WandaVision recap: Daydream believer
WandaVision has (rightfully) received a lot of praise for creating a compelling story by simply throwing two well-known (yet underserved on the big screen) characters into an unsettling and fully realized sitcom world. The '50s-set series premiere threw back to I Love Lucy and the second episode jumped forward to '60s and homaged to Bewitched. And the show fully committed to the bits of each era. The broad humor was actually funny, and it felt like the writers approached the show like they were writing actual sitcoms, as opposed to writing stories where superheroes are trapped in one. However, as I watched the third episode, "Now in Color," which brings the titular couple to the '70s and apes shows like The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, I was struck by how WandaVision has also revived a classic superhero trope that Marvel abandoned 12 years ago.
When Iron Man hit theatres in 2008, it sparked a major paradigm shift in the superhero genre with its final scene. After the big bad battle, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark held a press conference where reporters asked if he was Iron Man. In a traditional story, he would've denied that, and that's what the S.H.I.E.L.D. suit (Clark Gregg) wanted him to do. But Tony declared, "I am Iron Man," blowing up one of the genre's enduring tropes: the secret identity. After spending many years watching all of Smallville's supporting characters suffer multiple head injuries to explain why they never witnessed Clark Kent use his powers to save them, that scene felt revolutionary. And there was no going back either. None of the MCU movies that followed have bothered with secret identities, save Tom Holland's Spider-Man films, but also barely because Peter Parker was outed in the final moments of Spider-Man: Far From Home. (Even the Arrowverse's reliance on secret identities has decreased with each passing year to the point that it's a running joke on The Flash that Barry Allen sucks at keeping his side hustle a secret.)
What's interesting about WandaVision, though, is how the show's sitcom setup naturally resurrected the importance of the secret identity, at least for Wanda and Vision, both of whom are seeking a normal life. A lot of the humor in the first two episodes is the result of Wanda and Vision trying to hide their powers from their neighbors, and that remains the case as the couple enters the technicolor age and deals with Wanda's surprising and speedy pregnancy. Sure, Vision is happy about Wanda's bun in the oven, but he's also very anxious about how quickly it's progressing and thus hiding it from their neighbors. Of course, that becomes harder as her pregnancy starts affecting her powers, leading to some hilarious chaos in both their home and the neighborhood: flooding, spazzy appliances, power outages, and spontaneous wardrobe changes.
The threat of people finding out about Wanda's powers led to my favorite comedic moment in "Now in Color": The stork that Wanda painted in the nursery coming to life and plodding around the living room, and Wanda tried and almost failed to hide it from Geraldine/Monica, who dropped by to visit. On top of it being just a hilarious visual, it just added an extra level of weirdness to the entire episode.
Normally, I would complain about WandaVision resurrecting a now outdated trope like the secret identity, because who has time for recycled ideas. However, I think it works here because it isn't driven by nostalgia. It's both a natural result of the show's frame device and another sign that there's something deeper lurking just beneath the vibrant sets. In fact, this episode starts digging to reveal the show's sad and emotional core.
Because of the accelerated timeline, Wanda obviously gives birth to twin boys in this episode: Tommy and Billy, which are the names of hers and Vision's kids in the comics. As Wanda lovingly gazes at her newborns, she enters a sort of daze and reveals to Geraldine/Monica that she had a twin brother, Pietro, a.k.a. Quicksilver, who died in Avengers: Age of Ultron. And in that moment, the show's emotional stakes — which were primarily conveyed and hinted at in interviews with the cast and producers instead of in the actual text of the show — locked into place and what we all presumed became clear: Wanda is using this world to escape her grief and sadness over losing Vision in Avengers: Infinity War, but also her brother. (ASIDE: Geraldine/Monica asking "He was killed by Ultron, wasn't he?" was hilarious because of how seriously Teyonah Parris delivered that bit of exposition and how the mere mention of Avengers: Age of Ultron resulted in her being kicked out this world because we do not talk about that interestingly flawed and sad movie.)
I truly loved that WandaVision gave Wanda the opportunity here to express some of her grief, or at least start to, because she really hasn't gotten the opportunity to in any of the movies. (In general, both the MCU and superhero stories in general have a spotty track record when it comes to exploring loss.) Elizabeth Olsen made Wanda's sorrow very palpable as she sang a presumably Sokovian lullaby to the kids. And it was nice that this moment was the point of the episode and wasn't overshadowed by any superheroic shenanigans. Although now I'm steeling myself for an eventual Quicksilver cameo.
Furthermore, the implication that Wanda is finding some kind of solace in old pop culture, especially television, is incredibly relatable. I don't know about you, but I spent the last year watching relatively old TV shows to distract myself from my anxiety and existential dread over, well, everything. This one scene where Wanda's sadness starts seeping through feels very human in a way most superhero shows rarely do. (ASIDE: With WandaVision and "Drivers License," Disney+ is really making a case for how sad the suburbs can be.)
The other marvelous thing about "Now in Color" is how it seamlessly moves through different tones: from wacky Brady Bunch-like high jinks, to the aforementioned poignant consideration of Wanda's losses, to finally horror. That final tonal starts creeping in when Geraldine/Monica mentions Ultron, and Agness and Herb heavily imply to Vision that there's something suspicious about both Ms. Rambeau and this world. The music becomes very ominous while still operating in the '70s paradigm, and Olsen introduces a menacing coolness in her performance. The sense of horror fully drops in with the shot of Wanda standing over her cooing babies (whose faces, I just realized, we never actually see) and coldly looking into the camera.
Up until this point, WandaVision has kept the Marvel-ness somewhat at bay; however, as the final scene hints that things might be changing. "Now in Color" ends with Monica being ejected back out into the real world (presumably by Wanda). As she lies on a field outside of the real Westview, a hoard of government (probably S.W.O.R.D.) vehicles excitedly arrive. On the one hand, I'm worried this portends WandaVision becoming very MCU. On the other hand, I'm excited because hopefully this means Darcy the Intern's (Kat Dennings) arrival is imminent.
In other words: Darcy Hive, assemble!
Christian's Take: I just have two points I'd like to make on top of what Chance has already said. The first is that I love how much everyone's overgrown '70s haircuts look like, well, quarantine hairdos! Happy days are here again, indeed. The second is about everyone's favorite android supervillain. I fully flipped out at the Ultron reference! Chance and I are on record saying Avengers: Age of Ultron is better than it is often given credit for, and I've often wondered if the MCU was ever planning to bring him back. Ultron has popped up in non-film tie-ins, such as the Avengers: Damage Control VR experience I wrote up two years ago. but now I'm wondering if he'll have a bigger role in WandaVision. We are in need of some kind of villainous mastermind, after all. The second episode gave us that ad for a watch named after Hydra leader Baron Strucker, but he's dead — killed by Ultron, in fact! If I'm right and the beekeeper outfit glimpsed in episode 2 means the involvement of Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), that kind of suggests M.O.D.O.K., but we already know the MCU's plans for M.O.D.O.K. and they are pretty far removed from any of this. So, what if it's Ultron? What if he's back, manipulating Wanda again? The idea certainly excites me. Granted, there's not a ton of evidence to go on. All we have is Monica Rambeau stating an empirical fact: Pietro Maximoff was, indeed, killed by Ultron. But a nerd can dream!
Chancellor's addendum: The one thing I want to add to Christian's point is that we shouldn't give up a hope for a M.O.D.O.K. appearance. There's a reason Marvel initially gave Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. permission to use that villainous floating head in season 4 and then changed its mind, and I doubt it was because of the animated show.
- Another hilarious visual: Herb trying to trim his wall. The sight gag had the chaotic energy of "Too Many Cooks."
- The opening theme song was, of course, brilliant. I really love imagining Olsen and Bettany running around filming this little vignettes.
- After the opening credits, the staircase in Wanda and Vision's home was probably the biggest Brady Bunch nod.
- Wanda's decision to escape her grief in this TV world reminded me of my favorite Abed (Danny Pudi) quotes from Community. "I can tell life from TV, Jeff. TV makes sense, it has structure, logic, rules, and likable leading men. In life, we have this," says Abed, referencing the study group's fight.
Marvel’s first Disney+ series centers on Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) living in a world of domestic bliss that’s part kitschy sitcom, part trippy comic book adventure.