'WandaVision' secrets revealed: The missing Doctor Strange cameo, a goofy 'Growing Pains' reference and the 'Contact' connection

Ethan Alter
·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·13-min read

Thirteen years after Jon Favreau’s Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the blockbuster Disney+ series WandaVision took fan enthusiasm for the franchise to another dimension… literally. For eight weeks, and nine episodes, Marvel Zombies and newbies alike took up residence in Wanda Maximoff’s sitcom-ready version of Westview, N.J., a walled-off reality that spoke the Sokovian superhero’s favorite language: American television. But those walls came tumbling down as the show unfolded, building to an emotional climax that redefined our understanding of both Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and her lost love, Vision (Paul Bettany), while also unleashing chaos (magic) within the MCU. The series finale alternately delighted fans — who swarmed Disney+ when new episodes dropped, crashing the streaming service twice — and frustrating those whose carefully developed theories were either proven wrong or not addressed at all.

To be fair, the show’s creative team did warn viewers about getting too invested in those fan-generated predictions of things to come. “It can’t be everything to everybody, and we can’t introduce every possible character that people speculated about,” Matt Shakman, who directed all nine episodes, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “We were ultimately telling a very simple story about how we deal with grief and come to terms with loss.” Asked whether releasing the episodes individually — instead of in one big binge-ready block — fueled the speculative frenzy and inevitable crash, WandaVision creator Jac Schaeffer acknowledges that it left some fans feeling frustrated. “Looking back, though, I would hope that most people acknowledged that it was actually really great to be experiencing it altogether.”

Speaking of looking back, the creative architects behind WandaVision revisited some of the show’s big moments — and teased a little bit of what’s to come — in separate interviews with Yahoo Entertainment.

Why White Vision looks like Paul Bettany… but kinda sounds like James Spader

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in the season finale of 'WandaVision' (Photo: Disney+)
Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in the season finale of WandaVision. (Photo: Disney+)

Blame it on Bettany. Early on in WandaVision’s run, the British actor teased that the show had awarded him the opportunity to finally act opposite “an actor I’ve always wanted to work with.” That piece of intel, combined with Olsen’s own stray comment about a Luke Skywalker-level cameo, set off a spirited round of “Guess the Guest Star” — a list that ultimately included Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Ian McKellen as Magneto and Dick Van Dyke as… himself.

But it turned out that Bettany was actually talking about none other than Paul Bettany. The actor served double duty in the season’s last two episodes playing both Wanda’s Vision and White Vision, a colorless S.W.O.R.D.-created replica of the synthetic Avenger who answered to director Tyler Hayward’s sinister purposes. At least, he did until Wanda’s chaos magic-created Vision downloaded all of his memories into White Vision, overwriting Hayward’s preferred code. “He’s a fascinating character, because he’s Vision, but he’s not Vision,” Shakman notes. “So much of the final episode is about identity, with Wanda becoming the Scarlet Witch. And it’s also about who is the true Vision: the one with the soul or the one with the body?”

One other cameo on that “Guess the Guest Star” list was Ultron, the despotic robot created by Tony Stark and voiced by James Spader. Shakman credits that theory to a “mischievous soul” who added Spader’s name to the WandaVision cast list online. Schaeffer confirms that Spader was never approached to appear in the finale, or the previous episode, “Previously On,” which recapped Wanda’s life prior to her time in Westview. “That was what we already knew about Wanda,” she explains. “She had spent a lot of time with UItron. I love James Spader, but we’ve seen that story. What we hadn’t seen is Wanda and Vision falling in love, or interacting with the Mind Stone, or with her original family. That was our priority: showing the audience things that we hadn't seen before.”

At the same time, Shakman says that there is an audible connection between White Vision and Ultron. “The vocal treatment that we did to Paul's voice as White Vision is similar to the vocal treatment that was done to James Spader as Ultron,” he reveals. “We wanted to feature more robotic version of Paul Bettany — a less dashing and charming version of Paul Bettany if that's possible! And so we used a similar treatment for his voice.”

When it comes to White Vision’s current whereabouts, both Shakman and Schaeffer are staying mum. When last we saw him, White Vision was reeling from ingesting all of his counterpart’s memories of his professional time in the Avengers and, more importantly, his personal time with Wanda. “We definitely did discuss versions of other scenes with White Vision for sure,” the director allows. But Schaeffer insists there are no deleted scenes of his post-Westview existence. “We didn’t do any continuing on of his storyline. There’s nothing written or shot of White Vision outside of Westview.”

The Darkhold replaced Doctor Strange

Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn take a tour of Wanda's history in the latest episode of 'WandaVision' (Photo: Marvel/Disney+)
Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn take a tour of Wanda's history in an episode of WandaVision. (Photo: Marvel/Disney+)

On the other hand, we do get to see where Wanda goes after saying goodbye to her Vision, and their two kids, Billy and Tommy. In a post-credits scene, the newly named Scarlet Witch is glimpsed in a remote cabin in the woods, her physical self preparing tea while her astral self is flexing her magical muscles. This is theoretically where Doctor Strange will find her when they team up for the upcoming Sam Raimi-directed film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which is scheduled for release next March. (Although Tom Holland’s Peter Parker might find her first: In a video announcing the title of the third Spider-Man movie, No Way Home, eagle-eyed fans spotted some familiar hexagonal patterns.)

Knowing that the Scarlet Witch and the Sorcerer Supreme are on a collision course led many to assume that we’d see Doctor Strange’s face before the season of WandaVision wrapped. But both Schaeffer and Shakman are quick to say that it was never in the cards. “We definitely thought about that idea, because he is a very important person in this world in terms of magic,” the director says, adding that a cameo ultimately “wasn’t necessary to the story we were telling.” Explains Schaeffer: “We knew that our show would feed into Multiverse of Madness, but that’s just not where we landed.”

Instead, WandaVision opted to make room for a magical character almost as important as Doctor Strange and Wanda: the Darkhold, a book of magic that has a long history in Marvel’s comic book universe. It also has a history in prior Marvel TV shows: Both ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hulu’s Runaways have featured the tome prominently. But Schaeffer says those previous versions don’t overlap with this one, which will likely disappoint S.H.I.E.L.D. fans who have long hoped to see that series brought into mainline MCU canon. “It’s my impression that this is the MCU Darkhold,” she says. “The only thing I can really say about it is that it’s the Book of the Damned, and there’s a whole chapter on the Scarlet Witch in there along with a lot of prophecy language. Other projects will tell you more, probably.”

The last thing we see of WandaVision is the Scarlet Witch furiously reading through the Darkhold, and the last thing we hear are the voices of Timmy and Billy calling out to her. Schaeffer says that audio was a late addition to the finale, which suggests that Wanda’s mission to rescue her kids is likely to continue in Multiverse of Madness. On the other hand, the way she said goodbye to Billy and Tommy the first time never changed. “We were never going to see them vanish,” Schaeffer says, well aware of how traumatic that would have been. “There were other versions of what happened to the kids, but it always had to be about her letting them go. Her tucking them in and then their disappearances off-screen was locked in very early.”

Putting the “B” in Bohner

Evan Peters as Ralph Bohner in the season finale of 'WandaVision' (Photo: Disney+)
Evan Peters as Ralph Bohner in the season finale of WandaVision. (Photo: Disney+)

Here’s yet another sign of the generational divide: For children of the ’80s and ’90s, the climactic reveal that Evan Peters was Ralph Bohner — and not the X-verse version of Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver — all along was a hilarious, Growing Pains reference. That classic Alan Thicke sitcom starred Andrew Koenig as Richard “Boner” Stabone, best friend of Kirk Cameron’s Mike Seaver… and co-starred none other than Matt Shakman as Graham Lubbock Jr., a role he reprised for three seasons on the spinoff, Just the Ten of Us. “I was on Growing Pains as a kid and knew Andrew, may he rest in peace,” the child actor-turned-director says. (Koenig died in 2010.) “Jac put that name in, and it was definitely a reference to a show we had both experienced as kids and fans, but it also worked as an extra level of meta because I was on it.”

For anyone born after 2000, though, “Ralph Bohner” just seemed liked a below-the-belt punchline for a character many assumed would serve as the bridge between the MCU and the X-verse. Asked whether she would have gone back and given him a different name in light of the negative response among some viewers, Schaeffer stands by the choice. “It's an allusion to Growing Pains. People think it's a dick joke, but it’s a sitcom joke,” she says, adding that she and the writers never saw Peters’s cameo as simply a punchline. “The idea was that it was something that was really traumatizing for Wanda, to have her ‘brother’ show up and not know if it was really him. She had so much self-doubt, and his appearance really picked at her scabs.”

Andrew Koenig played the original
Andrew Koenig played the original "Ralph Bohner" opposite Kirk Cameron on the classic 1980s sitcom Growing Pains. (Photo: Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

“And, of course, it’s Agatha doing it all along,” she continues. “He’s an extension of her evildoing, which is so insidious. I think that if it had been another actor who had no ties to the MCU, it wouldn't have hit us all as an audience on a gut level. There's something so sick and twisted about Evan Peters playing the Quicksilver role and Wanda not knowing who she's looking at. So that's really what it was about. It was the most meta piece of a show that was already swimming in meta.”

Shakman also cautions against thinking that Peters’s WandaVision identity reveal completely rules out the idea that he has a bigger future in the MCU. “He might very well be Ralph Bohner, but he might also have a role in the MCU,” he says. “Evan Peters is a national treasure, and he's capable of doing anything from comedy to drama. So I would love to see him have a future in MCU, however that may be.” Could that future be as the missing FBI informant that FBI agent, Jimmy Woo, showed up in Westview to locate? That's a firm "No comment," from Schaeffer and Shakman.

How Photon took Ph-orm

Teyonah Parris and Randall Park in 'WandaVision' (Photo: Marvel Studios/YouTube)
Teyonah Parris and Randall Park in WandaVision. (Photo: Marvel Studios/YouTube)

Having previously worked as a contributor for Captain Marvel — and working alongside Captain Marvel 2 producer, Mary Livanos, on WandaVision — Schaeffer knew that Marvel had big plans for Monica Rambeau, who was introduced as a young girl in that 2019 blockbuster. And Livanos hoped that she'd use the series as a bridge between Captain Marvel movies, re-introducing Monica as an adult (played by Teyonah Parris) and introducing her heroic alter ego, Photon. "I was all for it, because I felt a strong connection to Monica, and loved the idea of jumping ahead and seeing her as a grown woman," Schaeffer says. "I credit Mary for supervising both projects and making sure that there's a seamless handoff."

During the course of WandaVision, it's revealed that Monica "blipped" out of existence following Thanos's finger-snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, returning after Avengers: Endgame allowed those missing MCU citizens to return five years later. During her absence, Monica's mother, Maria (played by Lashana Lynch), died of cancer, robbing her of a chance to say goodbye. That grief put her in a similar headspace as Wanda. "Her character and for her journey was a lot about pushing herself through grief," Schaeffer explains.

That carried over into how the character pushed herself through Wanda's Hex as Monica... and emerged on the other side as Photon — the nickname her mother had when she led S.W.O.R.D. "We wanted it to be a gauntlet of grief processing," Scaeffer says. "It had to be her strength propelling her forward, and all the pieces of her life that came before, along with the women that were important to her. That's why you hear the voices of Aunt Carol and her mother coming in. Early on, there was a lot of discussion in the room about the science of the Hex boundary and how it functions, but that sort of fell away because it slowed the narrative and wasn't necessary. But we realized this was our only opportunity to see inside the Hex, which in our minds, is where the spell is."

In staging the sequence, Shakman says that he was directly inspired by a moment in Robert Zemeckis's 1997 sci-fi drama Contact, which he describes as one of his favorite movies. "There's a scene in that film were Jodie Foster is caught in a wormhole and is being stretched and pulled. We wanted Monica to be pulled in all the versions of her that we had seen, including Geraldine. Her transformation involves being broken down and rebuilt, which is much of what we do with Wanda, too — she's a Phoenix rising from the ashes."

Photon only shows off a little bit of what she can do in WandaVision, arriving at the scene of the climatic battle just in time to save Billy and Tommy from being shot by Tyler, allowing the bullets to "phase" through her body. "We looked at what Monica had been in the comics — Photon, Spectrum and Captain Marvel — trying to understand what her power set would be," Shakman says. "We decided that it's really about wavelengths and spectrums about being able to read energy and alter energy, and so it became about trying to visualize that." In terms of where Photon goes next, a mid-credits scene suggests her next stop after Westview is outer space where Nick Fury and Captain Marvel are currently residing. You might say, the sky isn't even close to being the limit for her potential.

WandaVision is currently streaming on Disney+.

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