Television

We Interrupt This Programming for a Tribute to WandaVision’s Kathryn Hahn

She reclines on the counter, her hair big, her leggings purple, a glass in her hand
We have not choice but to stahn. Marvel Studios

This article contains spoilers for WandaVision’s first seven episodes.

The seventh episode of WandaVision contains one of the series’ biggest twists: Agnes, Wanda’s nosy neighbor, reveals herself to be not only in on the show’s masquerade but majorly responsible for it. Up to this point, it’s seemed as though Wanda has been in control, creating a TV-land reality to live in as an alternative to facing the harsh truths of her real life. But as the seams have become increasingly impossible to ignore—this episode sees objects in Wanda’s home transforming into outdated versions of themselves on their own—it’s become clear that somebody else’s influence is at work. That this late-in-the-game twist (there are only two episodes left in the season) works as well as it does is due to the show’s ace in the hole, perennial scene-stealer Kathryn Hahn. Hahn is an actress who has never given a bad performance, even in bad movies, and as WandaVision shows its cards, it’s only become more clear that this is some of her best work yet.

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As Agnes, Hahn is not only playing two roles—“Agnes,” and the actual witch behind her, Agatha Harkness—but balancing two diametrically opposite character types. Agnes is the comic sidekick—she arrives to deliver a punchline or two, and to be the hammy foil to Wanda’s straight man—but Agatha appears to be the villain (or at least a villain), complete with a song in which she begins to reveal her evil plan. (Hahn herself sings the refrain, “It’s been Agatha all along.”) This is perfectly matched to Hahn’s sharp comic energy, which, while always fun, is also all the more captivating for always feeling a little dangerous. For most of the show, that edge manifests in the hints here and there that life in Westview is not all that it seems, such as Agnes’ break in behavior in the fifth episode when she asks Wanda if she should try acting out a scene again or when, in the third episode, she and another neighbor, Herb, seem to be hiding broader knowledge of what’s going on and, more to point, afraid of the consequences of breaking the illusion.

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WandaVision’s overall unsettling tone has everything to do with these scenes, as the realization that Wanda’s grief is causing such ripples goes hand-in-hand with realizing that all of Westview’s residents are all being mind-controlled to maintain this small-screen façade. From the few breaks that Vision encounters, it seems to be a genuinely terrifying, painful experience, and one that these normal people are incapable of escaping for themselves. Hahn’s performance is perfectly keyed into this. Watching Agnes’ mask come on and slip off depending on the scene, and the eerily resigned and dutiful attitude that suddenly replaces her initial bubbliness, is a show highlight, as Agnes’ proximity to the spotlight as Wanda’s kooky friend makes her a bright, flashing sign that something is seriously wrong.

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But that shift is also, on its own, a thrilling spectacle to watch, especially as the more sitcom-y scenes she’s given allow her to flex her comedic muscles. Her physicality as Agnes is incredibly bold, not only in terms of the way her whole body seems to swing as she walks—just watch the scene in the first episode when she interrupts a dinner party and Wanda struggles to get her out of the house—but in her exaggerated facial expressions. It’s an over-the-top-ness that feels entirely convincing in its context—who else could make the line, “Actually, I did bite a kid once,” sing with such seeming effortlessness? And it’s her commitment to this everything-in-quotation-marks performance that makes it all the more disquieting when the cracks start to show. (Elizabeth Olsen, as Wanda, is tasked with the same kind of playacting through most of the episodes, and though she does an admirable job, can’t always muster quite the same level of vim.)

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And then even when Agatha is revealed, a slice of this hamminess remains. The true Agatha exists halfway between the Truman Show-style charade she carries on and the more disquieting reality it’s concealing. Her energy during her song is more roguish than the former, but more playful than the latter, making Agatha a compelling “new” character already despite the fact that she’s only really been herself for a minute or two. When she sneers at the camera and crows about how no one’s noticed her pulling the strings, the negging almost works, because her pleasure is infectious: The new cool girl is in town, and it’s impossible not to want to be friends with her.

As Slate has noted as far back as 2012, Hahn is a fearless improviser with seemingly bottomless charisma, not to mention her status as “the patron saint of sexed-up middle-aged women,” all of which makes her perfectly cast as Agnes. If WandaVision has excelled largely because of the way it’s shaken up the Marvel formula, Episode 7 might force us to wonder how much of that has been Kathryn Hahn all along.

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