WandaVision premiere recap: Welcome to Westview
EW's Marvel recappers break down the premiere episodes of the new Disney+ series WandaVision.
Welcome to the new era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Sure, the MCU has been on TV before (on both ABC, in the form of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, and on Netflix with the Defenders shows) but WandaVision is the first series to debut on Disney+, inaugurating Phase Four of the master plan. Another first: WandaVision episodes are only half an hour long (hell yeah) since the show is riffing on sitcoms. But here's what hasn't changed: My colleague Chancellor Agard and I will still be recapping this Marvel TV show for you! We'll take turns in the driver's seat, but we'll also try to chime in during each of our off-weeks — so stay tuned for Chance's take on the first two episodes at the end of this piece.
So without further ado, let's start discussing this two-part premiere! I'm glad WandaVision was the first of the initial slate of MCU Disney+ shows to debut, because I think it has a much more interesting concept than, say, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. If you've been watching trailers and reading the reporting of EW's Devan Coggan, you probably know the basic premise: Scarlet Witch and Vision have ended up in an alternate reality based on old-fashioned sitcoms.
It's good to have that knowledge going in because WandaVision doesn't waste time getting you caught up. It begins in the midst of this black-and-white life that the two Avengers have created for themselves: Vision wearing a suit and going to an office job, Wanda wearing a '50s housewife-style dress and apron, both of them cracking broad jokes. A big part of that housewife archetype is cooking delicious breakfasts and dinners for her husband, but Vision doesn't eat. So Wanda mostly uses her magic to lift pots and pans around the kitchen to look productive.
As anyone familiar with '60s sitcoms knows, a magical housewife isn't a new concept. While the first episode of WandaVision seems to be riffing on '50s shows like I Love Lucy, the second episode moves forward a decade for an homage to the '60s era of Bewitched — right down to the Hanna-Barbera style animation at the beginning of the episode, as well as the cartoony graphics showing Vision getting gum stuck in his gears. The mixed-media aesthetic is really fun, and a big part of what makes WandaVision more interesting to me than previous Marvel TV shows.
I'm also counting the parody commercials as part of that approach. The commercials make sense as an aesthetic choice — they were certainly an integral part of those early sitcoms. But I like that they're also being used here to drop possible hints about the larger story. The first episode's commercial is for a Stark product, but the second one is even more interesting. It's for a "Strucker" watch, which can only be a reference to Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, the HYDRA commander who experimented on Wanda and her brother Pietro (R.I.P.) to give them their superpowers in the first place.
What kind of hint might that be? At this point, maybe it's better just to ask: What exactly do we think is going on here?
Going into WandaVision, from a Marvel comic fan perspective, I anticipated lots of references to two storylines in particular: House of M, the 2005 event series by writer Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel that saw the Scarlet Witch use her powers to transform the world such that no one even noticed reality was entirely different; and the more recent Vision miniseries by writer Tom King and artist Gabriel Walta in which the titular android builds a whole nuclear family of robots for himself in the hope of living a normal suburban life. Both comics are very much worth reading, but so far WandaVision definitely seems to be drawing more from House of M. Wanda has some amount of control here, which makes sense since as far as we know, Vision is dead... isn't he?
Like so many others, Vision was killed by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. But he was one of the few (alongside Iron Man and Black Widow) who didn't come back by the end of Avengers: Endgame. Did a grieving Wanda try to construct a new reality as a way of bringing her husband back? Could be; the comic Wanda's reshaping of reality in House of M was all based on bringing back her children. But in House of M, Wanda was just the magical engine of the new world; the actual shaping of that alternate reality was being directed to her by her family. Is something similar going on here, with Wanda being directed by unseen agents?
The first episode ends with the credits rolling on the sitcom-style plot of Wanda and Vision hosting a dinner for his boss but then zooms out to show us that episode is being watched by some agent. Starting in the second episode, we start to hear the voice of FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), last seen acting as Scott Lang's parole officer in Ant-Man and the Wasp, now asking: "Who's doing this to you, Wanda?" Plus, Teyonah Parris shows up in the second episode calling herself "Geraldine," even though we've seen Captain Marvel and we know that's Monica Rambeau. So it seems like whoever's helping or making Wanda build this sitcom reality, it's not the "good guy" organizations like SHIELD and the FBI. Those organizations seem to be trying to break through the illusion, possibly even sending in Monica in disguise. That must mean it's actually an evil force like Hydra... but Hydra was also destroyed, we thought (not for the first time). Is there another shadowy evil organization lurking out there in the Marvel Universe?
Indeed there is! The biggest hint about this comes from the climax of the second episode. The story begins with Vision and Wanda (sleeping in separate beds, sitcom-style) hearing a noise outside and getting all annoyed by it. At the end, that noise returns, and when they go to investigate, they find something truly strange: A figure crawling out of a manhole in the street, dressed like a beekeeper, with bees buzzing around their head. "Beekeeper" is a pretty good way to describe the typical full-body yellow outfit worn by the evil scientists from Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), which you may remember being briefly mentioned as the name of Aldrich Killian's company in Iron Man 3. In the comics, A.I.M. was founded by Baron Strucker (huh! Must be a coincidence!) and is usually associated with high-level scientific research and development. Does that mean this whole thing is some kind of deranged science experiment to test the limits of Wanda's reality-shaping powers?
What's stumping me right now is that clearly this illusion is consensual at some level. Wanda seems to like it. She responds to the beekeeper's appearance by saying "no" and literally rewinding the scene to prevent Vision from seeing the man behind the manhole cover. At the end of the first episode, when neighbor Arthur (Fred Melamed) starts getting too intense in his questioning about why Wanda and Vision came to Westview, he starts choking in a manner that seems like Wanda is Force choking him, Darth Vader style, until he eventually recovers and everyone forgets about it. What is the truth? Guess we'll have to wait to find out for sure, but I'm definitely intrigued.
Before I hand it over to Chance, the last thing I want to mention in this first recap is that Kathryn Hahn is absolutely killing it as Agnes. She's clearly having a blast inhabiting both the buttoned-up aesthetic and the "golly gee" jargon of the era, and breathes a lot of life into the cast. She's also doing a great job of throwing off my suspicions. Is she an A.I.M. agent? I can't tell!
Chancellor's Take: I completely agree with everything Christian mentioned above! The only thing I would add is how Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are giving truly fantastic performances as Scarlet Witch and Vision. Playing a superhero on television requires a certain level of commitment. You can't approach these characters like you're too cool for some of the cheesier aspects or keep yourself at a distance because then the audience might not fully invest in the world either. Thankfully, that's not an issue on WandaVision because Olsen and Bettany are all in. Just look at how both of them embrace the silliness during the second episode's hilariously disastrous talent show. (If you know me, you know I hate puns, but Vision's so-bad-it's-funny "gum up the works" quip made me chuckle.) There were a few times when I forgot this TV world was fake because of how locked in both performers were. Honestly, part of me is kind of bummed that all of the artificial TV world will eventually go away because it's just so fun watching them inhabit it. (Also, did you catch that S.W.O.R.D. logo on the toy helicopter?)