By Mark Mangold
After more than a year, MCU fans got a taste of what they’ve been waiting for Friday night, as the world’s most successful media franchise returned on Disney Plus with two episodes of Wandavision. After two major tentpole films, Black Widow and the Eternals were moved to later this year from 2020, Marvel Studios decided to kick off their Phase 4 with their first television entry, and boy was it, well, weird. Weird in a good way for this viewer, and weird in a way that reminds you just how great Kevin Feige and Company are at storytelling, and how even after twenty-something odd film projects, they are not afraid to challenge their loyal viewers or take chances that could be catastrophic.
Wandavision is a genre piece, and, in a stroke of reflexive irony, a television series about television programs. The first two episodes were homages to fifties and sixties tv shows in the style of I Love Lucy and Bewitched (with more than a few direct tips of the hat the latter). The fact that they hold up so well as such, is a real credit to the showrunners, writers and directors; this could have failed miserably and come off as really corny but it’s clear that a lot of attention was paid to accurately stylizing these shows not just by the creator’s but also the shows stars Elizabeth Olson (Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch) and Paul Bettany (The Vision) as well as the entire cast. The writers even nailed the sitcom convention of the “simple misunderstanding” that causes all the comedic tension in most classic television when they have Wanda and Vision plan two separate dinner parties in the opening episode, leading to very funny exchanges between the stars and Vision’s TV world boss. The hijinks work, the comedy hits and it all feels like very typical and well-done Nick at Nite style comedy. What is unclear, though, is exactly what the heck is going on, and how any of this relates to the MCU, how Vision is still alive, what they are doing in an alternate television reality and whether any of this is happening. Or whether this is all a figment of someone else’s imagination. Does an enemy have Wanda under some sort of trance and are they manipulating her dreams? Is Wanda, longing for a life with the Vision (who is currently deceased in MCU continuity) creating this world herself? Who is the voice speaking to her through the radio in the “Dottie scene?”
We get references to the MCU in the show’s “commercials” and each episode’s features in important character from Wanda’s origins. The first episode features an ad with Stark Industries pedaling a toaster that ominously counts down to the toast popping – likely an ode, and a very dark one at that, to the fact that Stark Industries was responsible for killing Wanda’s parents with an mortal shell when she was young. The second episode’s commercial features “Strücker Watches” and the face of the faux luxury watches displays the Hydra symbol. As MCU fans know, Baron Von Strücker was the agent of Hydra who performed the experiment that gave Wanda and her now-deceased brother Pietro (AKA Quicksilver) their powers. If the pattern holds, each show episode will progress a decade into TV culture and give us one more ad that psychoanalyzes Wanda. But what will it all add up to, and how will it inevitably lead to the MCU doing what it does best – pushing its World forward and expanding it with more characters. Also as important, where will it leave the show’s two stars? How will Wanda react when she has to come to grips with the fact that this life with Vision (the type of idyllic American family often portrayed in television) is not possible. Oh, and is she REALLY pregnant? Is that possible?
The first two episodes are a really good start into what is shaping up to be a very strange series that will keep loyal MCU fans guessing, although anybody else unfamiliar with the films will be looooost watching it. With so much content to deliver, its easy to fear for fans that Marvel Studios will have a major misstep. It doesn’t appear that this series will be it, and on the contrary, its unique brand of storytelling will make fans more and more curious about what is happening, and that is a magic feat worthy of a talent show – for the kids.