It’s time for the latest installment of my episode by episode reviews of WandaVision, Marvel’s new sitcom parody/Dickian faux reality paranoia. Previous installments may be found here. Also, may I remind you that Disney is still not paying Alan Dean Foster and others.
Warning: Spoilers and pretty significant ones at that behind the cut!
It’s Halloween in Westview, but the cracks in the facade of Wanda’s little sitcom paradise are becoming too big to ignore. Wanda needs to “reset” Vision ever second line or so. The twins haven’t grown any further, but they are becoming inquisitive and also developing superpowers. As in the comics, Tommy has inherited Pietro’s superspeed and Billy has inherited Wanda’s abilities. And talking of Pietro, he’s still played by Even Peters rather than Aaron Taylor-Johnson (whom we see getting killed in the “Previously on…” segment), he’s still sleeping on Wanda and Vision’s couch and apart from Wanda, he’s also the only person who seems to be aware of what’s really going on in Westview, though he’s not complaining, because it beats being dead.
The time seems to have advanced to the 1990s by now, though this episode seems to be modelled after Malcolm in the Middle, which aired from 2000 to 2006 and starred a pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston . At any rate, the intro is copied almost exactly from Malcolm in the Middle, complete with quick cuts, shaky cam and scratchy fonts, which only served to remind me how really awful those aesthetics were. Though they were on their way out by the turn of the millennium, when Malcolm in the Middle premiered. The twins occasionally breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the camera is another thing that WandaVision has borrowed from Malcolm in the Middle.
AV-Club reviewer Stephen Robinson suggests that the reason WandaVision skips the 1990s and models itself after a show that premiered in 2000 is that the 1990s didn’t offer any suburban family sitcoms. My reaction to this was, “But the 1990s were full of stupid family sitcoms.” And indeed, there were several. However, Roseanne is hampered by the fact that its star turned out to be a racist and antisemitic far right jerk, so everybody would rather forget that one. Home Improvement has similar issues, I think, though I don’t recall Tim Allen doing anything even remotely as awful as what Roseanne Barr did. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air would work, except that the family has the wrong skin colour. The Simpsons are obviously the ultimate 1990s family sitcom (and now belong to Disney via the Fox acquisition) and they have a Halloween episode every year, but they’re also animated. Party of Five apparently doesn’t count as a sitcom, but then I always got it confused with Full House, since both are about large families with too many children. Married With Children was running well into the 1990s, but since they didn’t riff of that in the previous episode, they probably wouldn’t do so in this episode either. The Nanny would be another possibility (and one I’ve actually seen, because it ran for years just before a show I used to watch), but the set-up is wrong. However, one thing that “All-New Halloween Spectacular” has in common with shows like Roseanne, The Simpsons, Married With Children or The Simpsons is that it no longer offers a falsely idyllic view of family life like older sitcoms did.
The episode opens with Tommy and Billy traipsing around Pietro, who’s asleep on the sofa, wondering whether he’s secretly a vampire (no, he isn’t, but he’s a not-so-secret superhero and also dead). Pietro finally wakes up and chases them around the house, perfectly playing the part of the slacker uncle. Wanda appears, dressed for the first time in a pretty close approximation of her iconic Jack Kirby designed costume from the comics. Interestingly, she manages to look both gorgeous and like a cosplayer at San Diego Comic Con. Vision also wears his classic costume from the comics (though unlike Wanda’s, his regular costume is a closer approximation to the one from the comics), though he manages to look dorky rather than cool. But then, Vision has one of the silliest costumes in comics. Even Billy and Tommy show up in approximations of their comic costumes as Young Avengers. It’s the sort of attention to detail that makes this comic geek smile. Not to mention that I wanted to see what Wanda’s classic costume looks like in live action, even if noted fake feminist Joss Whedon supposedly told Elizabeth Olsen she’d never wear it on screen.
Wanda and Vision pass off their respective costumes as “Sokovian fortune teller” and “Mexican Wrestler”. However, there is trouble in paradise, for Vision does not want to go out trick or treating with Wanda and the twins. Instead, he insists that he has to go on patrol with the nieghbourhood watch. Wanda tries to reset him, but this time around, Vision won’t budge. Luckily, Pietro is there and offers to go trick or treating with Wanda and the twins. He even whizzes up a grungier version of his classic comic costume with a matching outfit for Tommy, who considered himself too cool for Halloween costumes, until his idol Uncle Pietro deigned to wear one. I really love the “my first cosplay” aesthetics of the superhero costumes in this episode.
The denizens of Westview may have been stripped of free will and agency, but they do seem to be enjoying Halloween. Homes, lawns and the small city center have been decorated and there are costumes adults – and more importantly, kids – running around. Considering that Vision noted last episode that there were no kids in Westview other than Tommy and Billy, it’s notable that Westview now seems to be full of kids.
Pietro shamelessly abuses his powers to steal candy, mess up decorations and spray people with silly string, until Wanda makes him and the twins give all the candy back. Wanda and Pietro also have a heart to heart. They reminisce about their childhood in Sokovia, where they went trick or treating and were only given a mangy looking fish “to share” from a witchy looking old woman. Now Halloween wasn’t celebrated in continental Europe until the 1990s/2000s, though many countries did and continue to have native trick or treating traditions. St. Nicholas Day on December 6 is the traditional trick or treating day in my part of Germany, though St. Martin’s Day a.k.a. Martinsmas on November 11 and Epiphany Day on January 6 play that role in other regions. So did Sokovia have a native trick or treating tradition? Probably, though it’s unlikely to have been on Halloween. And even if Halloween slowly became more popular as the 1990s progressed, it’s unlike that the idea would have caught on in Sokovia so quickly, which is poor and a warzone. Of course, Sokovia is fictional, so if Marvel insists that they celebrated Halloween in the late 1990s or that Sokovian fortune tellers dress like Scarlet Witch from the comics, who am I to argue? That said, I’ve absolutely encountered variations of the old lady with the mangy fish during my own St. Nicholas Day trick or treating expeditions. Though in our case, the old lady (and it’s always an old lady) usually gave you a single way past its sell-by date apple or tangerine – to share, if there was more than one of you.
Pietro also admits that he remembers his life up to the moment he was shot in Age of Ultron, though he insists that “he was shot like a chump in the street”, even though he sacrificed himself to save the lives of Hawkeye and a Sokovian kid. Of course, it depends on your view of Hawkeye whether getting yourself shot to save him makes you a chump. Afterwards, Pietro remembers nothing, until Wanda called for him and he came. He’s also aware that he looks different now, though he has no idea why. And of course, it’s notable that the life he remembers is that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Pietro rather than that of the Fox X-Men Pietro, whose body he now inhabits. Of course, it’s also possible that Pietro is lying and is someone else altogether, some malicious being that’s egging Wanda on. Plus, he refer to Billy and Tommy as “hellspawn”, which might be a reference to the fact that in the comics, Wanda created Billy and Tommy from a shred of the soul of Mephisto, so the poor kids were literally spawns of hell.
At any rate, Pietro is aware of what Wanda is doing and doesn’t exactly disapprove. After all, creating a fake reality, holding a whole town hostage and bringing Vision (and Pietro, for that matter) back to life is a big step up from shooting “red wiggly-woos” from her finger tips and manipulating the minds of the Avengers. Also, we learn that Wanda has kept couples together, given most people better jobs than what they had in reality and that the children are apparently kept asleep, unless needed as set dressing. Pietro isn’t entirely sure whether the faux suburban idyll of Westview is really his thing, though he’s sure that his and Wanda’s dead parents would have loved it. Wanda, meanwhile, admits that she has no idea how she’s doing what she does. She just felt so terribly alone and then Vision was suddenly back and they were playing sitcom in Westview. At one point, she also seens Pietro dead and with bullet holes in his chest.
The town square with the vintage cinema looks like one of those backlot town squares you’ve seen in dozens of movies and TV shows over the years. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this exact town square with the cinema did show up on some other TV show, likely more than one, though I can’t for the life of me remember which one. Camestros Felapton points out in his review that the marquee of the cinema announces the 2004 Pixar film The Incredibles, which is about a family of superheroes, and The Parent Trap, which is the US title of Erich Kästner’s classic and much adapted children’s book Das doppelte Lottchen, in which twin – girls in this case – switch places to bring their divorced parents back together. Das doppelte Lottchen has been adapted a whopping fourteen times between 1950 and 2017. Two of these adaptations from 1961 and 1998 were called The Parent Trap. Going by the timeline, the movie advertised on the marquee is likely the 1998 version, which starred a young Lindsay Lohan in a double role. Interestingly, there also was a US-adaptation of Das doppelte Lottchen called It Take Two in 1995, which starred Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, twins and the real life sisters of Elizabeth Olsen who plays Wanda.
Other media and movie references in this episode include Kick-Ass, a 2010 superhero movie in which both actors who would go on to play Quicksilver, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Evan Peters, appeared together, and Godzilla. Now there are lots of Godzilla movies, but the otherwise forgettable 2014 version starred both Marvel’s Quicksilver to be Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as his wife as well as Bryan Cranston, who played the father in Malcolm in the Middle, the soap opera that was the model for this episode, as Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s father and Elizabeth Olsen’s father-in-law. It’s all connected.
At one point during their trick or treating expedition, Wanda runs into a member of the neighbourhood watch – Herb, I think. At any rate, the portly black guy. Herb is very eager to please Wanda and asks if she wants anything changed, but Wanda says that everything is just perfect. But when Wanda asks about Vision, Herb mentions that he’s not on duty that night, So Vision lied to Wanda about where he was going.
As for what Vision is doing, he is determined to get to the bottom of the Westview mystery himself. And so he travels to the edge of town, where he finds groups of people who seem to be frozen or stuck, repeating the same motions over and over again, such as a woman who is hanging up Halloween decorations or trying to. Vision tries to talk to those frozen people, but they don’t respond. Once more, WandaVision segues seemlessly from not-so-idyllic suburban family sitcom (though that noxious laugh track is notably absent this episode) into horror. Camestros Felapton notes that atmosphere reminded him of the original Twilight Zone as well as of certain Doctor Who episodes featuring isolated and deserted English villages. Come to think of it, The Avengers (John Steed and Emma Peel, not the Marvel version) had such episodes as well.
One of the people Vision finds stuck at the edge of town is none other than Agnes, dressed up like a witch. Agnes admits that she took a wrong turn and got lost and now she can’t get back. Vision is confused by this, because Agnes has allegedly lived in Westview all her life, so how can she get lost. Of course, Agnes seemed more aware of what’s really going on in Westview from the start than the other characters. And the witch costume does hint at Marvel character Agatha Harkness. Though I still suspect that Agatha is the missign witness Agent Woo was sent to find and that’s why she doesn’t know her way around town.
Vision frees the trapped Agnes from Wanda’s spell. “Are you here to save us?”, Agnes asks, because she recognises Vision as a member of the Avengers. However, Vision has no idea who or what the Avengers are. So he really remembers nothing of his life before Westview. A nigh hysterical Agnes then asks, if she’s dead. Vision assures her that she’s not dead and why would she think such a thing, whereupon Agatha blurts out that Vision is dead. Oops.
Because Agnes is completely hysterical by now, Vision resets her and she turns around her car and drives away, once against under Wanda’s control. Vision then flies into the air and realises that Westview is surrounded by an energy field. He decides to go and explore what lies beyond Westview. This turns out to be not a good idea.
Meanwhile, at the S.W.O.R.D. compound, Hayward is continuing to give us his best “minor X-Men villain” routine. He really, really doesn’t like people with superpowers and basically wants to storm Westview and take Wanda out. Darcy points out that Wanda almost caused Hayward to get shot by his own murder squad. Monica Rambeau adds that Wanda has them outgunned and that they also have no idea what will happen to the people of Westview, if Wanda gets killed.
Alas, Hayward doesn’t want to listen to reason, especially not when said reason is spoken by women. And so he says mean things to Monica such as that her mother would be disappointed in her, that he knows about her connection to Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel, but that Carol never came back, and also that people like Monica who were snapped out of existence by Thanos have no idea what those left behind had to deal with. Then Haywood kicks out Monica, Agent Woo and Darcy.
However, Monica and Agent Woo won’t abandon the playing field so easily to Hayward. And so they knock out the S.W.O.R.D. operatives supposed to escort them out of the base (“Why didn’t anybody tell me that was the plan?” Darcy complains), steal their ugly rain ponchos (honestly, those rain ponchos are terrible. They look just like the rain poncho my mother tried to make me wear to school, the one I always ditched as soon as I was around the corner, because I’d rather get wet than wear that) and sneak back into the base.
Darcy hacks into the computer to see what Hayward is up to. She realises that Haywood can somehow scan through the barrier and that he is tracking Vision or rather the vibranium in his body. Darcy also notes that the people at the edge of the anomaly are barely moving, which matches with what Vision has seen inside.
Monica is determined to go back into Westview and talk to Wanda, but Darcy tells her she can’t go in, because passing through the barrier twice has altered her cells. Monica, whose mother died of cancer after all, interprets this as “I’m getting cancer”, but those of us who’ve read the comics know that Monica is likely developing a bout of superpowers. And if crossing the barrier into Westview or being trapped inside changes and mutates humans cells, that’s also the perfect way for Marvel to introduced mutants into the Marvel Cinematic and TV Universe. Yes, Wanda has done it again.
Nonetheless, Monica and Agent Woo are determined to contact Wanda. Darcy, however, stays behind, because she suspects that Hayward is hiding something else. But just when she’s found it, an alarm goes off, because Vision is attempting to break through the barrier. Darcy races out to the barrier with half the S.W.O.R.D. staff just in time to see Vision breaking through and promptly decaying and falling apart (well, his body was in pieces, when Wanda stole it), because it’s quite possible he can’t survive outside Westview. “Help him”, Darcy shouts and gets herself arrested and handcuffed to a S.W.O.R.D. SUV.
Inside Westview, a distraught Billy runs up to Wanda and tells her that he senses that his Dad is in danger. Pietro jokes that there isn’t much of a rush, because Wanda’s dead husband can’t possibly die twice, whereupon Wanda hurls him halfway across the town square (well, he had it comic). Wanda then questions Billy what exactly he sees and Billy says something about soldiers. Now Wanda knows exactly where Vision is. She freezes the entire town, her eyes begin to glow red, as she causes the barriers of “the Hex”, as Darcy has called it, to expand outwards.
Vision is gobble up again and hopefully restored. But the Hex still keeps expanding. The S.W.O.R.D. troops run, abandoning Darcy who gets sucked in. The Hex proceeds to swallow up the S.W.O.R.D. compound, which is turned into a circus with the soldiers turned into clowns, which made me chuckle. Haywards escapes in a car, as do Monica and Agent Woo. Cue credits.
The faux commercial this time is a striking but nasty piece of Claymation work for a faux product called Yo-Magic yoghurt, which seems to be a Fruchtzwerge like kiddie yoghurt. A Claymation kid is stranded on a desert island and about to starve, when a shark drops by to deliver a package of Yo-Magic yoghurt. Alas, the kid can’t open the yoghurt and withers away to turn into a skeleton, which is just mean.
WandaVision continues to be an edge-of-your-seat tense and also very, very strange show. We still have more theories about what’s going on than actual clues. WandaVision is certainly good at keeping us speculating and I think every powerful semi-supernatural being in the Marvel Universe has come under suspicion by now (personally, my money is on Fin Fang Foom).
Will the pay-off be worth it? In three episodes, we’ll know.