REVIEW: WandaVision Has a Wonderfully Weird Start

A couple stands inside by the entrance of their house, its door remaining open. A woman dressed in a 1950s traditional, white bridal gown and veil is being playfully tipped over by her groom, a man in a suit with a robotically constructed face.

Wanda Maximoff and Vision are no ordinary couple, so how long can they keep up an act before their neighbors find out? WandaVision is the latest byproduct emerging from the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline that follows the lives of Wanda Maximoff and Vision living in a suburban American neighborhood after the events of Avengers: Endgame.

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany return to reprise their roles from the movies respectively, and the two try to live their marriage with as much normalcy as possible in spite of the occasional use of their abilities—all while saving face against a potential threat that exists underneath this blissful life’s surface. With these shenanigans depicted in the manner that pays homage and parodies old sitcoms, WandaVision somehow managed to capture my interest in spite of all the questions that kept flooding my mind with each passing minute of watching it.

WandaVision
“Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience” and “Don’t Touch That Dial”

Matt Shakman (director), Jac Schaeffer (writer), Gretchen Enders (writer)
Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany (cast)
January 15, 2021

I was never one to fight for a ticket to catch any of the big MCU movies right on the date of their theatrical premiere. I was also never a regular reader of Marvel comics, and it wasn’t a huge interest within my own circle of friends either. By the time I do catch up to the debates and theories about who lived or died, much of the fervor has already faded away. And with so many more Marvel projects coming up and in production for years to come, it can get really overwhelming to keep track of any of it. But marketed with a unique premise, something like WandaVision somehow caught my eye.

The series’ opening episode jumps right into leading viewers into what looks like to be a 1950s sitcom. A woman (Elizabeth Olsen), adorned in the era-appropriate fashion of a housewife, hair and all, shares some comic banter with her android husband (Paul Bettany) after levitating some plates and accidentally hitting his head with one of them. Before leaving for work, his wife stops him to put on his human appearance. Although stylized in black and white and with the exact sort of cheesy, restrained acting that respects an old moral code like in The Dick Van Dyke Show or Leave It to Beaver, fans of the MCU movies or comics already know who the Scarlet Witch and Vision are. But why do they look like that? What are they doing here? And wait—if this is taking place after Endgame, isn’t Vision supposed to be dead?

A woman dressed in 1950s formal wear and sporting a short, curled hairstyle sits at a dining table where a couple of wine glasses and a lit candle are set in front of her. She has an expression of shock, looking towards the right edge of the frame's foreground. An older man, out of focus, is sitting along her gaze, his hand against his chest.
I, too, do not know what is going on!

But those answers definitely were not expected to come to fruition in just the series’ opener. In Episode 1, the two are struggling to remember the significance of the day’s date, as marked by a heart on their calendar. Hinting that the two seem to have more memory gaps than warranted, Wanda concludes it must be their anniversary while Vision realizes he scheduled a dinner for his boss, Mr. Hart (Fred Melamed), from work. Typical of the story setup in these sorts of shows, misunderstandings ensue but the two manage to work out the core problem in the end.

With a little last minute help from the archetypal nosy neighbor, Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), whom Wanda befriended earlier in the episode, dinner is successfully served. But as already foretold, not everything is fine and dandy on the surface and viewers are soon subjected to an uncomfortable, dragged out sequence where Mr. Hart chokes on his food until Vision finally risks helping him with his powers. Although ending on a happy note, the final frame of the episode zooms out from a screen in a control room of a film studio, with someone also having been watching the events that unfolded.

In the following episode, time seems to have moved forward in WandaVision’s world as shown in the prevalence of ’60s fashion and the more relaxed, and somewhat raunchier nature of the script’s humor. Episode 2 is more stylized in the vein of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, and Wanda has traded in her dress and apron for a pair of slacks and a catchy, animated theme introduction sequence to boot.

The couple are planning a magic duo act for a neighborhood talent show, and Wanda struggles to get comfortable with the stuffy dynamics of the planning committee, and Dottie (Emma Caulfield Ford), its head. She also runs into strange objects rendered in color in the neighborhood’s black and white world and hears a strange voice trying to speak to her. Although the magic show ended up conducting itself awkwardly—because Vision accidentally swallowed gum that messed around with his mechanisms—the audience was still entertained and Wanda received praise from Dottie.

The two return home, and Wanda reveals a visible pregnancy, despite having worn a magician’s assistant leotard outfit on the same day with no signs of such a thing. This tender moment is interrupted by a loud noise that has been plaguing the couple’s home since the beginning of the episode and two finally decide to properly investigate it. In doing so, they see a figure in a beekeeper outfit emerging from a manhole on their street, and Wanda rewinds time back into the house as if they never bothered to investigate. The two instead kiss, and Vision triggers some sort of remote that fills the frame and splashes the black and white world with color, beginning a transition into the 70s.

WandaVision is hosted exclusively on Disney+ and the first of many series to come packaged under the Marvel Studios label. The series is also the first television series and first project to kick off what is now considered Phase Four of the MCU chronology. The title of the series is not only a blatant, bold declaration of a ship name, but it is also referencing the word, “television,” itself. Its phrasing and stylization can also be alluding to the trademarked gimmicks and processes that sought to enhance the market of the television and movie-watching experience from the ’50s and ’60s, with things like from “Smell-O-Vision” and the advances of Technicolor. The title may also be a literal reference to Wanda’s own telekinetic and reality-warping powers as a meta nod to the show’s own unclear reality: “Wanda vision.”

WandaVision does not shy away from referencing and creating Easter eggs to other Marvel properties such as creating kitschy, fake commercials interspersed within the middle of each episode. These commercials remain fashioned to the period they are tied to, such as Episode 1 featuring an advanced toaster produced by Stark Industries to a Strücker luxury watch advertised on Episode 2. Whether or not any of these things may tie in significantly to WandaVision’s own specific narrative remains in the air.

But because of even just potentially minute elements sprinkled in the series like these, it is difficult to parse who the series is really for. With its already pre-established narrative, it’s difficult for newcomers to use this as a vehicle to get into the MCU. Neither is it for fans who are nostalgic for these types of old, classic shows but uninterested, or unfamiliar, with these characters.

However, in spite of my own detachment from the material, I really do dig WandaVision so far. Olsen and Bettany’s chemistry as the unconventional pair is utterly adorable, and Olsen has presence with her Wanda, giving her more sass and a confidence in the character that she couldn’t in her previous appearances. The series’ production design and direction is also brilliant, capturing the tedium and tropes of older American television, all the while bringing an unnerving quality as to how far they take it to play things straight. From the canned, taped laughter of a live audience to the subtle evolution in its writing as the decade changes, WandaVision definitely succeeds in both accentuating a style all the while making fun of it.

A man with a robotically constructed face and a human woman stand with a surprised look on their faces in the middle of a 1960s-styled living room. Parts of the frame are strobing from a black and white color palette into a scene with more color.
Wikipedia told me that, “The eye takes approximately 20–30 minutes to fully adapt from bright sunlight to complete darkness and becomes 10,000 to 1,000,000 times more sensitive than at full daylight” so I can’t imagine what these two felt like in this moment.

WandaVision does not shy away from referencing and creating Easter eggs to other Marvel properties such as creating kitschy, fake commercials interspersed within the middle of each episode. These commercials remain fashioned to the period they are tied to, such as Episode 1 featuring an advanced toaster produced by Stark Industries to a Strücker luxury watch advertised on Episode 2. Whether or not any of these things may tie in significantly to WandaVision’s own specific narrative remains in the air.

But because of even just potentially minute elements sprinkled in the series like these, it is difficult to parse who the series is really for. With its already pre-established narrative, it’s difficult for newcomers to use this as a vehicle to get into the MCU. Neither is it for fans who are nostalgic for these types of old, classic shows but uninterested, or unfamiliar, with these characters.

However, in spite of my own detachment from the material, I really do dig WandaVision so far. Olsen and Bettany’s chemistry as the unconventional pair is utterly adorable, and Olsen has presence with her Wanda, giving her more sass and a confidence in the character that she couldn’t in her previous appearances. The series’ production design and direction is also brilliant, capturing the tedium and tropes of older American television, all the while bringing an unnerving quality as to how far they take it to play things straight. From the canned, taped laughter of a live audience to the subtle evolution in its writing as the decade changes, WandaVision definitely succeeds in both accentuating a style all the while making fun of it.

To reiterate, I am by no means a Marvel super fan, so for every clever reference I may not get, I would have to be careful about skirting spoilers and story arcs to do my research. (For the super fans, on the other hand, I actually highly recommend reading Claire’s excellent breakdown of WandaVision’s potential influences from a limited series and even more.) It is definitely a show best for anyone who has been familiarized with the MCU prior, and it seems pretty clear upfront that it connects and fits squarely in that chronology—and without that context, WandaVision cannot completely stand on its own.

I can also imagine the show is not one that would land with Marvel’s undeniably large section of much younger consumers, far removed from feeling nostalgic for a period they never lived through. And it’s unclear if boomers will enjoy its jabs at the pop culture that raised them.

For curious and total newcomers, WandaVision is unfortunately not something that can be totally removed from the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s clearly setting itself up to eventually tie-in with the fallout from Endgame, and it feeds directly into Doctor Strange 2. But bearing the little knowledge that I retain in my brain for Marvel-anything, it currently stands as probably one of the most interesting things to have been wrought out of the greater franchise. With a wonderfully weird start, WandaVision gives Phase Four promise with its unconventional presentation and a bigger mystery afoot. Sans a TV dinner and a television box for a computer monitor and a pair of headphones instead, it is certainly keeping me tuned in every week.

Elvie Mae Parian

Elvie Mae Parian

Elvie somehow finds bliss in purposefully complicating the art of storytelling and undertaking the painful practice of animation. If you see her on Twitter at @lvmaeparian, she is doing neither of those things.
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