WandaVision review: How the show has changed the MCU frequency for good (spoilers)
Ivan Radford | On 10, Feb 2021
Warning: This contains spoilers for Episodes 1 to 5 of WandaVision. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here.
“It’s Wanda. It’s all Wanda.” That was SWORD agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) at the end of Episode 4 of WandaVision, having been ejected from the idyllic small town of Westview by Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) after she dared to mention Ultron – and bring into the question the whole reality of Wanda and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) blissful domestic existence.
By now, it’s more than clear that the apparently happy married life of the MCU’s unlikeliest couple is something that’s been born out of Wanda’s own grief – faced with the loss of Vision in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the super-powered outsider has retreated into the kind of idyllic, nostalgic comfort blanket that only formative TV from one’s childhood can offer, the kind of TV shows that would have been broadcast in Sokovia while she was growing up. Who hasn’t wanted to retreat into the sitcom-like safety of a looped world where everything goes back to the way it was when the end credits roll?
The result has been a witty and playful parade of sitcom references, ranging from The Dick Van Dyke Show and Bewitched to The Brady Bunch, with Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s theme songs moving through the decades to match the ingenious, evolving opening titles.
“This may be new territory for the MCU, but after umpteen films and franchise familiarity, that’s exactly what Marvel needs,” we wrote in our review of the first three episodes, celebrating the inspired way that the series shakes up the conventional Marvel formulae.
But the show is also exactly what Marvel needs on an emotional level: WandaVision, much like Spider-Man: Far from Home, proves that the MCU is willing to explore the aftermath of Infinity War with an increasing level of depth. Where Endgame initially seemed like a flippant CTRL-Z that undermined the weight of Infinity War’s dramatically high stakes, WandaVision acknowledges the weighty impact of trauma – and the fact that it takes a lot longer than a 2-hour blockbuster ride to work through it.
Elizabeth Olsen is remarkable in the lead role, able to send up sitcom tropes and throw away one-liners with a smile and a wink, but also peel back layers of wounds and anger in the blink of an eye. She’s got great chemistry with Paul Bettany, who also sinks his teeth into increasingly meaty material as Vision, who’s gone from flourishing at the local town magic show to becoming aware of just what his partner has done – gone against his wishes not to be reanimated and broken into a SHIELD/SWORD institute and recovered his corpse. One brief shot of his grey, lifeless head is a genuinely shocking reminder that things are much darker and sadder than WandaVision’s sparkling sitcom surface.
Creator Jac Schaeffer isn’t done there, though: she is a master at weaving together form and content. We see Vision declare, “You can’t control me the way you do them,” only for Wanda to reply, “Can’t I?” and cue the end credits for the episode. Then, Vision cuts through them mid-flow and the episode continues. What would normally be a tight 30-minute sitcom broadcast unrolls just that little bit further – taking Episode 5 to the show’s longest runtime yet of 42 minutes. The opening theme tune and costumes might recall Family Ties and Full House, but that superficial disguise is definitely beginning to unravel.
Nowhere is that clearer than in the final shot of an unexpected guest on WandaVision’s doorstep: Pieto Maximoff, Wanda’s twin brother – played not be Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as before in the MCU, but by Evan Peters, who played another version of him in Fox’s X-Men movies.
“She recast Pietro?” exclaims Dr Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), who is watching events on an old TV set along with agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) – their sincerely enthusiastic double-act remains one of the highlights of the show, giving us not only an audience surrogate but also a new dream spin-off series.
“We loved the idea of [bringing him back],” Schaeffer told Marvel.com this week. “And then we were like, how in the world are we going to make this make logical sense? Like, how do we justify this? Because that’s the thing, you can hatch a million great ideas, but to make them land, to make them be grounded, to make them feel organic to the larger story.”
Grounding everything is the secret, and perhaps the key lies not in the surprise appearance of Evan Peters, or even the fact that he marks yet another deceased person from Wanda’s life who has apparently been resurrected. Instead, it’s the moment before he arrives, when Wanda insists that she isn’t the one controlling the doorbell and hasn’t created the person on the other side of the door.
She could, of course, be lying – we see the extent of Wanda’s power and pain when she stands off against SWORD director Hayward (Josh Stamberg), after he tried to shoot Wanda down with a weaponised drone that they flew into “the Hex” (as Darcy calls it – a nice nod to Wanda’s comic book “hex” powers). The idea of her gaslighting Vision is certainly a believable one, after we hear from Monica and Norm (briefly released by Vision) how their heads were full of Wanda’s voice forcing them to play out the sitcom roles she cast them in.
But Vision, who knows her better than anyone, begins to break free of her control, which suggests she’s not as all-powerful as we think – or that she’s so powerful she’s succeeded at reanimating him beyond mere appearances. “You don’t get to make that choice for me, Wanda,” Vision declares, as they hover in mid-air like two old-school Universal monsters in a showdown.
If Vision’s right, and Wanda’s creation of Westview was subconscious at first, she’s becoming increasingly self-aware of what’s going on. A moment involving their sons, Billy and Tommy (whose haphazard ageing speed seems to be driven by their own impulses) sees her comfort them over the death of their dog, Sparky. She tells them not to “age up” and sympathises with them that “the urge to run from this feeling is powerful”. The idea of her having a conversation with elements of her own subconscious – “It’s all Wanda.” – trying to come to terms with how “some things are forever” is a particularly poignant piece of writing.
The other option, though, is the notion that Wanda may not be in control of everything (either anymore or simply at all). With several episodes of WandaVision to go, and with theories circulating about the identity of nosy neighbour “Agnes” (a sublime Kathryn Kahn), whose face still hasn’t been matched on SWORD’s evidence board, there’s scope for WandaVision to take us to surprising territory once again before its final credits roll – but the show’s thoughtful confrontation of trauma and grief has already boldly changed the frequency of the MCU for good. It’s hard to imagine Schaeffer, or anyone else, changing the channel back.
WandaVision is available on Disney+, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription or a £59.99 yearly subscription.