Dave: Hello and welcome to Comic Book Herald’s WandaVision review! Kenneth Laster and I will tackle the first two episodes of Disney+’s WandaVision, the debut Phase 4 release for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s the first new entry in the MCU since Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019, kicking off a Phase that promises the likes of Loki, Falcon and Winter Soldier, Black Widow, and most relevant to WandaVision down the road, Doctor Strange 2 and the Multiverse of Madness.
Please note, some spoilers for the first two episodes may follow!
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Kenneth, thanks for joining and welcome to Westview! I’d like to start here: What were you hoping for in WandaVision, and did the first two episodes live up to your hopes?
Ken: Honestly? Yes! After the almost year of no superhero content being broken by the mixed reception of Wonder Woman 1984, I’m glad Marvel’s return is them putting out something so jarringly different in style, tone, and aesthetic from the rest of the MCU and I’m excited to see more!
Dave: One of the MCU’s greatest strengths has been a Jordan-like ability to step up to impossible expectations, and confidently deliver incredible performances. There’s all these moments where the build-up simply demands something that’s never quite been done (2012’s Avengers, and the Infinity War to Endgame conclusion among them), and WandaVision is yet another strong example. An ode to the ghosts of TV past wasn’t the obvious way to move into a nebulous Phase 4, and yet two episodes in, it just feels right.
Earth-SitCom: WandaVision’s Exploration of Television
Ken: Like I said, the sitcom take really is the best case scenario for hopping back into this universe and I’m so impressed that they went so hard and nailed it so hard. Now… I am a literal 22 year old baby, BUT I was a weird 22 year old baby who watched reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Donna Reed Show before school, along with just…a strange amount of TV Land. So that’s all to say, I can confidently proclaim they nailed their riff. The humor, the style, and the performances are all completely on point which is both a testament to the vision (no not that one) of this series, but also what happens when this Disney+ budget gets put towards a really unique vision. Which again makes me excited to see what other weird swings they will take on this service (I await She-Hulk’s 30min legal drama eagerly).
Dave: I’m struck how long and thoroughly it commits to the 50s and 60’s sitcom – Like the first 15 minutes of episode 1 are straight up a good Dick Van Dyke episode impersonation. Apart from the “breaks in reality,” which are used really sparsely, 95% of the kickoff is Dick Van Dyke, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and maybe Pleasantville. I anticipated the occasional flashback, even just a quick hit of Wanda remembering Infinity War or something to ground the viewers in the character’s recent history, but nope! And I love that confidence.
Honestly, growing up with the world’s biggest Dick Van Dyke fan, I don’t think I could be more impressed with the earnest homage – it’s not just a reference, it’s a damn remake. Paul Bettany does a very passable Dick Van Dyke (the gum-drunk Illusion was really where he won me over), but Elizabeth Olsen NAILS a Mary Tyler Moore. How many episodes of Dick Van Dyke did they watch getting ready for this? What are their favorites? What is Elizabeth Olsen’s personal phone number? I have so many questions!
Ken: Oh for sure! I love that they really said “What’s an MCU??” and just started in on these episodes. My mom who’s never seen any of these was interested in watching purely for the sitcom aspect, and I for the life of me could not tell her anything she needed to know prior because she doesn’t need anything!
One thing I absolutely love is that of course there’s a long form story being told, but honestly both of these are completely self contained episodes in sitcom fashion. Of course I’m invested in the big questions in the series but I’m equally if not more invested in the Harts coming over for dinner and the talent show! Honestly as a storytelling technique, mimicking the sitcoms done-in-one structure is a good idea to creating a satisfying experience for each episode as well as bringing in a wide audience like my mom who might pay attention while walking around the house.
Dave: After I finished the first couple episodes, I rewatched the series trailer, and I was reminded WandaVision will be moving through the history of sitcoms. Honestly, this was weirdly disappointing! On one hand, that’s clearly better, offers more opportunity to be strange, and inventive, and tell a wonderful story. But now having mainlined this Nick-At-Nite nostalgia straight into my heart, I’m going to miss it.
Ken: I am personally all for the foray into tv sitcom history as again, I consumed an unholy mismatch of sitcoms from different eras in a way that makes no sense in my youth. I also have to say that this journey through tv history is really clever to celebrate Marvel’s arguably brand new place in tv history. What is Disney+ but a brand new evolution of television, and what better commentary on the road so far than a weird walk down memory lane?
Them’s The Breaks… In Reality
Dave: So during the radio communication in episode 2 we hear “Who’s doing this to you Wanda?” And the big, crucial question becomes is this being done *to* her? Just who’s behind this reality, and what does it mean for the façade to crack? Every time the cracks begin to show something bad happens to those around Wanda, which is certainly suggesting she’s pulling the strings to some extent.
Ken: There’s a lot here but I really like how the show has handled the breaks in reality! I can’t gush enough about how the first episode broke it’s three camera structure and practical effects in the “stop it” scene. My favorites are between that and the color seeping into the second episode. Again setting up visual rules for your story and then breaking them for effect is always a great swing and should be done more (@comics obsessed w/ 9 panel grids).
All of those specific moments are really great at breaking through the more subtle weirdness of the show. Seeing those scenes and then watching a chant of “For the Children” really makes me engage with the show on a few different levels which I really appreciate. There’s still time to see whether there’s depth in the story this show is telling, but there is definitely depth in the storytelling as a method.
Dave: The “commercials” tie in nicely here as well, offering the closest thing to acknowledging MCU Phases 1 through 3. I quite love that as we progress through moments in Wanda’s history, the faux-product taglines both relate to time (ToastMate by Stark – “Forget the past, this is your future,” and the Hydra Watch is “He’ll make time for you.”). No way this is an accident.
It’s a small thing, too, but the inclusion of the toaster as the first product really felt like a nice wink to King and Walta’s Vision
and the use of toaster as both gag and insult.
Ken: The commercials were a nice treat and I really think are going to be a very interesting tertiary tool for us in figuring out what’s going on. I really like the connection between the Stark toaster and the Strücker watch being that those two are really instrumental in Wanda’s origins so far with her and Pietro waiting to die by a Stark missile and of course Strucker’s whole experimentation. I wouldn’t be shocked if we got flashbacks to those moments that contextualized those ads a bit more. Maybe the toaster’s beep mimics the sound of the missile from Wanda’s past? That or these are just fun little easter eggs. Too early to tell.
Theories – Where WandaVision’s Going!
Ken: Speaking of mystery–My prime theory is something or someone is trying to get Wanda to have kids (See ya soon Speed & Wiccan). Whether it’s Agatha Harkness, SWORD, Mephisto, or Master Pandemonium aka Mr. Babyhands. But again it makes sense for the twins to be en route just based on the meta movements from this MCU phase bringing in a looooot of Young Avengers players.
Dave: If we get Mr. Babyhands, I’ll lose my shirt. You won’t hear from me for a week, I’ll just be whooping and hollering “For the Children” up and down the streets of suburban Westview.
As far as the “what’s happening here,” my initial read is that outside Marvel factions with historically supervillain motivations (what’s up A.I.M.!) have captured Wanda in an effort to manipulate her powers for their own ends, a la Baron Von Strucker (rest in torment!). Wanda’s so powerful she’s basically created an alternate reality as either a coping mechanism or as a mixture of her own powers and their design.
Also, full confession: My very first thought with the mystery bee-keeper coming up out of the sewers was “Holy Guacamole, SWARM?!” You know, the Nazi with a body made of bees? And, I mean, that could still totally be the case, but now I’m also wondering if it’s just a very surreal allusion to the fact that AIM henchies are frequently referred to as beekeepers. If it’s a combination Swarm-working-for-AIM? Again, shirt? Completely lost.
Ken: Swarm…I can only imagine. AIM and Swarm are excellent theories because I do definitely want to see AIM pop back up in their more traditional beekeeper suits and boy oh boy do I want to see someone punch some Nazi bees. However, I do think that the beekeeper is something more sinister. Sewer beekeeper’s outfit did have the SWORD logo on it which makes things more complicated. One thing I learned is that the MCU has changed what the acronym means from Sentient “World” Observation and Response Division, to be Sentient “Weapon” Observation yadda yadda.
With Vision and Wanda both theoretically fitting into the “Sentient Weapon” umbrella (which sucks as a category for people I will say), I have to say I’m wary of where SWORD fits in all this. They may try to soothe me with promises of Monica Rambeau and beloved comedic darlings Randal Park and Kat Dennings but I am suspicious…So the beekeeper could just be a general SWORD agent and implying their more sinister goals possibly.
My other theory is more supernatural–harkening back to Master Pandemonium or Mephisto. Beekeeper man with a face shrouded in darkness emerging from below is quite ominous and maybe symbolic? Also the line from Agnes responding to Dottie’s devil in the details with “That’s not the only place he is…” is a good joke at Dottie’s expense, but also maybe a demonic double meaning? As we said, demons and other weird magic are no stranger to Wanda and Vision, so any and all references to demons and devils are on notice from now on!
Or maybe an AIM spy stole a SWORD outfit or something. Or Swarm. Swarm…
Dave: You know, it’s funny, I just interviewed Kelly Thompson about her ongoing Black Widow run, and there’s a potentially similar idea there, where a group of the Widow’s greatest villains gather to basically trap her with happiness (I won’t say more than that so I don’t spoil anything!). It’s also similar to what we see from all sorts of characters in House of M, obviously one of the crucial source texts here, and I always think of Spider-Man’s narrative as one of the most heart-breaking in that mid 2000’s Marvel event. Pete gets Gwen back, Uncle Ben back, he’s happy with a family, and then boom (Biggie voice) “It was all a dream!”
To me this feels like a pretty clever workaround to the biggest problem Marvel writers (aka dudes) have had with Scarlet Witch in the past, which is that they consistently resort to “well her life’s been hell, so she’s gonna go nuts!” And I was definitely worried coming into WandaVision that we’d be fully dealing with a Wanda absolutely losing her self to grief over Vision (which, hey, fun reminder, she’s dealing with *quite* reasonably at the conclusion of Endgame!). If you bake in the manipulating forces, though, (instead of tagging them on years later like Avengers: Children’s Crusade), it has the potential to work, I think.
Ken: I agree! Just the notion of Wanda being manipulated into this, as hinted in the radio message and in trailers, is a relief to the idea that the horrible “Wanda has a breakdown” trope isn’t getting adapted (hopefully). I also want to add that this is truly the most internal exploration of Wanda (and Vision) that I think we’ve gotten at all in the MCU which I’m excited to see further. Sure it’s all through a sitcom lens but it’s nice to see the characters have fun.
Ok putting back on my tinfoil hat. Easter eggs! There is a shocking amount of High Evolutionary references. Bova (Freaking BOVA!) was referenced in an ad in the opening sequence of ep 2 along w/ Herb (maybe short for Herbert Wyndham?) Also there’s Auntie A’s kitty litter in the same sequence with a black cat. Again…it’s low hanging fruit to theorize our beloved Kathryn Hahn is Agatha Harkness but…she’s probably Agatha Harkness.
Dave: This show’s Easter Egg game is loaded. I won’t play the “gotta catch ‘em all!” game too thoroughly, but 1) Bova on the milk definitely made me happiest and 2) I kinda can’t fathom how Herb could be more than a fun wink? I have a lot of thoughts on what’s happening here, but when it comes to the people actually living in this reality, I’m definitely open to just about anything, High Evolutionary or otherwise.
I’m here for referring to HE as Sherbert from now on, though.
Ken: I think when it was announced the actor was playing “Herb” and the theories were flying I was dismissive, but then they referenced Bova so literally any and everything is back on the table! Last thing I noticed was I am almost definitely sure that was Jimmy Woo aka Randal Park’s voice on the radio. I enjoyed Always Be My Maybe too much not to clock it.
Dave: I missed that connection (clearly I need to rewatch some Veep stat), but it makes sense. My guess here would be Woo is working with SWORD who is monitoring Wanda’s situation and trying to free her from whatever counter-organization has her under their control (of sorts). Somehow they are very aware of her presence in this reality, they just don’t know who’s behind it or how to access without turning into tiny helicopters (huge missed opportunity for that to have been a toy ThanosCopter fyi).
Ken: First they erase Thanos’ hat, then his skeleton girlfriend, and now his helicopter. Is nothing sacred Disney?!
Dave: Ok, final thought from me, just so it’s on paper in the unlikely event I’m close and can brag about it later… here’s my latest theory for what’s going on.
After Endgame, Nick Fury and SWORD approached Wanda and suggested they might have a way to bring Vision back. Fury knows this process won’t work without the Mind Stone (Classic Nicholas), but they’re still interested in replicating Ultron’s android process for their own “sentient weapons” purposes, and will likely actually create the MCU’s version of Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man, who shares Vision’s brain waves in the comics.
Wanda is game, and while hooked up to SWORD tech, her powers work into overdrive and accidentally either create or warp various players into a pocket reality/new multiversal Earth. This is why SWORD is able to watch her “sitcom” and Jimmy Woo knows enough to communicate with her. They were in on the process, they just lost control.
Now, once in this reality, Wanda runs into MCU Mephisto, who offers her a chance at reliving happiness in exchange for her vast powers somehow being used to his benefit, perhaps via those adorable little demon babies you mentioned earlier.
Or, ya know, we’re about to see an Android punch some damn Nazi bees. I’m excited either way!
I feel outta like with superhero related media for a while but I might catch this when all the episodes come out I guess. Kind of crazy it took the MCU a decade to finally break the mold lol.
This is one hell of a brave move by Disney, to hit us with something SO “non-traditional” as the first Disney+ Marvel outing. Although, I suppose the original plan wasn’t for it to be the first Marvel content of any sort in a looong time due to the pandemic.
I’m loving it, but I do imagine a lot of people are finding it a pretty challenging watch. Certainly there has been a non-trivial number of people online who seem to absolutely HATE it so far.
I was also super excited by the “who’s doing this to you Wanda!?”. I feel like the trailers totally led us into the “oh, it’s a ‘Wanda loses control of her reality manipulation power’ story” line of thinking, I never even considered that it could be more of a “Pleasant Hill” type of story!