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WandaVision Weekly: A laborious ‘Now in Color’

WandaVision
Disney+/Marvel Studios
 

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 third episode 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: So, we should probably start off by admitting that we made one mistake last week in our discussion…

Nick Johnston: One mistake? I’m pretty sure this entire series is a mistake, but go on, tell me what it is.

 

Turns out the episodes have titles, after all! The first was called “Filmed In Front of a Live Studio Audience,” the second was called “Don’t Touch That Dial,” and the third, which we’re talking about today, is called “Now in Color.”

How great would it be if it was still in black-and-white?

That might have driven a couple of die-hards batty, wouldn’t it?

 
 

Yeah, I think there’s a limit to the amount of aesthetic fuckery that both the fanbase and the format can tolerate. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but perhaps that it hasn’t been altogether well-received in the past. You want a force-of-will full of vision and vigor behind the camera? Well, you get the DCEU, and endear yourself to half of the fanbase and alienate the other to the point that the only joke some people can make about Godzilla vs. Kong after that trailer dropped is that they’ll stop fighting because they know someone named Mothra.

Hey, that was a funny joke, and it makes sense that a lot of people would think of it, given that Batman v. Superman was such a weird cultural flashpoint. But you know what they say, right? “Great minds think alike.”

“But fools rarely differ.”

What?

 
 

That’s the second half of the idiom.

You’re a jerk.

Yeah, I know.

Anyway, when are we now in the context of the show itself?

 
 

Well, as always, there are two answers to that question. As for when the current “show” is set, it’s in the late ’60s or early ’70s, based on the sideburns, afros, bell-bottoms and general decor. As far as the actual progression of time, it seems to be about roughly a day after Wanda and Vision encountered the Beekeeper outside of their suburban home, and Wanda’s pregnancy has progressed fast. She’s well into her third trimester at this point, and she’s getting big.

Octomom big?

Close, but the medical magic here is literal, not figurative. In a key lift from the comics, she’s carrying twins, though we won’t find that out until she’s on her living room floor, giving birth.

That’s the way a lot of people found out they were having twins back then.

 
 

It’s kind of like going on The Price is Right and finding out that you have to pay taxes on the car you’ve won, and you’re probably going to go into bankruptcy, but it’s better than not having the car.

You think you’d hear more about game show bankruptcies, the way you’re talking. Anyway, the plot is almost entirely pregnancy-centric, and it makes me want to go back and revisit how some of the show’s influences handled one of their leads’ pregnancies.

Right? I can only think of Full House when it comes to that, but there’s got to be more examples of that somewhere. But, yes, Wanda and Vision spend much of this episode getting ready for baby — reading manuals, setting up cribs, practicing diaper changes, and dealing with the fact that Wanda’s Braxton Hicks contractions are already shutting down the power grid and damaging the water main in Westview.

Superhero pregnancy is underrated in its capacity to terrify.

 
 

I completely agree with that, and it hasn’t been explored thoroughly in most mediums. Like, Miracleman goes into the idea of what it’s like to give birth to a superpowered child (and graphically, at that), and Larry Niven’s famous essay “Man of Steel, Women of Kleenex” discusses how hard it would be for a hero like Superman to impregnate a woman like Lois Lane and also how hard it would be for her to carry the baby to term — Niven eventually settles on Superman having to carry the child himself, which is very funny — but we rarely explore what happens when a superhero parent, especially one with a nearly-limitless power set.

That might be because superhero comics have a pretty uncomfortable relationship with sex, thanks to that Fredric Wertham guy.

Sure, but I also think it just infringes on the fantasy a bit too much. Remember, Marvel wouldn’t allow Spider-Man to stay married because he eventually got too far away from the superhero comic’s target audience and more closely resembled its actual readership: early middle-aged men struggling with their hidden ambition. And to be clear, I’m not ragging on the faithful here — it’s just an awkward experience for a 12 year old to be reading about Spidey’s mortgage.

But even then, superhero films have an issue with it too.

I mean, weren’t Batman and Steve Rogers canonically virgins, at least according to Twitter?

I think so!

 
 

And WandaVision totally elides the issue by making it magical. Kinda hard to ask how androids fuck if you’re on the corporate board of Disney and portray it if you’re not Chris Cunningham.

(Yes, we know this isn’t the right version. Yes, it is all they had on YouTube.)

But they’re aware that something’s off in the sitcom world as well. Most of the episode is them trying to conceal Wanda’s pregnancy from her neighbors.

And they do a fun conceptual thing where they have her literally summon a stork during a contraption — one that she previously had painted on to the wall in her baby’s bedroom — and she has to keep Monica Rambeau from noticing both her distended belly and the fact that there’s a goddamn stork in her house. It’s probably the best slapstick writing the show has seen to date, honestly, and, super powers aside, it felt like a bit from that era of sitcom, even if they wouldn’t have had the advent of PETA-boycott-preventing CGI.

Elisabeth Olsen and Teyonah Parris do a really good job in that scene, as well.

Yeah, everyone really stepped up this episode. Bettany is still the MVP, but everyone acquitted themselves well. I laughed as intended a few times! That bit where the neighbor starts cutting into the fence when Vision’s talking to him was pretty solid, after all.

Totally! I liked the cut-away gags, even though they did feel a bit That 70’s Show instead of The Brady Bunch.

 
 

Goddamn it.

Huh?

You are totally going to get Big Star stuck in my head all day. And that’s not a bad thing, but it’s just going to make me sad about Alex Chilton.

There are worse fates.

True that! But let’s get back to work, we’ve got babies to birth, after all.

Two beautiful, bouncing, possibly imaginary baby boys.

 
 

No thanks to the doctor that Vision rushed over there with his super-speed — most of the delivery falls upon Monica’s shoulders, which is a pretty heavy thing for a secret agent to do. Ever see Bond or Bourne deliver a child? But then we get to the end, where Kathryn Hahn comes close to spilling the beans to Vision about why they’re all in Westview, and when Wanda banishes Rambeau from from her blissful paradise/tyrannical hell.

We start to see some real integration with the wider MCU here, too.

Yeah, we get a Sokovian lullaby, which causes Wanda to mention Pietro, and sends the whole damn thing crashing down. I will say that I laughed pretty uncharitably when Parris was forced to say that dumb line about Ultron, and I don’t mean any disrespect to her by that. You could have Olivier himself read that line and it would still be tinny when it hit my ears. I think there’s a real aesthetic tension, at best, or conflict, at worst, between the MCU “reality” that awaits our characters eventually and Schaffer’s sitcom homages, and the show will really live and die on whether or not they’re able to succeed by bridging that gap.

It is a weird juxtaposition, to be sure, and it feels almost aggressive to be forced to put this show in its wider corporate context.

A lot of it is that you’re forced to buy in to the show’s fantasies, and you feel Wanda’s pain when they’re undercut from her. If there’s one truly solid aspect to WandaVision‘s construction, it’s that tension.

That feels right, especially since how the show wants to be about grief and delusion.

 
 

Again, we don’t necessarily know that Wanda is doing this herself — she certainly seems to be in charge of her universe, but Mephisto could be involved. Some people think the appearance of that bothersome stork wasn’t just a superhero pregnancy-related mishap, and that it was Mephisto in disguise, like Satan in Eden.

It might just be an Untitled Goose Game tie-in.

Ha! I hope it is. Just make the show about the stork, I say.

But there’s one thing I keep going back to — Schaeffer and Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige have stated in interviews that the chief inspiration for the show aren’t classic sitcoms but, rather, The Twilight Zone. I really think we’re starting to see that influence in this episode.

Yes, and it’s interesting that the most Twilight Zone-like developments begin when we get out of the black-and-white sphere, so that the link is less obvious. It’s pretty clear that Westview and its inhabitants are trapped in their own version of “It’s a Good Life,” and instead of a little Bill Mumy with God-like powers sending these townspeople out to the cornfield when they misbehave, they get banished back to the Real World that Wanda so desperately wants to escape.

It’s also the best part of Twilight Zone: The Movie, but you already know that.

Second best. As much as I love Joe Dante, George Miller runs away with that film.

I disagree.

Well, it’s healthy to disagree with yourself sometimes. But, look, it still is an interesting ask for us to have sympathy for the devil here: Wanda’s clearly either the antagonist or a party in whatever their scheme is. Serling and Jerome Bixby, the writer of the original story that the episode is based on, clearly have their sympathies with the people trapped under the young man’s thumb, with a cognizance that a power like that can’t be wielded justly even if the wielder intends to do good things with it. Here, well, we’re seeing Wanda’s interpretation of events, and it is skewed to her vision of domestic, suburban bliss. It would be like watching “It’s a Good Life” from the child’s perspective, without the added understanding that the adults are humoring Mumy’s character out of fear or reprisal, unintentional or otherwise.

As you mentioned last time, it is a little out of left-field for Wanda to do this all, given how little characterization she’s received in the films. She never had the benefit of a full-length feature until now, and I wonder if that lack of vision (ha ha) is coming around to hurt them.

Yeah, we don’t have any other context for Mumy’s actions — he’s just a kid, and part of the terror is that we’re supposed to recognize how horrifying it would be to be in that environment, no matter who the child in charge is. In contrast, we’ve mostly only seen Wanda as a benevolent force — her team-up with Ultron going up in flames once she realizes what’s going on — and sure, she’s currently grieving but she’s now enslaved an entire town to enact her fantasies. Kinda weird!

Certainly! Any other final thoughts before you banish me back to the cornfield of your mind?

Only one. I do think the term “Lynchian” has become a catch-all for “vaguely weird shit happening in a suburban location,” and I promise to do better in the future with my comparisons — honestly I’m only going to pull it out of the toolbox from now on when it truly calls for it, like when one’s reviewing a David Lynch film. That said, I was intending to suggest that the Disney version of his aesthetic — beyond when he’s doing The Straight Story, of course — is lacking in almost every single thing that makes his work worthwhile beyond a surface weirdness. It’s the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not David Lynch” compared to the real Lynch’s butter. A better comparison really would be “Too Many Cooks,” which I think holds more in common with WandaVision than we might want to admit.

Hey, don’t you talk shit about “Too Many Cooks.” I seem to recall someone being mortally terrified when they watched that because of how it disrupted the peace of the sitcom environment.

Man, shut up. Oh, once again, apologies to Rob Bricken, and stay safe out there!

See you next week for “Episode 4,” folks.