Okay, so it looks as if I am doing episode by episode reviews of WandaVision, Marvel’s new sitcom parody/Dickian faux reality paranoia. Previous installments (well, just one) may be found here. Also, may I remind you that Disney is still not paying Alan Dean Foster and others.
But before I get to the review, I also want to point out that I have another article up at Galactic Journey. This one is a double review of the 1965 Edgar Wallace movie The Sinister Monk and the 1966 sword and planet (though that term wasn’t in use yet) novel The Sword of Lankor by Howard L. Cory a.k.a. Jack Owen and Julie Ann Jardine.
Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!
When we last left our favourite mismatched superhero couple, Wanda and Vision had not only seen their black and white sitcom world suddenly become a lot more colourful – no, Wanda was also very suddenly very visibly pregnant.
By the start of episode 3, the world is still in colour – and indeed the episode title is “Now in Color” – and there has been another time jump. Cause while episode 2 (which didn’t have a title, as far as I can tell) was set in the mid 1960s (the black and white to colour TV change happened in 1965/66 in the US), episode 3 is set in the early 1970s. The main models are The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, which ran from 1969 and respectively 1970 to 1974. The opening sequence for episode 3 is very directly modeled on the opening sequence of The Brady Bunch. Unlike the models for the previous episodes, I have actually seen a bit of both shows, though my feelings about The Brady Bunch are strongly influenced by the less than ideal circumstances under which I saw the show.
I was fifteen and had been visiting relatives in the US. I was fairly independent and considered myself an adult, but for legal reasons, I was still classified as a child travelling alone. And so they stuck me in a dingy room at Atlanta airport with all the other kids travelling alone (who were actually kids – I was the oldest person there except for another teenage girl who spoke only Spanish, so we communicated in eyerolls). There was a single person who watched the kids and made sure we didn’t run off, but otherwise there was no effort to make our stay pleasant. There were drinks, but nothing eat for hours (and that watchdog woman wouldn’t let me go into the terminal to get myself something to eat) and there was nothing to do except watch the lone TV, which was playing nothing but Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch in an endless loop. Come to think of it, the way they treated us was borderline abusive, especially considering I’ve since heard that the assistance services of other airlines and airports are much better.
The experience left me with a violent dislike for Atlanta airport, Delta Airlines, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. I also associate The Brady Bunch with the feeling of being trapped, which is actually a very apt comparison to WandaVision. Hmm, now I wonder whether WandaVision‘s showrunner was also trapped in that dingy room at Atlanta airport and forced to watch The Brady Bunch in an endless loop.
But even though there has been a time jump of five to eight years, Wanda is still pregnant and as far as she and Vision are concerned (who neither seem to notice nor are troubled by the fact that they seem to be reliving US postwar television history on fast forward) Wanda has only been pregnant for a day at most (and indeed, the audience sort of witnessed how Wanda became pregnant, when she used her magic to push the censorship-friendly twin beds together and turned off the bedroom lights in the previous episode). But when Vision – who now sports longish floppy 1970s hair – calls in one Dr. Nielsen (who, as a commenter at Camestros Felapton’s blog points out, is named after the institute which calculates the US TV ratings), Dr. Nielsen declares that Wanda is actually four months pregnant. But how can that be?
Dr. Nielsen, an elderly man who looks like all of the doctors and psychiatrists in vintage US TV shows, also mansplains the progress of pregnancy to Wanda and Vision, using fruits as example. Keen viewers will notice the respective fruit popping up in the background throughout the episode. Though honestly, were papayas common in the US in the early 1970s? Cause I first encountered them in Singapore in the early 1980s and they didn’t come to Germany until several years later.
Dr. Nielsen takes his leave, mentioning that he and his wife are planning to go on holiday. Meanwhile, Wanda and Vision do their best to get ready for the new arrival. Vision reads pregnancy books, while Wanda prepares the nursery. They also argue about names. Wandy wants to name the baby Tommy, while Vision prefers Billy. However, there are also increasing signs that not only is the pregnancy proceding much faster than expected (Vision calculates that the baby should be born on Friday afternoon), but it’s also messing up Wanda’s powers. The first indicator is that when Wanda feels the baby moving for the first time (“a fluttering sensation”), she accidentally brings a butterfly mobile to life.
Things become more serious when Wanda experiences Braxton Hicks contractions a.k.a. false labour and causes kitchen appliances to go haywire and eventually knocks out the power for the entire suburb of Westview. Though at least she saves Norm (the darkhaired man with the moustache and the prominent nose) from having to answer his wife Dottie’s (Emma Caulfield Ford of Buffy fame) question, if those earrings make her look fat.
Shortly thereafter, Wanda experiences the first real contraction and things become even crazier. For starters, Vision’s powers go out of control as well and he levitates in panic and Wanda needs to coax him down. Then Wanda’s waters break in the most spectacular way posssible by causing a rainfall inside the house and, it is implied, the whole neighbourhood. Vision now takes off (literally, with super-speed) to fetch Dr. Nielsen before he can go on his vacation. He gets lucky and finds the Doctor, too, because the Nielsens’ car just happened to break down.
Meanwhile, Wanda is interrupted by new neighbour “Geraldine” (who we know is really Monica Rambeau) who drops by to borrow a bucket, since “Geraldine” has also been hit by the flood of amniotic fluid that Wanda unleashed upon Westview. Wanda desperately tries to hide both her condition (a nine months pregnancy developing in two days would be hard to explain), the fact that she’s in labour and her acting up powers from “Geraldine” and tries to get rid of her as quickly as possible. But unfortunately “Geraldine” wants to have a chat about her new temp job at an advertising agency, which I suspect is a reference to Teyonah Parris’ previously best known role to date as Don Draper’s secretary Dawn in Mad Men. Though Geraldine’s story of how she was promoted from temp secretary to copywriter is closer to Peggy’s than to Dawn’s.
Not that Wanda listens anyway, because she’s not just in labour and trying to hide it underneath oversized coats and finally by holding a bowl of fruit in front of her belly – which are of course some of the tactics TV executives use to hide the real life pregnancies of actresses to this day, usually with as little succees as Wanda (my Mom and I can always spot real life pregnancies in TV shows quickly and tend to point them out to each other). We could see all of those techniques at work in season 3 of Star Trek Discovery. You didn’t think that it was just coincidence that people in the 32nd century wear oversized sweaters and bulky trenchcoats, did you?
But Wanda doesn’t just have to deal with a nine month baby bump and contractions, her powers also conjure up a life stork that’s stalking about her house and no amount of magicking can make the stork go away, even as Wanda tries to make it vanish in a poof of red dust. The stork even bites Geraldine/Monica in the leg, which makes me worry about her, because at least in Germany, according to legend storks not only deliver babies, but also cause pregnancies by biting women in the leg.
Geraldine finally realises the truth when she blunders into the nursery and then turns around to ask, “Wanda, are you pregnant?”, only to realise that not only is Wanda very, very pregnant, she’s also about to give birth. Geraldine takes the revelations in stride (which confirms that she’s more than just another neighbour) and talks Wanda through the contractions, telling Wanda that she’s a strong woman. Geraldine finally delivers a baby boy who looks a lot older than newborn (about three months old, I guess, but then babies in movies and TV shows rarely look like newborns), just as Vision returns with the Doctor in tow.
Vision is crestfallen that he missed the birth of his son – but then he wouldn’t have been allowed in the delivery room anyway, since Dads in delivery rooms wasn’t yet a thing in the early 1970s. Dr. Nielsen proclaims mother and baby healthy, praises Geraldine for her help and tells her that she would make a fine nurse. I wonder whether this is a reference to Julia, a sitcom that aired from 1968 to 1971 and was the first US TV series featuring a black lead actress (Diahann Carroll) playing a nurse.
The Doctor and Geraldine go outside to give Wanda and Vision some privacy with their little boy, whom they’ve named Tommy. Wanda tells Vision that with the others gone, it’s time that Tommy got to see his Dad as he really is, namely red and with an infinity stone on his forehead. It’s a touching moment, that’s rudely interrupted when Wanda has another contraction and little Billy makes his entrance. Now by the early 1970s, surprise twins were no longer a thing, for even though ultrasound was only just beginning to come in (my Mom told me that they did an ultrasound only in the hospital, when she was about to deliver me), doctors and midwives were well able to tell, if a woman was carrying twins via the fetal heartbeat. My aunt had twins, my cousins, in 1970 and she knew beforehand. But then, nothing about Wanda’s pregnancy is even remotely normal.
Vision takes the Doctor back and wishes him a good vacation, whereupon the Doctor ominously remarks that he’s not leaving after all, because small towns are so hard to escape. Upon his return, Vision stops outside to chat with his neighbours Herb (the black guy with the afro we met last episode) and the perpetually nosy Agnes. Herb was earlier seen cutting into the fence between his and Wanda and Vision’s house with his electric hedge trimmer. It also becomes clear that Herb and Agnes both know that something is very wrong in Westview. Herb is about to spill the beans, but Agnes stops him. Though she does tell Vision to beware of Geraldine, because she’s not from around her and doesn’t have a home, at least not in Westview.
Meanwhile, Wanda and Geraldine are inside, wrangling the twins. Wanda remarks that she was a twin herself and that she had a brother named Pietro (Quicksilver, who died in Age of Ultron and has not been mentioned since). Then she begins to sing a Sarkovian lullaby to the twins, looking increasingly distant. “He was killed by Ultron, wasn’t he?” Geraldine asks, whereupon Wanda freaks out. She also notices that Geraldine is wearing a pendant with the S.W.O.R.D. logo, which Wanda has seen before on a reality breaking helicopter shortly before Geraldine arrived in Westview. “Where did you get that?” she asks and “What did you say about Pietro?” Then Wanda tells Geraldine to leave and kicks her out, quite literally, because we see Geraldine/Monica flying through some kind of energy barrier, as the screen expands from the old 4:3 to the modern 16:9 aspect ratio. Gerladine lands in a field outside Westview, as Jeeps and helicopters bearing the S.W.O.R.D. logo surround her. Cue credits, while “Daydream Believer” by The Monkees, a band which was created for a sitcom, plays.
The big question is of course, “What precisely is going on in Westview?” We already knew that it is some kind of constructed reality in which Wanda and maybe Vision (or maybe not, since he’s dead) are trapped. However, in this episode there are hints that the other inhabitants of Westview are trapped as well (the Doctor being unable to leave, Herb trying to cut through the wall and almost spilling the beans, Agnes clearly terrified) and that they are real people rather than NPCs who are part of the constructed reality.
Though we still don’t know just what precisely Westview is. Was Westview created by someone else (S.W.O.R.D, Hydra, Dormannu, Mephisto, etc…?) to entrap Wanda or did Wanda create Westview herself as a way of processing her grief over losing first her parents, then Pietro and finally Vision? Or – as the final scene seems to hint – is Westview a real place with real people whom Wanda sucked into her little sitcom fantasy and who are now forced to play along and can’t leave? Or is this some kind of Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes/Lost* situation, where everybody is dead and Wanda is in a coma like Sam Tyler. After all, Vision was dead the last time we saw him in the real world. And just before Agnes stopped him, I could have sworn that Herb was about to blurt out, “We’re all dead.”
One thing, however, is clear: Whatever is really going on in Westview, Wanda wants the illusion to continue. Last episode, when a man in a beekeeper’s outfite emerged from a manhole, Wanda rewound the episode, so she would not have to face him. And this episode, when Vision starts wondering about what’s going on and how very unlikely everything, Wanda again rewinds reality to the point before he started asking questions. Vision quoting Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” from As You Like It is also a big honking clue.
Of course, readers of the comics know that Wanda is not only very powerful, one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe in fact, but also highly unstable. “No more mutants”, anybody? Film/TV Wanda is not comic Wanda, her backstory is completely different. However, film/TV Wanda has been unstable from the moment she was first introduced in Age of Ultron and she’s also had more than her share of trauma. She and Pietro lost their parents at a young age and were trapped for days in a ruined house with an unexploded bomb. Later, Wanda and Pietro were given superpowers by Hydra experiments, used by Ultron for his own ends and then Wanda lost Pietro, her twin brother and only living relative. The relationship with Vision seemed to be the only thing that kept her together and then she lost Vision as well. And unlike everybody else killed in Infinity War, Vision doesn’t come back. So in short, it wouldn’t be surprise, if Wanda finally cracked and the only reason that she hasn’t cracked already is because we’ve seen very little of Wanda (and even less of Vision) since her introduction in Age of Ultron.
Which brings me to the issue of the twins. In the comics, the twins weren’t real, but created by Wanda’s magic from a splinter of Mephisto’s soul. Eventually, they vanished, because they had never existed in the first place, causing Wanda to spiral ever deeper into depression. Though apparently, the comics recently resurrected the twins as members of the Young Avengers. One twin, Tommy I think, will turn out to be gay and date the Hulkling BTW. I really hope they keep that storyline, especially since it would fit the “socially conscious” sitcoms of the 1990s and 2000s, when they suddenly realised that gay people existed and started having very stereotypically gay characters.
But most of all, I hope that they keep the twins around and don’t just let them blink out of existence. For while I normally hate the supernatural miracle pregnancy trope (explained at length here), I am willing to tolerate it here, because it’s very obvious that WandaVision is not set in the real world, so real world rules don’t apply. Plus, we have seen other normal pregnancies and children growing up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, e.g. Cassie Lang, Morgan Stark and the three Hawkeye children, one of whom is born on screen – sort of. However, I really hope that they don’t follow the supernatural miracle pregnancy trope to the bitter end and have the twins either disappear or turn evil. Besides, a Young Avengers TV show or movie would be cool.
As before, the clothing, hairstyles and interior design is pitch-perfect for the time period. Vision looks like a stepped out of a Woody Allan movie. Wanda looks like Maureen McCormick or Susan Dey, the oldest daughters respectively of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, since the mothers of both families were middle-aged. And Geraldine looks like Pam Grier in Foxy Brown, complete with fabulous afro and great period clothes.
ETA: I completely forgot to mention this week’s fake commercial, which is for a soap/bubble bath called “Hydra Soak”. Interestingly, L’Oreal has a line of skincare products for men called Hydra Energy. I have long made jokes about that unfortunate name and even once used the magic of Photoshop to add a “Hail” and the Hydra logo to a package of Hydra Energy cream. Interestingly, the actors appearing in the faux commercials always seem to be the same as well. Will this eventually become a plot point or did they just shoot all of the fake commercials at the same time on the same soundstage, using the same actors?
Once again, the way the episode is shot also mirrors the way that real sitcoms of the period were shot with limited stagey sets (basically just the Wanda/Vision house) and very limited outside shots, which are clearly shot on a soundstage as well. At one point, when Vision is in the driveway, talking to Herb and Agnes, it’s also very obvious that the garden behind him is really a painted backdrop. Now we know that Disney has more money than God (especially since they’re not paying Alan Dean Foster and others) and could create a perfectly rendered CGI suburb, if they wanted to. The fact that they don’t, but deliberately use old TV techniques for the Westview scenes (whereas the “real world” scenes are shot like a modern movie or TV show) further reinforces the impression that the whole world were seeing is artificial.
However, the cracks in the facade – barely present in the first episode and slowly mounting in the second – are becoming increasingly apparent. Just as WandaVision moves away from sitcom antics into horror territory. But then, typical American suburbs have been the setting for horror movies just as often as they have been the setting for sitcoms, one of the most artificial forms of entertainment there is. And WandaVision even stresses this artificiality by drawing on the most harmless, silly and artificial sitcoms of the respective area, e.g. The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family rather than somewhat grittier fare like Till Death Do Us Part/All in the Family/Ein Herz und eine Seele. Not that I wouldn’t love to see Wanda unleash her powers on that old reactionary Archie/Alfie/Alfred.
The overall effect of the show is some king of Dickian and Lynchian meta-weirdness, which will keep at least me watching and reviewing.
*Fun fact: The series finales of Ashes to Ashes and Lost aired on the same day and had the same resolution – everybody is dead and this is the afterlife – though the series had nothing esle in common with each other.