What’s The Show? WandaVision
What’s It All About, JG? Following the events of Avengers: Endgame and the death of Vision, Wanda retreats into a world of comforting sitcoms, generated by her extraordinary power. This means that a “hex” has been placed over the town of Westview and its inhabitants become her puppets, while out in the real world agents of S.W.O.R.D. attempt to discover what’s going on with the weird red glowy thing that’s covering a town in New Jersey. Turns out Wanda is generating sitcom episodes every “week” in a different style, while Agnes – revealed as Agatha, replete with her own theme song – is trying to steal Wanda’s chaos magic, which means everything ends in different coloured fireballs being slung around.
Why Did You Give It A Go? Even without having seen all the Marvel movies – which I have – it’s a pretty zeitgeisty show so yeah, it was going to be worth checking out one way or another.
Is It Any Good? For the most part it’s excellent, then really rather ordinary. The most obvious thing to praise WandaVision for is that it’s abstract in a way that we almost never get in the MCU. Which is to say, rather than always just literally being about a bunch of gifted/superpowered buddies doing things that save the planet, WandaVision uses Wanda’s powers as an allegory, a method for exploring the almost unbearable grief and pain caused by the death of a loved one which she was powerless to prevent (and indeed tried to instigate). The MCU has always tended towards the literal, even when taking the time to explore personal relationships – most successfully, with Nebula and Gamora – so to see something with the genuine abstractness of WandaVision is both incredibly inventive and refreshing in a way that, to be honest, the MCU badly needs. It opens up whole new storytelling approaches and gives us insights into characters in new and enlightening ways. It’s pretty much a cliché to say that Wanda and Vision’s relationship across the Marvel movies wasn’t ever given the emphasis it needed to make Vision’s death at the end of Infinity War work as the emotional pivot of that film, but it’s still true (resting this on Gamora and Nebula’s evolving relationship in Endgame is infinitely more successful, and affecting).
So it’s simply wonderful to see Elizabeth Olsen give real dimension to Wanda – she seems more comfortable on the small screen, and Wanda comes alive in ways that she never quite did on the big screen. She does genuinely excellent work here. Paul Bettany, too, excels as Vision, demonstrating both impeccable comic ability and an almost bottomless well of compassion and understanding that makes the character incredibly easy to like and warm to. What a shame, then, that after seven phenomenal episodes, we get two that reduce everything to a Big Panto Villain, a bunch of special effects battles and a pat resolution whereby everything makes Marvel-sense but never quite satisfies, and Wanda doesn’t even apologise to the townsfolk she held captive in her own personal psychological prison. For the most part, yes, this is a good show but the ending does real damage to it, even while being superficially logical.
How Many Episodes Did You Watch? Well, all of them. It’s only nine episodes long so it’s not a vast investment, and I appreciate the fact that, final episode aside, WandaVision sticks to both a half-hour sitcom length (which is logical, but not all shows would have that kind of discipline) and only breaks out of that once the sitcom conceit has been dispensed with. It’s another subtle meta-commentary, far more sleekit that the big-ticket sitcom parodies, and terribly clever and effective.
Would You Recommend It? For the most part. Using sitcom tropes both as a method of protectiveness to explore Wanda’s trauma, and as a fun recreation in their own right, is incredibly effective and the Wanda-ised versions of the sitcoms of yore is done fantastically well, and with real attention to detail. The gradual intrusion of the “other” into Wanda’s safe space is done extremely well, it’s often properly disconcerting, and the mystery cleverly realised. It takes until the fourth episode before we get any scenes set outside Westview – again, an admirable use of restraint – and when we do get them there’s no instant reveal. We get an expansion of our perspective but no immediate payoff, which is also the correct approach. But the problem with the reveal is that there’s actually two – the reveal of the sitcom / hex being generated by Wanda and the reveal of Agnes / Agatha as being a witch trying to steal Wanda’s magic.
And the fact is, however much fun she is, Agatha just doesn’t belong in this. Handling Wanda’s trauma and her ways of dealing with grief when there’s no support system for her is a powerful, worthwhile story to tell. Agatha, a Big Panto Villain of the highest order with a lazy, cliché Salem backstory, is fantastically entertaining but all she really does is distract away from the far more compelling material around Wanda. Then in the last episode we get some two-witches-fighting stuff, some Vision-on-Vision action and it all deflates back down to standard Marvel tropes of a couple of big fights, a slightly rushed ending and a couple of tag scenes in the credits to set things up for the future. It could have been done by flow-chart and all feels stultifyingly predictable in a way the rest of the series never did so it can’t help but come across as bathetic.
The defeat of Agatha, via runes explained in a previous episode, is “clever”, in that it’s clearly set up, resolved and follows plot logistics, but it’s also very mechanical and not really satisfying, and that’s the biggest problem here. For the most part WandaVision makes excellent use of its cast (I haven’t even mentioned the always-excellent Randall Park as Agent Woo, so here he is, mentioned and great) and really tries to dig into its lead character. But in failing to escape from standard-Marvel-ending syndrome a lot of that good work feels like it’s in service of fairly little. WandaVision was meant to be about Wanda but ultimately she gets subsumed back into a standard superhero ending. How could that be anything but disappointing?
Scores On The Doors? 7/10 – which, you know, is fine. But this show could have been 10/10 and isn’t and that’s frustrating.