In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022) this month, I’ve been both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.
Air Date: 15 January 2021 to 5 March 2021
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Kat Dennings, and Evan Peters
Without a doubt, the MCU has become a nigh-unstoppable multimedia juggernaut that has brought some of Marvel Comics’ most beloved, and obscure, characters to life on the silver screen. Although Marvel Studios had dabbled in television ventures as well with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020) and their Netflix shows, they really upped their focus on TV productions for the MCU’s fourth phase and to coincide with the release of their parent company’s streaming service, Disney+. Spearheaded by MCU head honcho Kevin Feige, the Disney+ shows focused heavily on maintaining and expanding the continuity of the MCU going forward, and the first of these announced was a spin-off that would focus on the previously underutilised characters of Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) and the Vision (Bettany). WandaVision was a curious venture that aimed to explore new areas of the MCU, and the multiverse, by placing the characters in different decades and parodying popular sitcoms throughout the years. Feige aimed for the show to shed new light on Wanda’s potentially dangerous powers and to lay the foundation for the MCU’s fourth phase by dabbling in the multiverse. Inspired by both classic sitcoms and notable comic book storylines involving both characters, the show was framed as a surreal and bizarre mystery that would weave in aspects from outside the MCU and build to a dramatic finale that fundamentally altered Wanda’s character. Released in weekly episodes that sent fan speculation into a frenzy, WandaVision received widespread critical acclaim; critics praised the show from breaking away from the usual MCU formula and its emotional and dramatic themes, though some criticised the finale and the show’s overall pacing. Still, WandaVision was highly successful and, while there are currently no plans for a second season, its story arcs were continued in further MCU films and spin-offs.
Three weeks after the events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), Wanda Maximoff and the Vision are living an idyllic suburban life in the town of Westview, New Jersey, where they conceal their true natures. However, things are not as they seem as their surroundings begin to move through different decades and they discover that they’re being manipulated by a malevolent supernatural force.
I’m admittedly pretty late to the Marvel Disney+ shows, primarily because neither my television nor my service provider actually carry the app, and it’s not the same watching on a smaller screen. I’d usually be content to wait for the DVD release, but it’s looking like we won’t actually get one so, with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness right around the corner, now seems like as good a time as any to actually watch WandaVision, which I honestly was the least excited about of all the Disney+ shows. This isn’t because I dislike the characters or the actors that portray them, it just seemed like a weird spin-off to produce, especially given the events of Avengers: Endgame, but I heard a lot of good things about it and followed the every-growing fan speculation so it was great to actually sit down with it and binge-watch it in one sitting.
Thanks to the inclusion of super cringe, super appropriate jaunty theme songs and opening titles at the start of each episode, WandaVision quickly catches us up with the two Avengers and the general theme of the show; somehow, Wanda and the Vision have gotten married and settled down in Westview, a quiet little town where they hope for a fresh start amongst normal, everyday people. To achieve this, the two keep their extraordinary abilities hidden; however, when in the privacy of their own home, Wanda freely uses her magic to perform household chores, such as tidying and cleaning, and the Vison walks around in his default synthezoid form without a second thought. Outside of the house, the Vision alters his physical appearance to pass as human and works at Computational Services Inc.; while he is naturally incredibly efficient and hardworking, neither he nor his co-worker, Norm (Asif Ali), has any idea what the company actually does. Although Wanda and the Vision seem perfectly happy in their new life, with all its quirks and eccentricities, WandaVision shows hints towards a darker side of their lives right from the first episode; while entertaining his boss and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Hart (Fred Melamed and Debra Jo Rupp), neither of the main characters can recall where they came from, when they got married, or how they even got there. Wanda is so confused by her inability to answer such simple questions that she simply sits, perplexed, while Mr. Hart chokes to death on a piece of food and Mrs. Hart is locked in an agonising loop where she can only say “Stop it!” with good humour. Eventually, Wanda sees how serious the situation is and asks the Vision to step in and the whole incident is laughed off as a gag, but it’s a disturbing moment made all the more intriguing when the episode ends with its events being watched by another within the show, providing our first hint that WandaVision is a show within a show.
Still, despite this incident, the two are determined to fit in with their quaint little suburban community; the Vision joins the neighbourhood watch, Wanda joins the planning committee for the local talent show, and Wanda is keen to take the family trick-or-treating later in the show. Essential to helping her to fit in is Agnes (Hahn), Wanda’s “neighbour to the right”, who constantly drops in on her at the most convenient of times to offer friendly advice about how to deal with the local social committee or to help her out of awkward situations. Agnes takes a special interest in Wanda and the Vision’s sex life (apparently because she is under-sexed and under-valued by her unseen husband, Ralph), and continuously probes Wanda for intimate details about her life and offers Wanda advice about how to spice up her sex life. Right from the off, Agnes is dropping hints about the two starting a family, and this is only exacerbated when Wanda feels detached from the community because she doesn’t have children like Dottie Jones (Emma Caulfield Ford), the head of the committee and a prominent figure in Westview’s social elite. After their magic show is a smash hit (despite the Vision being inebriated due to gum clogging his systems and Wanda frantically using her Chaos Magic to explain away her husband’s superhuman feats, and the fact that there are no children in attendance for show), Wanda is overjoyed when she spontaneously becomes pregnant and so angered by the strange appearance of a beekeeper’s outfit emerging from a manhole that she literally rewinds time to return to her happy moment.
Wanda’s pregnancy is explored through the third episode, “Now in Color” (Shakman, 2021); while she is delighted to find that she is already four months pregnant and happy to busy herself using her magic to decorate and prepare a nursery, the Vision begins to find himself disturbed by the strange goings on in their lives and around Westview. Every time he stops to consider why his neighbours are acting so strangely or how Wanda’s pregnancy is progressing so fast, Wanda gets closer and closer to popping, replacing his concerns with the dual emotions of happiness and anxiety at the thought of becoming a father. Wanda’s pregnancy sends her powers all out of whack and causes a neighbourhood blackout; when she worries that Westview will suspect she’s the cause of it, this strikes a chord with the Vision but, again, Wanda causes an abrupt jump cut to keep him from following his thoughts through any further and he’s soon rushing off to retrieve Doctor Stan Nielsen (Randy Oglesby) to help deliver the baby. Although she tries her best to hide her condition using bowls of fruit and to wish away a stork she randomly brings to life, Wanda eventually succumbs to her pregnancy but, luckily, her new friend Geraldine (Parris) is on hand to help out. Thanks to Geraldine, Wanda successfully gives birth to Baby Tommy and then she and the Vision are shocked at the arrival of his twin, Baby Billy. While thanking Geraldine and cooing over her babies, Wanda is reminded of her own twin brother, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson); this seems to snap Geraldine out of her trance and, when she accidentally reminds Wanda of her brother’s death at Ultron’s (James Spader) hands, Wanda becomes enraged and forcible ejects Geraldine from Westview, which is revealed to be encased within a translucent energy field not unlike television static and monitored by government agents.
This is the perfect way to transition to some actual context for the show as, after three episodes of intrigue and mystery, “We Interrupt This Program” (Shakman, 2021) goes a long way to explaining just what the hell is happening by following Geraldine after she is restored to life by the second snap of the Infinity Gauntlet. It turns out that she’s not a native of Westview at all and is, in fact, a grown-up Monica Rambeau, which is relayed in a harrowing sequence where Monica stumbles through a hospital thrown into disarray by people suddenly returning from being disintegrated and culminates in her receiving the heart-breaking news that her mother, Maria (Lashana Lynch), succumbed to cancer while Monica was lost to the snap. Monica is a former fighter pilot captain in the Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division (S.W.O.R.D.), an intelligence agency founded by Maria and now run by Director Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg) that monitors and responds to threats posed by robotics and artificial intelligence. Monica is assigned to assist the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B. I.) with a missing persons case in Westview and liaises with Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), whose investigation has stalled because no one seems remember Westview or its inhabitants and the entire town is sealed within an odd temporal anomaly referred to as the “Hex”. After Monica’s drone disappears inside the Hex and Monica is sucked within shortly after, Hayward brings in Doctor Darcy Lewis (Dennings) and a number of other scientists to help. Darcy then recognises the patterns of cosmic background radiation and discovers that they are akin to old analogue broadcast signals, successfully tunes into WandaVision, and becomes invested in the show. Woo and Darcy ascertain that WandaVision’s “cast” is comprised of Westview’s missing residents, and that Monica and everything that breaches the Hex is assimilated into the show to become part of the cast a harmless toy, or a beekeeper. Their attempts to contact Wanda using radio signals only unnerve Wanda and injure Dottie, and Wanda is enraged at Monica trespassing in Westview; their confrontation is so traumatic for her that her sitcom demeanour falls away, and she’s briefly horrified by an apparition of the Vision’s mangled corpse.
From then on, WandaVision routinely switches between the ongoing drama within the show and the efforts of those outside the Hex to try and figure out what’s happening. Wanda and the Vision’s struggles to calm their crying children are skipped over when the twins spontaneously age-up to five years old; Billy (Baylen Bielitz) and Tommy (Gavin Borders) adopt a stray dog, “Sparky”, and then age-up another five years to be “old enough” to keep him. Sadly though, Sparky goes missing and is found dead by Agnes; Wanda struggles to comfort her boys, hypocritically asking Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) not age-up any further so they can face the natural reality of Sparky’s death. However, having seen what their mother is capable of (she soon decides she’s “tired of hiding” and openly uses her magic in front of Agnes), they implore her to use her powers to “fix the dead”, a feat that she believes is beyond even her and yet she’s stunned when “Pietro” (Peters) shows up on her doorstep, alive and well but sporting a new face and personality. The twins quickly become close to their fun-loving, free-spirited uncle; Pietro still has his superspeed, here depicted very similarly to his MCU counterpart, and is very much the freeloading man child archetype. Pietro causes havoc on Halloween night and is generally a bad influence on the twins, which he claims is what Wanda wants from him. Wanda doesn’t fully trust or understand his appearance, however, and is confused by their differing memories of their childhood; he relates a fuzzy memory of being shot to death and then hearing her calling for him and expresses an awareness of Wanda’s influence on Westview. Rather than judging her, Pietro is impressed at how far her powers have progressed but, just as she begins to feel comfortable enough to open up about how alone she has felt, Wanda has a brief vision of Pietro’s bullet-riddled corpse dead and strikes him with her powers when he makes a glib remark about the Vision’s death, which is enough to cause her to distrust him from then on.
Despite Wanda’s best efforts, the Vision’s concerns about Wanda and Westview continue to niggle at him; he’s aghast when Wanda brazenly uses her magic in front of Agnes and horrified when he learns the townsfolk are being manipulated by Wanda’s powers. When he confronts her, Wanda tries to walk away from the heated argument, and even rolls the credits, but the Vision persists, desperately trying to talk sense into her and infuriated that he’s being controlled, though Wanda insists that she’s not in control of what’s happening and is simply trying to make the best of it. Still, Wanda is troubled by the Vision’s behaviour towards her and his increasing tendency to go “off-script”; the Vision finds residents locked in (and pained by) endless, repeating loops or frozen in place at the edge of town and is stunned when Agnes reveals that he’s not only an Avenger…but also dead, two things he has no memory of. When he attempts to breach the Hex, he begins to disintegrate before Darcy and Hayward’s eyes, distressing Billy so much that Wanda expands the Hex to cover an even greater area and causes Darcy and several other S.W.O.R.D. agents to become assimilated into WandaVision. This only encourages Hayward’s belief that Wanda is a significant threat to Westview; already antagonistic towards superpowered individuals thanks to the struggles he lived through during the Blip, Hayward believes that Wanda is an aggressive terrorist and routinely clashes with Darcy, Woo, and Monica when they champion Wanda’s heroic actions and frame her as a victim of oppression and experimentation rather than aggressor, despite her recent actions. However, Hayward is unconvinced and even manipulates security footage to suit his agenda when, in reality, he’s reconstructed the Vision’s physical remains into a weapon under his direct control.
When Monica successfully breaches the Hex using a 1980s drone, Hayward attempts to assassinate Wanda, so she leaves her idyllic fantasy land to deliver a warning against him trying to interfere in her life. This, and expanding the Hex’s influence, causes Wanda’s mental state and control over Westview to begin to deteriorate as the show jumps ahead to the late-2000s; the house and town glitch and switch between eras and Wanda jumps at the chance to take a personal day while Agnes watches the twins. However, her confusion over her unpredictable powers soon turns to dread when she discovers an ominous, gothic lair in Agnes’s basement and her magic is rendered useless by a series of runes. This is when Agnes reveals (through a jaunty musical number) that she’s actually a malevolent witch named Agatha Harkness and has been behind everything happening in Westview (including Sparky’s death!) all along. While this is a fun reveal and definitely changes the context of the show, it does fall a little flat as many watching (including myself) would have no real idea of the significance of the name “Agatha Harkness”. Still, WandaVision tries to make up for this with a flashback to 1693 Salem, Massachusetts that shows Agatha being condemned by her fellow witches for practising dark magic from the forbidden tome known as the Darkhold and revealing that she’s capable of draining the magic and lifeforce of other witches to increase her powers. Drawn to, and envious of, Wanda’s power, Agatha desires to learn the secret of Wanda’s natural affinity for magic and forces her to relive some of her most traumatic memories to understand how the Avenger could possibly be the fabled “Scarlet Witch”.
Wanda witnesses a childhood memory of how she and her family would regularly watch old US sitcoms to bond and practice their English. It was during young Wanda’s (Michaela Russell) favourite episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961 to 1966) that their home was bombed, killing her parents and trapping her and young Pietro (Gabriel Gurevich) and actually the first instance of her using her Chaos Magic to affect the probability of the missile exploding. A subsequent memory of her volunteering to be a part of Hydra’s experiments with the Mind Stone shows that the Infinity Stone simply amplified Wanda’s natural magical abilities rather than causing them, as the MCU first suggested. Wanda also remembers a time when the Vision offered her comfort after Pietro’s death by suggesting “grief [is] love persevering”, and the truth behind her visit to S.W.O.R.D. headquarters after his death; contrary to Hayward’s earlier footage, Wanda was denied custody of the Vision’s expensive and potentially dangerous remains but was allowed to see for herself that he was truly gone. Grief-stricken, she visited Westview, where the Vision had intended for them to start a life together, and exploded in a burst of Chaos Magic; empowered by her pain and loss, her powers not only swept through Westview, transforming it into its original 1960s sitcom setting and enslaving its citizens, but also reconstituted an exact replica of the Vision for Wanda to settle down with and alleviate her anguish and she willingly lost herself to this fantasy world. Essentially a magic vampire, Agatha takes power from those she deems unworthy, and is far more adept at wielding dark magic than the more emotional and naïve Wanda; Agatha mocks Wanda for wasting the powers of the Scarlet Witch in such a way and goads her into a battle by threatening her children so that she can take that power for herself. Wanda is saved by the intervention of Hayward’s reconstructed Vision; cold and ruthless, White Vision attempts to kill Wanda as per Hayward’s orders, but she’s saved by the Vision. As both Visions prove to be equally matched in terms of powers and abilities, the Vision is able to subdue his counterpart by hypothesising that neither are the “true” Vision by using the philosophy of the Ship of Theseus to show that they are simultaneously both the Vision and not the Vision. The Vision then restores White Vision’s memories and personality, releasing him from Hayward’s control and ending his threat as he darts off the an uncertain future.
Hayward’s efforts to bring Wanda down lead Agatha to condemn him and his S.W.O.R.D. troops as being little more than the modern-day equivalent of witch hunters, but Wanda protects them regardless and Monica reveals that repeated exposure to the Hex has granted her superhuman abilities that allow her to shield the twins from Hayward’s attempt to gun them down. Darcy then rams his jeep to keep him from getting away and, thanks to Woo’s subterfuge, Hayward’s plot to emerge a hero from the whole affair is exposed. Agatha reveals that the Darkhold foretold that Wanda’s power is destined to not only rival the Sorcerer Supreme’s, but also to destroy the world, and forces her to face the consequences of her actions by releasing Westview’s citizens from her spell. Wanda is distraught to learn that those she thought she was protecting were in such physical and emotional pain, to the point where they beg her to let them go…or die to be free from their torment. Wanda creates a gap in the Hex so that the citizens can finally leave in order to both atone for her actions and to reject Agatha’s claims, but quickly reseals the Hex to keep Billy, Tommy, and the Vision from being erased. Forced to choose between saving her family or saving the town, Wanda ultimately accepts that she is the legendary Scarlet Witch and manages to outsmart Agatha by first overloading her with her Chaos Magic and then turning Agatha’s trick against her by casting protective runes that render Agatha’s powers inert. Wanda punishes the defeated and despondent Agatha by forcing to reassume her “role” as Agnes as recompense for her actions, and finally dispels the Hex, restoring Westview and the surrounding area to normal. Wanda and the Vision head home with the twins and reassure them that they’ll always be a family, before the two share an emotional last moment together where she admits that he was a product of her love and hope as much as her sadness and promises that they’ll see each other again. While Monica knows how much Wanda sacrificed to restore Westview and understands her pain, Wanda’s faced with the judgemental eyes of those she inadvertently hurt, so she heads out to understand her power in isolation at a remote cabin, where she studies the Darkhold in her astral form.
At its core, WandaVision is a story about grief, loss, and the extremes one goes to after having suffered through some of the worst traumas both imaginable and unimaginable. Hayward’s concerns over Wanda’s threat, while radical, are well founded as, in a moment of anguish, she effectively manipulated the minds and wills of an entire town and forced them to bend to her desires just to make herself feel better. However, it’s clear that Wanda hasn’t done this out of any animosity or aggression; she’s simply suffering and in a great deal of pain, but has caught many innocent souls in her web as a result. Even the Vision is disturbed to see what Wanda’s influence is doing to Westview’s citizens; by touching his fingers to their temples, the Vision is able to free them from Wanda’s control and is met with only hysteria and pleas for help and to get Wanda to stop. When he confronts Wanda, the Vision is enraged at her actions and yet hoping that she didn’t tear families apart and hijack people’s lives out of any malicious intent…however, even Wanda begins to question her intentions and motivations, and her tendency to lash out and the uncertainty about the true nature of the Scarlet Witch certainly raises questions about her character.
WandaVision wonderfully separated itself from other MCU productions with its production style, format , and overall presentation, which becomes very metatextual and is full of homages to both the source material (the family dress up in comic-accurate costumes for Halloween) and a wide variety of American sitcoms. The first few episodes are presented in black and white, using an older aspect ratio, and clearly drawing inspiration from the sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s, particularly the likes of Bewitched (1964 to 1972) in not only its premise and setting but also the filming techniques used (the special effects are achieved using practical, in-camera effects and of-the-time methods to give it that authentic fifties feel). The Bewitched influences are even more explicit in opening titles of the second episode, “Don’t Touch That Dial” (Shakman, 2021), which are directly influenced from that show, and we see this again as the series progresses, particularly in “Breaking the Fourth Wall” (ibid), which emulates the opening titles of Modern Family (2009 to 2020). The series is injected with a wash of colour at the conclusion of “Don’t Touch That Dial” and jumps into the vibrant brightness of the 1970s from “Now in Color” (ibid) to evoke groovy, jaunty, sitcoms like The Brady Bunch (1969 to 1974). With each new era, the character’s wardrobes, hair styles, and the show’s furnishings are all updated accordingly, and the focus quickly becomes about depicting the growth of Wanda’s family unit. Initially, episodes feature a canned laughter track to accompany the many sight gags and double entendres; this laughter track remains even when odd or disturbing events are happening onscreen, such as when characters are in danger of going “off-script”, and is ultimately replaced in favour of characters directly breaking the fourth wall or being filmed in a mockumentary, as was the style of late-2000s sitcoms.
WandaVision certainly got people talking when it first came out, and it’s easy to see why; every episode is peppered with gags, double meanings, and vague hints about what’s really happening in Westview (Agnes refers to Wanda as “The star of the show!”, which is another double meaning as she’s the star of the talent show and her own actual show). Many of the episodes end with false commercials for products and services that act as metaphors for Wanda’s suffering and anguish: The Stark Industries ToastMate 2000 is a metaphor for her sex life (and emits the same ominous beeping as the Stark missile that threatened Wanda’s life as a child, alongside the slogan “Forget the past, this is your future!”), Strücker watches directly reference the man who experimented on Wanda, Hydra Soak bath powder promises an experience so relaxing that it’ll make bathers forget their troubles and unlock the “Goddess within”, Lagos paper towels are tough and absorbent enough to clean up any accidental mess, the claymation Yo-Magic yoghurt is delivered to a boy stranded on a desert island who struggles to open the lid and wastes away to a skeleton over the course of several days and nights, and Nexus antidepressant pills offer a reprieve for those struggling with the weight of loneliness, guilt, and the feeling of life moving on without them and desperate for some relief. As if these odd commercials weren’t enough, the early black and white episodes are often punctuated by bursts of colour that disturb Wanda and allude to things being not quite right; Wanda is confused to find a toy helicopter that matches Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr) colour scheme and a tense discussion between Wanda and Dottie quickly turns bizarre when Woo speaks directly to Wanda through the radio, briefly causing Dottie to snap out of character and cutting herself to reveal red blood against the monochrome surroundings. Furthermore, there are numerous allusions to a greater threat looming in the background, one many assumed to be Mephisto; Dottie states that “The Devil’s in the details” and Agnes lends Wanda her rabbit, Señor Scratchy, but ultimately the threat proved to be much closer to home and hiding in plain sight.
Overall, I can see why so many people were impressed by WandaVision; the show is practically the definition of variety, featuring a lot of humour, heart, and drama to keep you invested throughout its run time. No two episodes are the same, even those set within the same time period, and the show evolves as we learn more about what’s going on, splicing in more of those familiar MCU elements while giving returning side characters like Darcy and Woo more time in the spotlight to shine as interesting personalities in their own right. WandaVision also introduces a new superhero to the MCU in the form of the grown-up Monica Rambeau, who ends the series altered at a cellular level and with the prospect of her own space adventure ahead of her with the Skrulls. Of course, there are some things that don’t work; it’s a bit of a tease to bring in Evan Peters only to have him revealed to be an actor with a ridiculously suggestive name who was manipulated by Agatha rather than actually being the Quicksilver from the X-Men movies (Various, 2014 to 2016). Agatha’s reveal didn’t really work for me either, as mentioned, but I did enjoy her as a villain and puppet master; however, it can’t be denied that reducing WandaVision to a big light show battle did kind of go against the deeper themes explored throughout the previous episodes. I think it might have been more effective to leave the Visions to handle the heavy combat in the finale and have Agatha and Wanda engage in a battle of wills rather than tossing fireballs at each other, but it was a colourful and intense end to the series. I enjoyed the chance to explore these characters in more detail, the new introductions to the MCU, exploring the effects of the snap from a different perspective, and the introduction of Wanda’s children and the expansion of her powers. WandaVision definitely tries something new and, for the most part, manages to stand out through its unique presentation; when it’s exploring Wanda’s complex trauma or paying homage to classic sitcoms, it’s really at its strongest, but there are a few missed opportunities spliced in there that may put some viewers off.
Did you enjoy WandaVision? What did you think to the themes of grief and loss explored in the series? Did you enjoy the exploration of Wanda and the Vision and the additional spotlight given to some of the MCU’s side characters? What did you think to the use of different colours and filming techniques? Were you also caught up in the speculation, and were you suspicious of Agnes at the time? Did you find Evan Peters’ inclusion disappointing or were you excited to see him included? What do you see happening next for these characters and are you excited to see more from Monica and White Vision? Whatever you think about WandaVision sign up to let me know below or leave a comment on my social media, and check back in next Sunday for more Multiverse Madness!
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