By Nicholas Cervania, March 18 2021—
WandaVision kicked off Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but it doesn’t do it all that well.
It’s difficult to discuss the issues of the show without getting into major plot details, so if you haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, here’s your spoiler warning.
WandaVision starts off with a total departure from the general cinematics that we’ve come to expect from the MCU. Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are living an idyllic suburban life in a clear sitcom homage to the 1960s Dick Van Dyke Show. As the episode goes on however, both seem to realize that a sinister force is at work and there may be more to this sitcom world than they think. As the show goes on, Wanda and Vision continue their suburban sitcom lives, eventually have twins and live through different decades of the genre. But, it’s eventually revealed that Wanda has created this alternate reality in order to process her trauma and has enslaved the unwilling members of the town in order to do so. This leads to S.W.O.R.D. — the fictional intelligence agency — investigating the anomaly Wanda has created in an attempt to stop her.
Starting with the positives, WandaVision begins its run successfully managing to hook viewers’ attention. The presentation of this show is clearly one of the main appeals, with each episode being a faithful tribute to a different decade of television sitcoms. The characters are enjoyable and interesting and the small tidbits of information given to the audience leaves them in awe, giving enough information to keep viewers interested while being discrete enough to still let them derive their own theories.
For better or for worse, the whole show almost feels like a five-hour-long Marvel movie. But, it starts off pretty strong. Having each episode pay an homage to a different decade of sitcom television is pretty fun and the presentation is engaging. The different intro theme songs for each episode are probably one of the best parts of these homages and I love the way they play with the aspect ratios and camera techniques of these old shows. This is where I’d say the show uses the medium to its advantage. Being a TV show, the plot is broken up over the course of a few episodes, which allows for the high-concept homages that this show pulls off. Overall, I’d say the show manages to keep this energy until around the fifth episode.
The best thing that this show does is make Wanda and Vision likeable characters. I’ve always felt like Wanda could have been an interesting character in the MCU films, but she never had the right writing to give her interesting development arcs. Plus, I can’t think of anybody whose favorite superhero is Vision. These two characters get a lot of care and attention in this show and I love the scene in episode five where Wanda and Vision have their big argument. Vision never really did anything in the MCU films outside of stand around, talk with a British accent and then die, and this argument scene is the first time we’ve ever seen him fly off the handle. He’s always been the most levelheaded and rational member of the Avengers, so I like that he’s finally faced with something that gives him some sort of personality.
I also love the way they use Evan Peters’ Quicksilver to subvert audience expectations. I went into this show thinking that Vision would somehow be brought back to life since every other meaningful death from Infinity War has been undone and I’m sure a lot of other fans went in with their own theories as well. This twist kept me guessing on what the implications of this cameo could be. While it all amounted to a big joke, it seemed like a cheap way to keep the audience engaged — but I still found it effective overall.
As I mentioned before, after episode four, the show’s quality gradually begins to decline and my praises begin to disappear. This is where the show’s plot starts to split between the real and sitcom worlds and where the sitcom segments start to feel like uninteresting and meaningless set dressings.
Episode four takes us back to the real world and we’re shown more of the aftermath of the blip and the world’s reaction to these events. We meet Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and are reintroduced to Agent Woo (Randall Park) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). These three are part of the S.W.O.R.D. investigation team, looking into the anomaly Wanda has created. Together, they work under Acting Director of S.W.O.R.D., Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg), who I’ll go into more detail about later. This episode is pretty interesting and answers a lot of questions, but the drawback to this is that it lowers engagement with the sitcom segments that follow. After this point in the show, the narrative of each episode is split between the sitcom and the real world and everything that takes place in the sitcom honestly feels like a filler story. With the veil of mystery lifted on the show, most of each episode feels unimportant and feels like its only purpose is to waste time until the next plot point.
The Malcolm in the Middle sixth episode is where the show lost me. I was around when Malcolm in the Middle was airing, so at first I was excited to see an era of television I was familiar with represented in the show. But the problem with this episode is that the plot is divided even further, with each subplot having equal importance. Wanda spends time with Quicksilver, trying to find out if she’s being tricked and Vision investigates the edges of town to see the effects of Wanda’s magic on the residents. Each of the prior episodes felt like regular sitcom episodes with lots of parts moving in the background in service of the larger narrative. This episode felt like the opposite, with the Malcolm in the Middle concept feeling more like a meaningless backdrop for the actual plot and being dropped after about five minutes. The same goes for the Modern Family episode that takes place right after. This Modern Family episode also reveals Wanda’s neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) — whose true identity is Agatha Harkness — as the true villain of the show.
The villains in this show are absolutely terrible and I really wish Agatha was fleshed out more before this big reveal. In previous episodes, it was hinted that Agatha might be aware of Wanda and Vision’s true identities, drawing Vision’s suspicion by being unphased by the magical shenanigans that happen around her. But this plot twist about her being behind it all and the subsequent musical montage that follows shows up so abruptly and without explanation that I was concerned I missed an episode. I honestly had no idea what she was trying to do or what she wanted. They tell us that it was, “Agatha all along,” but they don’t explain what she was actually doing. Plus, we know that Wanda was the one who created the false reality and is the one in control of everything, so this reveal doesn’t even make any sense from a narrative standpoint.
Speaking of bad villains, Director Hayward is terrible. He has no motivations, goals or even any character traits. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what he was trying to do over the course of the show and I’m still not clear on what it was. He’s pretty forgettable, which is problematic considering he’s one of the main villains. Both villains are embarrassingly underdeveloped and completely unnecessary to the show’s overall plot.
All of these issues come to a head in episode nine — the series finale. Vision fights an evil clone of himself that shows up out of nowhere and Wanda and Agatha face off in a big dumb CGI action climax that’s par for the course of a Marvel movie. Subplots are all happening at the same time and every subplot is resolved all at once in this episode, leaving the episode feeling disjointed and confusing. The entire battle even feels out of place for the show and is for some reason shot like a Disney Channel original movie. I never felt this was the type of story that needed to end with a dumb superhero final battle, especially since the rest of the series up to this point almost feels like an entirely different type of show. Up until the plot twist in episode seven, the main conflict has been about Wanda’s complacency with her manipulation of the town and all its people for her own personal gain. Her arc is about her coming to terms and dealing with her grief, but this development effectively gets thrown away because the final act of the story is solely focused on Agatha.
I also hated the white Vision that shows up in this episode. He shows up completely out of nowhere with no explanation just so that they can throw in some dumb action. While I like that Vision forgoes defeating him in a laser battle, opting to simply change his worldview with a discussion on philosophy, he just immediately leaves the show after this. In the end, white Vision left the same way that he was introduced — abruptly and without explanation.
I feel like the problem with the Agatha plot could’ve been fixed by having Agatha introduced as a villain much earlier in the show. If Wanda was wrestling with the idea of manipulating the town as her own personal grief outlet and Agatha was goading her along the whole time, the show might’ve carried more dramatic energy and Wanda’s struggle with her grief would’ve been highlighted more.
This show would’ve been great if it was just a character-driven story about Wanda finding a healthy way to deal with her pain. It almost feels like that was the original plan until a Disney studio executive ordered a last minute rewrite to force in more spin-offs and sequels. The show starts off on a high but it ends as a disjointed and confusing mess. WandaVision can be pretty fun at times, but it’s not something I’d want to watch more than once.