The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Disney+ series, WandaVision, became instant fodder for weekly theories and Twitter discussions. The show about Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) examined her long-simmering grief through the lens of various sitcom tropes. In doing so, WandaVision garnered 23 Emmy nominations, including one for Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series, as well as acting nominations for Olsen, Paul Bettany as Vision, and Kathryn Hahn as the villainous Agatha Harkness. The show also scored three of the six spots in the Outstanding Writing in a Limited or Anthology Series or TV Movie category, including a nomination for the moving episode, “Previously On.”
Laura Donney bagged her first Emmy nomination for writing “Previously On,” which travels through pivotal moments in Wanda’s life that shaped her. Donney tells The A.V. Club that it’s special to get validation, not only because of the hard work that went into it, but because of what the episode signifies in a larger sense: “There’s a certain risk in dedicating an entire episode to the emotional life of an MCU character. To spend time just talking and feeling, while dealing with the mythology and action of it all, it was exciting for me but it was a bold move.” She quickly learned everything there was to know about Wanda from the comics and the movies, but Donney says she thought of Marvel in one way until that point. “But here I am, part of this totally bonkers project that doesn’t align with my notion of the MCU. There’s a freedom in bringing this story to both old and new fans.”
While the audience and Agatha get to pore over Wanda’s transformative experiences through flashbacks in “Previously On,” the episode became the talk of the internet for a different reason all together. In a memory post-Age Of Ultron, Wanda has recently arrived at the Avengers compound, still reeling from the death of her twin brother Pietro. Vision tries to befriend her, hoping to alleviate her sorrow and calmly asks her, “What is grief, if not love persevering?” This singular moment kicked off a rabid discourse after screenwriter Madison Hatfield’s tweet about it went viral.
“When that blew up, it was astounding,” Donney shares. In talking about how the dialogue came to exist in the first place, she reveals that the line was written slightly different in the script. “I do remember what it is but I don’t think I’m allowed to share it,” she adds. As she recalls, her goal with this particular flashback scene with Vision was to expand on what Pietro’s death means for Wanda, because it went unexplored in the movies. “We wanted to pay attention to the loss of her sibling, but also show that this is a beginning of a love story. There’s sorrow and joy, that’s the reality of life,” Donney says.
According to Donney, the line changed while Olsen and Bettany were filming the scene:
“The way Jac Schaeffer tells it, they were all inspired to distill it down to the truth of what was being felt in the moment. So, it became a combination of the line on the page and what they magically cobbled together on set. To get all that attention alone, as an anxious person, it was overwhelming. It was also because I was getting all the credit when I felt it should be shared. At one point, I was like ‘Doesn’t everyone understand how writers rooms work?’. But what matters is the sentiment, and clearly that line struck a chord.”
The WandaVision writers still have an active group chat, and they celebrate the episode’s victory by sending memes about the dialogue. “There’s a lot of great ones out there, ‘what is blank if not blank persevering,’ which we share with each other,” Donney notes.
The room worked together for the first few weeks to form the nine-episode trajectory. Donney adds that head writer Schaeffer—who was “great at delegating according to our strengths”—then gave writers their individual episodes. Donney was assigned to the crucial eighth one, which provides answers and takes viewers through Wanda’s life before her arrival in the MCU. They narrowed down the key moments to add color to the story, starting with the death of her parents when she was a child in Sokovia. “For me, I called that flashback her ‘source trauma.’ It’s the beginning of how she is going to view her experiences with everything in life. I wanted it to be her origin story,” Donney says. “But the asterisks to show her moments of loss was those aren’t always about death. At Hydra, she loses who she is, but gains who she is meant to be.”
“Previously On” does reveal who Wanda Maximoff is meant to be from this point onwards in the movies. Donney previously said that Agatha’s line at the end, “This is chaos magic, Wanda, and that makes you The Scarlet Witch,” was one of her favorites to write. But the response to Vision’s line has definitely got her thinking: “For it to land as well as it did, I hope it’s good messaging for the industry at large that you don’t need to shy away from the heart and soul of a superhero like Wanda. People want to see that because that’s how they can see themselves in these characters.”