A silverscreen smokescreen – “WandaVision”

A review of episodes 1-3, spoilers ahead


Addison Etnier, Staff Writer

After 23 blockbuster films and a year-long hiatus, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) returns to screens with their first Disney+ original series. Three episodes in and “WandaVision” has already set itself apart and above most of the other entries of the MCU. The first two episodes aired Jan. 15 and every new episode airs each Friday on Disney+.

While television entries into the MCU are nothing new (hit shows include “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” “Agent Carter” and Netflix’s popular adult shows like “Daredevil”), “WandaVision” is the first to be included as a mainstream installment of the film series, with content that will hold consequence for the larger story as a whole. It stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and the Vision, respectively, in an episodic recreation of American television history while the characters realize that the reality around them is not quite what it seems. Ever since 2015’s “Age of Ultron,” which introduced the characters of Scarlet Witch and the Vision, I have been patiently waiting for a ‘House of M’-level story to showcase both Wanda’s reality-manipulation abilities and her mental instability. “WandaVision” is the delivery of that expectation.

The pilot starts without preamble with the opening theme, and the episode plays like a typical 1950’s sitcom, in full black and white. Wanda and Vision prepare their home for a dinner with Vision’s boss, there is miscommunication and nonstop hijinks, and the ending is upbeat and conclusive. It is entertaining, certainly, and the subtle references to the characters’ big-screen history is clever (with jokes like “My husband and his indestructible head” referring to how Vision was killed by Thanos the last time we saw him, and the running joke of Wanda’s peculiar behavior being related to her being from Sokovia).

However, nothing is spectacular about the episode, apart from the small teases of their unnerving reality. Wanda and Vision cannot recall how they ended up where they are, and Vision’s boss starts to choke when he asks many questions regarding their past. Wanda and Vision both freeze when this happens, and it is not until Wanda orders Vision to help the man that things return to normal and he does not even remember the violence that just occurred. It is a seed planted in both the viewer and the character’s mind that there are bigger things to come besides the seemingly fairytale life that is unfolding.

Episode two is styled more like “Bewitched.” It is sassier than the first episode, and the story follows Wanda integrating herself in society as they prep for a community talent show while Vision suffers some malfunctions due to swallowing gum. Both characters meet some new characters, and there are some lighthearted jokes before things take a brief detour.

Early on, Wanda goes outside to investigate a mysterious sound before finding a remote-controlled helicopter that is in full color and has a logo with a sword on it. Later on, when Dottie is explaining her suspicions to Wanda, the nearby radio plays a mysterious message and the glass in Dottie’s hand shatters, cutting her hand and revealing red blood. After a moment Dottie has forgotten the incident. Wanda is on-edge about revealing their powers and reality to the people in the town. At the end, Wanda and Vision leave their house and find a beekeeper emerge from the sewer system. Wanda simply says “no,” and the event rewinds back to the previous scene. Wanda is suddenly pregnant and the world around them morphs into color. Pretty wacky stuff. Episode two is more enjoyable than the first with its wittier comedy, an expansion of characters and the leveling up of the mystery and suspense.

Episode three is my favorite so far. The actors were more expressive and the plot was furthered incredibly in just thirty minutes. The main story involves Wanda’s pregnancy, which is rapidly developing, and how her powers are going haywire because of it. Eventually, she gives birth to twins (named Billy and Tommy, just like in the comics!). The best part of the episode comes when Wanda is spending time with her newborn sons and her friend Geraldine. Wanda tells her about her deceased twin brother Pietro and sings a Sokovian lullaby. I teared up at this scene, especially since it was the first time in six years that Wanda has mentioned her brother. Geraldine then shocks Wanda by asking if he was killed by Ultron. Wanda goes menacingly emotionless as she questions her. Meanwhile, Vision is perplexed by the neighbors who imply that they are stuck in the town. He returns to Wanda and finds Geraldine gone. We cut to her being launched out of some sort of glitching pocket of air as military vehicles surround her.

From the fun and exciting first half full of silliness to the dramatic and unnerving second half, this was an exciting episode. I am thrilled by Billy and Tommy’s inclusion in the MCU, and the mystery of the people with the ‘sword’ logo including Geraldine slowly unraveling is playing out in a mysterious way. Wanda’s moments of emotional whiplash leave me excited for what is to come, especially given her involvement in next year’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” As excited as I am for the reality-warping mysteries of the series, they are pretty expected if you know anything about Scarlet Witch from the comics, or if you see an Internet post pointing out an Easter egg. However I am able to overlook this because of how well-done it is; besides, most of the viewers probably have not read the comics and thus the story unfolding will be even more exciting for them.

“WandaVision” is a spectacular series that tells its story in a way that only television can. It is an unusual show, edging more towards Fox’s  “Legion” than ABC’s “Agents of SHIELD.” Its 30-minute episodes allow it to have mostly self-contained stories that give it the feel of a classic sitcom. The use of the aspect ratio is amazing. The pilot opened in widescreen but slowly shrunk down to the aspect ratio of a box television, with the concurrent episodes in that format, though the end credits are in widescreen. I personally have always been a fan of shows that switch between aspect ratios to accentuate cinematic moments, so this was a nice touch, especially given that the show is rooted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The actors do an amazing job, with each one taking on whatever obnoxious role is needed to fit the era. Elizabeth Olsen’s performance in particular is stunning as she emotes with the era (whether it be the calming yet humorous ‘50s or the comical ‘70s) as well as centering herself in serious and dark moments as the true Wanda we know.

The ads within each episode are not anything special aside from reflecting the types of ads throughout the decades and serving as subtle Easter eggs. The first includes a reference to Stark Industries, who Wanda and her brother blamed for the attack on their home when they were younger. The second and third reference Hydra, with the second one specifically referencing Strucker, who experimented on Wanda and Pietro to activate their powers. The ads add a nice little touch of history for both television, and Wanda’s life.

The end credits are gorgeous visually and tone-wise. They match the rest of the MCU end credits perfectly, and the eerie music and haunting visuals (like the glitching wedding bands) tease the true nature of the show. Since each episode opens with fun new theme songs written by the songwriters of “Frozen,” the end credits really hit it home that the fun series is still an integral piece of the MCU.

Since the episodes are formatted like casual television episodes for the most part, it does not seem like the type of show that fans would go back and rewatch constantly like they might for “The Office” or “Avatar: the Last Airbender.” However, as a work of art in entertainment it is stunning and innovative, while also maintaining a running thread of a larger story that will certainly lead into major and larger consequences. “WandaVision” is fun, smart, funny and weird, and I look forward to this weeks’s episode.