What in the world is WandaVision about? Rachel Stewart and Will Johnson sit down for a special two-part roundtable discussion on the new Marvel/Disney+ series. Here they discuss the show’s premiere, consisting of Episode 1 and Episode 2.
Rachel Stewart: So it’s been a minute since we had a major Marvel moment. Avengers: Endgame was a cultural reset. When WandaVision was initially announced, I know a lot of people were confused, considering Vision’s fate in Infinity War. The trailer really sold me on the concept, which I could barely explain as Pleasantville meets David Lynch, and man, did the first two episodes deliver.
Will Johnson: Oh, absolutely. Since there hasn’t been a new Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) release in over a year, there has been an impression going around with some parties that the MCU’s success is not only killing cinema but that it, and the superhero genre of filmmaking, is dull and lacking originality. Some see each film as a template simply being repeated over and over again. I’m not a believer of that as I think we’ve seen some of the most subversive superhero cinema in the last few years both in and outside of the MCU but let’s just say they are right, for the sake of argument. WandaVision presents something TOTALLY different. And better yet: completely unpredictable. If superhero films are simply redundant genre fare than WandaVision does its best to prove that theory wrong.
Rachel: And as a suburban kid of the 1980s, I was raised on Nick at Nite marathons of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, The Patty Duke Show, and from the opening, I was hit with nostalgia right away. I love when Marvel does period pieces (justice for Agent Carter, damn it!) and this one is pitch-perfect. (That Bewitched inspired opening for the second episode!) Paul Bettany is hitting all the comedic notes and Elizabeth Olsen is giving me Elizabeth Montgomery meets David Lynch heroine vibes. There are moments where you can tell she’s waking up—or almost break the fourth wall—and then she pulls back. It feels like the perfect homage to a bygone era television and something so much deeper just underneath the surface.
Will: You nailed it. I too grew up on Nick at Nite and seeing the set design, costume design, and pinpoint writing of the period really brought back some memories. I didn’t know Paul Bettany was funny! Is that mean to say? He’s always so serious. And is it possible Elizabeth Olsen can get an Emmy nomination at some point (not sure how those awards work)? She is really handling not just period-specific acting skills but, as you said, these intense moments of wakefulness. I read one review (can’t remember the name, sorry!) that said WandaVision starts with an ever-increasing sense of dread. I couldn’t help but feel myself getting more and more uncomfortable as the first two episodes wrapped up.
Rachel: It’s very subtle in the first episode, just the slightest twinges, and then when you get to the end of the second episode, I just want more. I’ve actually rewatched the episodes looking for clues or nods I might have missed. I also love the built-in commercials featuring Stark Industries and Hydra. Those moments felt very Mad Men in the best way—and now I want a toaster that probably doesn’t exist. (Build it, Disney, I’ll buy it!)
Will: Is it bad I wanted the Hydra watch? And yes, you are correct. I think because we know everything isn’t what it seems there is always a sense of discomfort there in Episode 1 but until the boss chokes on his food, you don’t really feel like you’re in harm’s way. Episode 2 really does a lot to amp up the tension though. The more I think about Episode 2, the more spooked out it makes me. Everything from Vision’s inability to function with the gum to the “for the children” chant, and the red helicopter in the bushes!
Rachel: The “for the children” chant was really unsettling and then, boom, Wanda’s pregnant? What the hell is going on? The helicopter scene sent me. That was some Pleasantville realness. Plus it has an important clue. Let’s talk about that logo. We see it there, on the monitors at the end of Episode 1 and on the mysterious beekeeper who comes out of the sewer. What’s that about?
Will: Refresh my memory on the logo. See, there is a lot packed in here and I likely didn’t see that!
Rachel: It’s S.W.O.R.D., or the Sentient World Observation and Response Department, right? S.H.I.E.L.D. is so ten years ago, it’s all about S.W.O.R.D. now!
Will: Yes, you are correct. I was trying to think of where we last saw Wanda in Endgame. She was with Hawkeye on the lake mourning Vision. So we can only assume something really bad has happened to her. A psychological meltdown? Captured by this S.W.O.R.D. thing (which I understand to be the space version of S.H.I.E.L.D., at least in the comics). And I can’t even begin to speculate on why Vision is “alive” except that he is a very vivid hallucination? Maybe?!
Rachel: It’s going to gut me if she’s gone into some sort of state mourning him or maybe they put her in that dream state to help her cope with the loss of Vision and are letting her live out whole alternate life to process her feelings. (It’s a familiar and heartbreaking concept in modern Doctor Who.)
Will: What doesn’t this show have? Nick at Nite! David Lynch! Doctor Who! Before I watched the first two available episodes, I watched Marvel Legends, which is kind of a 10-minute summary of certain Marvel characters. It seemed to focus on Wanda’s loss and anger. I know that has largely been her arc anyway (seeing her brother die and then Vision) but the Legends episode ended on her nearly obliterating Thanos into tiny pieces. That lasting image is of her anger. Maybe her “mental break,” if we are going in that direction, is her brain trying to find any happiness.
Rachel: Which is totally in line with David Lynch’s heroines. Look at Betty/Diane in Mulholland Drive or Nikki Grace in Inland Empire. She’s a woman in trouble, but she’s got supernatural powers to save herself and do real damage to others. If it’s connecting to that Legends episode, they’re most likely trying to contain her. While I can’t wait to see where we’re headed next, I also don’t want to let go of Vision. Relationships are always complicated in Marvel films, and I was really rooting for these two early on, and it wasn’t lost on me that we didn’t get Vision back by the end of Endgame. (His death, along with Natasha Romanova and Tony Stark, still stings.)
Will: Interesting comparison. I noticed that one thing Wanda (and Vision) are particularly scared of in the two “throwback” episodes is being discovered for what they are. Maybe Wanda doesn’t want to let the illusion fade and being revealed by the neighbors will crash the illusion she’s built up, while Vision simply wants to stay alive (or Wanda is keeping him alive through this elaborate illusion.) One thing that struck me was that Wanda and Vision participate in a magic act and Vision finds himself confused why people would be fooled by such games. It makes me think Wanda herself is playing a big magic game that truly doesn’t fool the audience (us and people within the story…someone was trying to reach her through that radio).
Rachel: “Wanda, Who’s Doing This to You, Wanda?” is the new “How’s Annie?” at least for right now. I think it’s telling that their magic act names were Illusion and Glamour. From what they showed us in the trailer, we’re going to hit all the major eras of sitcoms in their black and white or technicolor glory. If the carpet goes chevron and they start talking backward, I’ll lose my damn mind!
Will: Oh! That comparison got me excited. Do you think the creators have the balls to pull off a direct Twin Peaks reference? Also, what other shows do you think will be imitated later in the series? I read an interview with the director that said he resisted giving the Olsen twins a call. So are we going to see the WandaVision version of Full House?
Rachel: Full House is a given. I think Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and The Mary Tyler Moore Show are probably in the mix too. Maybe Blossom, also, if we’re doing the 1990s properly? (Give me velvet hats and breakdancing!) And the show feels really bonkers and unexpected, so there’s nothing off the table. The Simpsons had a Twin Peaks reference so, why not? I’ll admit I’m not well versed in comics, but I grew up watching a lot of sitcoms as a kid. I feel like that might be a big draw for the potential new audience for this show. They’ve done such solid world-building in the films that this feels like a nice departure to let loose creatively, all while tying back into the main story at some point.
Will: I suppose that is the big question: will this bring in a new audience? Like, if I asked my mom to check this out, she’d probably appreciate the look and feel of the show as it harkens back to the good old days. But she has only seen Black Panther so she probably wouldn’t have a clue in hell what Wanda’s deal is or Vision or any of that. I think the way this all ends up weighs heavily on if MCU Phase 4 will be a members-only club or a chance for a whole new generation to get involved. That is, actually, how comics work too. Sometimes you just got to reboot to issue one and let a new audience in.
Rachel: That’s the beauty of the MCU, I think. You can pop in and out at any time. (Don’t hate me, but there are still a few Marvel films I haven’t gotten around to—there’s just so much.) I’ll be interested in my partner’s take on it since he’s the comics reader of the household and has always patiently answered my Easter egg questions at the end of every Marvel film ever. (Expect Howard the Duck—I understood that reference.) And with Disney+ announcing all the things, this bodes well for the likes of What If? where we’ll get Captain Peggy Carter and Zombie Captain America. I like that Disney and Marvel have built out this universe enough that they aren’t afraid to try something different. Hell, the Loki series looks like a send-up of detective shows and the D.B. Cooper mystery. (And yes, for any DragonCon fans in the house, that was the Marriott in the trailer!)
Will: I will choose to ignore your statement on having not seen some of the Marvel films. I mean, if any of them you haven’t seen are the Ant-Man films, we might have to throw down! I defend the strongest Avenger at all costs. Anyway, yes I really admire their guts here. And making everyone wait week to week like Lynch did with Twin Peaks: The Return makes for a much better experience. Even if they can’t stick the landing (and God knows where the hell the plane is even flying to so I have no reason to suspect that), creating a narrative that is completely unpredictable bodes well for viewer interest and intrigue. And like you said, it won’t stop there. I can’t figure out one thing that’s going on in the Loki trailer and I love it!
Rachel: I’m only sure about the elevator in the Loki trailer! And I think I skipped the second Thor film? It went from Shakespeare to Jack Kirby slapstick right quick. Speaking of which, the second episode of WandaVision ended in technicolor. Where do you think we’re headed next? I’m thinking the nosy neighbors will be planning baby showers and barbeques.
Will: As for where we are going next, I’m curious who Teyonah Parris (Geraldine, the back-stage girl Wanda meets earlier at the neighborhood meeting) is. She wasn’t in the first episode while Kathryn Hahn and many other cast members returned from Episode 1 but as different people. Is she a key to the mystery? And for the people that have regenerated in new roles, why is that happening? Are they sleeper agents of S.W.O.R.D.? People from Wanda’s past? As for the shows they will imitate, I agree with you on Mary Tyler Moore. For some reason I see Three’s Company playing a role in the series! And we both agree on Full House.
Rachel: I’m guessing they are S.W.O.R.D. agents who are trying to keep the dream state going until it’s time for the reveal. I’m also hella excited we’re finally going to see all these glorious period costumes in technicolor now. I’m a cosplayer at heart and I’m hoping post-COVID conventions are filled with WandaVision cosplays. The magician and assistant costumes would be a fun deep cut cosplay, although knowing Marvel cosplayers, they’ll straight up paint themselves grey for full 3D black and white effect. And we haven’t even gotten to the tongue-in-cheek Halloween costume versions of their superheroes outfits. So much to look forward to!
Will: I think Vision in a business suit circa the 1950s would be one hell of a cosplay!
Rachel: Someone’s gonna track down or make that sweater. Bet.
Will: Well, I had a great time discussing these first two episodes with you, Rachel. Like Twin Peaks: The Return, I have a feeling we are going to be on our heels every week just waiting to know what’s going to happen next on WandaVision!
Rachel: For sure! Trusty readers, we’ll be taking a commercial break but will return with more thoughts once the series wraps up. Stay tuned, same 25YL time, same 25YL channel!