Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR WANDAVISION
Someone at Disney headquarters is obsessed with The Truman Show and, for the most part, I’m all for it.
WandaVision‘s straight-to-streaming existence seemed like a last hope for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) during the global pandemic of “you-know-what” after having it’s highly anticipated blockbuster Black Widow pushed back now TWICE from its original release of May 2020. Believe it or not, WandaVision is the first MCU-related thing to come out in over a year, and while that may seem like a pretty short time frame to most people, if you’ve been conditioned to the MCU’s speedy rate of releases then this gap actually feels more like a century than just a year.
Introducing the philosophy of Christopher Nolan’s Memento: would you rather live in a world of fiction that gave you a convincing purpose in life or would you rather live in the reality of your situation with nothing to lose? We’re taken directly to the 50s, 60s, 70s… who knows? It keeps changing! Black-and-white to color television, boring office job roles, the stay-at-home wife duties, etc.. Wanda and Vision are an odd couple, one with unlikely abilities in fact, but they’re determined to make it work amongst their fairly normal neighborhood and town of Westfield. Yet, something isn’t right. This world they’re in isn’t right; it feels surreal. The people here feel like characters from a show I used to watch, characters from a reality I wish I lived in. The guilt of what’s really happening here is beginning to sink into Wanda’s fantasy — *gasp!* — and at every chance it comes she must deflect it, avoid it and lock it away again like it was never there to begin with. Wanda is living in a fictional reality where her husband isn’t dead, but very much alive. However, that reality is burdening the lives of real people who are used to fit roles in her ideological society. The town of Westfield is actually one brimmed with innocent civilians under the mind control of Wanda herself. They’re trapped in her roleplay of an alternative universe in which she had lived happily ever after.
Question though: does WandaVision actually build off of the philosophy of living in fiction rather than reality or does it water it down for a more juvenile audience? Is what I’ve said here, all there is to Wanda’s story?
The first three episodes were admittedly my favorites given their creative attempts to make a legitimately entertaining take on the “weirdos must learn to live in a normal neighborhood” type narrative. The mimicking of the mental and physical states of our lead character Wanda through visual expressions as the world seemed to follow the heartbeat of her own were not only often hilarious to witness, but a sign of Marvel breaking artistic boundaries for the better — it really did feel like top-tier material that the studio has done thus far especially in terms of characterization. When I look back at what I’d consider the highlights of WandaVision, I’ll certainly be recalling the amusing magic show where Vision the “robot” gets “drunk” on bubblegum caught in his steel mechanics and Wanda having to fix his shenanigans live in front of the town audience, or the pandemonium of Wanda birthing the twins where the surrounding neighborhood begins structurally imploding as the pain of labor is symbolized through the sitcoms colorful set components.
Yet, of course, the season must have its exterior plot handled though, right? Smartly so too, however, in the financial and critical department, as the reactions to the show’s first three episodes were undoubtedly polarizing with many unadventurous followers of the franchise calling it a pointless ploy and demanding the tiresome MCU formula back. Indisputably, episode 4 of WandaVision arrives as a half-hour exposition dump, but at least a cheaply gratifying one where the inpatient fans get most of their questions answered, and the show achieves maintaining the average viewers attention. With a property so giant in fan-size, this was technically the smartest decision the company could make, even if it sacrificed the qualitative stretches that the mini-series could’ve potentially gained in the “progression” of a good-old-fashioned mystery.
I do like the inclusion of Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis, however, as there’s an obvious “meta” to their existence, mimicking our very own confusion towards the existence of those first three episodes. It’s an exterior, secondary world to the one that exists in Wanda’s mind, and I wasn’t bothered by it being there at all to separate the audience from the fiction and reality of the situation at hand. Monica’s character, previously seen in Captain Marvel, didn’t do much for me though. She basically ends up belief-wise back to where she started at in the beginning. Her arc is literally a straight line as far as I’m concerned besides the fact that she gets some new kickass superpowers! The best supporting character in WandaVision, although, comes strictly down to the return of Vision. I appreciated the sort of, almost “lite” existential crisis he went on while he slowly began absorbing what exactly was happening in his situation, slowly finding out that he was an “idea” from Wanda’s head rather than a “real” person. Again, it’s another exploration that Marvel could’ve drawn-out and examined a little closer, but is mostly played out casually, like an afterthought at the end of the day.
As rough as the transition from episodes 1-3 to 4 are, I do however appreciate how the show maintains course from thereon out with its contained balance of the sitcom aesthetic and the trademark modern MCU layout. In a way, this complete excavation of every era of the sitcom genre feels like an unapologetic love letter, and it shields it appropriately in the show’s own narrative happening between the people versus Wanda. Episode 5 and 6 pose as the return to 80s (Father Knows Best) and early 2000s (Malcolm in the Middle) stylizations, and even grow into more modern sitcoms displayed in Episode 7 (Modern Family, The Office, etc.). On top of that, the show progressively amps the desperation of Wanda’s conflict more openly, showing us the grimmer side of how far she’s willing to indulge in her sick fantasies and how aggressive she can be in executing them.
Karma hits her like a brick, however, as we find out in the kind of shocking yet sometimes overly melodramatic — as many MCU films tend to cheap-play, rinse, reuse and recycle for so many of their movie’s climaxes — seventh episode that reveals Agatha as the “true” villain of the show; she plans to mind control Wanda like how Wanda mind controlled an entire city. Karma sure does bite! Then we get to episode 8, however, being my second least favorite of the season, which is surprising considering it’s the one that arguably has the most “character development” of any other episode. My issue with it though is that it’s, in reality, just “recap development”, mainly composed of elements we already know of when it comes to the story of Wanda, just explained in grave, textbook detail, treating the audience ultimately as idiots. It’s funny how the beginning 5 minutes of the episode are only there to give Agatha a spot to shine for awhile until her entire antagonistic character is transformed into a cheap outlet to pose ANOTHER exposition dump again on the audience, this being not only one that summarizes the origins of Wanda’s radical condition, but also as a way to slowly spell out the ever so simple motifs of the show, as if the audience couldn’t have already deduced them by the previous episode’s events alone.
Essentially, Previously On takes us back to the Age of Ultron, where violence against the Soviets by “American machinery” ironically birthed the “American dream” in Wanda. But we saw and learned or insinuated this already in that Avengers movie and throughout Wanda’s journey in the previous episodes of WandaVision; we know most of this! Yet, this 40-minute episode is simply here to cater for an audience who either hasn’t seen that movie, hasn’t been paying attention that well to the show, or cares about a couple origin details that could’ve been expressed easily in a more compact amount of time. This episode is just blatant proof of a show that could’ve easily been trimmed down in time to increase quality; it’s okay to trust the audience sometimes! The single good excuse for these time frames of elongated explaining on the show is that well, to accept that this program is made for mainly kids, but I’m sure the MCU fanbase wouldn’t be too happy about me saying that and I’m sure some of the darker material in the story would say otherwise as well.
We must give Elizabeth Olsen a giant round of applause though, cause her performance damn well makes the episode worth something. If the last 10 minutes of Previously On were just the entire episode too, I would’ve much rather preferred that sort of spiel of information than the preceding 30 minutes that pulled an actual recap of insignificant Wanda “fun facts” to evoke emotional nostalgia from the audience.
Okay, now time to dive into the opinion that hopefully won’t upset readers too much… *sigh* I kind of hated The Series Finale? Umm, this is going to be a really obscure comparison I’m about to make here that only late 90s or super super early 2000s kids like myself will understand, but the ending of this is almost identical to how Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows played out? Yes, Bionicle, a LEGO franchise, made a movie in 2004 that was straight-to-DVD and clearly devised just to advertise toy products. In that narrative, there’s a central villain that convinces the leading “hero” of an almost Avengers-like team of warriors to pursue the potential of how evil he can be. This central villain tries to manipulate this hero into becoming a villain with her cheese-talk of ultimatums and destinies, but in the end, the hero tricks her into believing that he had become convinced of her ideologies and that she had won in the end — for pretty much no other reason but audience deception. Of course, she realizes eventually that she had been bamboozled and that it was a ploy all along; this hero actually still has some morally righteous spark left in him! The warriors win in a very quip-filled battle and ultimately defeat the evil. Problem solved. Oh yeah, and one of the heroes tries sacrificing himself so that the nearly corrupted hero could become good again. Hmmm…
Obviously, that entire phenomenon was written for an obscure, very young audience, at what can be assumed on an extraordinarily low-budget and furthermore as simply a quick-jot advertising ploy, so the fact that the script for it is pretty cruddy and lovey-dovey, doesn’t come as a surprise. Yet, that movie is FRIGHTENINGLY close to how the final episode of WandaVision was written. Yep.
Agatha — now one of my least favorite characters of the entire MCU despite Kathryn Hahn trying her best to make it work with her quirky personality — is constantly throughout the big battle giving Wanda the classic and over-bloated “give in” talk; her whole existence truly did become just a pushing-point to convince Wanda to ironically do the right thing; wtf? But, Wanda tricks her with a POINTLESS deception scheme — cause remember the audience exists and they ought to be shocked now and again because they cut off the central mystery of the show four episodes in — where Agatha believes to have manipulated and sucked the powers out of her. Oh, and you know how it is, Wanda wins, punishes Agatha — despite Agatha low-key being the one to wake her out of her evil addiction to torturing town people — and flies off scot-free while Monica gives her the thumbs up. Yeah the whole, “if it were my mom, I would’ve done the same thing” comment that Monica makes is kind of a savage comment given there’s still hundreds of forever psychologically scarred people now at your doorsteps who have to suffer with possible memory-dementia. But, ya know, the show must insist to the audience that Wanda doesn’t deserve further consequences, and we should cheer on and on for her recovery and the “sacrifice” that she made. And yes, Vision is the one comparable to that Bionicle hero in that older children’s movie I was referencing who was willing to immolate himself for the saving of his beloved friend who he was convinced was becoming evil, and so on so forth…
So basically my hypothesis is if you liked the final episode of WandaVision you damn well better like Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows too at least!
You may retort to me though, “But, Evan! Wanda at the end sacrifices her kids and her husband to save the town that she imprisoned? Isn’t that something new — besides the fact that she’s sacrificed Vision already before in Infinity War — and deep, and poetic, and emotional, and character-growing, and etc. compared to that strangely specific kid’s movie you used to watch as a wee child?” Almost true. Yet, you must not know the MCU by now! If they’re willing to force these main characters to make a heartbreaking decision then they must be rewarded with compensation. Do you really think those people are dead forever? First off there’s a third Vision now out there with all of the second Vision’s memory intact. Lastly, thanks to the second end credit scene of the episode, we now know that her kids are still out there somewhere. Coppppp-outsssss…
I will admit though, the Vision vs. Vision fight in this episode was EPIC. They took the quirks of his personality and seemed it cleverly into how two of his own copies would actually escalate themselves to in a fight against one another while considering their almost invincible physicalities. And they brought up the Ship of Theseus allegory! It’s like I’m back in school again!
There is one last complaint though that I have with the finale and maybe the entire show is how they treat the people of Westfield. It feels anti-first-act-of-Endgame in a way, where they’re used mainly as a ploy to shed guilt on Wanda yet the consequences of her atrocious actions are never truly sought with hatred. In fact, the entire show pushes you to hate this other character more (Tyler Hayward) who does get arrested at the end for good cause, yet, I don’t know; Wanda basically enslaved hundreds of people into who knows how long of brain damaging torment — at the fault of either her powers, a free-will mind, or a “combo” of those two things; we’ll never know — and yet the show never hits home how atrocious that crime is because she is still painted as the “anti-hero” at the end of the day, who only did it because of the loss she had suffered, which is weirdly comparable to the Civil War MCU villain Zemo or any antagonist already presented in this universe that at least didn’t have a “kill everybody cause why not and stuff” rationale. All she gets at the conclusion of the episode are dirty-looks and a questionable friendly wave goodbye from her new super-powered pal as the other “bad guys” are whisked away to prison. I wish Marvel shined some ambiguity in their definitions of heroes and villains a tad more cause the illogically biased siding in these narratives is fatiguing and preposterous!
My experience with WandaVision reminds me far too much of my situation with HBO’s Watchmen series, where I had found each episode to be solid besides its concluding disaster. But, that’s important to recognize: I can’t deny how much I enjoyed the first six episodes of this show, truly. Wanda, furthermore, has fulfilled the potential of being maybe one of the better characters in the MCU with her cynical philosophy of choosing fictional salvation through the suffering of others. HOWEVER, the plot surrounding her ends up not doing too much justice to the concept or aim in which the story is steering at, unfortunately, and I think most importantly the quality of previous episodes have actually whittled down for me because the mystery that they had brought up feel so melodramatic looking back at them now for what just resulted in a trite as hell, childishly manipulative and tonally hesitant blockbuster cage fight. By episode 9, mere to nothing is actually expanded on in the themes that the show presents in its inception besides the predictable “sacrifice”.
I do believe though that future MCU projects should consider implementing the paid-off ambitions that this show delivered in its first six episodes while at all costs avoiding at least its devastatingly bland final episode. The show was so close to greatness! It’s decent enough howbeit if you stick to those first six episodes and make up your own ending, but these gosh darn MCU entries are always so close to grasping high-end quality and it ticks mwah off that they rarely try to reach it! Stop teasing us!
1.Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience = B
2.Don’t Touch That Dial = B
3.Now in Color = B
4.We Interrupt This Program = B-
5.On a Very Special Episode = B-
6.All-New Halloween Spooktacular! = B-
7.Breaking the Fourth Wall = C+
8.Previously On = C+
9.The Series Finale = D
Final Verdict: C+
“WandaVision” is now available to stream on Disney+.