To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘WandaVision’: A tour de force through the decades

In 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” the android Avenger, Vision (Paul Bettany), dies. Despite those unfortunate circumstances, “WandaVision,” the first of several upcoming Disney and Marvel projects, shows Vision well and alive in 1950s Americana. Confused? Welcome to the club. “WandaVision” fully commits to its concept with little regard for the larger context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and if the first four episodes are any indication, Disney seems content to bring its audience along for the ride whether they understand what is happening or not.

At first, watching “WandaVision” is like being thrown in the deep end of a pool without even being introduced to the concept of swimming. The first three episodes, titled “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience,” “Don’t Turn That Dial” and “Now in Color,” each perfectly mimic the tone and style of sitcoms produced from the fifties, sixties and seventies, respectively. The first two episodes are even in black and white! While Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision endure typical sitcom plotlines like participating in a talent show or having the boss over for dinner, the audience is forced to grapple with a pressing question: “How is Vision alive?” The show seems particularly intent on not only not answering those questions, but completely ignoring them. 

The sitcom world that Wanda and Vision inhabit is fully realized: they have neighbors like Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) and Dottie (Emma Caulfield Ford), and friends like Geraldine (Teyonah Parris). While the commitment to the sitcom format might bore some regular MCU viewers, I found it totally entertaining and engaging, particularly with how the commitment extended to even the Disney+ episode descriptions. That same commitment also makes the uncanny moments and glitches stand out even more.

The shift in the first episode’s dinner sequence is as thrilling as it is disturbing, as is the attempted radio contact in the second episode. Geraldine’s direct reference to Ultron, who killed Wanda’s brother Pietro in the second “Avengers” movie is so stunning that it literally tears down “WandaVision’s” sitcom charade. The final shot of Wanda standing over her twins’ cribs claiming that Geraldine went home is both ethereal and horrifying, particularly knowing the twins’ fate in the comics. 

Although nothing explicitly states this in the first three episodes, it is clear that “WandaVision” is some kind of adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis’s 2004 “House of M” storyline. In that comic, driven mad by the loss of her children, Wanda is manipulated by her brother into rewriting reality to give everyone their greatest wish. Wanda’s pregnancy, and the fact that Vision is alive when he should very much be dead, should give any comic book fan red flags even before the fourth episode, fittingly titled “We Interrupt This Program,” pulls back the curtains on what’s been happening just outside of Westview.

“We Interrupt This Program” feels like a major turning point not only for “WandaVision” but also for the MCU as a whole. Alongside the revelation that Geraldine is really Monica Rambeau from “Captain Marvel,” the show also brings in Randall Park’s Jimmy Woo from “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis from the first two Thor movies. Three secondary characters from totally different MCU movies are now working together against one threat. Unfortunately for them, that threat appears to be Wanda. 

This episode revisits her confrontation with Monica inside the sitcom. Marking the return of her signature “red magic hands” powers, Wanda throws Geraldine out of Westview before turning to see her husband’s corpse. Much like Wanda herself, I imagine most viewers gasped when the screen cut to Vision’s smashed-in forehead. “We Interrupt This Program” successfully recontextualizes many events previously seen while setting the stage for the last five episodes of the series.

The acting, both from MCU returning players and the newbies, is superb. Olsen and Bettany both add totally new dimensions to their characters, although it appears that Vision may not actually be there, which is slightly disappointing. Wanda’s transition from a classic sitcom housewife to an all-powerful antagonist is incredible to watch. There is clearly something about Agnes and Dottie being hidden from the audience, although I am not entirely sure what that is. While rewatching the episodes, I noticed that Agnes is the only character to talk about actually having been some place other than Westview. In the world beyond the sitcom, Jimmy Woo remains a delightful presence and I find Darcy much more fun than I remember her being in “Thor.” 

Most of this review was written before the fifth episode, “On This Very Special Episode…,” aired, but it seems important to address several important events. The in-show sitcom format shifts forward once more to the 1980s, while Wanda’s twins also demonstrate the ability to shift their age, quickly aging from newborns to ten-year-olds for the sake of keeping a dog. Through conflicts with both SWORD and Vision, Wanda firmly establishes herself as at least one of this show’s antagonists. Vision is now aware that something is off about their town, and Agnes continues to demonstrate a higher level of awareness. And there is a huge character introduction that could change everything about the MCU.

After more than a year without any new MCU material, “WandaVision” is a breath of fresh air. Although it is only the first MCU Disney+ show due to a change of schedule, using it as the inaugural one just makes sense. Not only does “WandaVision” continue the title characters’ stories in a new and interesting direction, but the show also acts as a celebration of TV as a medium. Trailers seem to confirm that the 2010s episode will be homaging “Modern Family,” and having the 1990s episode take style from “Full House” seems obvious with an Olsen onboard. As for the others, and what will happen in the final episode, I guess we will have to wait and see. One thing is for certain, by the time “WandaVision” finishes, Wanda will never be the same.

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