Television

The Casual Marvel Fan’s Guide to WandaVision Episode 4

What is S.W.O.R.D.? Who is Monica Rambeau? And why is Kat Dennings back from the boring Thors?

Monica Rambeau stares at the sky, and a bunch of question marks appear.
Disney+

This article contains spoilers for the first four episodes of WandaVision.

What’s going on in the first scene? And where is Geraldine/Monica coming (back) from?

The first scene sure is a chaotic one! Basically, we’re seeing the un-blip. All of the people who were snapped out of existence in Avengers: Infinity War are now reappearing after the Avengers successfully undid Thanos’ world-halving shenanigans. As per Monica’s conversation with the doctor, she was one of the people who was blipped, and must now reintegrate into a society that’s moved on without her.

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Have we seen the immediate aftermath of “the blip” before? Seems scary!

Spider-Man: Far From Home memorably discussed what it was like for those whose friends and family disappeared. Basically … people were gone for a long time, and it was harrowing and traumatizing, and yet: Life moved on, somehow. We saw a lot of very heartfelt reunions between those who stayed and those who were snapped away, as Far From Home takes place after Endgame and therefore post-post-blip. But even Endgame gave us a slight taste of what it was like when all those people suddenly disappeared: People were suddenly ponying up big time for therapy.

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OK! S.W.O.R.D. is … what again?

S.W.O.R.D. is a S.H.I.E.L.D. counterpart that focuses on extraterrestrial worlds—and threats. It has never appeared in a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie or show before. S.W.O.R.D. originally stood for Sentient World Observation and Response Department, according to the Marvel comics. It now apparently stands for Sentient Weapons Observation and Response Division, a crucial difference that seems not to sit well with agent Monica Rambeau.

What’s a “sentient weapon”?

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There’s no hard-and-fast definition as of yet, but a “sentient weapon” sure does sound like … a superhero. That is to say, a powerful being with skills akin to weapons, like Wanda Maximoff.

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Seems like S.W.O.R.D. is experiencing some mission creep. What do we know about that?

Monica notes that during her five blipped years SWORD has moved beyond “observe and report” to a more proactive role, because space, as her boss observes, “is now full of unexpected threats.” But Monica, who was an astronaut, is grounded while she gets back on her recently rematerialized feet, which is why she is dispatched to investigate a missing-persons case.

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Who was Monica Rambeau’s mom, Maria, and why was she called “Photon”?

If you saw Captain Marvel—released what feels like a million years ago, in March 2019—you’ll remember Maria Rambeau, played by Lashana Lynch. She was the mother of Monica and best friend of Captain Marvel herself, Carol Danvers, from their days in the Air Force. By the end of the movie, Maria has been to space with Carol to help fight off the Kree, so she’s gotten her own taste of the superhero life.

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Captain Marvel 2 has been in the works for, well, also a million years, so we’re not sure what’s immediately next for Maria in the contemporary Marvel Cinematic Universe storyline quite yet. But Wandavision has given us some deets on Maria’s future—far, far future, at least. She ends up co-founding S.W.O.R.D. Sounds like her trip to space truly radicalized her. At this point in WandaVision’s timeline, Maria has passed away, but Monica has clearly taken up her mother’s mantle.

As for “Photon,” that was Maria’s callsign in the Air Force. In the comics, Monica actually adopts that name for herself, but that might be us getting ahead of ourselves.

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Who’s this Tyler Hayward guy? Was he not supposed to become the director of S.W.O.R.D.?

So, yes, Tyler Hayward is the director of S.W.O.R.D. He and Monica clearly have a contentious relationship, with Monica not quite trusting him. Tyler is less interested, it seems, in making connections with what’s out there in the broader galaxy, and more in keeping the extraterrestrials at bay. (“Sentient weapons” are what S.W.O.R.D. is concerned with, he says. Just like a supervillain would say, natch.)

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Classic comic book storytelling would suggest that Tyler Hayward is a bad guy and will mess some stuff up for our good guys. But we truly know next to nothing yet, so keep an eye out for how and when Hayward shows his hand in the coming episodes.

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Randall Park is in this one! I didn’t know he’s a Marvel guy.

Yes! Jimmy Woo was the FBI agent ordered to check on Ant-Man in Ant-Man and the Wasp. (Ant-Man fans will notice that he’s finally mastered the card trick he was obsessed with.) Before his time in the FBI, he was an agent with S.H.I.E.L.D.

Was his character always, like, an Amelia Bedelia-level misunderstander of things people say? Or is that a new TV quirk?

He did seem to reveal a real lack of facility with metaphor in Ant-Man and the Wasp, as when he explained to Paul Rudd’s daughter, “Your school has rules, right? Like, you can’t draw on the walls. Well, your daddy went to Germany and drew on the walls with Captain America. And that was a violation of Article 16, Paragraph Three of the Sokovia Accords.”

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Kat Dennings is in this one! I didn’t know she’s a Marvel gal.

Yes! Darcy Lewis previously appeared in Thor and Thor: The Dark World, which is to say, the bad Thors. But despite those movies’ mopiness, her character—then a brainy assistant type, not yet a Ph.D.—was fun! Honestly, her quirkiness works a lot better on this lightish TV show than it did in those movies.

It’s nice that this episode has the FBI, S.W.O.R.D., the Air Force, and the Army all basically doing the exact same thing we’re doing: eating junk food, watching WandaVision, and trying to figure out what the hell’s going on.

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It’s good to know that we’re not the only ones who are confused. That whiteboard Jimmy Woo is writing on looks a lot like the inside of our brains right now. (“Why hexagonal shape?” “Why sitcoms?” “Skrulls?”)

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Agent Woo and his whiteboard.
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Oh yeah, what are Skrulls? I assume they wouldn’t put it on the whiteboard if it didn’t mean something.

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The shape-shifting Skrulls were seemingly the bad guys in Captain Marvel, until Carol and co. discovered that the Skrulls “terrorizing” Earth are actually refugees looking for a new home. The Skrulls were at war with the Kree, the actual bad dudes, whom Carol took down.

Anyway, the Skrulls’ inclusion here might be a bit of misdirection—but it’s as likely that it’s teeing up the MCU Secret Invasion TV show, starring Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and Ben Mendelsohn (the Skrull leader Talos), that Disney+ recently announced. That one is inspired by the late-2000s comic-book crossover of the same name, in which Skrulls invaded Earth by replacing several well-known superheroes. (As far as overstuffed line-wide Marvel events series go, that one was actually pretty good.) When in doubt, assume it’s cross-branding!

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Speaking of “what the hell’s going on,” … what the hell’s going on?

There are still five episodes and a lot of questions to go, but this one fills in some of the broad strokes. We know when and where this is taking place: in 2024, after the snap—i.e. in the same timeframe as Spider-Man: Far From Home and the MCU’s Phase IV—and in the real-life town of Westview, New Jersey, whose recent outbreak of missing-persons cases are exacerbated by local law enforcement asserting that the town, which they’re standing right outside, doesn’t actually exist.

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So … New Jersey. And not outer space.

Like we said, S.W.O.R.D.’s mission has changed some.

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Seems like it’s Wanda doing all this, huh?

It sure does! Monica tells Vision she’s got “everything under control,” and Monica underlines the point in the episode’s last lines: “It’s Wanda. It’s all Wanda.”

How does this connect with the past episodes, and does anything look different this time?

There’s no new sitcom style this week since we’re looking at things for the first time from a perspective other than Wanda’s. But the series does replay scenes from the first three episodes, including some moments we didn’t see the first time around. For one thing, we know that the characters in Wanda’s shows are “played”—presumably not by choice—by Westview’s missing residents, which explains why Wanda’s version of a 1950s sitcom is a lot more diverse than the real thing.

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It also seems clear that she’s responsible for (at least most of) the jump cuts and rewinds when the fabric of her made-up reality is threatened. In Episode 2, when we see Wanda’s conversation with Dottie interrupted by what we now know is Jimmy Woo’s radio broadcast, the show focuses on Dottie’s shocked reaction. But this time we see Wanda forming her hands into strange but familiar shapes right before things snap back to “normal.” More importantly, we get a much-extended version of the end of Episode 3, when Wanda confronts Monica about how she doesn’t belong here. After the telltale reference to Ultron tips Monica’s hand, Wanda goes full Scarlet Witch on her, blowing her through three sets of sitcom-set-thin walls on her way to being ejected back into the real world. (This sequence happens in widescreen, too—aspect ratios seem to correspond to which version of reality we happen to be seeing.) But right after she does that, Wanda looks at her own hands with confusion. She might have turned her memory-wiping powers on herself as well.

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So the beekeeper guy is, indeed, an agent sent in through the sewers to try to investigate. Why did his costume change? Why did the cable attached to him turn into a plastic jump rope? What happened to the drone?

Whatever enters Wanda’s sphere of influence gets translated into period TV terms—SWORD’s high-tech drones become inoperable toy helicopters, a hazmat suit gets turned into a beekeeper’s outfit; and a high-level government agent becomes a nosy neighbor. (As Jimmy Woo says, it’s just “production design.”) That dovetails with the show’s running commentary on how TV reflects real life. When Genevieve/Monica gets her first lines in Episode 2, Darcy comments that she’s finally gotten a speaking part. (It’s not a coincidence that the scene is set at a swimming club, right around the time when the first ones in the U.S. began to desegregate.) As for why Wanda’s world keeps updating, Darcy and co. are still in the dark, but it feels significant that the sitcom styles keep getting closer to the present—and closer to Vision’s death.

And Vision is really, most sincerely dead?

He sure seems to be! Jimmy specifically mentions that Vision is dead, and not just blipped. Even Wanda knows it on some level, which is why Vision briefly appears to her as a talking corpse with a hole in his head where the Mind Stone used to be. Of course, she “fixes” that almost immediately, after reassuring Vision that “Our home is here.” Whoever or whatever Wanda is sharing a split-level home with, it’s not the real live Vision.

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