Hello all, and welcome to your weekly recap of whatever wildness occurred on the latest episode of WandaVision. These are meant to be read after watching, so they will go deep into spoiler territory. You have been warned!
This first post covers episodes one and two, which are currently streaming on Disney+.
A New Era for Marvel
The Disney+ era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally arrived, and it has done so with a project that never in a million years would make it to the big screen. A Loki adventure? Sure. The Falcon dealing with the Captain American legacy? I can imagine that film. A parody of television sitcoms starring a dead character and his sorceress girlfriend that occasionally breaks into surrealism? I dunno, I just don’t see it. Even if the delivery system weren’t a love letter to the format, this experiment needs the freedom television offers.
Right off the bat, WandaVision tells us several things about its premise, something to be thankful for with a show this high-concept. One is that Wanda and Vision don’t know that Vision is dead. But they do know that they have powers that need to be kept secret. In both of these first two episodes, fitting into the new neighborhood is the couple’s primary motive, and they can’t exactly do that with Vision floating through walls or Wanda changing reality as she sees fit. Despite keeping their abilities secret, neither seem aware of their setting’s artificial nature, nor do they appear to have any memories of their MCU reality. Vision slaves away in an office he has no memory of joining but has the wherewithal to ask what the company does. He gets no answer.
And so within this uncertain larger setting, we watch Wanda and Vision deal with smaller plots. The first episode begins with a mystery. Why does today’s date on the calendar have a heart written on it? What plan did the couple forget? Vision eventually learns it indicates a dinner date with his strict new boss, Mr. Heartman. Wanda thinks it is an anniversary. This leads to a very sitcom misunderstanding in which a sensually-dressed Wanda accidentally hits on the uptight Mr. Heartman, mistaking him for Vision in their darkened living room.
So that’s the surface humor. Above that is the mystery of why neither character remembers why there’s a heart on the calendar, though we in the audience know it must be because this reality is brand new to them. And then there is a third level, in which we watch a commercial for a Stark Industries toaster that kind of looks like Vision and presents the tagline “Forget the past. This is your future.”
What a complicated stew of elements. The sitcom pastiche offers a great way to have fun with old television tropes while also (likely) giving WandaVision some thematic heft since the perfect families of television are all empty fantasies. But it is also merely high-concept window dressing. These tours through television history, witty and lovingly recreated though they may be, cannot sustain full half-hours of television in and of themselves. Modern audiences may nod approvingly at Bewitched references for a moment, but what keeps WandaVision fresh is the mystery of what’s really going on, the surreal moments when this false reality begins to shift, and the melancholy reminders that Vision is dead. Super dead. Like, he died and came back to life just so they could kill him again, dead. The second line of WandaVision’s first episode even reminds us of his violent departure “My husband, and his indestructible head.”
We see this during the dinner with Mr. Heartman. It’s going along according to Dick Van Dyke/I Love Lucy tropes until Mr. Heartman starts asking pointed questions about who Wanda and Vision are, where they come from. Before they must answer a question they have no chance of confronting, he starts choking. Suddenly the cinematography shifts to something more modern and Mr. Heartman’s wife gets frozen in a creepy reactive loop. Wanda demands Vision save the man, which he does by phasing his hand into his throat. After that, things go back to “normal” as if no disruption happened. But, of course, it did and it was weird as hell.
Putting a button on all this, the episode ends on a modern monitor. Someone aside from us is watching WandaVision as well. Welcome to the show’s central mystery!
Episode two jumps ahead to a full on Bewitched/I Dream of Jeanie aesthetic, though still black and white. It’s late at night and a noise out the window keeps the couple awake. Out of fear, Wanda brings their separate ‘50s-style beds together and – after discovering the sound was just a crazy branch and not vandals – the two get it on. The jokes this episode have a bit more edge as well, befitting this minor leap forward into television modernity.
The plot this time involves a talent show the neighborhood is putting on “for the children” (we do not see any children). Vision and Wanda will provide a magic performance, but before that, Vision will meet up with the guys for a neighborhood watch meeting, while Wanda tries to get on the good side of the town’s queen bee Dottie (played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Emma Caulfield), who seems to have a horrifying hold on the women in the neighborhood.
Rather than save the surrealism for the end, it pops up throughout the episode, which I imagine will only increase as the show continues. This time it comes first in the form of a colorized toy helicopter. Later a much more aggressive scene occurs in which Dottie and Wanda’s conversation is interrupted by a radio playing The Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” stuttering out with a new voice asking “Wanda, who is doing this to you? Wanda?” Even stranger, this causes Dottie to lose her character, looking at Wanda with new eyes and asking “Who are you?” The break arrives as Wanda confronts the idea that she and Vision are a danger to the neighborhood. Can they be if the neighborhood doesn’t exist?
This line of questioning gets more complicated by a scene with Kathryn Hahn’s Agnes that takes place away from Wanda or Vision, the first scene to stray away from the duo and focus on someone else. Agnes, normally (so far anyway) a typical nosy neighbor type, hangs back and greets the mailman, Dennis, with finger guns, to which he responds “Don’t shoot, I’m just the messenger.” Does he betray a hint of fear? And if so, does that make Agnes a more authoritative participant in this reality? Just how aware are these people of the show they are in?
While you’re trying to figure the significance of all this, WandaVision barrels onward with its sitcom plotting. This bizarre combination of notes and tones only occasionally plays in full concert, but when it does, WandaVision truly sings. Vision gets drunk of chewing gum (I guess giving Vision sticky food is another way to kill him?) before the big magic show performance. He is too carefree to keep his powers secret, so Wanda must alter reality with her own. When he lifts a piano, for instance, she turns it to cardboard, prompting one of the cast-members to offer the very sitcom punchline: “That was my mother’s piano.” It’s a sitcom conflict complicated and resolved with superhero nonsense, and sewn up with a legitimately funny line, all underlined with a creeping dread. That’s WanadaVision for you.
Things go well for the couple. Their magic act is interpreted as comedy, earning them the inaugural “Comedy Performance of the Year” award from Dottie. The two go home and Wanda suddenly finds herself pregnant. I mean, they did have sex at the start of the episode, so – insane timing and the question of whether or not Vision has sperm aside – it does make sense.
What doesn’t make sense is when Vision and Wanda leave the house to investigate a noise only to find a man crawling from a manhole, swarming with bees and donning a strange emblem on his suit. Wanda straight-up cannot handle whatever this is and rewinds time instead. So that’’s something she can do. The couple kiss and get rewarded with colorization and a new, more ‘70s-looking set.
This show is such a unique blast of fun. It’s too early to know exactly what is happening, but the mixture of television history and Infinity War epilogue is something none of us could have predicted when Vision and Wanda first started making eyes at each other. Plus, the mystery is fun. Even the most obvious source material for this story, Tom King’s Vision run, doesn’t seem to play a direct part in what’s going on here, so it’s really anyone’s guess.
My prediction is pretty basic: Wanda has created this reality as a way to deal with the death of Vision. But she doesn’t know it. Except sometimes she does seem to know it. I don’t know how the person watching the television at the end of episode one plays into that. I don’t know how the radio voice asking “Wanda, who’s doing this to you?” plays into that. I don’t know how Hydra and the commercial for Strucker Watches (“He’ll make time for you”) plays into that. And I don’t know how the possibly sinister Agnes plays into that. But we have seven more episodes to find out, and I cannot wait.
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