Let’s skip to the bottom of the page, so I am not accused of burying the lede: WandaVision is the most creative and innovative thing the MCU has given us and is, currently, one of the best programs currently on television. The show, created by Jac Shaeffer, is a baffling and insane combination of humor, nostalgia, a little sci-fi, a pinch of a thriller, and about a thousand other things. Both Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn deserve Emmys for the work that they’re doing and if this is the leadoff hitter for the Marvel/Disney+ television relationship, I look forward to seeing what’s going to come next.
With their two hit shows, this and a little thing you may have heard of called The Mandalorian, Disney+ has shown that they are not just around for nostalgia or so that my wife can put on a childhood favorite to help her fall asleep; they are trying to create content just as good as any of the streaming services or networks. And while The Mandalorian is probably the show I would rather watch, I think WandaVision (at least so far) is probably the better show.
Through two seasons, The Mandalorian has given us exactly what we have expected. Barring two big surprises (in the form of very cool cameos), the show hasn’t really given us any shocking moments, but we also don’t need that. We wanted the show to be a fun action romp, and that is exactly what creator Dave Filoni gave us. What makes WandaVision special is the fact that nearly every moment of the show is a surprise; because it’s not some Marvel action film, we have no idea what to expect not just in the series, but from episode to episode. And that’s not only what makes the show great, it’s what makes the show special.
(CAUTION: VERY LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD)
So, what exactly is WandaVision?
When we left the Marvel cast in Avengers: Endgame, Wanda Maximoff, AKA The Scarlet Witch (Olsen), was mourning not just the loss of Tony Stark, but the loss of Vision (Paul Bettany), her teammate and romantic interest who had been destroyed by Thanos in the previous film. In the last scene she shares with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) as they both mourn deep losses, you can see her loss all over her face.
Which is what makes WandaVision so interesting.
The first episode of the show picks up with Vision not just alive, but embodying the spirit of Dick Van Dyke. Wanda & Vision are now happily married and living in the town of Westview, New Jersey. The show feels like a classic 50’s sitcom: there’s the wacky neighbor (Kathryn Hahn) and the contrived plot (can Wanda make a dinner to impress Vision’s boss?) and even the fact that we’re watching this in black and white. Everything feels so familiar and classic, which is exactly what makes the episode so damn creepy. This is not what a Marvel show should be: where is the fighting and all the supervillains? When the show ended by letting us know that someone is watching the couple on a television, you knew not everything in Westview was what it seemed.
And it would only ratchet up from there.
(CAUTION: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD)
Each episode of the show is set to mirror the tropes of a different decade and it is done so perfectly. From a different opening theme song every week to how the show is filmed (the most recent episode has Olson talking directly to the camera in the style of “Modern Family”), it’s clear that the people making WandaVision don’t just know the history of television, they love it. Meanwhile, things keep getting creepier and creepier as Vision, whose memory seems to begin from the start of the series, starts to question exactly what secrets are happening in this town. And while Bettany is very good in this show, Olson and Hahn are the stars. The two of them are powerhouses and able to blend into whatever the specific episode is giving them.
(CAUTION: ALL THE SPOILERS AHEAD. SERIOUSLY. YOU WERE FUCKING WARNED. TURN BACK NOW)
Episode four seems to be the fulcrum point for the show (at least so far) and while some people say it’s their favorite episode, it’s the one that disappointed me the most (more on that later). Here is the episode where we’re taken out of the Westview universe into the present day real world, where Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parks) has just returned after being snapped out of existence by Thanos. As she returns to her job in the government agency S.W.O.R.D., she is tasked to Westview which seems to be surrounded by a force field (referred to by Dr. Darcy Lewis, played by Kat Dennings of the first two Thor movies, as “the hex”). At this point, the show is a combination of everything happening inside the hex and the S.W.O.R.D. trying to figure out how to stop what’s happening.
The realization comes quickly: distraught by the loss of Vision, Wanda has kidnapped his corpse and taken him to Westview where she is using her magic to create a world where she can have an idyllic television life. In this last episode, we have learned that Hahn is actually the witch Agatha Harkness, who has been doing a little magic of her own to control the town for her own, currently undetermined, plot. Honestly, this is the kind of episode that seemed like it could have been a season finale cliffhanger, which is why I’m writing about the show now.
The fact that the show has two more episodes left in the season makes it even more delicious.
So, I’ve already said I love this show, and I do. Everything that’s been given to me is wonderful Marvel magic and I’m excited to see how this thing sprints to the finish line as the season winds down.
THAT BEING SAID…
There is a very large part of me that didn’t need that fourth episode. I get that so many people love it as it helped pull back the curtain to see exactly what was going on and it allowed us all to see the events in Westview as an outside observer. But I think the show might have been more effective if, much like the citizens of Westview trapped in Wanda’s spell, we weren’t allowed to leave. If we were just seeing a different genre every week tinged with the world slowly becoming de-hexed and re-hexed (I have no other way to say that), I think this show had the potential to jump into full Twilight Zone territory and leaving us entertained, but truly unnerved, after each episode. The S.W.O.R.D. element (led by Josh Stamberg, an actor I like whose role is just stuck in “obnoxious authority figure”) is fine- Marvel rarely makes crap- but it takes me out of what I love the most about WandaVision, which is feeling just as disoriented and confused as Vision is.
As I’ve said a few times, this is an amazing show. And if I were only to judge what Disney+ is giving me to enjoy, every episode would have wonderfully high marks. And while I think the show may have missed an opportunity here and there, I cannot deny that it’s left me truly… hexed.