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Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Magical Mystery of WandaVision’s Kathryn Hahn

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

Commenting on the “Hahnassaince” is something I’ve pondered for a long time. Problem is, every time I started, it just came out like, “toldya so,” and it just felt gross. I interviewed Kathryn Hahn back in 2014 and at the time called her comedy’s “secret weapon,” but as Katy Waldman pointed out in The New Yorker this week, every year, every time Hahn has a new project, someone new declares a Hahnassaince and “it’s a whole thing where people act like they’ve personally discovered” her. When, truth be told, she’s been doing incredible, emotionally feral work for decades.


It’s fitting, or perhaps even ironic, then that the current Hahnassaince is coming as the result of her work on WandaVision. (Also, real quick, spoiler alert: If you’re not caught up on this show, stop reading.) For years she's been either flexing her muscles as a comedy powerhouse in movies like Step Brothers and Bad Moms or she’s been the spiritual center of indie TV like I Love Dick, Transparent, and Mrs. Fletcher. Her role voicing Doc Ock in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse notwithstanding, she’s never been a comic-book adaptation star. Now, as ancient witch Agatha Harkness, she's been able to infuse everything she does well—deadpan comedy, raging intensity, fearlessness—into one performance. It might be the greatest trick she’s ever pulled.

In a way, Harkness and Hahn are on parallel tracks. In WandaVision, Agnes starts off as the friendly neighbor, the one constantly winking at the camera as Wanda and Vision bumble through suburban life. She’s the audience avatar, the comic relief. Such has been Hahn’s career, spending years playing best friends and secondary characters all while invisibly elevating every scene she’s in. Like Wanda herself, audiences don’t even realize Hahn, er, Harkness has been enchanting them. That’s why, when the show premiered on Disney+, it was so easy to imagine Hahn was just being called upon to turn out another nuanced comedic performance—and why it was so delightful to find out that—voila—the show’s driving force had been “Agatha All Along.” It was all, rightfully, very meta.

Also, can we talk about that song? In case you haven’t heard, it topped the iTunes charts pretty quickly after WandaVision’s seventh episode aired. Although Hahn herself has declared her chart victory “bonkers,” it is in many ways not surprising. Certain pockets of the internet—Film Twitter, people with taste—love to celebrate Hahn, and when you couple that with the overwhelming power of Marvel and the songwriting team behind Frozen, it was sure to be a hit. Yet, it’s interesting, in this moment, to watch the Marvel fandom and Hahn’s fans (Hahniacs? Sthans?) meet. It’s a Venn diagram intersection that is both wickedly feminist and loves a good costume. Surely my social media filter bubble makes their ranks feel larger than they actually are, but they’re growing and I encourage you to join them.

There’s something heartening, and disheartening, in watching this happen now. Heartening because people have been calling Hahn a breakout star for a long time—indeed New York Magazine published a piece titled “Kathryn Hahn Is Nobody’s Sidekick” nearly four years ago—and yet it never seemed to really fully happen until now. And in this moment, at 47 years old, Hahn is finally hitting a career zenith in a genre dominated by buff dudes named Chris. One can only hope that her success will lead to more MCU roles like this one for others, more opportunities for top-billing. (Dear Kevin Feige, please put Agatha Harkness in a movie. Love, WIRED. PS—Please give Hope van Dyne and Janet van Dyne big parts to play in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania or, better yet, give them their own movie! Same goes for Monica Rambeau! And Okoye!) It’s disheartening, though, that it didn't happen sooner. Anyone who saw her in Transparent, or Parks and Recreation, or Crossing Jordan knew she had the goods years ago. She was right there all along.

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