If you were wondering if WandaVision showrunners introduced red herrings purposefully, you’ve now got your answer.
Actress Emma Caulfield, who played bossy Westview resident Dottie Jones, appeared on Vanity Fair’s Still Watching podcast where she dished on her very purposeful casting. Astute fans of a certain age may recognize Caulfield from her role as the demon Anya on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and this got the fandom’s wheels turning.
Theories about who the true villain of the show came out of the woodwork as if conjured by the Scarlet Witch herself. Dottie’s “evil witch” demeanor and early run-in’s with Wanda and “Geraldine” meant that Dottie was quickly singled out as a possible villain-in-disguise. Was it Mephisto in disguise? Agatha Harkness under a glamour? Who tf is Arcanna??? Maybe they’re setting up Nightmare, who was at one point rumored to be the villain in one of the Doctor Strange movies? And what’s the deal with Evan Peters? Later, when fans found out that Dottie’s outside-of-The-Hex character’s name is “Sarah Proctor” it only added fuel to the fire as the Proctor family was one of the most prominent families to be implicated during the Salem Witch Trials.
Turns out, it was all a smoke & mirrors.
Red Herrings – HEAVY SPOILERS BELOW
In the conversation with Still Watching, Caulfield acknowledges that her casting and role were were very, very intentional.
“Calculate(d) is not the right word but it’s purposeful. You’re not going to have me show up and, and immediately think there’s nothing to my being there. It’s obviously going to pull in a similar fan base [to Buffy]. That was intended.”
Dottie, like the casting of Evan Peters as “Pietro,” was meant to be a red herring all along.
As WandaVision rolled on and the plot was peeled back like layers of an onion, old theories withered and died. Dottie Jones was revealed to be just another Westview resident under Wanda’s spell, Mephisto never showed up, and neither did that rumored Doctor Strange cameo. The biggest troll of all from showrunner Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman? The reveal that not only was Evan Peters’ presence not hinting at a multiverse situation, but that his outside-of-The-Hex name was a boner joke. Our fandom has been weaponized against us.
But hey, we got Agatha Harkness right though! Kudos! Everyone pat yourselves on the back!
So how did Caulfield feel about keeping the truth of her character under wraps as the show unfolded?
“I’m trying not to feel disingenuous, but knowing full well [their theories were] just so far removed from the truth. That’s tough, being the red herring. Again, I hope no one eggs my house.”
The tone of Caulfield’s statement is light-hearted, but the sentiment remains: she acknowledges that fans sometimes take this stuff too seriously. Why even bother with red herrings anyway? Because the showrunners have to throw off the scent lest the Alpha Geeks who will vivisect every second of every episode actually predict the real plot.
Full transparency: this writer, along with several (most) other LRM contributors, absolutely speculated on WandaVision. The team parsed the episodes on LRMornings, Marvel Multiverse Mondays, and all of the other LRM podcasts. We wrote think pieces, threw darts at dartboards. We even talked ourselves into believing that Mephisto was going to make an appearance, that’s what we do.
With WandaVision being the first MCU entry to appear on Disney’s flagship streaming service, expectations were sky-high. Coupled with the fact that the fanbase has been starved of Marvel content since before the beginning of the pandemic, all eyes were on WandaVision in January 2021. While the show can only be considered a resounding success, there are lingering questions about the fanbase’s satisfaction.
The serial release format of WandaVision meant that over the course of the nine week run, the viewership was whipped into a frothy mess with all the speculation and water cooler talk. No doubt, this was a boon for Disney+ and their subscriber numbers, but it also opened WandaVision up to a kind of toxic fandom hitherto undreamt of for the MCU. Even the ill-fated Netflix Marvel shows (Daredevil, The Punisher, et al) were dumped onto the platform in a single day – there was no time to cook up cockamamie plot theories.
WandaVision fans looking for Enchantress clues
As speculation on the plot of WandaVision grew to a crescendo, the dark corners of Reddit and Twitter became rife with foul language and name calling. We here at LRM argued whether or not Disney would let a character like Mephisto, who looks like (and maybe is?) the literal devil appear on the same platform that hosts Toy Story. That an actress on the show must acknowledge the possibility of getting her house egged speaks to the sad state of affairs. Never mind that Caulfield isn’t a writer on the show and didn’t make the decision on how to utilize her character
As fans, we want to be in-the-know. We pore over casting news and cryptic tweets and dive deep into the weird parts of Reddit looking for clues. I have personally been doing this since the late 90’s. Remember when New Line Cinema tacked the trailer for The Two Towers onto the back end of The Fellowship of the Ring near the end of its theatrical run? I made my dad take me to the theater again to for a third re-watch just so I could try to work out what Theoden and Eomer and, of course, Gollum looked like. On our podcasts, LRM contributors argue about the credibility of our ideas, and being correct about our theories is how we single ourselves out from the myriad other news sites.
Being right about this stuff is our currency.
The House Always Wins
The geek community operates a bit like a giant casino, doesn’t it? We all place our bets and laugh and have a great time as excitement rises. We have fun with each other at the table as we make final wagers, and then we hope that our bets all hit. Sometimes we’re right, but more often, the house wins. Most of the speculation about Dottie Jones was wrong; the WandaVision showrunners got our eyes looking exactly where they wanted them (on Disney+) and then they gave us the ‘ole Razzle Dazzle – Red herrings. It was a simple trick.
Must...search...the sacred texts...
Why do we bet like this? Why do we make bold predictions months ahead of a film or show’s release? If our speculative predictions or insightful commentary actually hit the nail on the head, we look like the Alpha Geeks. In LRM‘s case, being correct garners followers, pageviews galore, and internet street cred.
What happens when we speculate incorrectly? What happens when a Redditor posts a well-researched essay that turns out to be 100% wrong? There are countless outlets out there that report incorrect information, or post badly photoshopped fakes, or post something somebody’s uncle’s cousin’s boyfriend’s sister heard while on a bus. When these wild theories turn out to be bogus (shocker!), make a note of it in your ledger. Try to sniff out whether or not a person, or a site, or a podcast, is just trying to win at the roullette table by betting it all on double-zero.
We’ve created a culture where writers and podcasters and YouTube essayists are incentivized to see if they can hit big by calling their shot six months in advance, and if the theory turns out to be too far-fetched, well then that’s the writer’s fault because they’re not doing the source material justice. When these crackpot WandaVision theories don’t work out, we can’t blame anyone other than the Theory Peddlars, even if the creators introduce red herrings. In this ” Hot Take” ecosystem, the emphasis is on just having a prediction, not whether it’s correct or even plausible. At this point, there are so many predictions out there that simple math dictates that most are bound to be wrong.
Does anyone remember how wrong we all were with the Game of Thrones predictions? As we ramped up for a new season of GoT, the various ASOAIF subreddits would buzz with bonkers guesses – theories about Ice Dragons under Winterfell and Grand Northern Conspiracy’s and when (not if!) Young Griff would finally show up. Most theories were wrong. Did this speculation help us enjoy the show? Or did it set us up for failure when (SPOILER) there was never an Ice Dragon underneath Winterfell?
This is all perhaps a bit too much of a “how the sausage is made” situation, but the point is that these shows and the artists that create them don’t actually owe us anything. In some respects, they’re toeing the line between fan service and telling a story the correct way, but even that’s subjective. We’re setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment when we try to out-Geek somebody #online by going full Cosmic Brain – in the end, it doesn’t matter. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by believing in unfounded bullshi**ery – I recommend just kicking back and trying to enjoy the show.