The level of bliss you derive from the opening two episodes of WandaVision will depend entirely on how comfortable you are with the “theme” each episode holds to. If you’re someone who, like me, grew up watching Nick at Nite reruns of I Love Lucy and Bewitched, you will probably smile from beginning to end. If you’re younger or just not as cultured, darn it, then I’d say it’s a coin flip because WandaVision completely and totally commits to its theme. The moments when it interrupts the aesthetic occur at story-critical junctures, and in those times MCU fans will be salivating, but those moments come rarely, and only out of necessity, not because of any timidity on the creator’s part. What I mean is, there are a lot of series and movies that start with an intriguing premise or visual hook, only to abandon it midway through because some producer got cold feet and worried people would tune out or be turned off by how different it was. “People won’t get it” is one of the worst things a producer can say to a content creator, right behind “it needs more boobs.”
WandaVision trusts its audience. Specifically, it trusts that its audience trusts them to eventually give them content that adds a layer or three to the ongoing narrative of the cinematic universe. This is a film (and now TV) franchise that made its bones on building up to a final boss fight that took nearly a decade to happen. Patience like that just isn’t found in Hollywood, but it is at Marvel. So when I watch a half-hour episode one that, for 95% of it, is nothing more than a faithful homage to I Love Lucy that just happens to feature a pair of MCU characters, the cynic in me might say “oh this is too idiosyncratic for the average comic book fan.” But then the optimist in me takes over and I decide this show is just too well made, and there’s been a dearth of MCU stuff for too long for this thing not to be a massive hit.
That about sums up my thoughts. So, instead of singing the praises of the show for another five hundred words, let me just break down some thoughts I jotted down, in no particular order, while watching and reflecting on the initial offerings on Disney+…
- There are commercials! I can’t tell you what a treat it was to see the camera fade to black and then fade back into a rando walking around what is clearly the WandaVision house set, hocking a toaster. Early-era sponsor-commercials were the best. I also love that the ads are easter eggs, and possibly-plot relevant. The Star Toaster has a ticking sound that reminds one of the Stark Bomb that terrorized Wanda and Pietro pre-Age of Ultron. The Strucker watch is a reference to Baron Von Strucker who experimented on the siblings with the power of the Infinity Stone. It seems the commercials will double as a window into the broken psyche of Wanda herself, and her damaged life experiences.
- “We don’t break bread with Bolsheviks.” was just one of many funny lines that easily could have landed with a thud had they not been delivered perfectly. I admit that one of my biggest pet peeves with a movie is when a good script is ruined by bad line readings. WandaVision’s actors are nailing the tone of their setting, whether that’s the mid-50s in episode one, or mid-60’s in episode two.
- Speaking of nailing the tone: I have seen a lot of TV shows do a “retro” episode, where they try to emulate the old style of TV making, and the result is almost always limited to a 4×3 aspect ratio, a black and white filter, and some 1950’s era clothing. There is more to the “look” of a show from this era than that. For one thing, the three-camera set up pioneered by Desi Arnaz for I Love Lucy has to be positioned at just the right angles to capture the look between cuts. Likewise, the lighting and camera lenses have to have a softness to them, and that’s especially tricky to get right in this day of 4K HDTVs. WandaVision does it.
- The plot of the episode could not have been more perfect. It managed to use the hijinks-whimsy of an old series while integrating the uniqueness of the two leads; never did the Marvelness of it feel out of place in the I Love Lucy backdrop.
- Vision is legit funny, or should I say Paul Bettany is. You can tell him, and everyone else, just had a blast playing their parts in this era, and I hope that continues heading into the subsequent episodes.
Of course, something must be said about the dinner/choking scene with Mr. Hart. The way the view shifted from three-camera to single-camera, the music changed, the acting changed; the whole mood changed. It was like the façade of it all slipped a bit and we were forced to remember that what we’re seeing is not—can not be—real. It was just a tease but it was enough, I think, to sink the hook in anyone who wasn’t necessarily giddy over the I Love Lucy parody in the first place.
10/10 – It did what it set out to do and did it flawlessly.
- Animated opening! As soon as it started my son, watching beside me, said “Ah, it’s Bewitched.” Sure enough, that was the tonal sibling to this episode the same way I Love Lucy was to episode one. While many associate the “man marries witch” sitcom as a show for color-TVs, it actually spent its first two (and most popular) seasons in black and white. In fact, those unfamiliar with the show who watched the latter—color—episodes seem to think the show was filmed in the 50s and colorized in post-production. In fact, the show premiered in 1964 and didn’t go off the air until 1971. So while the black and white second episode of WandaVision might seem like a direct continuation of the 1950’s-era plot from episode one, it’s actually a pretty markedly mid-60’s-themed episode.
- Several things big and small changed between episodes 1 and 2. Two examples: Their house went from one to two stories, and Wanda’s hair and wardrobe were updated to a mid-60’s style. Despite that, the plot itself felt like Wanda and Vision were still new to the neighborhood, and not ten-year residents. It continues the “something is off about all of this” vibe that keeps me enjoying it on a separate level than just as a Nick at Nite fan.
- Am I crazy or was the color fading in and out throughout the episode? I went back and watched episode one just to double-check and it’s not happening there; that’s a pure mid-50s era greyscale. In episode two that greyscale is present again, but it seems to occasionally flicker to something almost like a muted sepia. Am I going crazy?
- The plot to the second episode wasn’t as charming as the first, but I feel like a rewatch, after the whole season is done, will reveal a ton of easter eggs and foreshadowing hidden in plain sight here. I still greatly enjoyed it; Paul Bettany acting drunk was a treat and a half.
- Next Door Neighbor Agnes is all kinds of sus, am I right? I don’t want to just come out and say she’s Agatha Harkness and working with Mephisto, but that’s a theory I’m sticking with until proven wrong. Memphisto and Agatha have connections to Wanda in the comics, Mephisto is the big bad of the next Dr. Strange movie, which will feature Wanda, and there’s a creepy (creeeepy) cult-like chant of “for the children” that repeats multiple times in this episode…an episode where, you might notice, there are no children. Even at the talent show, which we’re told was done “for the children,” there are only adults. And Agnes makes multiple jokes about her husband, whom we have yet to see. Is her husband Mephisto? Does he have some kind of a plan for Wanda’s in-utero children (in the comics Wanda has twins with an assist by Mephisto’s genes)? I think so. I’m planting my flag there, at least.
9/10 – A wonderful follow-up, that peels back the layers a bit more, promising even more insanity as the show moves into color for episode three.
WandaVision is going to go down as a very different sort of Marvel project. Other shows like Loki and Falcon & The Winter Soldier will have tones fans will be expecting going in, but this is a unique specimen, in that its tone will slowly evolve over the course of the nine episodes. It’s a bold choice for the MCU’s debut Disney+ show, but so far it’s one that promises to pay off handsomely.
I’ll have another review in a couple of weeks, examining episodes three and four.