By Laura Sirikul and Mike Manalo
When WandaVision was first announced by Marvel in 2018 as a series centered around Wanda and Vision’s love story, fans were excited to watch their journey since their relationship was introduced in Captain America: Civil War. Prior to the debut of Infinity War, there was hope that Wanda and Vision would make it out alive since they were getting their own show on Disney+. Unfortunately, after Vision’s inevitable death at the hand of Thanos, many of us were confused at just how WandaVision would play out. What would be the premise of the series if Vision is dead? How could Vision come back? Why are they stuck in a series of sitcoms? Why sitcoms?
If you’re looking to get those answers in the first three episodes, don’t. The series opens in black and white with a 1950s-sitcom style opening credits sequence with Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) arriving at their new home ready to start their ‘normal’ lives together. The entire first episode plays out as its own I Love Lucy/Dick Van Dyke Show-esque slapstick homage and it’s actually quite nostalgically funny. Written by Jac Schaeffer, who also co-wrote the two Marvel Studios superhero films centered around female empowerment — Captain Marvel and the upcoming Black Widow, the debut episode plays out peachy keen, and innocently sweet in a cornball way. However, after a moment when Wanda and Vision’s past are questioned, everything shifts completely from “Lucy” to Black Mirror, and there is a sharp, abrupt sense of rising tension during a moment of stillness where you feel reality setting in alluding to something going on with Wanda’s mind, and a greater understanding of what this series will be about.
Unlike previous Marvel films and television series — with the exception of FX’s non-Marvel Studios Legion — WandaVision takes an unconventional approach to the superhero genre by adding humor and, at times, Twilight Zone-esque horror. Each episode presents a new era of sitcom television, emulating the styles of sitcoms from I Love Lucy to Bewitched and then The Brady Bunch and Partridge Family. Throughout it all, Vision and Wanda act nonchalantly in their classic sitcom roles, even towards sudden strange changes, including an abrupt transition to technicolor and an unexpected, life-altering surprise at the end of the second episode. The episodes do play out like your classic sitcoms with their own story arcs, but you can’t help but notice that something is off, and you’re completely riveted by the larger story at play here. It’s only when there is a break from the comedic situations that the real mystery begins to unravel and we learn a little bit more of what’s going on.
Throughout the episodes, there are multiple Easter eggs at play to help you connect the dots. From the commercials promoting Stark Industries, Strucker watches, and HYDRA Soak to a mysterious bee keeper, WandaVision will have you setting up your theory boards. You’ll also try to figure out how this all links to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as it was announced that Wanda will make an appearance in the film.
And that’s actually the beauty of what Kevin Feige and team are so ambitiously doing with WandaVision. They are fully utilizing the episodic format of the Disney+ streaming service to serve us fans a large puzzle, one piece at a time. This does create a bit of a slow-burn pace, but it also increases the anticipation for those with the patience to want to figure things out about 3000%. It’s something Marvel Studios has never accomplished before, and that’s what makes WandaVision not only unique, but something of a game-changer. It dares the audience to rise to the challenge of figuring out the story here rather than give it to us in one single convenient two-hour package. Though Schaeffer is no stranger to this, dipping her toes into the idea of non-linear puzzle piece distribution during elements of Captain Marvel, she, along with director Matt Shakman, have found a way to make it work fully and completely with the series, in such a way that it would never work if given a two-hour Scarlet Witch movie. While unconventional, this approach and the burning desire to figure out the mysteries behind the series, make sense of the events unfolding, and see how this all will affect the MCU, make watching this series all the more fun, and keep you anticipating and obsessing about what will unfold in the next episode.
On the acting front, Olsen is absolutely a delight to watch as she physically adjusts through each era transition, easily inhabiting the spirit of legends like Mary Tyler Moore and Elizabeth Montgomery. There are moments when you get lost in her performance and completely forget about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and simply enjoy the comedy. But her greatest strength is when she breaks into her serious moments as she pauses to process what exactly is going on. During a dinner scene with Vision’s boss and his wife, Olsen’s entire demure temperament drops for a moment and panic sets in, but then is quickly brought back into the sitcom world.
Comprising the “Vision” half of WandaVision, Bettany seamlessly falls back into the role of our favorite infinity stone-powered android, but, like Olsen, adds a bit of Dick Van Dyke or Dick York to the performance. It’s amazing to see how the Vision character has evolved since Age of Ultron, and he evolves even more in WandaVision. Bettany’s charm and experience with rom-coms (I like Wimbledon, sue me!) and anachronistic comedies (I also like A Knight’s Tale, double sue me!) serves him well here, gliding effortlessly from scene to scene in-tune with what the classic sitcom tropes demand in terms of physicality and comedic timing. For instance, there’s a situation where Vision swallows a stick of gum, which leads to a hilarious bit of inspired comedic brilliance for Bettany, in a scene that would be pitch perfectly plagiarized from an episode of Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie. It’s really fantastic to watch, particularly knowing that this is a Marvel Studios show.
Another standout from the three episodes is Kathryn Hahn as the nosy neighbor Agnes, who seems to know a lot more than she’s letting on. Hahn not only looks the part, but she sounds exactly like every neighbor in those classic comedies. While you know that she knows all the secrets, it is hard to tell if she is a protagonist or the antagonist to our main couple.
For now, the series does a splendid job mixing the two worlds of sitcom and the Marvel Cinematic Universe together. If there is any fault in WandaVision, it is the slow burn towards finding out the truth behind the show. With only nine episodes, it may mean we may not learn everything or that the story could be rushed, or perhaps be a lead in into a future project (Like Strange or Homecoming 3). Having said that though, so far, so good. And we’ll continue to tune in to see all the magic and mystery unfold!
WandaVision premieres on Friday, January 15 on Disney+.