Warning: SPOILERS for WandaVision episode 8, “Previously On”.
WandaVision episode 8’s flashbacks delved into Wanda Maximoff’s (Elizabeth Olsen) life-altering experience as part of Hydra and reversed the terror organization’s disappointing portrayal in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thanks to Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), Wanda was forced to relive when she was exposed to the Mind Stone, which unleashed her magical powers. But WandaVision also added greater context to Wanda’s ordeal and made Hydra more fearsome as a result.
Hydra emerged as a global threat when it revealed itself as the hidden face of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Hydra’s bold plan to bring the world to heel was Project Insight, involving three Helicarriers designed to assassinate thousands of targets that were deemed threats to Hydra’s rule. It took a monumental sacrifice by Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to stop Hydra, and it meant the end of SHIELD. But by Avengers: Age of Ultron, Hydra was reduced as fodder for opening act comedy when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes attacked the last remaining Hydra base in Sokovia and routed the villains, who were led by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretchmann). Joss Whedon’s film undercut any menace Strucker may have had by giving him one-liners and depicting him and Hydra as pushovers easily defeated by the Avengers. This despite Hydra using the Mind Stone to give Wanda and her twin brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) superpowers specifically as equalizers against the Avengers.
Avengers: Age of Ultron only fleetingly referenced Wanda and Pietro’s time as part of Hydra, but WandaVision compellingly fleshed out their tragic story: When they were 10 years old, the Maximoff twins were orphaned by a bombing by Stark Industries weapons that killed their parents. Wanda and Pietro eventually became radicalized and joined Hydra, mistakenly believing that they could “change the world” as part of the global terror organization. The Maximoff siblings were “volunteers” for Hydra’s “Miracles program”, where Wanda and Pietro were the only two who survived and were enhanced by exposure to the Mind Stone in Loki’s scepter. WandaVision‘s scene of how the Mind Stone unleashed the terrified Wanda’s latent magical abilities was more powerful and memorable than both the end-credits scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Hydra-centric opening act of Age of Ultron showcasing the Maximoff twins.
Hydra was thoroughly short-changed by Avengers: Age of Ultron, which naturally had to focus on its titular android villain. Although Hydra was fleshed out in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, the ABC TV series mainly operated outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s main movie continuity. Still, Hydra and Baron Strucker were given far greater depth on the show, and Agents of SHIELD thoroughly explored Hydra’s history, which spans centuries before the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) became their leader during World War II as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger. Nevertheless, for most MCU fans, Hydra was a problem that Captain America, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) mostly handled in The Winter Soldier and the Avengers squashed for good before the opening credits of Age of Ultron.
What made WandaVision‘s Hydra flashback so effective was how it highlighted the brutal human cost Wanda Maximoff paid for being Hydra’s guinea pig to the Mind Stone. Even after gaining their abilities, Wanda and Pietro were just weapons to the organization rather than being considered assets who were treated humanely. And although Baron Strucker didn’t appear in WandaVision, his malevolent presence was felt among the Hydra agents who manipulated Wanda into facing the Mind Stone. The scope of Hydra’s cruelty and disregard for human life was made manifest. To Wanda, Hydra was no joke; they were people she turned to when she felt she had no choice and they abused her and Pietro. WandaVision finally showed the horrors of being part of Hydra and it was a vital link in the chain of who Wanda Maximoff is and how she came to be the Scarlet Witch.