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 (well, just two) 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!
After last episode, I probably wasn’t the only one who wondered where WandaVision, Marvel’s time and reality-hopping, Philip K. Dickian sitcom, would go next. Would we put in a stop in the late 1970s or go straight into the 1980s? But once again, WandaVision surprised us by…
…transforming into a regular Marvel movie for an episode, complete with regular widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio.
“We Interrupt This Program” begins on the day that everybody who was snapped out of existence by Thanos comes back all at the same time. We’re in a hospital, where Monica Rambeau (played by Teyonah Parris, whom we previously met as Geraldine) is reassembled and wakes up in a chair beside an empty bed in a hospital that has been plunged into chaos, because doctors, patients and visitors are suddenly reappearing in droves after five years of non-existence.
Avengers: Endgame focussed on those who were not snapped out of existence by Thanos and the trauma they suffered, but it largely ignored the experience of the people who suddenly came back to life after five years with no idea of what had happened and that the world had moved on (literally in many cases) without them. Due to the pandemic, there haven’t really been a lot of Marvel movies set after Endgame – only Spider-Man: Far From Home, which kind of glossed over the whole thing.
However, the brief early scenes with Monica Rambeau blipping back into existence give us an excellent insight into the traumatic experiences of those who came back after five years. For Monica not only had no idea what happened, she’s also frantic because the person at whose hospital bed she was sitting – her mother Maria Rambeau, last seen in Captain Marvel – is gone and the bed is empty. So Monica runs through a hospital that’s in utter chaos, asking for her mother, until a doctor recognises her. However, this doctor has bad news for Monica. Not only was Monica gone for five years, her mother has also died in the meantime.
Yes, those bastards killed Maria Rambeau off screen!
Now Lashana Lynch*, the actress who played Maria Rambeau, left for what probably seemed like the greener pastures of the James Bond franchise at the time to appear in No Time to Die, a Bond film that has been repeatedly delayed to the point that no one is sure whether it will ever come out at all or whether anybody will care at that point. Not that I can’t understand Lashana Lynch’s decision. The Bond films, though I’m over them and have been for almost twenty years now, are still a big deal, particularly in the UK. And a part in a Bond film, particularly since it appears to be a recurring role, is still a plum job and joining the ranks of Bond girls is still a nigh guarantee of cinematic immortality.
Nonetheless, I’m pissed at Marvel for killing off Maria Rambeau off-screen, because Maria was awesome. Killing Maria in her fifties (based on Captain Marvel being set in 1994 and Lashana Lynch being 31, when she made that movie) via cancer is doubly unfair. Of course, no one is ever really dead in the Marvel universe (ask Phil Coulson or Vision, for that matter, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and pretty much every character but particularly Jean Grey for the Marvel Comics universe), so we may well see Maria again. I certainly hope so.
In the course of the episode, we also learn that Maria went from ex-fighter pilot and single mom living alone somewhere in the South in Captain Marvel to director of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sister organisation S.W.O.R.D. We suspect Nick Fury, whom she met in Captain Marvel, may have pulled some strings there. That said, I think it’s awesome that both S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.W.O.R.D. were founded and run by women and POC in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if Maria’s successor as director is a white dude. Talking of which, has this fellow appeared somewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before? Cause he didn’t seem familiar. The actor Josh Stamberg has been in pretty much everything, but I can’t find anything Marvel releated in his extensive resumee.
Monica Rambeau also works for S.W.O.R.D. and swiftly reports back for duty, only to be told that she’s grounded for now, because no one yet knows what the psychological and physical repercussions of being blipped out of and back into existence will be. So instead of going into space, Monica is sent to New Jersey to help the FBI with a missing person case.
Once in New Jersey, Monica meets another familiar face from the Marvel movies, namely FBI agent Jimmy Woo (played by Randall Park) whom we last saw getting caught up in same very weird events in Ant-Man and the Wasp. James Pyles pointed out on Twitter that Jimmy Woo actually has a long history in the Marvel Universe and first appeared in a 1956 comic called The Yellow Claw as one of the first sympathetic Asian characters (the comic otherwise seems to have been typical yellow peril/red scare fare). It seems weirdness is following Agent Woo around (well, he lives in the Marvel Universe), because when trying to contact a person who’s in the witness protection program, Agent Woo found that not only that person had seemingly vanished, but the entire town of Westview, New Jersey, had vanished as well. And anybody who knew either the missing witness or anybody else in Westview, New Jersey, is suddenly struck by anmesia. It seems as if Westview, New Jersey, never existed.
Monica finds that Westview is surrounded by some kind of forcefield. When she tries to send in a S.W.O.R.D. drone, the drone promptly vanishes. A bit later, Monica herself approaches the forcefield herself and is promptly sucked in. Most likely, Agent Woo immediately contacted S.W.O.R.D. to report that he has not only lost a witness and a whole town, but also a S.W.O.R.D. agent, because the next time we see the quiet little town of Westview, it is surrounded by a temporary base.
The scene now shifts to a transporter full of scientists who are brought in to help with the investigation. One of these scientists is another familiar face we haven’t seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a while now, namely Darcy Lewis, now Dr. Darcy Lewis, Jane Foster’s intern and friend in the two first Thor movies. Darcy is played by Kat Dennings, who also has significant sitcom experience via her roles in Two Broke Girls and Raising Dad, where she played the sister of Brie Larson, i.e. none other than Captain Marvel herself.
Via her equipment, Darcy detects that the barrier around Westview is emitting huge amounts of cosmic radiation of the type that occurred shortly after the Big Bang. But there is also another type of longer wave radiation, which turns out to be some kind of broadcast signal. “Get me a really old TV”, Darcy asks someone, “And with really old, I mean not flat.”
Once Darcy has been hooked up with a TV, we next see her watching the first episode of WandaVision, which we already saw two weeks ago. “What is this?” someone asks. “It’s a sitcom”, Darcy replies, “A 1950s sitcom.” “But why would someone make a sitcom starring two Avengers?” Agent Park wants to know, expressing the thoughts of pretty much everybody when WandaVision was first announced. And indeed, Camestros Felapton points out in his review that the discussions among the characters in this episode mirror the discussions the viewers had after the last three episodes.
We now get to see snippets of the episodes we already saw, viewed on Darcy’s TV and later on a whole bunch of other ancient TVs. The bit about the difficulties of getting these very old TVs to work rang very true, because old tube TVs are becoming an endangered species, because they were mostly thrown away, after they were no longer useful.
Meanwhile, Darcy, Agent Woo and the others try to identify the people in the sitcom and gradually match the characters to inhabitants of Westview. They also wonder how Vision can be there, when he’s supposed to be dead. Though I wonder how they can recognise Vision in his human disguise. Yes, the Avengers are celebrities, but I imagine that Vision would be in his original form during official appearances. Interestingly, Wanda’s nosy neighbour Agnes has not yet been identified and neither has the missing witness. Eventually, Darcy and Agent Woo also spot Monica in her role as Westview inhabitant “Geraldine”, though they have no idea if Monica knows what’s going on and is playing along or if she has been taken over by the sitcom reality.
We now also get explanations for many of the weird breaks and blips in the sitcom reality we saw in the past three episodes. The red toy helicopter Wanda found in her garden was one of the drones S.W.O.R.D. keeps sending into Westview. The sinister fellow in the beekeeper’s outfit who emerged from a manhole was a S.W.O.R.D. agent in a hazmat suit who tried to infiltrate Westview via the sewers. And the voice from the radio in episode 2 was Agent Woo trying to get through to Wanda via the broadcast signal. However, Darcy also notes that anytime the sitcom illusion threatens to crack, the broadcast seems to be censored (via Wanda rewinding reality, as we’ve seen her do twice before).
It’s also facinating how both Darcy and Agent Woo do become invested in the sitcom world and Wanda’s and Vision’s life, even though they know it’s all a fake. In many ways, this mirrors how we become caught up in fictional narratives to the point that if a character dies in a longrunning soap opera, people start applying for the now empty apartment, even though the whole thing is wholly fictional.
Eventually, the episode gets to the point where episode 3 ended. Monica unwisely mentions Pietro and Ultron and Wanda ejects her from Westview. Monica lands on the grass just outside the forcefield. “Wanda”, she stammers, once she comes to again, “It’s all Wanda”, expressing what we already suspected. Wanda has created the sitcom reality and kidnapped a whole town full of people, likely in response to the massive trauma of losing pretty much everybody who ever mattered to her (not to mention being killed and brought back to life herself).
In the sitcom world, Wanda also gets a shocking reminder of the truth when she sees Vision grey and dead with the mind stone torn out of his forehead by Thanos. But once again, Wanda magicks everything away and the episode ends with her playing family with Vision and the twins.
There was a hint of the sinister behind the cheery suburban facade and canned laughter of WandaVision from the beginning, but in this episode it comes fully to the fore, once we see both the trauma Wanda and everybody else brought back to life after five years away underwent, but also the horror of what Wanda is doing, namely roping real people with real lives into her personal little fake reality. Nonetheless, I can’t bring myself to see Wanda as the villain here, at least not a witting villain, no more than I did in the comics. Because the Wanda we see in WandaVision is the Wanda that comic readers have known for years now, a young woman who’s deeply traumatised, highly unstable, very powerful and very dangerous.
It’s also interesting that at least in the comics, the children of the frenemies Magneto and Professor Xavier, namely Wanda and Legion, are the ones who keep breaking reality and messing up whole universe, in response to parental neglect and their traumatic upbringing. Throw in Jean Grey, whose transformation into Dark Phoenix occurred due to the massive trauma of dying (for the first time – by now Jean is an old hand at dying) as well as to being mind-raped (since confirmed by writer Chris Claremont to have been a stand-in for a physical rape he couldn’t portray within the strictures of the Comics Code) and it becomes clear that the most powerful and dangerous superbeing who did some of the worst damage to the Marvel Universe were all born of massive trauma. Okay, there’s also Jim Jaspers who breaks universes without any PTSD excuse, but then Jaspers is frequently forgotten, probably because he originated with Marvel UK, in spite of being one of the scariest Marvel characters ever.
Another thing I really liked about this episode of WandaVision is that it’s second-stringers and supporting characters like Jimmy Woo, Darcy Lewis and Monica Rambeau (whom we’ve only seen as an approximately ten-year-old supporting character in Captain Marvel so far) rather than the Avengers, Nick Fury or other major characters who are trying to stop/save Wanda and rescue the people of Westview. And come to think of it, both Wanda and Vision were very much second-string characters themselves up to this point. Wanda does play a decent enough role in Age of Ultron, but was very much in the background in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. And Vision’s biggest scenes were his “birth” and his death. Neither of them ever had a solo movie. So WandaVision is finally giving the supporting characters and second-stringers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe their due. Furthermore, WandaVision finally portrays Wanda as the character we know from the comics, where she is one of the most powerful and potentially dangerous characters in the whole Marvel Universe, rather than as a goth girl with glowy hands and telekinetic powers.
I was initially sceptical about WandaVision, but after a few minutes of adjustment, I have been enjoying the first three episodes quite a bit. “We Interrupt This Program”, however, kicks the entire series into a higher gear and also links it to the regular Marvel Cinematic Universe rather than leaving the series as some weird side project.
I can’t wait to see what Wanda and S.W.O.R.D. will do next.
*Talking of Lashana Lynch, I recently spotted her in a rerun of Death in Paradise together with Dominique Tipper, who plays Naomi Nagata in The Expanse. Now British crime dramas like Midsomer Murders or Death in Paradise quite often feature future stars before they were famous, but two future stars in a single episode is unusual.