Even though much of fandom decided to go to war this week, it’s still 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!
Wanda’s little sitcom paradise in Westview is slowly falling apart and quite literally glitching with various objects in the house (the twins’ videogame console, the milk in Wanda’s fridge, various pieces of furniture) shifting from decade to decade. Wanda’s control over her little world is clearly slipping and there’s little she can do about it, especially since she’s quite literally caught in the grip of depression and just wants to stay in bed all day long.
Tommy and Billy try to persuade Wanda to get up, especially since their videogame controllers have just turned into Uno cards, but only with limited success. Wanda simply doesn’t want to do anything except hang out at home in her pyjamas and a bathrobe. Billy complains about hearing voices in his head. Poor kid, he’s a bit young for his superpowers to kick in. Tommy and Bill also want to know where their father is (since Wanda woke up with the bed beside her empty), but Wanda doesn’t know. When they ask about Uncle Pietro, Wanda tells them, “That man is not your uncle.” Which is not wrong, though we do wonder what it was that persuaded Wanda not to trust “Pietro”.
The time has progressed to the present day now. The entire episode is in widescreen format, the interior of the house is furnished in the kind of blandly beige style that’s unfortunately fashionable right now (though the hexagonal shapes showing up on patterns throughout the episode are a clever hint). The episode is also interrupted by constant documentary-style interview bits, which are literally “breaking the fourth wall”. Apparently, this mockumentary format is borrowed from the sitcom Modern Family, which ran from 2009 to 2020 and racked up an impressive number of awards nominations and win during its run. As far as I can tell, having never seen a single episode, Modern Family is your standard suburban family sitcom, though with the twist that it acknowledges that remarriages, patchwork families and same sex families exist. Okay, so The Brady Bunch was a patchwork family, too, though not exactly a realistic exploration of the concept.
The title sequence with the word “Wanda” written in all sorts of contexts had me baffled, since it matches neither the title sequence of Modern Family nor the title sequences of The Office (which was also named as an inspiration somewhere) nor of How I Met Your Mother, which I thought would be a likely candidate, because its cast includes two Marvel actors (Coby Smulders a.k.a. Maria Hill and Zachary Levi a.k.a. the blonde one of the Warriors Three a.k.a. Shazam) as well as other geek favourites like Neil Patrick Harris (who has never been in a Marvel movie, amazingly, though he did play a supervillain in Doctor Horrible’s Singalong Blog) and Alyson Hannigan. Guardian reviewer Andrew Ellard points out that the title sequence is modelled after a sitcom called Happy Endings that I for one had never even heard of. Apparently, Happy Endings aired from 2011 to 2013 and was one of those sitcoms focussed on a group of young people finding life and love in the big city. So far, WandaVision has modelled itself mainly after family sitcoms and ignored the “young people in the big city” and workplace sitcoms, so the intro is certainly an interesting decision. And since Happy Endings doesn’t seem to have left a notable cultural footprint (even the Guardian reviewer had to look it up) and the title sequence may well have been the best thing about it, I wonder why that one was chosen. Maybe someone simply liked it.
As is common with modern sitcoms, the title sequence ends with the words “Created by Wanda Maximoff”, which normally honour the creator of the show in question. Of course, the twist is that the whole faux sitcom world of Westview was created by Wanda (or was it?), even though the actual creator and showrunner (who is mentioned in the end credits) is Jac Schaeffer. But I suspect Jac Schaeffer had no problem leaving the limelight to Wanda for one episode.
While the twins are attempting to pull Wanda out of her funk and make her deal with actual issues such as “Whatever happened to Vision?” or “Where is Pietro and who is he?”, Agnes drops by oh-so-helpfully and offers to babysit the twins, so Wanda can have some time to herself. The twins initially aren’t too keen on going with Agatha, but Wanda is happy to have more time to herself to mope and be depressed. Too bad that the house literally keeps shifting around her. Wanda’s mental state is reflected in the state of Westview and she’s rapidly losing control. She also keeps talking to the camera in this weird mockumentary format. At one point, the unseen interviewer even answers – to the surprise of Wanda.
We also finally get to see the interior of Agnes’ house, though her supposed husband Ralph is still invisible. Agnes does have a thing for a gothic interior design, though still in a respectably suburban way. We also meet her pet rabbit Senor Scratchy (last seen in episode two messing up Vision’s magic show) again, much to the delight of the twins. Particularly, Billy seems to enjoy being at Agnes’, because – as he tells her – it’s quiet there and he can’t hear Agnes’ thoughts, which is rather sinister. Tommy, meanwhile, is worried about his parents. Agnes, meanwhile, is helpfully telling the kids that life is meaningless and that their mama is crazy. Agnes also clearly likes to watch children’s TV (some kind of Claymation show I’m not familiar with). Furthermore, she, too, breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience.
Meanwhile, Vision awakes in the grass outside Westview, intact once more. However, a circus – a circus that we know is the Westview version of the S.W.O.R.D compound – has set up tent just in front of him. Vision goes to investigate, is mistaken for a clown and finally hooks up with Darcy (no, not in that way, though Darcy briefly thinks he is trying to date her). When we last saw Darcy, she was handcuffed to a S.W.O.R.D. vehicle and abandoned. Now, Darcy believes herself to be a circus escape artist. Vision zaps her free from Wanda’s (or is it?) mind control and the two team up, stealing an ice cream truck to get back to Wanda and Vision’s house. On the road, Darcy catches up Vision about everything that happened to him since he came to life inside the Avengers headquarters and decided that the skyline of New York and Wanda Maximoff were too pretty to look at to kill all humans. We wonder how Darcy can possibly know all that, since she wasn’t there for most of it, but then maybe Thor told her.
The look on Vision’s face is priceless. Because if you’ve ever tried to sum up the plot of either a longrunning soap opera or a superhero comic, you usually get to a point where you say, “Yes, I know it all sounds crazy, but I swear, it makes sense in context.” And that’s exactly the look Vision has on his face. Because Vision and Wanda’s backstory, both in the comics and the movies, is crazy even by superhero standards. Kat Jennings and Paul Bettany make a great double act, by the way.
Darcy finally says that even though the whole story sounds crazy, she has been watching several episodes of WandaVision and is probably the show’s No. 1 fan and she can assure Vision that the love between himself and Wanda is real, even if everything else is crazy. It’s a sweet statement and also true. Because if there’s one thing that WandaVision has managed, it’s convince us that a loving marriage between a bright red android with an infinity stone in his forehead and a depressed East European mutant with magical powers is not just possible, but perfectly normal. It’s also interesting that pretty much the first thing Vision asks Darcy is if the twins are okay. He may be an android and the twins are maybe three days old and rapidly aged to ten in that time, but they’s still his kids and he loves them.
However, someone – probably Wanda or someone else – is keeping Darcy and Vision from getting back to Westview via a battery of obstacles such as red lights at deserted intersections, random road construction work and finally a school crossing with an endless parade of little kids on strings (Was I the only one who found that ever so slightly sinister, particularly considering that there normally are no kids in Westview?). Vision also gets to talk to the camera and finally decides that he has enough, leaves the interview and just flies home, much to Darcy’s chagrin, since she can’t fly and Vision doesn’t take her along.
Meanwhile, outside the expanded Westview anomaly, S.W.O.R.D. has set up a temporary retreat, which just about sums up the state they’re in, since much of their personnel is currently pretending to be circus performers. Hayward is still shouting and doing his best X-Men villain impression, though. Monica Rambeau and Jimmy Woo have also escaped the expansion of the Hex and received the last bit of data Darcy hacked. It turns out that Hayward was trying to reactivate Vision and use him as a weapon – against Vision’s expressed wishes – but had no success until Wanda stole the body and took him to Westview. That’s also why Hayward is so keen on getting Vision back.
Monica and Jimmy meet up with Monica’s friend, the aerospace engineer (who is not Reed Richards, but a woman of colour), who has come up with a vehicle that – as Camestros Felapton points out in his review – resembles the Eagles from Space 1999, but with wheels. Monica wants to use the vehicle to reenter Westview and hopefully make Wanda see some sense. Jimmy Woo is not happy about this, because Darcy said that crossing the barrier twice had already affected Monica’s DNA, so crossing it a third time might do even worse damage. Monica, however, is determined.
The first attempt to break through the barrier with the Land Eagle goes wrong, because the Eagle can’t break through and once it does, the Hex changes it into a regular van. Monica barely escapes and then decides to pass physically into the Westview anomaly, before anybody can stop her. This time, she even succeeds and finds herself in Westview in her regular S.W.O.R.D. outfit. However, Monica’s eyes have turned temporarily blue and she can suddenly see energy waves. Considering that in her superhero identity, which is known alternately as Captain Marvel, Photon and Spectrum, Monica can detect and turn into pretty much any kind of energy, we are witnessing the birth of a superhero here.
Monica goes off to look for Wanda and finally finds her at her home. However, Wanda is not happy to see Monica, since she has identified her as a enemy. Monica tries to reason with Wanda and tries to tell her that she knows what it feels like to lose someone you love (after all, Monica has lost her Mom to cancer and her aunt Carol took off to the stars twice without a word), but Wanda won’t have any of it. She calls up her glowy red hex powers, Monica begins to glow blue in response and also demonstrates that she knows how to do typical superhero poses. However, before the fireworks can start, who shows up but the ever helpful Agnes to give Monica the “We don’t want your kind here” smackdown and usher Wanda into her home?
Wanda is now ensconced on Agnes’ couch, while Agnes makes sympathetic noises. However, suddenly Wanda notices that something or rather someone is missing. “Where are the twins?” she asks. “Oh, they’ve probably gone off to play in the basement”, Agnes replies.
So Wanda goes in search of the twins and ventures into Agnes’ basement. At this point, WandaVision takes a sharp turn into horror territory again, because Agnes’ basement gives off serious serial killer lair vibes. And that’s before Wanda discovers the purple glowing roots on the walls. She follows the purple glowing roots and steps straight into Lovecraft territory, when she finds herself inside a hexagonal ritual chamber with glowing symbols on the walls and a Necronomicon-like grimoire displayed prominently.
Suddenly, Agnes appears and the door to the chamber falls shut. Agnes finally confirms what comic readers had long since suspected, when she introduces herself as Agatha Harkness, a witchy character from the Marvel comics, who is closely associated with both the Fantastic Four as well as with Wanda, Vision and their kids. Agatha in the comics is an ambiguous character and also about thirty years older than Kathryn Hahn, though they both share a taste for purple and black. Agatha in the TV series is younger, hipper and also much more obviously evil.”You didn’t think you were the only magical girl in town, did you?” she asks Wanda.
Cue a delightful title sequence (of sorts) for the show from the POV of Agatha, entitled “Agatha All Along”. We see of how Agatha messed up Wanda’s and Vision’s lives again and again, up to and including the appearance of “Pietro”. Oh yes, and she killed Sparky the dog, too, as she informs us with a sinister crackle. Considering what a huge taboo killing a dog is on US TV to the point that I’m surprised that the oh so family-friendly Disney+ allows a dog to be killed on one of their shows, this is the final confirmation, if any was needed, that Agatha is evil. The music and style of the “Agatha All Along” title sequence evoke both The Addams Family and The Munsters, though the font and music more closely matches The Munsters. And yes, I actually got that reference, since The Munsters were on German TV, when I was a kid.
This time around, we also get a post-credits sequence – a first for WandaVision – where we see Monica investigating Agnes/Agatha’s house, when she finds the cellar door. She opens it, sees the purple glowing roots and suddenly “Pietro” is standing behind her and forces her into the cellar. Cue the rest of the credits.
We finally did get some answers this episode, though there are still more questions, such as: Who is responsible for the Westview anomaly, Wanda, Agatha, both of them or someone else? What is Agatha’s plan? What the hell did Agatha do to the twins? Who the hell is the fake Pietro? Is he Pietro from the Fox X-Men universe or someone else? Where is Agatha’s husband Ralph and does he even exist?
Agatha’s pet rabbit Senor Scratchy might also provide a clue here. Now Agatha in the comics does have a familiar. However, it’s not a rabbit, but a cat named Ebony. There is, however, someone with the name Scratch linked to Agatha, namely the villainous wizard Nicholas Scratch who is Agatha’s son. Nicholas Scratch also has kids, a group of villains known as the Salem Seven. So is Senor Scratchy Nicholas in animal form? Is he Agatha’s unseen husband Ralph in animal form (cause I wouldn’t put it beneath Agatha to transform him)? For that matter, is the fake Pietro perchance Nicholas Scratch and therefore Agatha’s son? The ages don’t quite add up, because Kathryn Han was born in 1973 and Evan Peters in 1987, but then Hollywood often features mothers who are too young for their supposed kids.
I should mention this week’s fake commercial, which is for an antidepressant named Nexus. Now I find it disconcerting to see an as for a prescription medication on TV, since ads for prescriptions drugs are banned in Germany, only ads for over the counter drugs are allowed. The name Nexus is a reference to the Nexus of all worlds, the gateway to the multiverse, from the comics. And the ad announces that Nexus can “anchor you back to reality – or the reality of your choice”, which certainly sounds ominous.
WandaVision continues to be an entertaining delight and a lot better than I expected it to be. As Camestros Felapton says in his review, I’m not sure if the pay-off will eventually live up to the build-up, but the way there was certainly a lot of fun. The performances of Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn (whom I mainly associate with sappy grief councellor Lily from Crossing Jordan, a role that’s lightyears away from Agnes/Agatha) and Kat Dennings are top-notch and I agree with whatever reviewer said that in a just universe, both Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn will be getting Emmy nominations this fall.
So bring on the finale!