Superheros Satire and Sitcoms Oh My!

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SPOLIER WARNING FOR WANDAVISON AHEAD

WandaVision is the fresh take on the MCU everyone needed after a year long content drought because of filiming delays caused by the pandemic. The choice to push WandaVison to the front of the phase four line up after quarantine hit was extremely intelligent, as it flows seamlessly into many of the upcoming MCU films. 

 

WandaVison opens with an theme song mimicking the Dick Van Dyke show that sets up Wanda and Vision as an extraordinary couple, trying to live an ordinary suburban life. The couple forgets that Vision’s new boss and his wife were coming over for dinner and hijinks ensue complete with a 50’s style laugh track as Wanda and Vision struggle to whip up a three course meal to cover their mistake. With help from her nosy neighbour, Agnes, and a bit of magic, they pull it off, however when the credits roll, we get our first taste that all is not what it seems as the camera pans out to reveal that we are not the only audience of this sitcom. 

The intro for episode two is appropriately taken from the 60’s show “Bewitched ”. We open on Wanda and Vision practicing for a community magic show they are participating in to integrate themselves into suburban Westview life. When Wanda tries to befriend the queen bee of Westview, Dottie, a radio next to them begins to call out to Wanda and promptly explodes. Dottie looks bewildered at first, but brushes it off  quickly and walks away from Wanda. Back at the talent show, Vision is malfunctioning  and nearly ruins their act but they manage to pull off a great trick and crowd goes wild, landing Wanda back in Dottie’s good books. At the close of the episode, Wanda and Vision kiss, colour is restored to the world and Wanda is seen to be pregnant, setting up episode three.

 

Set in the 70’s, episode three is all about Wanda’s pregnancy and the effect it has on her powers. She goes from barely pregnant to giving birth by the end of the episode, which causes floods and power outages across town. Her new friend Gerladine finds out about the pregnancy and helps her give birth to twins, Billy and Tommy.As they speak about Pietro, Geralidne says the word “Ultron” and Wanda expels her from Westview. She is picked up by helicopters as the aspect ratio changes to widescreen, a signal that we are back in the real world. 

 

Episode four breaks from the sitcom format and introduces us to new characters including Monica Rambeau, daughter of Carol danvers best friend and legendary astronaut Maria Rambeau. She is sent to Westview as an agent for S.W.O.R.D. (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s  replacement) where she meets Jimmy Woo, an FBI agent we know from Ant-Man who is there on a missing persons case. Then she is trapped in Westview. S.W.O.R.D. assembles a team to investigate Westview including Darcy Lewis, from Thor; The Dark World who taps into Wanda’s TV broadcast sends the message we hear in episode two. We close with Monica eacaping from Westview and telling us that “its all Wanda”.

 

With that in mind, episode five, a parody of 80’s sitcoms takes on a more nefarious tone asWanda and Vision struggle to adjust to parenthood. In this episode, their newborn babies grow into ten year old kids. Outside Westview, Monica fights against Director Hayward to protect Wanda from harm. She loses and S.W.O.R.D. attempts to kill Wanda. Vision, who has been getting suspicious of what’s going on in Westview for a while, demands to know how much control Wanda has over these people. As they fight, someone shows up at the door who introduces himself as Pietro, Wanda’s dead brother. 

 

As Pietro and the superpowered kids wreck havoc in episode six, a 90’s themed halloween episode, Monica, Jimmy and Darcy are booted off of the  S.W.O.R.D. base for being too soft on Wanda. Vision lies to Wanda to go off and investigate the anomilies going on in town and runs into Agnes, which convinces him to attempt to leave Westview. This almost kills him before Wanda expands the hex to save him, trapping half the S.W.O.R.D. camp inside. 

 

The last sitcom themed episode, episode seven follows a 2000’s style sitcom format as an exhausted Wanda gives the twins to Agnes to have some time alone. Vision and Darcy have teamed up and are on the way to see Wanda. Meanwhile, Monica Rambeau successfully reenters the hex and gains superhuman powers that allow her to survive her confrontation with Wanda before Agnes intervenes and takes Wanda into her house. She goes searching for her kids and discovers that Agnes is actually Agatha Harkness, a witch with magical powers. 

 

Episode eight opens with a purple marvel logo, the colour of Agathas’ magic, a witch we learn was burned at the stake by her coven for practicing dark magic before she turned their powers’ against them. Agatha takes Wanda on a journey through her past to try and get her to understand the depth of her powers. We learn Wanda was born with magical abilities, and she did not steal Vision’s body, revealing Hayward’s true intentions. The episode ends with Agatha holding Wanda’s two kids hostage, and the final battle begins. 

 

The series finale quickly reveals Agatha’s power to absorb other witches’ magic and their abilities. She uses Wanda’s magic to show her the damage she caused to everyone in Westview and offers her a deal. If Wanda gives Agatha all her power, she will fix the spell so her family and everyone in Westview will live happily ever after. She accepts the deal, but when Agatha attempts to betray her, takes all of her magic back and becomes the Scarlet Witch. As punishment for her crimes, Agatha is turned back into Agnes, the nosy neighbour. She then goes to find Vision and prepares to dismantle the hex, at the cost of losing him and her sons. However while she fought Agatha, Vision was fighting White Vision, the unfeeling version of himself, and restored his memories to allow him to feel again. White Vision flies away, and regular Vision returns to Wanda. So as she says goodbye to Vision and her kids, for what she thinks is forvever we  know another Vision is out there. The hex is dismantled, Hayward is arrested, Monica is contacted by Nick Fury and all the citizens of Westview are freed. Meanwhile Wanda, is alone in a cabin, attempting to understand her identity as the Scarlet Witch when she hears the voices of her children. 

 

First off, the creativity in simply just the concept of the show needs to be praised. Combining superheos and sitcoms seems like an insane idea, but Kevin Fiege pulls it off effortlessly, giving us the best elements of each genre. From epic fight scenes to emotional complexity to classic sitcom humor we know and love, WandaVison has it all. 

 

 The story structure is an  impeccable blend of cinematic and sitcom structure. The premise is set up nicely in episode one and two, the first act ends with the reveal of the real world in episode three and the tension steadily rises in episodes four, five, six and seven. The Agatha reveal kicks off an emotional and epic third act that manages to tie the story up nicely, while also perfelctly setting up Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Thor Love and Thunder and Captian Marvel Two. I hope the upcoming MCU series stick to this structure as it sets them apart from every other TV show on the air out there. 

 

Costume designer Mayes Rubeo truly had her work cut out for her when she signed on to WandaVison, each episode has a completely different time period  of fashion to pull from. The costumes do a wonderful job at immersing you in the time period as well as dropping hints at what’s to come. From Agatha’s purple wardrobe and witch pin, to Wanda’s halloween costume reminiscent of her final Scarlet Witch outfit, you can see the enormous attention to detail at every turn. 

 

The addition of in-universe commercials was genius. They are fun, connect to the story fantastically and have so many double entendres and call backs to previous MCU films you feel like you are in on a joke with the writers room.

 

This will mark the fifth appearance of Elizibeth Olsen as Wanda Maxismoff and Paul Bettany as the Vision and I think they have stepped up their game since we have last seen them. Elizabeth Olsen’s hilarious yet heart wrenching performance as Wanda Maximoff was the backbone of the show. In the first couple of episodes, she gets the chance to show off her comedic acting chops while also giving us little moments that suggest all may not be as it seems. However, Olsen is at her best during the back half of the season. As we learn what is really going on in Westview, we the audience begin to recognize Olsen’s acting choices as indicators of the character’s deep seated trauma. All of this builds up to the emotional crux of the series, episode eight, titled “Previously On”.

 

Agatha Harkness takes Wanda on a journey through her past, stopping at crucial moments in her development to force her to reckon with her pain in order to reach her full potential as the Scarlet Witch. Olsen’s performance in this episode will take you with Wanda on this emotional rollercoaster. You feel her confusion, her panic and her heartbreak as she revists her past with Agatha, and finds all is not as she remembers it. The finale is a new beginning for Wanda, as she embraces her identity, pledges to learn more about herself and does what needs to be done. Seeing Wanda say goodbye to her kids and to Vision is both heartbreaking and satisfying as her reaction shows how much she’s grown as a charcter. This series works perfectly as an origin story for the Scarlet Witch character,  adding even more depth to one of the most complex characters in the MCU. 

 

 Playing opposite her as the Vision, Paul Bettany’s performance as Vision is so grounded and human, for one of the most inhuman charcters in the show. Vison always stays true to his principles and knows with great power comes great responsibility. His confrontation with his equal, white vision is perfect for his character. Instead of abandoning his principles to beat White Vison, he speaks to the humanity with the robot and wins not through brute stregth but emotional intelligence, something noone ever thought he’d be capable of. With this magnificent crescendo, Paul Bettany and the writers have ended Vision’s arc in the MCU perfectly, leaving us with the a confrontation that encapsulates Vision’s purpose in the MCU. He is here to teach us that you can always find the good in someone, no matter how impossible it seems  

 

The supporting cast provides a much needed break from the manufactured sitcom world with their  buddy-cop dynamic. The director’s choice to draw from pre-existing characters to form the side cast works perfectly to root an otherwise experimental and groundbreaking show in the already established world of the MCU. Jimmy Woo, everyone’s favourite FBI darling turned close up magician serves as an authoritative voice cutting through Monica Rambeau’s bravado. Darcy Lewis plays well off of both of these characters as well as Vision in later episodes. 

 

Kathrine Hahn’s over exaggerated portrayal of Agnes, the nosy neighbour was hilarious before the twist in episode five revealed her to be Agatha Harkness, a witch whose all-consuming quest for magical knowledge turned her evil. Her ability to soak up magic and arrogance makes her a perfect foil to Wanda, who has always been too powerful for every other Marvel villain. It forces her to use her brain as well as her brawn to beat her in the end. Agatha is currently trapped in the mind of Agnes, leaving the door open for this traditionally mentor-like character to make a return to the MCU at a later date. Rewatching earlier episode of WandaVison following the Agatha reveal will give you a new appreciation for Kathrine Hahn’s acting chops and the writers cleverly written dialogue that hints to us that “it was Agatha allll a long”.

 The finale manages to wrap up an action-packed season perfectly. It illustrates the development of all our main characters, partially Wanda. She beats her urge to give into fear and as a result has accesses her full potential as the Scarlet Witch, master of Chaos Magic. After this she beats fear again when she lets go of Vision and her fake children for the good of everyone else and the good of herself as well.

 

Before beginning this series, I wasn’t a big fan of Wanda’s character and hoped WandaVison would fix some of the recurring flaws in her arcs. It blew my expectations out of the water by giving Wanda a complex story that was hilarious, epic and emotional that developed her character from a whiny girl with low self confidence and powers beyond her wildest dreams to a character with potential to be the the Sorcerer supreme’s most powerful partner or worst enemy. This arc allows the show to exist both as a perfectly done satire of classic sitcoms we may not know, but love as well as a beautiful piece of cinema, speaking to the all consuming nature of grief.