After twelve years, three phases, and twenty-three films, Marvel Studios has finally brought to life WandaVision, the first offering of several MCU-centric shows slated to stream exclusively on Disney +. In this televised outing, the spotlight is fixed on newly minted Avengers Wanda Maximoff and the Vision, and their life together in what we can only assume to be post-Avengers: Endgame.
Debuting on the 15th of January this year, Disney has given us two of nine scheduled episodes and, boy howdy, that first one is a surreal and almost Lynchian ride through time, space, and television series gone by. As newlyweds Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and the Vision (Paul Bettany) are settling into their home together, neither of them can seem to remember what a distinct heart-shape penned into their calendar could mean. Is it a romantic reminder for an anniversary or a dinner date with the Vision’s stereotypically square boss, Mr. Hart? The light-hearted comedy of errors that ensues is enough to do Lucille and Desi proud.
From the fade to black and white just before the title card and the shrinking aspect ratio, it’s no secret that episode writer and showrunner, Jac Schaeffer, is paying mega-homage to American television of the 1950’s. On the surface, WandaVision plays off of I Love Lucy, with an obvious twist of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. Not being a fan of traditional sitcoms, I was dubious; however, there was something captivating about the first entry of the series, and I found myself further entranced with every beat, right down to the tongue in cheek chauvinism of Stark Industries Toastmate 2000 advertisement. What’s more, the chemistry between Olsen and Bettany is simpatico, and their flawless charm creates an illusory magic that curtains a darker, more sinister vibe. Much like David Lynch’s 1950’s piece, Blue Velvet, there is a sense that beneath the hunky dory veneer of middle-class suburban cheer, there is a deep current of malevolence.
Thus far, it’s the subtle balance of canned laughter and darkness that I find the most intriguing. Sitcoms are, by their nature, an exaggerated play at real life, and in WandaVision there is an odd and almost meta self-awareness. The actors here are performing as characters pretending to act natural, and it’s more than just a bit of a trip for this guy. About three quarters of the episode in, I found myself at the pivotal crossroads of wondering if the chosen aesthetic of WandaVision could carry the entire series, and then, without warning, the rug was pulled out from beneath me as the Vision phased immediately into hero mode, in one of the most disquieting and dream-like sequences that I’ve seen on television in some time. I was shocked out of contemplation, and was again fully engaged in the narrative.
Well played, WandaVision. Well played.
In the show’s half-hour run time, there wasn’t a moment that I felt bored or let down. Not having grown up with the Avengers helped, no doubt – I was raised on a steady diet of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, before jumping on the X-Train of the mid-90’s – so I was blessed not to fall victim to the burden of long held fandom. Even so, I don’t know that there’s as much to unpack in the introductory episode of the series as I’d hoped. However, there’s enough of Wanda’s casual magic (levitating lobster dinner, anyone?) and introspective quips from the Vision that there’s plenty to explore on a re-watch. Kathryn Hahn as the Visions’ helpful but mavenly neighbor brings the laughs, and Fred Melamed’s Mr. Hart brings the perfect (un)enthusiastic energy you’d expect from an overbearing boss who’s never tasted joy. If he has any redeeming qualities, I’d expect they’re due only to Mrs. Hart (portrayed by Debra Jo Rupp, who is an absolute treasure – if you say otherwise I will fight you.)
It’s rare that I’m all in after only one episode of a series, but I am absolutely here for WandaVision, and I’m curious as to where it’s going and what it means for Phase IV of the MCU. The end of the first episode is especially intriguing, and as we stare into Wanda and the Vision staring back into us, watching us watching them from the mutual comforts of our living room couches, there’s an unsettling and oddly voyeuristic feeling conveyed. I don’t want to give away where things go from that exact point in the show’s closing, but suffice to say that there’s clearly more going on behind the scenes of WandaVision than what meets the eye.
The premier episode left me with a bizarre giddiness that I don’t recall having felt for a program in some time – if ever – and I’m more than ready to tune back into WandaVision for the second episode of the series. I can only hope that it’s as charged, stylish, and chock full of cleverly interwoven subtext as the first.