Now that the WandaVision credits have officially come to a close, head writer Jac Schaeffer remains confident that she stayed true to the crux of the series: grief. As the fan theories piled up week after week, Schaeffer admittedly got a little apprehensive about the expectations being created, but in the end, she knows she can only concern herself with the promises that her show actually made. Schaeffer, who also contributed to the writing of Black Widow and Captain Marvel, understands why some fans wanted a famous big bad, but such a move would’ve felt unnatural for a show about Wanda Maximoff’s extreme manner of grieving.
“I didn’t toss and turn, but [the number of fan theories] did affect me, I have to admit. I’m a people pleaser; I want people to be happy,” Schaeffer tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But as far as the sum total of the series, I didn’t want to break any promises, and I don’t feel that we ever promised some big male bad. It’s baked in that the ultimate antagonist of the show is grief, and that Agatha is the external antagonist. So as far as those theories, I got a little nervous, but even at this point, I don’t want Mephisto or Magneto. As a viewer, that’s not what I would want out of this series.”
Schaeffer is also opening up about the original plan regarding the introduction of Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau. Since Parris was only known as a sitcom character named Geraldine in episodes two and three, the Rambeau reveal was actually meant for episode four, which explores Monica’s backstory since Thanos’ snap.
“Yeah, Teyonah [as Monica Rambeau] was announced at Comic-Con 2019, I think, and I’m pretty sure we were breaking the outlines and writing as though it would be a surprise,” Schaeffer explains. “So when that dropped, the jig was up. In the linear watch of the show, when she first appears, she’s referred to as Geraldine. So it ended up being the opposite of what we intended, and people were like, ‘Geraldine? But she’s Monica Rambeau!’ So that ended up being a fun reversal.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Schaeffer also addresses Wanda’s abuse of the Westview townspeople, the intention behind casting Evan Peters and the evolution of Wanda and Vision’s goodbye scene.
Breaking this story according to the five stages of grief was pretty ingenious. Do you remember the circumstances surrounding that flux capacitor moment where the light bulb went off?
I don’t actually remember the moment. I reviewed the materials that Marvel had sent and started ruminating on it. In my pitch, it was my plan to put a lot of art up on the walls. In the conference rooms at Marvel, there are these panels, so I was going to assign a different panel to the episodes I broke for the pitch. I gave them episode titles and posters of the sitcoms that would inform the episode. I don’t remember if I put the stage of grief on each episode in my pitch; it might have been in my materials. But once we were in the writers’ room, we did that as well. And after a while, that became kind of reductive and a little limiting. So it became more fluid than that, but the stages of grief were a very helpful way to keep the entirety of the arc in our minds.
As the theories accumulated every week, did you toss and turn at night, or did you remain level-headed throughout the season?
I didn’t toss and turn, but it did affect me, I have to admit. I’m a people pleaser; I want people to be happy. I mostly just want to honor the commitment that I make with an audience. I do believe that you enter into a contract with the audience, and we violated that contract with intention in the sitcom space. We broke with convention over and over again, but it was with discipline and intention. And I think it was part of the thing that the audience relfished and enjoyed. But as far as the sum total of the series, I didn’t want to break any promises, and I don’t feel that we ever promised some big male bad. It’s baked in that the ultimate antagonist of the show is grief, and that Agatha is the external antagonist. So as far as those theories, I got a little nervous, but even at this point, I don’t want Mephisto or Magneto. As a viewer, that’s not what I would want out of this series. But, yeah, with some of the smaller stuff, I was like, “Oh, be patient and watch the whole thing.” (Laughs.)
The Internet had me convinced that Al Pacino was going to show up as Mephisto, and while I love The Devil’s Advocate, I’m glad that you remained faithful to grief being the ultimate villain.
(Laughs.) I also love The Devil’s Advocate. So when that started happening, I was like, “Well, can we just make that story in a different capacity?” I would certainly pay to see Pacino reprise that role.
It’s so hard to write a mystery show in this day and age because thousands of people on the Internet either crowdsolve or create expectations through theorizing. I can’t even imagine what the Lost experience would be like today.
Right!? Oh my gosh.
After experiencing all this, are you still eager to take on another mystery someday?
Oh my gosh, more than ever. Yeah. This was my first mystery and I love it so much. What I loved the most was breaking it in the room — the actual puzzle of it and working with my extraordinary team of writers. The science of it was so satisfying as a writer and craftsperson. It was so much fun. And the experience of watching an audience theorize and communicate with each other was also so much fun. Everyone was just having a good time, and everybody was engaged. The thing that you want more than anything, as a creator of content, is for people to be engaged, and a mystery is certainly the way to do it.
Wanda’s ending is quite gray. She puts the genie back in the bottle as best she can, but her walk of shame and response to Monica imply that she clearly understands the severity of what she’s done. For those who are still grappling with her abuse of the townspeople, what perspective would you like to add?
Well, first of all, “walk of shame” is exactly how we spoke about it. Even on the page, it says something like, “The townspeople stare daggers at her.” We wanted it to be really visceral and painful for Wanda. And also necessary. She did a terrible, terrible thing. You can argue in the beginning that she didn’t know what she was doing, but once she truly knew what she was doing on a conscious level, she continued to perpetuate it for days. You can’t entirely forgive her for that, but our goal with the show was to understand Wanda and Vision in a complete way. So I feel we have a complete picture of why she did what she did. That does not justify it; that does not make it okay. But we have empathy for her, and we were with her on the journey. So I don’t think that she’s off the hook, and it wasn’t my intention to write it in a way that seemed like we could just forgive all of those sins. But I do think that the empathy for her as a character is still very present at the end of the show.
For better or worse, there’s a segment of the audience that craves cameos and crossovers. Because of that common knowledge, were you already prepared for the reaction to Ralph (Evan Peters)?
It was one of the few things in developing the show that my agenda — with regard to casting Evan — had to do with the fans. In my experience at Marvel, most of my motivation is about the work or working in concert with the producer, and with Kevin Feige. And then, working within that system and trying to check the boxes that need to be checked while still telling compelling, authentic stories with women usually centered. So that’s usually my priority, but with the Evan casting, it was twofold. It seemed like the cherry on top of this very meta story. The only other thing that’s more meta than that is I think Wanda Maximoff is the one who crashed the Disney+ server. (Laughs.) There’s some sort of bleeding out from fiction to reality there because crashing Disney+ just seems like something she would do. But I didn’t want [the Evan Peters casting] to be a gimmick. What we wanted for Wanda was that it would be a gut punch. She would see this person, know immediately that he’s supposed to be her brother, but also know that something is off. But she would doubt herself so thoroughly that she would go along with it. And I felt that the only way the audience could go on that journey with her — and also feel the exact same gut punch and euphoric thrill — is if it was Evan. That’s a meta piece that I feel served our story. So I was really looking forward to people losing their minds, but that is how I saw it integrating into the story.
Was there ever talk of only announcing that Teyonah Parris was playing a character named Geraldine, which would’ve saved the Monica Rambeau reveal for the wild opening of episode four?
Yeah, Teyonah [as Monica Rambeau] was announced at Comic-Con 2019, I think, and I’m pretty sure we were breaking the outlines and writing as though it would be a surprise. But Marvel and Disney have incredible strategy when it comes to the PR side of things. They’re so smart, and they know how much to give and how much to hold back. So when that dropped, the jig was up. In the linear watch of the show, when she first appears, she’s referred to as Geraldine. So it ended up being the opposite of what we intended, and people were like, “Geraldine? But she’s Monica Rambeau!” So that ended up being a fun reversal.
I’m worried about Monica because she’s had very little time to reconcile her mother’s death, her own 5-year disappearance and all the hex-related chaos that resulted in superpowers. In terms of her own trauma, where do you think her head is at by the end of WandaVison?
First of all, that’s so sweet that you’re worried about her, and that’s a very thoughtful question. It’s so much nicer than trying to pump me for spoilers, so thank you. What I will say is that the people who are involved in making Captain Marvel 2 are terrific storytellers, and Teyonah is an incredible guardian for this character. So I have absolute faith that there will be a lot of unpacking of feelings in Captain Marvel 2, and I look forward to it.
Putting the twin boys to bed as if everything was fine — was that an homage to Titanic?
Oh my God! (Laughs.) No, but thank you for reminding me of that. That was not a conscious thing, but for me, personally, I find that to be an incredibly stirring part of that film. Oh my God, thank you for bringing that up. It was not conscious, but that lives somewhere in my subconscious and was part of what we were doing.
“We have said goodbye before, so it stands to reason… we’ll say hello again.” What was the evolution of that powerful goodbye scene between Wanda and Vision?
That exchange, once they were standing together by the window, was written very early. I might be wrong, but I feel like it was in the outline. It was written out before it even went to the script. I was like, “All these characters do is say goodbye. They’re constantly saying goodbye to each other, and they’re constantly ripped apart.” In the Marvel world and in any universe of mythology, there’s always hope for something more. So that line was born of them finally saying goodbye in a way that’s hopeful, instead of being desperate, and having faith. They’ve seen all of these insane things — things that defy logic and reality — and Vision is the ultimate statistician or logician. If he runs the numbers, it’s likely that they’re going to see each other again, and I’ve always found that to be bittersweet.
Because of Covid, WandaVision went from the fourth entry in phase four of the MCU to the first entry. Is there anything you would’ve done differently had you known you were first up to bat?
No, I think it would’ve been terrible to know that we were going to be first. To be perfectly frank, that would’ve put pressure on us to toe the line a bit more and to be a little more on the straight and narrow in terms of the kind of show that we are. But knowing that we wouldn’t be the first out of the gate — and that it wasn’t even a question — gave me a lot of latitude to be weird and encourage the weird. So I’m extremely happy with how things turned out.
WandaVision is now available on Disney+.