Managing a franchise is a commitment.
With such a repertory cast of characters and actors, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in a league of its own. Over more than a decade, actors have come and gone, usually ending up being killed off. But that's the beauty of Marvel. Whether it's a holographic eulogy, a time travel return, or a pocket reality, those who are gone can always return one way or another.
But what do you do if the actor doesn't want to come back? To solve that problem, Marvel is borrowing a trick from sitcom history. Warning! Spoilers ahead for WandaVision Episode 5.
“She recast Pietro?”
Recasts are far more difficult to explain than returns. When a TV show introduces a new actor in a beloved role, there are many ways to address it. Often, the solution is to just... not and hope the audience can pick up on the change easily. Another option: shows can lampshade the change, making a fourth-wall-breaking reference to acknowledge but not explain the new actor. The third and most common method is used often in soap operas: finding a strange but sort of plausible reason why the character would change faces, like full-body burns or a face transplant.
When WandaVision revealed Evan Peters, the X-Men franchise's Quicksilver, as Pietro instead of the Marvel Studios actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, it quietly revolutionized the entire MCU — and television as a whole — by combining all three recasting methods.
Wanda instantly recognizes Pietro without any necessary explanation. Within the world of WandaVision's show-within-a-show, Quicksilver is unceremoniously replaced for no reason. (That's recasting option 1; ignore it.)
Then, we see Darcy Lewis react to the television tuned to Wanda's broadcast feed. To nobody in particular, she says, “She recast Pietro?” This single line uses both the second and third methods to explain the new face. It breaks the fourth wall by acknowledging that Marvel is recasting the character and simultaneously provides a canon explanation: This is Wanda's show, she controls it, and she can manipulate who appears in it.
WandaVision and the “recast”
The term for recasting a character without explanation actually comes from one of WandaVision's main inspirations. According to the good folks over at TV Tropes, this is known as “The Other Darrin,” named after Darrin Stephens on Bewitched, who was played by Dick York until he was forced to leave the show during Season 6 due to health issues and got replaced by Dick Sargent.
Sitcoms are notorious for recasting actors without explanation. Take, for example, the sitcom that could serve as the inspiration for the next episode of WandaVision. Roseanne was the classic story of a working-class family held together by the three kids: young and naïve D.J., intelligent and spunky Darlene, and eldest daughter Becky.
Becky was played by Lecy Goranson for the first five seasons, but Goranson wanted to leave the show to attend Vassar College. So Becky was written out of the show with an impromptu elopement but eventually had to return. When that happened, she was recast as actress Sarah Chalke, who played Becky for one and a half seasons.
Later, Goranson returned while still attending school. When she made her return, all the other characters keep greeting her with “Where the hell have you been?!” even though, canonically, she'd only been gone a few minutes.
Unfortunately, that's not where the recasts end. Goranson's studies meant more filming conflicts, so for most of Roseanne's eighth season, the role ping-ponged between Goranson and Chalke. As with any sitcom, this meant lots of sly acknowledgments of the swapping. For example, one episode featured the Conner family watching Bewitched. Roseanne complains about the sudden recast, but Becky, played by Sarah Chalke, admits she prefers the other Darrin, in reference to the fact she is Roseanne's “other Darrin.”
That's not the only iconic '90s sitcom recast WandaVision could be inspired by. For the first three seasons of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, matriarch Aunt Viv was played by Janet Hubert. However, budget negotiations and behind-the-scenes drama forced Hubert to step down from the role, and she was subsequently replaced with actress Daphne Maxwell Reid. While this transition was a bit more seamless than Becky's on Roseanne, the writers couldn't help but wink at it, often including moments where Will Smith just glanced at the camera knowingly while characters noted she “looked different.”
Those sorts of fourth wall breaks would seem out of place in a Marvel movie (Deadpool excluded), but they'd make perfect sense in Wanda's sitcom-within-a-Marvel-show. Don't be surprised if we get a few meta-jokes or winks at the camera in Episode 6 to explain the appearance of this “other Pietro.” With WandaVision's next episode being a '90s set to parody '90s sitcoms, it could take more than just the aesthetic from Roseanne and include some recasting gags as well.
Now that one Marvel character has been recast, the gates of the multiverse may be open for business. And thanks to this sitcom trope, the MCU has free rein to grab whichever X-Men (or Spider-Man characters) it wants from non-canon movies and drop them into this universe. All it takes is a fourth-wall-breaking wink.
WandaVision is now streaming on Disney+.