyone felt like we had to name [the emotion], and then this beautiful line bloomed.” For Donney, this represents how the collaborative nature of the show results in the best possible work. “I think of it as the scene is written, and then the choreography of language can change,” she says. “That’s what can happen when you have amazing hearts and minds all working together.”

A big challenge for the entire series was keeping the emotional weight balanced with the “bells and whistles and fantasy” of the MCU. “You can’t ignore what is a true and honest emotional feeling, even when there’s a bunch of marvelous stuff happening around the character,” Donney says. But the supernatural elements provide more room for emotional honesty. “We had to figure out how to take advantage of Wanda’s world: How does the metaphor of the witch in the magic world serve that human expression?”

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney+

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney+

This story first appeared in a August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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