For the starved viewer scrambling to devour their first Marvel Cinematic Universe morsel in months (eighteen to be exact, but who’s counting? Sigh.), the early episodes of WandaVision are not going to satisfy. The new Disney+ series from showrunner Jac Schaeffer takes your enthusiasm for their characters and grinds it into a nostalgic pulp, but not necessarily the mash of wistful superhero sentiment most would choose to splash on their palate. WandaVision is less concerned with comic book canon and more eager to reminisce in shiny sitcom non-reality.
Please stand by. There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. They are controlling transmission.
WandaVision puts you in the Outer Limits, presumably adjacent to the shenanigans we’ve already experienced in the films that came before. Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) click onto your TV with the switch of an unseen remote, inhabiting a black and white realm once dominated by Dick Van Dyke and Elizabeth Montgomery. Their concerns are typical situational comedy concerns: unfortunate matrimonial miscommunications that lead to an awkward dinner with the boss or a desperate desire to fit in amongst their new neighbors resulting in further embarrassment.
Taking this what-if incredibly seriously, WandaVision rarely blinks to disrupt its sitcom-roleplay, but when it does, those disturbances suggest a dark undercurrent of pain. While you’re giggling at the delightful references (the twinkling Bewitched chime of Wanda’s spellcasting digits, Vision’s phasing solution to Van Dyke’s furniture stumble), in the back of your mind is the memory of where we last saw these two lovebirds. Their togetherness is an impossibility.
Our previous peek at Vision was his gray corpse, in Avengers: Infinity War, crumpled at the feet of Thanos, who bedazzled his Infinity Gauntlet with a bit of jewelry yanked from the android’s melon. His sweetheart Wanda closed out Avengers: Endgame mourning her circuitry man from the corner of Tony Stark’s funeral. Explaining their happy union on WandaVision will apparently take more than a season premiere; maybe the whole season, maybe more.
Until the answers start to trickle, it’s best to kick back and absorb. Which is an experience MCU consumers are used to indulging. After all, how many years did it take Thanos to move from his chair chained to The Avengers‘ mid-credits stinger? Six, unless you count his absurd Age of Ultron declaration, but even that took three years to be uttered. The point is, we’re accustomed to waiting, and the plot has never been the saving grace of this franchise.
Character is why we keep coming back, and make no mistake, Wanda and Vision are utterly present in this series even if they’re imprisoned within some treacherous cage.
Elizabeth Olsen deftly travels a sharp-edged balancing act, totally occupying a sitcom persona without ever betraying the Wanda we know. She replicates the Mary Tyler Moore head-tilt and her piercing, sunshine smile. As false as it all should ring, she also scores authentic laughter from her staged scenarios. The gags are dumb and routine, but they’re funny, and the slight twist of having Avengers walk through them recharges their comical spark.
It’s the same deal with Paul Bettany. His Vision is Dick Van Dyke, plus a six-hour tour in the make-up chair. He’s mirrored the walk, the talk, and the good-natured bumbling. On the other side, Vision’s admiration and perplexion for the human race remain firmly rooted. Bettany’s befuddlement is enhanced through nostalgia’s lens. If Vision struggled to understand our contemporary customs, then his gobsmacked bewilderment toward this ’60s-era hospitality is cranked to eleven.
WandaVision‘s best gift is giving us more time to chew on — or masticate, as our synthezoid friend might say — Olsen and Bettany’s chemistry. Their MCU good times were new and fleeting. The moments we had together with them on the big screen were warm but truncated by swift, violent action. WandaVision promises nine episodes where we can stew in their romance and get lost in their hypnotic attraction for each other. Like the best TV couples, they exude genuine love. You desperately want it to be true.
That hope of reality is where Wandavision ultimately jolts ya. The sitcom was always a lie. We were never the America perpetuated by those boob tube narratives. Those stories were our pacifiers, something to suck on while we waited for one day to end, and the next one to start. We’ll accept anything to distract us from the hell outside our window.
WandaVision is delivering another fib. The smiles are bright and appealing, and they work their magic, but we saw Vision’s head crumple in Avengers: Infinity War. We saw the rage Wanda brought down upon Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. Any chuckle accomplished in this series’ first few episodes is tainted. We know it’s all a mask.
Whose mask? The answers are distant. WandaVision will drag them for a while, breadcrumbing some tiny hints, but that’s it. How much you enjoy the charade will determine your enthusiasm for these first chapters.
While TV might be new for the MCU and its fans, serialization is certainly not. The franchise thrives on withholding. Marvel is our master pleasure-delayer. The time between entries is populated with speculation and throbbing anticipation. Disney+ has us by the chain, and it feels good.
WandaVision stirring cotton candy with agony and loss is a complicated cocktail. We’re not going to know whether it tears our stomach apart or not until the credits roll on the final episode. However, its emotional push-and-pull doesn’t feel like anything else out there right now, and it definitely does not behave in a manner akin to Marvel Studios.
It’s witchcraft, and everyone should love a magic show with a little flourish.