Wandavision – Season 1 Episode 1 & 2
The Marvel Cinematic universe begins its long delayed fourth phase with Wandavision; a mystery where the title characters are cast in roles commonly associated with 1950s sitcoms.
It has been all quiet from the MCU in terms of output since Spider-Man: Far From Home thanks to some very severe mitigating factors but the return was always inevitable and there’s a lot of interesting content coming our way. Wandavision makes its intention clear right from the beginning and that intention is to show that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is unashamedly heading into weirder territory. There’s a lot of content coming this way and this is the perfect primer to prepare audiences to be faced with content that will differ significantly from what they have come to expect from this franchise.
No time is wasted establishing the concept and the mystery associated with it. The opening depicts Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) heading home in a car with “Just Married” displayed on the back scored to music that evokes a 1950s sitcom. Visually it all stands out as it’s in black and white in a ratio suiting older TVs so it’s immediately clear that something isn’t right here and the viewer is immediately encouraged to question this reality though curiously is also invited to have fun with it. The two episodes fully commit to celebrating what they are and affectionately reference the material they’re pulling from in really endearing ways. It’s less about the external factors involved in creating it and more about the story going on in that world.
The first episode broadly focuses on a common sitcom trope from that era; the boss coming round for dinner with their enjoyment of it being the deciding factor in the husband’s career. It goes through all the expected motions with the wife being unprepared for this event and having to secretly fix everything in the background while the husband does what he can to divert the attention of his boss while this is happening. It’s all handled really well with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany completely throwing themselves into their roles. They have excellent chemistry which makes their scenes together sparkle and their individual comic timing is absolutely spot on. All of this helps to sell the ludicrous concept and the stakes feel important despite the awareness that what is being presented isn’t the true morality. None of these events matter but feel like they do which is a testament to the ability of everyone involved.
Wanda and Vision are both still themselves and that becomes part of their sitcom existence so Wanda still has vaguely defined magical powers and Vision is still a synthetic life form with their shared goal being to appear normal so that they are accepted by those around them. This serves as an important reminder that something has happened to them that has left them trapped in this scenario but the fundamentals of who they are are intact. It’s really cleverly structured to keep the audience engaged in who they are which helps sell the scenarios they’re placed in.
The gags are as you might expect with obvious distractions to divert attention away from the display of unnatural powers, the powers causing problems of their own such as the delightful touch of Wanda overcooking a chicken before overcorrecting and turning it back into eggs. This could be foreshadowing Wanda having general difficulty in controlling her powers and if that’s the case then it’s a really unorthodox way to do it. Seemingly throwaway jokes that might end up informing the characters in meaningful ways show a real sophistication to the storytelling. Similarly Vision has to hide his ability to phase and maintains a Human form when around others so he can blend in which leads to some choice dialogue where he is jokingly referred to as “a machine” in reference to his efficiency at work leading to him making a point of clarifying that he is most definitely Human. This could foreshadow an identity crisis around who or what Vision is and what he thinks of himself. Once again, comedy as meaningful character development is unorthodox and clever assuming that’s where the show goes with it. There is an occasional tendency to run away with the gags to the point that they are no longer funny but such instances are rare and admittedly could be down to personal taste. most of them are legitimately funny and perfectly delivered.
There is one major hint in the first episode that causes both of them to question the reality around them. When they’re asked to recount the story about how they met and how they got married neither of them has an answer because they have no real history to draw on. For a brief moment it starts to shatter the reality around them and the colour begins to return as a visual indicator of this. It is dismissed almost as quickly when they collectively decide to effectively write their own story but the reality is clearly a flimsy one and it doesn’t take much to shatter the illusion. The episode ends with a mysterious figure watching their show therefore confirming to the audience that this has been done to them for reasons that remain unknown.
Appropriately the second episode focuses on illusion in a direct sense through building up to a neighbourhood talent show where Wanda is the “lovely assistant” to Vision’s magic act. The idea is to appear extra normal by performing fake magic that the neighbours can obviously see through. As you might expect it all goes horribly wrong when Vision swallows a piece of chewing gum that gets stuck in his internal workings and makes him act as if he’s drunk. This culminates in a hilarious sequence where Vision almost reveals his abilities to the neighbours while Wanda uses hers to compensate for that by making ropes appear, turning a heavy piano into a cardboard prop and revealing mirrors to justify Vision phasing a hat through himself. It may seem superficial but it highlights their unconditional support of one another. When the cause of Vision’s behaviour is revealed Wanda accepts it and doesn’t blame him because she supports him and maintaining their happiness is more important to her. She repeats her desire for a normal life constantly which could be a strong indicator of a real world desire that will come into play as the episodes play out. Vision is entirely devoted to her and puts her happiness first.
The second episode highlights the challenges they face though Wanda attending a neighbourhood meeting with the other wives in advance of the talent show. She immediately stands out in a visual sense as everyone else is in skirts or dresses where she wears trousers -read pants for the Americans- and is constantly being berated by Dottie (Emma Caulfield Ford) for not behaving in the way that is expected. It’s fun to watch and highlights Wanda’s potential issue finding a place she feels that she belongs.
There are some stronger hints that things aren’t what they seem in this episode though they vary in subtlety. A voice on a radio addresses Wanda directly and asks what they’ve done to her. Who “they are” remains unknown but Dottie acknowledges Wanda being out of place and Wanda’s reacts in the same way to the previous episode when asked about how she and Vision met. Once again it doesn’t take much to shatter the reality and any direct challenge to it results in Wanda and/or Vision waking up even for a brief moment. Other more overt clues exist such as the mysterious bee keeper coming out of a manhole before rewinding back to before that happened to continue the narrative uninterrupted. The rapidly appearing pregnancy after the mention of children should be included here as well and the shift into colour that ends the episode. More subtle indicators include “Geraldine” (Teyonah Paris) hesitating when being asked her name.and the curious absence of Agnes’ (Kathryn Hahn) Husband.
A couple of major references to Wanda’s personal past are thrown in through period specific commercials. One is for a toaster made by Stark Industries as a reference to the Stark made bomb that killed her parents and the other is a Strucker watch with the HYDRA logo on it which references the experiments done on her that activated her powers. This strongly suggests that the world has been specifically crafted for them with the reasoning remaining unclear at this point.
The setting of the two episodes is really well developed and vitally important in terms of what they are putting across. Decades of entertainment has trained audiences to be inherently mistrustful of suburban settings because they are often the backdrop for very strange happenings whether that be an alien invasion, dark secrets being kept by neighbours, a nefarious operation going on in plain sight or even just casual racism being hidden under the veneer of being neighbourly. Stranger Things is a recent popular example of a suburban setting with more going on beneath the surface, Desperate Housewives was another popular example and there are many others that could be named.
There’s a strong sense of something not quite right about the setting in these episodes that is always in mind as they play out. The events are fun to watch but it’s always clear that it’s not real and we as viewers should be aware of that because it will eventually be torn apart. It puts the fun in a sinister light and it always keeps things relevantly focussed on the characters of Wanda and Vision.
An excellent opening that has fun with its influences, uses the setting perfectly and maintains a strong focus on the lead characters. The opening of the first episode throws the viewer straight into the mystery with Wanda and Vision inhabiting this false reality as if it is the truth for them. Their chemistry is excellent and their individual comic timing is perfect which really helps to sell the old fashioned gags that are threaded throughout the two episodes. This is a show not ashamed of what it’s doing and isn’t afraid to have fun with the chosen influences. Despite the false reality there is a strong sense of character with comedy being used to possibly foreshadow major character beats that may feed into the remaining episodes. There’s a strong sense of what Wanda wants out of life and a strong sense of what Vision wants both for her and himself. The jokes themselves largely work though some run away to the point that they are no longer funny. Such instances are rare and may be down to personal preference.
The suburban setting is a very deliberate one as audiences are trained to be suspicious of it thanks to decades of entertainment so there’s a seedy undercurrent that is always evident. Periodic hints to things that don’t add up and the major moments that lead to both Wanda and Vision directly questioning the reality are impressively threaded throughout. It’s important to maintain a strong sense of character when the reality can’t be trusted and these episodes do that wonderfully with both Wanda and Vision being true to themselves even in the altered state they find themselves in. It’s truly engaging stuff and an excellent return for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- perfectly establishing the setting
- unashamedly having fun with the influences
- a strong sense of both Wanda and Vision as characters
- Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s excellent chemistry and strong comic timing
- gags that mostly land
- effective hints as to the truth expertly threaded throughout
- an engaging mystery
- taking advantage of the inherent mistrust audiences have of suburban settings
- some gags that run away to the point that they are no longer funny -may be personal preference-
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