WandaVision is Marvel’s first MCU TV series that feels fresh. It opens with the characters of Wanda Maximoff and Vision within a classic 1950s sitcom. We don’t know how they got there, at what point in time this takes place, or even know if this is a real sitcom or not for most of the first episode. It’s that mesmerizing mystery that makes the show so compelling. Well, mostly.
WandaVision Uses The Golden Age of TV
It’s quite admirable how the series is committed to staging Wanda’s dealing with grief through the comfort of television. Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) has warped her world to look so perfectly like the simple and heartwarming world of sitcoms. Each episode stages a different era and references a different show. This can span everything from the retro appeal of I Love Lucy to the modern fourth-wall addressing of Modern Family.
Vision (Paul Bettany), however, is not clued into her magical world. Unsure how his life came to be, he starts questioning how such an existence came to be. He’s especially shocked when he starts briefly taking the town they occupy out of their trance, begging for help.
The Curtain Falls
The problem with WandaVision, however, is that it doesn’t feel as fully committed to its promise of mystery. By episode 4, far too much is delivered on explaining Wanda’s sitcom world. We pull out of her world and into the reality of the FBI and SWORD looking into the matter.
This is by far the weakest episode considering its mostly just agents standing around explaining everything. And did we really need this? There were a handful of episodes left before the mystery could be revealed about why Wanda has taken a down hostage in her own dimension of magical tinkering. But, hey, at least you get to see cameos by the supporting characters of Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings).
For as many brilliant and astute styles as each episode evokes, there’s a promise of more that is unfulfilled. By episode 5, the dead Pietro is revived and recast by Evan Peters, known for playing the same character in the X-Men movies. While this casting was a surprise, it’s not exactly a shocker that this character was a red herring for the series.
But, really, this shouldn’t be surprising. Wanda’s whole story is about getting over the loss of Vision. It wouldn’t make sense for her to let go of Vision but then just get back Pietro for some reason. Not to mention Disney’s deal with grabbing the Fox Marvel titles was in the very early stages upon writing the series. It’s highly unlikely they were setting up this Pietro to be a permanent member of the MCU.
Almost a Villain
What’s more frustrating is that the morality of Wanda fluctuates wildly and yet peters out by the end. It’s revealed by the final episode that the entire sitcom world torturing people is Wanda’s doing. Sure, Agatha Harkness goats her into keeping up the torture to become the anti-hero of Scarlet Witch. But the whole torturing of the town is Wanda’s will.
The problem with such a series is that it still wants to maintain Wanda as a hero despite such villainous tendencies. The villain of Agatha at one point remarks that heroes don’t torture people, which Wanda has done. More importantly, however, Wanda will not answer for such a crime.
Marvel’s Reluctant Horror Series
This has been a problem with a few Marvel productions. They just can’t seem to embrace stories of horror and villains. Just look at Dark Phoenix, a similar story of a powerful superhero going through a dark journey of grief. Or how about The New Mutants, a dark story that comes so close to being a horror film you can practically taste it.
WandaVision falls into a similar camp of disappointment. If the show had some guts, it would have Wanda answer for her wrongdoings in some form. She does not, merely resolving to go into exile. It makes the last scene of Special Agent Maria Rambeau telling Wanda she’ll be mislabeled a villain falls flat.
More Vision Than Action
By the final episode, much of WandaVision’s potential for mystery and wonder is squandered. For the sake of keeping the MCU cohesive, Wanda gets a new outfit and remains a hero, despite her actions. There’s also more stuff set up with SWORD and Skrulls for future movies because the MCU has gotta MCU.
I think Wanda’s struggle to maintain her world sums up the series best. She tries to keep the outside world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe out of her own story, but she regretfully cannot. And I wish it could. For the time that WandaVision spends trying to weave a stylish story about getting over loss, WandaVision is some of the most surreal and pleasing of Marvel productions. If only it could stick the landing.