Disney Plus built itself into a tough situation when they delivered such a hit as The Mandalorian. Any show launching as a follow up would carry the worry of buckling under that same expectation. Though WandaVision, the launching of the fourth stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is off to an uproarious and eerie start. The series follows Elizabeth’s Olsen’s Scarlet Witch in the aftermath of her story from Avengers: Endgame as she is mysteriously and as of yet inexplicably reunited with her deceased lover, the android Vision (Paul Bettany), as they move out of the suburbs. The series is ripe with intrigue, historical sitcom homages, and ensnaring employment of the best the science-fiction genre has to offer.
WandaVision was not originally set as the opener for the MCU’s Phase Four. The privilege of that spot originally belonged to Falcon and Winter Soldier, but that series was delayed due to the Pandemic and is now scheduled for a March 2021 release. This move might be a blessing in disguise as WandaVision is tied into the Doctor Strange Sequel as Elizabeth Olsen is confirmed to be co-starring alongside Benedict Cumberpatch in Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness.
WandaVision is also set to mark the return of several major characters from various corners of the MCU, in Kat Dennings’s character, Marcy Lewis, from the first two Thor films and Randall Park’s character, Jimmy Woo, from Ant-Man and the Wasp. Teyonah Parris is also starring as an adult version of Monica Rambeau, Captain Marvel’s god-daughter from the 2019 film. The series is thus shaping up to be an important jumping off point, meanwhile Falcon and Winter Soldier have promised no such tie-ins and the series relevancy to ardent MCU fans is being called into question as rumors of Chris Evans returning to the MCU picks up traction.
As the starter series to the new year, WandaVision rings with promise as a worthy and welcome addition to the MCU in that it finds a way to be genuinely creative in the employment of its artistic direction. It utilizes the sense of security the sitcom setup promises to sew a blanket of comfort that slowly turns smothering scary as tension weaves its way in and the format fractures. As Wanda herself put it best, “We just don’t know what to expect.” It’s a must watch for any follower of the MCU and it’ll be a wonderful watch for casual Disney Plus subscribers as well.
Spoilers for the first two episodes of WandaVision follow from this point in the review:
It’s clear from the trailers and the first two episodes Wanda is trapped in some sort of bent reality. Everyone around her is stuck and terrified as they try to play out their sitcom roles plucked straight from iconic ’60s sitcoms like Bewitched and I Love Lucy. Every fissure in the reality in which the characters inhabit is rich with tension and even slithers into the territory of terror you would get in watching an old episode of The Twilight Zone. The biggest question this series ponders is whether Wanda is a fellow fly caught in the web of illusions, or whether she is the spider herself who has spun this portrait of gossamer.
Wanda seems ignorant for the most part, but there are times she feels in absolute control even as she drowns in the riddles around her. In one scene a man begins to choke and die before Wanda’s eyes as the man’s wife laughs and begs him to “Stop it!” her eyes remain locked on Wanda as her cackling cries turn to nearly tearful. Vision’s expression reads as him seemingly already knowing the answer to the enigma in which they entrenched. He only saves the man’s life on Wanda’s order, failing to act without any agency of his own.
Things point more deeply to Wanda being the mastermind of this reality when at the conclusion of episode two she seemingly rewinds time to avoid facing something that disturbs the idealized reality that governs them. Scarlet Witch is a character who has endured great trauma in her tenure of the MCU. Over the course of five films, she’s been the victim of experimentation by Nazi-scientists, lost her brother at the hands of her former guardian, accidentally killed innocent civilians while working as an avenger. She even had to kill her one lifeboat in Vision to save the universe, a sacrifice that was rendered moot due to Thanos’ use of the time stone in Infinity war. It’s safe to say the strongest Avenger is also one who has suffered the most.
When asked about how trauma plays into Scarlet witch’s character, Olsen answered “I believe in the comic, she’s always represented this idea of mental health. So, I feel like her core is about her processing of her trauma. Obviously, if she’s in the show, then that’s in the show. That is so true to who she is.” Thus, the idea of Wanda constructing a reality to try and live in a state of denial from her past would make a great deal of sense, but not all signs point in that direction.
Kathryn Hahn’s character, Agnes, has been shown as a rehash of the sitcom’s silly best friend trope, though she’s been hinted in promotional material for the show as a potentially malevolent force. Her statement of “Let’s take it from the top” hints to her having agency and awareness amongst the illusion while everyone else seems suffocated by it. Her lines to Vision of knowing about his previous death were particularly disturbing. There’s also slight coding of her character resembling another iconic early film villain, the Wicked Witch of the West.
Whatever the answer to who is behind it all, the power of WandaVision is undeniable. The series and its performances are as luminous as they are loony, and we can only delight in whatever chapter awaits the mystical mutant and her tin-man husband with the heart of gold.