(WARNING: Spoilers for the finale at the bottom of this post)
What’s new, readers? Since the Disney+ Marvel series Wandavision debuted with the first two episodes on January 15, I’ve been keeping up with it every following Friday until it concluded with its ninth and final episode on March 5. Out of all the Marvel shows, this is the one I’d been anticipating the most thanks to the radical premise and the opportunity it presented to give Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) a long-overdue spotlight. When she was introduced in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron alongside her twin brother Pietro/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), we saw her wielding her trademark red energy to levitate objects and implant the Avengers’ minds with unnerving hallucinations. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe progressed, she, along with her synthezoid love interest Vision (Paul Bettany), garnered a reputation as superheroes that audiences don’t care for. Personally, I’ve always been part of the audience minority who got invested in them—partially because I read up on their comic book history and became fascinated with the direction in which Wanda’s reality-altering abilities took their narrative. That’s why I was so pumped for WandaVision once it was officially announced.
My expectations remained high after the first trailer revealed the show would focus on Wanda and Vision—the latter having died when the Mad Titan Thanos tore the Mind Stone from his head in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War—going about their seemingly picturesque lives in a little town set within the confines of a sitcom. It was clear that it would kick off in the ‘50s style of television and play into the tropes of that period, then repeat this approach for each of the subsequent decades. It was equally clear in specific trailer shots that the series would cross over into mighty trippiness. The budget, which is believed to be as high as $25 million per episode, was another hint at how far it would take the production design. If you look into the show, you’ll find that some of the money was spent on the visual effects and practical sets for the first two episodes, and there are almost as many VFX shots in the show as there were in Avengers: Endgame.
In the reins of showrunner and head writer Jac Schaeffer (one of the four screenwriters on 2019’s Captain Marvel, she also has a Story By credit on the upcoming Black Widow movie) and executive producer and director of all nine episodes (rare to see that happen on a TV show) Matt Shakman (Game of Thrones, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Mad Men), WandaVision is a resounding success. The MCU, known for giving us an abundance of flashy spectacles that show superheroes courageously rising up to save the world or the galaxy or even the entire universe from evildoers, could have played it safe by offering up extravagant action spanning multiple realities and a grandiose plot that saw Wanda dishing out retribution for the loss of Vision. Kudos to the franchise for instead taking a huge departure from its tried-and-true formula by devoting its resources towards a smaller and much more unconventional narrative. The score by composer Christophe Beck (Frozen, Ant-Man and The Wasp) and the catchy theme music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Frozen’s “Let It Go” and Coco’s “Remember Me” won the wife-husband songwriting duo two Oscars for Best Original Song in 2014 and 2018, respectively) are excellent as well.
Within the first few minutes of the premiere episode, I was all in on the nostalgically quirky sitcom layout. I know there was some criticism in the beginning of the tedious and corny beats, but I think it’s a reaction that would only come from (a) younger audiences who haven’t seen shows like Bewitched or The Brady Bunch, and (b) viewers who never liked sitcoms from that era in the first place. The cheesy gags, the obtrusive laugh track (the WandaVision premiere was shot in front of a live studio audience), the overblown dialogue, the deliberately fake look of the set pieces, and the wire-managed special effects were all trademarks of those old sitcoms. The way they’re reflected in WandaVision turns the series into a love letter, rather than a parody, to said sitcoms. The later episodes that put their own spins on the stylistic signatures of more recent shows like Malcolm in the Middle and Modern Family are equally engaging.
Don’t let yourself be fooled by the sitcom shtick of it all, though. WandaVision is an accessible and meticulous show that doesn’t a waste a single second of screentime. The tight writing embeds meta references and Easter eggs (a horse statue in the third episode, for example, is a nod to a similar decoration in The Brady Bunch) all over the visuals and drops double entendres throughout the dialogue, providing sharp-eyed viewers with oodles of details to chew on as the narrative progresses. Then there are the occasions where the show deviates from its formula with peculiar happenings at a dinner party, an extremely brief pregnancy, or a character’s ominous comment on how hard it is to escape small towns. Because the show does such an excellent job at orchestrating Wanda and Vision’s suburban life with an amicable and feel-good attitude, the beats where it carries out the tonal shift from Sitcom Mode to the underlying darkness and then back to Sitcom Mode leap out at you that much more unnervingly.
Olsen and Bettany, suffice to say, knocked me on my ass. They capture the comedic timing for the gags and the sitcom tropes, subtly deliver the darkness and poignance of the show during the beats where it leans into those aspects, and exude such affectionate chemistry that you can feel how much fun they must have had playing this adorable couple. It’s great to see Olsen wield full use of her talent within the humor and the anguish of this show, and I wasn’t shocked that Bettany executed the comedy so well after having watched him in A Knight’s Tale as a kid (did you know he was also in Inkheart, the Brendan Fraser flick about fictional characters breaking out of books and running amok in the real world? I forgot that until I recently looked up his filmography). It’s a pleasure to watch the actors dig so deeply into these characters with Emmy-worthy performances in a story that’s aiming the spotlight on them for the first time. That’s something I’m excited to see for all the MCU Disney+ shows—taking side characters who have only been able to play relatively minor roles compared to the starring superheroes and aren’t necessarily appropriate for leading stories on the big screen, and fleshing them out through small-screen narratives that can go off the beaten path of the MCU in the same way that The Mandalorian does for Star Wars.
The supporting cast is also terrific, including national treasure Kathryn Hahn as neighborhood busybody Agnes, Randall Park reprising the role of card-trick-practicing FBI agent Jimmy Woo from Ant-Man and The Wasp, Teyonah Parris as the adult version of Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel, Kat Dennings as the astrophysicist who called Mjolnir “myeu-muh” Dr. Darcy Lewis from the Thor movies, and a cameo from That ‘70s Show mom Debra Jo Rupp as Mrs. Hart (honestly, how does she look exactly the same?).
Originally, Black Widow was going to kick off Phase Four of the MCU last May before COVID-19 upended, among many other things, the theater industry and delayed the movie to a foggy point in the future, along with The Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This left WandaVision to launch Phase Four as the first MCU project in a year and a half (the last one being Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019), a move that a good deal of viewers weren’t necessarily betting on the franchise pulling off as well as it did. However, it builds up superbly to the MCU’s ambitious plan to explore the multiverse, which will play a major role in Spider-Man: No Way Home (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield will return as the web-slinger from alternate dimensions, along with Kirsten Dunst, Emma Stone, Alfred Molina, and Jamie Foxx) and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness(the plot will include Wanda). I suspect the upcoming Loki series may also follow the Norse trickster god’s multidimensional exploits, what with the involvement of the Time Variance Authority, or TVA, an organization in the Marvel comics that monitors parallel timelines.
Beginning with 2008’s Iron Man, the MCU has released twenty-three movies brimming with epic heroism. That’s why it’s groundbreaking for WandaVision to step away from such territory and concentrate on Wanda’s personal journey as she attempts to sidestep her grief by manipulating the fabric of reality to allow for a world where her loved one is alive and well. Death is a foe that the superheroes often resist—most notably in Endgame, a movie where they spend the whole time embarking on a time heist to retrieve the Infinity Stones from the past and bring back to life everyone who Thanos turned to dust. WandaVision goes in a different direction, approaching the loss and subsequent resurrection of Vision with quiet and heartbreaking tragedy. It’s, unfortunately, perfect timing that this show came out in the midst of a globally grievous period replete with tragedy and bereavement. While I don’t think the finale is as powerful as it could have been, it hits enough of the emotional beats that it’s likely to be overall satisfying for viewers who are mourning their loved ones and may see themselves through Wanda’s utterly human desire to stave off death for her true love.
My personal episode ranking:
1. Episode 5, “On a Very Special Episode”—written by Peter Cameron and Mackenzie Dohr
2. Episode 4, “We Interrupt This Program”—written by Bobak Esfarjani and Megan McDonnell
3. Episode 3, “Now in Color”—written by Megan McDonnell
4. Episode 9, “The Series Finale”—written by Schaeffer
5. Episode 8, “Previously On”—written by Laura Donney
6. Episode 6, “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!”—written by Chuck Hayward and Peter Cameron
7. Episode 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”—written by Cameron Squires
8. Episode 1, “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”—written by Schaeffer
9. Episode 2, “Don’t Touch That Dial”—written by Gretchen Enders
Those are my spoiler-free thoughts on WandaVision. I’m now raising the spoiler alarm so I can give my thoughts on the finale.
All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.
Windup score: 94/100
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Since the show premiered on January 15, every following Friday has become a bundle of anticipation—to the point where I stayed up until midnight the past few Fridays to watch the episodes right as they aired, consuming their content and building up my expectations for “The Series Finale” as a brain-shattering conclusion to the show. While that’s not what it turned out to be, I think it sticks the landing for the most part. In order for this show to succeed, it needed to convince us of the heartfelt relationship between its two leads and of the motivations that could drive someone to manufacture a false reality where they don’t have to confront their sorrow. That’s what it did for the previous eight episodes, and even though I would have preferred some tweaks here and there, “The Series Finale” gets enough right to trace the show’s emotional arc to a heartbreakingly beautiful conclusion once Wanda tucks Billy and Tommy into bed and bids farewell to Vision while the walls of the Hex are closing in on their home. The final scene between Wanda and Vision boasts some stellar dialogue, including this Vision quote: “I’ve been a voice with no body, a body but not human, and now a memory made real. Who knows what I might be next.” Good Lord. And this comes after his “What is grief if not love persevering?” line in the prior episode resonated with so many viewers. As for Wanda, she goes from denying her grief by stubbornly holding onto her family to accepting her grief by letting go of her family. At least this time she’s able to have a proper goodbye with her husband rather than tear out his Mind Stone and kill him, then watch as Thanos rewinds time to tear out the Mind Stone and kill him again.
Vision’s philosophical debate with White Vision over one of history’s oldest thought experiments, the Ship of Theseus, is undoubtedly one of the best scenes in the show. It makes sense to deal with a character as logical as Vision through a battle not of brawn but of wit. It’s also just plain enjoyable to witness two incredibly intellectual characters discuss their own existentialism. It should be intriguing to see what the future holds for White Vision. Remember, just because Vision transferred his memories to him, it doesn’t mean he’s the “real” Vision, or at least the one we’ve been following since Age of Ultron. Yes, he was salvaged from the remnants of that Vision’s body, but he started out as his own entity and never lived out the life of his counterpart. Now he has to integrate his own identity with the old Vision’s memories—not as the Vision who loved Wanda and is gone for good, but as a version of Vision who possesses both the memories of loving Wanda and the body of the original Vision without the soul of the original Vision. This will surely lead up to a fascinating story between him and Wanda down the road. Who knows, if WandaVision gets a second season, maybe this could be the premise.
Wanda finally getting her costume during the boss battle and fully embodying her comic book persona is possibly my favorite beat in the show and definitely one of the strongest moments in the entirety of the MCU. As I said before, I’ve waited so long for her onscreen portrayal to be given a narrative as compelling as the ones she explores in the comics, and it’s deeply cathartic to watch her embrace the role of the Scarlet Witch. A couple other clever beats are Wanda pulling Agatha into the coven trial hallucination (an ability I don’t believe she’s wielded since Age of Ultron) and Wanda picking up on her foe’s tricks to install the runes around the Hex. And I just have to point out how great it is that she heads into battle in a hoodie and sweatpants—keeping it caj like the rest of us in lockdown.
I’m very glad that Agatha gets to stick around in the MCU, remaining trapped in Westview as her Agnes facade with a touch of Wanda’s magic. As an engaging villain elevated by Hahn’s delicious performance, it would have been a poor decision to kill her off. Also, it would have reminded me of Ulysses Klaue, played by a ridiculously fun Andy Serkis, being put away far too soon in Black Panther (Why? Just why?). Having served as both a mentor and a foe to Wanda in the comics, it’s reasonable to predict this won’t be Agatha’s last appearance in the MCU.
It’s not as if the show ignores Wanda’s own villainy. It’s brutal to watch Dottie (Emma Caulfield), or rather Sarah, attempt to persuade Wanda to give her child a storyline that will let her outside. It doesn’t get any easier when dozens of other Westview residents, after Agatha uses her magic to free them from Wanda’s mind control, start surrounding Wanda and making similar pleas. As much as we’ve been encouraged to love her and root for her, this is the beat where the show forces us to come to terms with the anguish and terror in which she’s locked this town—particularly once Mrs. Hart begs Wanda to kill them if she won’t let them go. I don’t believe that’s how Wanda saw things from her perspective, though. It seems like she justified the circumstances to herself by refusing to acknowledge the extremely selfish nature of her actions and reasoning that she did everything she could to give the locals the happiest lives. It really is remarkable to see how the show takes Wanda’s morally gray comic book arcs and executes a translation that feels original and true to the character. I can’t wait to continue following her complex onscreen journey.
Now, this doesn’t mean every aspect of “The Series Finale” is top-notch. S.W.O.R.D. acting director Timothy Hayward (Josh Stamberg) becomes nothing more than your typical mustache-twirling MCU baddie, which contrasts with the show’s standard for smart writing; Monica gets little to do in the climax despite the arc she’d been building up this season, and it feels problematic that a Black woman jumps in to take a few bullets for a couple white kids; Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters) being revealed as Ralph Bohner, the supposed husband who Agatha repeatedly mentioned, is an anticlimactic choice that disappoints our Marvel Multiverse expectations; we never get a concrete answer to the S.W.O.R.D. agent-turned-beekeeper’s fate; and it comes off as contrived that Monica lets Wanda off the hook so quickly in their final scene together instead of pressing her to redress the torment she inflicted on the denizens of Westview. These are all plot threads that I wish could have reached better payoffs, though at the end of the day they don’t overshadow the show’s overall excellence for me.
Of course, this is Marvel, so it’s no surprise that WandaVision leaves us with a couple teasers. In the mid-credits scene, an FBI agent pulls aside Monica for a talk in the movie theater. Revealing herself to be a Skrull, the agent says she was sent by an old friend of Monica’s mother who heard that Monica has been grounded and would like to meet with you. When Monica asks where, the Skrull points up—clearly indicating Nick Fury, whom we last saw at a Skrull space station in the Spider-Man: Far From Home post-credits stinger. This is likely setup for Captain Marvel 2, which we know will reunite Monica with Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. It could also lead into the upcoming Secret Invasion series on Disney+, which is named after the Civil War-scale comic book arc that found the shapeshifting Skrull replacing numerous superheroes in a scheme to infiltrate the Earth and subsume it under their empire.
Then there’s the post-credits scene, where the camera pans up to Wanda’s distant mountain cabin, revealing that as she’s making tea, she’s using astral projection to study the Darkhold, the book of dark magic that she took from Agatha—presumably in search of a spell to resurrect her twins, whose shouts can be heard in the background. It’s of note that whenever master of the mystic arts Dr. Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) utilized astral projection in his 2016 movie, his physical body was always asleep or unconscious. More importantly, Agatha observed earlier that the legendary figure of the Scarlet Witch’s power exceeds that of the Sorcerer Supreme, aka Strange. This actually doesn’t shock me, considering the magical prowess we’ve seen Wanda display thus far. I’m keen to see what she’ll do next in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which is currently scheduled to debut on March 25, 2022.
Now that Phase Four of the MCU has commenced with WandaVision, it’s going to be interesting to see how things will progress when The Falcon and The Winter Soldier premieres the first of six episodes on March 19. I’ve been loving the nuttiness of WandaVision, but now I’ll have to reorient myself for the straightforward superhero action of Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, Sharon Carter, and Baron Zemo. I expect we’ll resume the nuttiness when Loki airs on June 11.