***Spoilers for Wandavision***
You have to admire the sheer brass balls over at Marvel. After casually re-writing the definition of mainstream cinematic success over the past decade, Kevin Feige and his team turned their attention to the small screen with Wandavision, a show that somehow manages to be inherently mainstream, and yet uniquely bizarre.
Looking back it’s a hard show to review, as despite its meta sitcom setting, there is very little in the way of comparable television. Furthermore the return to episodic releases, something we aren’t used to in the world of streaming, gave rise to a tide of fan theory and speculation which threatened to engulf what the writers had in store.
Either way, let’s have a look back at Wandavision to establish whether it will go down as the super-powered Friends or the MCU’s Joey.
Last Time on Wandavision…
If you were coming at Wandavision with a fresh pair of eyes, I would forgive you for wondering what the hell is going on. Episodes 1 and 2 would appear to be no less than expertly crafted recreations of a classic 50s/60s Sitcom, completely in black and white, starring Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and The Vision (Paul Bettany).
Only, there is something off about the otherwise spot on homage. Both Wanda and Vision don’t seem to remember anything that started before the episode, but fully aware of their powers and are trying to hide them. Multiple times the characters question what is going on, only for a typically sitcom situation to arise, putting them back on script.
Then there are the eery events. These were my favourite part of the series, as I really enjoy off-kilter tones as a way of denoting something wrong. It’s so much more effective than jump scares or spooky music, and whilst you can praise the execution of the show at many points, the use of sound (or lack thereof), camera angles and pacing is spectacular in episodes 1 and 2 especially. It’s a shame that they are the lowest rated episodes by most, because in my opinion they are the best executed and wonderfully encapsulate the pretty insane premise of the show. Episode 3 moves to the 70s, and whilst colour comes, as well as twin boys, Vision is starting to become more and more aware that something isn’t right.
The pace really pick up in episode 4, where the pieces start coming together. Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), all grown up from the little girl from Captain Marvel comes in as a key player, along with Jimmy Wu from Ant-Man (Randall Park) and Darcy Lewis from Thor (Kat Dennings). Its an odd team, but the chemistry is great they each bring their own very MCU humour to haul the show back from being completely “out there.”
We learn that the town of Westview, has been trapped in a Hex of red magical energy, and S.W.O.R.D (the new shield, don’t over think it) led by Director Hayward (Josh Stamberg) has moved in to neutralise the threat. Darcy discovers a frequency that is broadcasting the Wandavision show, and now the team know what they are dealing with and more so – that Wanda is behind it.
Meanwhile inside the Hex, all isn’t well. Vision is questioning this reality, as Wanda continues to do all she can to keep up the facade. There are some great touches here, including her making the credits role in the middle of an argument, in an attempt to make it stop. This clever use of sitcom tropes and TV shots is a real treat, and though I can’t go through every one I would recommend taking a look at one of Heavy Spoiler’s YouTube lists, they are really quite brilliant.
A genuinely jaw dropping cameo made many a fan lose their minds, but in the end it may have been symptomatic of the show being too clever for it’s own good. The inclusion of Evan Peter playing Quicksilver, as he did in Fox’s X-Men movies was a meta stroke of genius, but did result in fan’s reading far too much into the appearance, hoping for revelations that the show never intended to provide (more on that below).
That’s all Folks!
As Wandavision starts to unravel and Vision comes to know this reality is not real, we are treated to the villain of the piece. The nosey neighbour and “best friend” Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) is none other than established Marvel witch Agatha Harkness, who has been prodding events from the inside the entire time. Whilst Wanda created the Hex, Agatha had been manipulating her in an attempt to find out just where all this power had come from.
he penultimate episode was largely exposition incarnate, but some genuinely brilliant scenes (including the “Stark Rocket” from her childhood) allowed Olsen and the Marvel storytelling team to get some legitimate drama into the series, showing off acting chops and writing alike. At the same time, Hayward is taking no prisoners and looks to take out Wanda, with Rambeau (who is undergoing her Photon origin story) and the team look for a peaceful resolution.
The last episode was, in my opinion, the worst by far. Not necessarily due to the lack of pay off for some threads, but in most other regards it felt the most paint by numbers. Marvel have done some amazing things in cinemas since Iron Man in 2008, but one flaw that can be levelled at them is the habit of each installments resolution being two similarly powered characters battling it out. Usually with lasers.
This was no different, and it was in truth very disappointing. The show, which had been so clever throughout, boiled down to two witches magicking each other, whilst Vision had a literal identity crisis (that didn’t amount to much) and Hayward brought in some goons to give Wanda’s children and the Monica/Jimmy/Darcy team something to do. There were some twists on the formula, with Agatha able to absorb powers and awakening the town to guilt Wanda for her actions. I also did enjoy Wanda’s old mind trick, but it was all a little predictable.
The series wraps up with Wanda accepting this can’t go on forever, as she finally accepts her loss of Vision and allows the fabricated Vision and children to disappear, along with the Hex. She heads off to think about life, before a couple of end credit scenes tease what lies next for both Wanda and Monica, before they head into Doctor Strange 2 and Captain Marvel 2 respectively.
The Ratings are Out…
As with everything that Marvel produces, Wandavision is undoubtedly of the highest quality. Whilst it’s easy to prod holes in even the best work, the show manages to do an awful lot right in just over 5 hours of run time. The plot centres on the evolution of Wanda as a character, all the way from childhood to dealing with the grief of losing everyone she loved, and even accepting that grief. The MCU may mostly be about super heroes whacking each other, but it knows how to treat serious matters with the respect they deserves.
The supporting cast get something to do too. Effectively D list characters in Jimmy and Darcy come in to add a bit of humour and further their own place in the MCU. As B plots go the origin story of Rambeau becoming Photon, her super hero character from the comics is a nice little set up for the next phases of the MCU.
Thats not to mention to sheer level of detail in this show. The well articulated theme of grief, Easter eggs that link back to the source material and other MCU properties as well as blink and you’ll miss it set design, like the constant use of hexagons, soul stone imagery or the fantastically cryptic advertisements. Whatever your view by the final episode, looking back it’s hard to come to any other conclusion that this being a fantastically made, enjoyable to watch piece of television.
That isn’t to say that Wandavision was perfectly executed. Similar to the Mandalorian, another Disney + episodic streaming show, the pacing was a bit all over the place at times. A wall-to-wall 35 minute episode could be followed by what felt like 25 minutes of middling filler, which became a frustration around the mid way point of the series. Again like the Mandalorian, the plot was a little thin at times, with Agatha going from 0-100mph on the cackling baddy meter, taking a leave from Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon book and perhaps overdoing the expositing by a factor of 10.
A few shortcuts seemed to be made for a nice neat resolution. For example there was no visible reason why Hayward became so villainous towards the end. In my opinion if you swapped him out for Nick Fury I’m not sure Fury would have done anything different when a super powered being takes a town hostage. As the climax approached though an until now reasonable Hayward started making questionable decision and everyone took for granted that he was “going down for his crimes” – if not explaining what they were exactly. All the while Wanda gets off scot free for torturing the people of Westview, with nothing but some withering looks and a “I would have done the same” from Monica. Okay then.
Unfortunately though there is also one rather large vibranium based synthazoid in the room.
The one where Doctor Strange didn’t appear
Marvel pays a lot of respect to its audience, as well as a fair dose of fan service across many spectrums. Even for a mainstream Marvel fan like me who has barely lifted a comic book in his life, Captain America wielding Mjolnir was cool. Then there are the subtler touches, tiny Easter eggs that would only be recognisable to the most hardcore fan. Keeping both of these groups happy has been the key to Marvel’s total success, but in Wandavision they may have just missed the mark.
A meta show about a meta show to some degree allowed the rulebook to go out the window. All was not right in Westview, and as such the expectation was that anything could happen. Not only was Wandavision based on a crazy premise, but with it directly preceding Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the rumour mill was working overdrive before it even hit streaming. But when it did, oh boy.
In the midst of a pandemic where people have been spending more time than usual combing through the old Netflix library, not to mention the complete lack of new material, it was the perfect environment for breeding anticipation. Before episode 1 videos were already appearing on YouTube, speculating who would appear in the show, what it would be about, who was the baddy etc etc. By the final few episodes of the season, my feed was awash with “137 THINGS YOU MISSED IN WANDAVISION” and “WHO IS REALLY BEHIND THE HEX,” etc etc. Forums, comments sections and content creators were in a frenzy, some YouTubers putting out a video a day dedicated to the shows, leaks, theories, Easter eggs, and just about anything they could get their hands on. As a simple consumer I found myself spending 2-3 hours watching content about a 30 minute episode, and that is for me is the one area Wandavision fell down.
No matter how great something is, our expectations, or should I say hopes will always be greater. Content Creators had begun spinning plots so intricate and lore heavy that whilst they sounded neat in theory, were never realistically going to be rolled out in a single Disney + season.
Marvel didn’t help themselves. The episodes were crammed with Easter eggs, to the degree that audiences believed it had to be more than simple fan service, but foreshadowing events to come. Mephisto, Nightmare, Doctor Strange, the real identity of Hayward, creation of mutants and vampires, House of M and the Fantastic Four are just some of the failed rumours that spawned from the shows “over-egging” the fan service.
The blame can’t be put entirely on Marvel – the show itself is very good, and existing in the bubble of a theatre it likely would have been considered great, even if not paying off all of it’s hints. The fact is though that when a TV show makes bold, enticing statements that are undoubtedly going to send fans into a frenzy, not paying that off only leaves you with disappointment in a fan base that until now has got most of what it wants. Evan Peter’s casting, Monica Rambeau’s secret “guy” (theorised to be Reed Richard) and the lack of a bigger bad above Agatha were the most egregious examples for me. Whilst other rumours were largely speculation, the show seemed to be telling us there was more at play here, only to duck out when time came to pay up.
To be Continued…?
Ironically Wandavision did in one season what many of the best TV series do throughout their lifetime. Starting slowly, ramping up to the shows best only to slightly falter in giving a satisfying conclusion. Marvel’s TV inexperience did show, and perhaps they will reconsider their pacing and tone for future TV products. As tempting as it may be, their tried and tested cinematic formula may not play well on the small screen, where creative fans and the internet at large have far more time to tell us what should happen.
As it was I thoroughly enjoyed Wandavision. Let down a little by the ending perhaps, but nonetheless in a time where there is little to look forward to, the weekly ritual of fast food and Wandavision Friday was a highlight. Olsen and Bettany took the step up from the relative backseat they’ve taken so far in the MCU, and I have to say it was an impressive outing for the pair. Great to see Dennings and Park keeping warm for use in future, and the introduction of Agatha and Photon have made it a productive show if nothing else.
Next up is Falcon and the Winter Soldier, another showing for “next gen” Avengers to show what they are made of on the small screen. I’m curious to see Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan carry a show by themselves, as the range they’ve presented on screen has been somewhat limited – but then if the shield fits…
What did you think of Wandavision? Let us know in the comments below!