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‘WandaVision’ Weekly: Recapping the first 2 episodes by interviewing ourselves

WandaVision
Disney+
 

Welcome to WandaVision Weekly, your home for baseless speculation, crude humor and summaries of the new Marvel television show ‘WandaVision.’ This article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of the show, so get out of here if you haven’t watched it. Also, it features a deranged editor talking to himself about a television show in a faux-interview format. It has been preserved in its entirety for accuracy and posterity, should said editor finally snap when he’s forced to rewatch ‘Iron Man 2’ for an article.

***

Nick Johnston: Well, this is interesting. A fake interview series to go along with a show about fake sitcoms?

 

Nick Johnston: Yeah, it seemed a better fit for the material than a typical Mando-style recap.

No superlatives, then?

Hey, you know I can’t resist giving out absolutely meaningless awards when the moment calls for it, and I think we’ll have a lot to give out when WandaVision reaches its conclusion.

 
 

And, let me get this straight, we’re doing two episodes this week?

Yes. Disney’s going with the micro-binge trend that a lot of other non-Netflix streamers are doing for their titles — they sort of lucked into it with The Mandalorian last year when it debuted, and are keeping the trend going. If it’s not an outright hour-long episode, it’ll be a two-parter.

Cool. So, let’s get down to brass tacks. What’s “Episode One” about?

Well, you see, turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleshi-

 
 

You idiot, that’s the opening crawl from The Phantom Menace.

Whoops, got some wires crossed — hard to keep my “owned-by-Disney disappointments” folder organized these days. Anyway, “Episode One” introduces us to the wild new reality that the Scarlet Witch and Vision find themselves in: Pitch-perfect ’50s sitcom America, with white-picket fences, nuclear families, and, presumably, a prejudiced HOA and zoning commission. A jaunty, Dick Van Dyke-show style theme plays as we see the powered pair move into the neighborhood, named Westview, complete with the slapstick antics that defined Dyke’s intro, only that, instead of our sitcom husband tripping over an ottoman, he instead phases through the door, letting dropping his wife on their stoop. It’s domestic bliss, only this time it’s a robot and a witch rather than a former G.I. and his long-suffering housewife.

That sounds kind of fun.

Yeah, it’s one of the moments in which Jac Schaeffer, the writer for “Episode One” and WandaVision‘s showrunner, really nails the tone she’s aping here.

 
 

You sound like you’re holding back some sort of criticism here.

I am, somewhat.

Why?

See, I’m just not one for a half-assed pastiche, which is what ultimately happens here. Schaeffer and her director, Matt Shakman, set themselves up a hefty task: They specifically wanted to ape the look and feel of a series of classic sitcoms, but that approach has its own issues. For people who grew up with I Love Lucy or Dick Van Dyke when they were re-run on Nick-at-Nite in the ’90s, it rings false, and not in the way that I think that they expected. It’s clear that this is some sort of fantasy land Wanda has plunged herself and her reanimated dead husband —

 
 

Do you think the Vision could actually die, though? After all, he is an android.

I’m sure they’re going to answer that in future episodes, but yeah, I don’t really think that he can die, technically. I mean, he’s not like a toaster — he’s very clearly a cognizant intelligence, but I don’t think it would take too much to fix him. Just put the Mind Stone back in to that corpse, and you’re good to go.

But couldn’t you say that’s basically what a heart transplant is?

That’s a dumb question. Look, let’s get back to the topic at hand: it makes sense that Wanda’s interpretation of classic sitcoms would be slightly skewed by whatever memories she might have of watching them, but I don’t know if that’s a proper excuse for those working on the show. And, just to clarify, I’m not referring to the legions of costumers, set-dressers, post-production artists and other crewmembers who worked on the show — they did a superlative job making the show look period-appropriate and vibrant.

 
 

It really does look good. Heck, I watched the trailer on my brand-new Samsung fridge, and it made that 480p screen pop!

You really watch TV on a fridge? That’s sort of strange, and I’m sure Kevin Feige would be insulted, but I guess you’re living in our connected future, just like Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg want you to. I don’t know if you could hear this from your fridge —

It has Dolby Atmos.

Really? Wow.

You were saying?

One key thing that bothered me about the first episode — and, really, with the series at large — was how the laugh track was used. It’s constantly talked over, with Wanda, Vision, and her presumed captives pressing forward with their gags even if the track is still playing. Now, back in this era, they probably would have filmed shows in front of a live studio audience, but even modern sitcoms, where they’re filmed on a closed set, are full of pregnant pauses to accommodate the canned chuckles. And I think that’s one of the key things that people forget when they’re making shows that are clear homages to other iconic programs: you have to get the little things right on a storytelling level — it would make everything, even the surrealism work so much better.

 
 

I can understand that. They even use one of the most tried-and-tested sitcom plots in this episode, too.

Oh, yeah — the big boss coming over to dinner, expecting a feast and interesting conversation, and the foibles and follies that result from it. I’ll say this: Casting Fred Melamed as Mr. Hart, Vision’s boss at the “computing company” he works, for was a masterstroke.

Yeah, I don’t think I’ve seen that guy in a movie since A Serious Man.

Hey, that’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 erasure! But, yeah, it’s always nice to see him pop up in something. Anyway, Wanda’s the domestic goddess here — she’s still got her reality-altering powers and such, though they’re presented more like Samantha’s powers in Bewitched — and she has to juggle meeting her new neighbor Agnes, played by Kathryn Hahn, cooking some sort of dinner, and entertaining Vision’s boss. There are some fun bits here, like the running gag that Wanda and Vision can’t remember why they have a heart drawn around a certain date on their kitchen calendar. They initially assume it’s their anniversary, but it’s actually because the Harts are coming over for dinner.

Wow, that’s punny.

It made me chuckle a bit. Anyway, there’s nothing worse than sitting here and reciting sitcom jokes to you, so let’s move on to the more interesting stuff: Surrealism! There’s one moment that feels heavily indebted to David Lynch, in which, in the middle of dinner, once Mr. Hart starts going down a particular pathway with his conversation, that he chokes on a piece of food. His wife begins repeating “Stop it!” with increasing levels of fear and terror, and Wanda finally commands Vision to pluck the food from his throat.

 
 

Sounds creepy!

Yeah, it works really well in practice. In going back to watch it to prepare for this article, I was stunned to see how short this scene actually is: iI’s barely 30 seconds long, and it stands out more than anything else in the episode. It does kind of feel like “Baby’s First Mulholland Dr.,” but when you remember that kids are the target audience for this — not the 30-somethings who typically yell about Marvel online — it makes more sense.

If I know one thing, it’s that kids love weird shit. Have you ever watched a slime video?

That, my friend, is absolutely true, and no, I have not. As such, they probably really liked the end of this episode, too, which stresses that something is very clearly not well in Westview, given that some anonymous person is watching the WandaVision broadcast as its faux-credits roll, much like we all have. Only this time, this person is an agent of S.W.O.R.D., and they’ve been taking notes, much like I should have been.

First, what the hell is a S.W.O.R.D.? Second, you didn’t take notes?

Well, S.W.O.R.D. was a counterpart of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comics — get it?

 
 

Oh god, they really went there?

Yes, they did. It was basically the Men in Black to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s C.I.A., as they were mainly meant to focus on extraterrestrial encounters and preventing alien invasions on Earth. It was the brainchild of Joss Whedon in his Astonishing X-Men run, and it’s clearly been used for a different purpose here. Thanks to some leaks, we know that this iteration of S.W.O.R.D.’s acronym stands for “Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division,” and we can kind of assume that it’s basically some sort of government agency meant to watch over the superpowered people of Earth and that something fishy is happening here. But if you’re expecting to figure anything out soon, well, you’re in for a disappointment: it’s only a stinger, and the mystery will take some time to unravel.

Wait, what? You mean they end the first episode with a literal mid-credits stinger teasing where this thing goes?

Kinda funny, huh? Also, don’t sit through the credits here, at least not until the season ends — there’s nothing for you here but a solid eight minutes filled with the names of the people whose hard work brought you this entertainment you’re watching.

Sounds like you think we should watch the credits.

I mean, you don’t have to, but it’s a nice gesture, one that only you and God will really know about.

 
 

***

So, on to the second episode. What’s this one parodying?

Well, we’re not out of the black-and-white woods quite yet — this looks like a pre-color TV riff on Bewitched, where the fashions get updated to the mid-’60s and diversity gets introduced to the cast, reflecting an ever-so-slightly more progressive television landscape. If someone were President when this episode is set, it’d probably be LBJ. They even do a pretty fun job switching up the era, too: the episode begins with Wanda and Vision in separate beds, and both are awoken and terrified by the sounds of a branch colliding with their window — in actuality, it’s their house changing with the decades — and the two push their beds together to cuddle, and the two twin-sized mattresses fuse together to become one Queen-sized. That cuddling turns out to be the first reference to honest-to-God fuckin’ that the MCU has seen probably since the first Iron Man.

Ah, those were the days, back when Stan Lee could cameo as Hugh Hefner and nobody gave a damn.

Yeah, right? Remember when the MCU was just a dream, and, like, there were other movies? Or even going to movie theaters?

That’s a cliche at this point, and you should feel ashamed of yourself.

Man, you can cut deep when you want to.

I mean, I guess it was a bit harsh.

Not nearly as harsh as I’m going to be about this next sequence, which is a brand-new intro to WandaVision, and this time it’s a cartoon, much like the one in Bewitched, and for some reason, I couldn’t stand how it looked. It might just be a matter of personal preference, but it did feel a little too Flash-animation for my particular tastes.

Well, what were you expecting? For them to hand-animate the sequence?

Actually, yes. Or, if they chose the Flash path, they could have made it look just a little more old-fashioned, much like Bethesda did for their Fallout 4 videos. But there’s some cool stuff to chew on in this opening sequence, full of lots of little references to classic comic book tales involving the two main characters, handily summarized in this article.

You’re not going to summarize them here?

You can read, can’t you?

Ouch.

See, your words can hurt. Anyway, this time we’re watching the citizens of Westview get ready for their annual talent show, and our two star-crossed leads plan on doing a magic act, with Vision as the magician, and Wanda as his assistant. We have some fun little patter as the pair rehearse in their living room, and eventually, they head out in different directions: Wanda to the women’s advisory committee meeting, and Vision to a gathering of the Neighborhood Watch at the public library. But before Wanda can head out, she finds a toy helicopter, painted brilliant red-and-yellow and emblazoned with S.W.O.R.D.’s logo. It stands out from the black-and-white world around her, and it creeps her out, understandably, but she hides it away from her neighbor’s prying eyes.

Sounds like Pleasantville.

Yes, yes it does. And, honestly, I find the comparison somewhat lacking.

Why?

Well, Pleasantville is a hard bar for most films to clear. I love that movie, and I think it tackles a lot of what WandaVision wants to do better than the show does. For one, it’s focused on the transition to a single era, and it doesn’t have to deal with outside forces or speculation — just two characters who are forced to confront this “ideal” reality and have to uplift it and uplift themselves at the same time. I wonder if the constant shifting of time periods and characters might be a little rough for the show, in a way. Perhaps it would have been better to focus heavily on one era and focus on making it as accurately as humanly possible, steadily introducing doubt and fear into our leads until it collapses around them. Just because it’s “episodic” doesn’t mean that it has to have these dramatic shifts in tone every single episode.

At the exact same time, don’t you think that Marvel has some hefty experience with serialization, though? Wouldn’t they know how to do this better than anyone else?

I can’t really argue with that, and, again, I’ve only seen three episodes of it so far. It might pay off in ways that I can’t really predict. But I do wonder how it would have been received had it come after Falcon and Winter Soldier, which was delayed because of COVID. Sure, it made Marvel’s ambitions for television very clear and provided them with a fun introduction to the medium, but it might have backfired, somewhat.

Ok, dickhead. Get back to the plot.

Jesus, fine. Wanda heads off to her meeting, a poolside affair full of Stepford Wives-like conformity and headed up by the mean girl Dottie, played by Emma Caufield Ford (who you probably know from Buffy), and it’s there she’s introduced to a newcomer to town, “Geraldine,” who, in actuality, is the grown-up Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel, played by Teyonah Paris. She’s an agent of S.W.O.R.D., but she seems to be fully buying into the fantasy of the place — she, after all, doesn’t know why she’s there.

Whoa, spoilers!

Didn’t you read the disclaimer? Anyway, we’ve known that shit for months now, and we should keep on truckin’.

Fine.

Vision makes his way to the public library, where he’s surrounded by his neighbors and friends from work. They’re really there to goof off and eat donuts, believing they have to do so under official cover so that their hen-pecking wives don’t notice. Everybody likes Vision, even though he’s a bit of a goofball, and he decides to celebrate with some mastication.

Ew.

That’s right. Vision doesn’t eat, given that he’s a robot, but he chews a piece of Big Red that one of the men gives him. Unfortunately, he swallows it, and it gums up the works, which causes Vision to act like a drunken buffoon.

Sounds like Paul Bettany is having a lot of fun here.

He is, and I think he’s absolutely the best part of the show. He’s got an affable humor about him usually —

Unless he’s torturing and whipping himself like in The Da Vinci Code.

Well, we can blame that on Dan Brown and however much that payday was. But just think about it: he gets to do broad slapstick and he can spend most of it with a normal amount of make-up on. It’s a true win-win. But you know what’s an even greater win-win?

What?

More Lynchian surrealism! Back at the pool, Dottie and Wanda have a heart-to-heart that spirals out of control when a strange voice begins echoing over a radio perched on a nearby table. The voice belongs to former F.B.I. agent Jimmy Woo, played by Randall Park, who you’ve probably already seen in the trailers, and it seems to stir poor Dottie out of the trance she’s been put in. Then the radio shorts out, and poor Dottie smashes the glass she’s holding. She bleeds red blood, and it stuns both of them for a second, but the sitcom-verse takes over and it’s played off with a joke. And then, we get a commercial –

A commercial? I thought this was on streaming?

Yeah, it’s a fake one that’s very clearly a part of the show, and there was one in the first episode, too.

You forgot to mention that.

We all make mistakes, my guy. I’m sorry. The one in the first episode was about a Stark Industries toaster, which, according to Esquire, is actually a reference to the Stark-branded munitions that killed Wanda’s parents.

That’s dark.

Seriously, dude. It’s got some real edge to it, though the second has less of one. It’s an advertisement for a Strücker watch, which, of course, refers to the former head of Hydra who helped give Wanda and her brother Pietro powers. You can even see a little Hydra logo in the middle of the watch. Expect more like this.

Ok, so it’s like the Super Bowl: I’ll actually want to watch the commercials.

Only dumbasses say that, but, yes. You will want to watch the commercials.

Anyway, I’m going to skim over the talent show — aside from Paul Bettany being a very funny drunk, it goes about as you might think it would. Wanda and Vision go through their routine, with Vision actually performing superheroic feats despite knowing not to, and Wanda finding ways to cover for him, like, when her husband takes literal flight, she materializes a rope-and-pully system to let her audience know that it’s all a trick. Of course, they wind up winning the talent show, and the community loves them.

Hooray!

Yes, hooray. But we still have two important moments left to cover. When Wanda and Vision get home, they have a lovely little moment together where Wanda reveals to her husband that, sure enough, she’s pregnant.

But… how?

Who knows. Wanda’s reality-distorting powers have never really been illustrated well on screen — she just throws red energy balls at her enemies and stuff, but the lady can single-handedly alter the cosmos, as evidenced in the comics. Some folks think that she’s doing so right now, and you’ll find more evidence for that soon. So, she could have willed herself to be pregnant, or someone could be enhancing reality for her.

What?

You see, some people think that Mephisto might be the villain in the series.

The Bono character?

No, absolutely not. Mephisto, Marvel’s version of the devil, grants wishes at a cost. He basically annulled Spider-Man’s marriage in the comics and does lots of other evil shit. The dude might even be the centerpiece of a big event taking place in the comics soon. I’m not personally a huge fan of this theory, but whatever.

Why?

Well, I kind of liked the idea that Wanda is doing all of this herself, and that this will be her heel turn. She’s going to be in Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and a lot of folks assumed she’d be one of the villains. That would have been pretty interesting. But it’s not out of the blue that he might be involved here.

Serioulsy?

Yep. In the comics, Scarlet Witch uses his soul to craft two children, Tommy and Billy, who would later become superheroes in their own right, but not before the Lord of Lies caused them to fade away from existence.

That’s pretty sad.

It is, but it’s about to get creepy. Anyway, that’s soon interrupted by the same tree-crashing noise that disturbed them the night before. Vision strides out of the house prepared to rip the tree out of the ground, but instead, the couple watch as a man dressed in a Beekeeper’s suit climbs out of a manhole. His costume features a S.W.O.R.D. logo on the back, as honeybees swarm all over him, and it’s incredibly ominous. So ominous, in fact, that Wanda literally rewinds reality, back to the brief moment Vision and her shared before the noise startled them.

Who is he?

Nobody really knows. Some think he’s Mephisto, others he’s just a S.W.O.R.D. goon, others think he’s the bee-centric villain Swarm, other people (wrongly) think that he’s played by Tim Blake Nelson, who played the Leader in The Incredible Hulk, and, sadly, I don’t have any answers for you.

That sucks.

Yeah, but you know what doesn’t suck? Color TV, that’s what. After the rewind, the black-and-white world turns bit-by-bit into magical technicolor, and the episode ends on the couple kissing, with Jimmy Woo’s voice cracking through the happy sitcom credits music.

***

Well, that all sounds fine and good. Looks like we’re about done here.

Yep.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Uh, well, not really. I guess just that I’m looking forward to the rest of this show, and I’m looking forward to spending each week yelling at myself about it?

Great. We’ll see you all next week.

Yes, and a special thanks to Rob Bricken of io9, whose Q&A articles inspired the format of these recaps. Stay safe, everyone!