Culture Trips

WandaVision episode five: recasting hints at X-citement to come | Television & radio

Spoiler alert: This blog is for people watching WandaVision on Disney+. Do not read on unless you have watched episodes one to five.

She recast Pietro?!

When people asked me how many movies they needed to see to follow WandaVision, I would foolishly answer “None, really. They’re superheroes trapped in a sitcom. You’ll get it.” And while Darcy Lewis remains on hand to explain the lore so everything remains accessible, it’s hard to imagine “Evan Peters is playing Quicksilver!” working for anyone unfamiliar with not just the MCU, but also Fox’s X-Men-verse.

Darcy
Darcy Lewis and Jimmy Woo have helped explain the plot – but even they’ll struggle with the appearance of Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, from another universe of Marvel films. Photograph: Chuck Zlotnick

Unspoken recasting is, of course, “one of those things we did in the 80s” – though it’s also something the MCU sometimes does, as with Iron Man’s pal Rhodey. Here the sibling swap evokes the likes of Lecy Goranson/Sarah Chalke playing Becky on Roseanne. (A recasting the show itself became increasingly playful with.) If this isn’t the start of a Marvel multiverse, it’s certainly a joke about doing one.

In all the excitement about recast Quicksilver showing up at the door, don’t miss the implication that this wasn’t the same as Wanda trying to end a row by rolling the credits – someone else rang the bell, someone sent Pietro here. Someone wants this reality to carry on …

For those playing along at home

Like figuring out the modern blockbuster, it’s impressive how well Marvel have figured out the modern TV show. Weekly releases keep the cultural conversation about WandaVision at a high, and the tease/satiate rhythm is near perfect – just as something becomes a frustration, it’s brought to a climax and we move along. Wanda’s creeping awareness of SWORD this week became declared hostility. Next time she’ll break more than just a drone.

That cultural conversation is surely to the benefit of the show. While I’m sat here making sense of how the show functions, YouTube, TikTok, geek sites and podcasts are having a blast following the clues and concocting theories.

Seriously, it’s crazy out there. One date mentioned is being tracked to a witch trial. Someone spotted four clocks that could be spelling out “X-Men” in semaphore. Comics villain Mephisto is on his way. Possibly. Toby Jones’ Arnim Zola is alive in Vision’s workplace computer company. If you squint. Captain Marvel cut her hair in solidarity with Maria Rambeau’s chemotherapy. Honestly, the only sad thing in all this fun is realising there’s a bunch of young people out there with no idea what CRT pixels look like. (“Is that the same pattern as JARVIS …?” Oh just chop me down and count the rings.)

It’s like Lost without the anxiety – because we know this is a one-series deal with a definite ending in mind. The show has made clear how important resolutions are by getting to them quickly and delivering satisfaction along with adorable characters and hints of what’s next to ponder. So we feel safe to get swept up in what Alan Moore referred to as the Koch Snowflake – infinite wrinkles of guesswork and research within the finite space of the subject.

Oh, go on then: “I know an aerospace engineer who’d be up for this challenge.” Surely not Reed Richards of the Fantastic 4…?!

Agents of S.W.O.R.D.

The title sequence is most directly a parody of Family Ties, but if you were thinking Growing Pains or Perfect Strangers nobody would blame you. And the brand reference in the advert this week is to Lagos, Nigeria where Wanda inadvertently killed civilians during an Avengers mission – by all means see the paper towels as a metaphor for the Sokovia Accords, trying to mop up that mess.

Characters chatting about the events of Endgame – “Wanda could have taken out Thanos on her own if he hadn’t initiated a blitz”/“I’d argue Captain Marvel came close”– suggests that not only have they been watching WandaVision, but they caught the highlights reel of the Avengers’ most recent battle. Maybe they bought the 4K box set with the plastic case and signed letter from Kevin Feige.

I’ve seen people hoping for a Darcy Lewis/Jimmy Woo Marvel procedural show after this, but that seems to misunderstand the mode WandaVision is working in. Cutting between a procedural and a mystical sitcom in a story designed to conclude is a dynamic game, toying with the tropes of both. It creates tensions. Having a SWORD spin-off would be … well, doing Agents of Shield or Agent Carter again. Part of the success of WandaVision’s get-togethers is that they will end. As Vision once said: “A thing is not beautiful because it lasts.”

Did you really not see what I saw?

Wandavision
‘The sitcom part of WandaVision is struggling to function on its own’. Photograph: Chuck Zlotnick

WandaVision is now two shows combined: a 2:35 real-world superhero procedural, and a regular widescreen TV sitcom. Never mind that 80s sitcoms were still going out in 4:3 – let’s just say this was remastered from the original film elements for HD streaming and reruns.

Meanwhile the episode length is creeping up – without those endless credits, episode one was a mere 22 minutes; now we’re at 35. This is a huge advantage of streaming TV: your episode can be the exact length it needs to be, no padding or crushing to fit a broadcast slot. (Since we’re on Disney+, try rewatching Agent Carter – you could hack eight minutes out of any episode and lose nothing.)

As with episode three, though, the sitcom part of WandaVision is struggling to function on its own. The muddier waters created by this strange unreality have made the stakes of the situation comedy harder to make work. Does it matter if we use magic on the babies? Does it matter if the dog gets away?

Note how the jokes in Vision’s workplace are now about knowing that this is the past. That these are old, archaic computers. It’s a subtle shift, but the sitcom – under episode writers Peter Cameron and Mackenzie Dohr – is now aware of itself as an outsider, an oddity. Agnes might be worried about missing a cue, but she’s clearly not bothered by the kids turning 10 overnight.

Maybe this was inevitable now there’s a war going on between realities. The dog’s not a dog, it’s a metaphor for Vision’s body. The issue of magic isn’t about the sitcom, it’s about Wanda keeping secrets from her husband – and, not unlike Roseanne, the real power is when husband and wife reach a big argument and danger bubbles up, killing the audience laughter dead. “What aren’t you telling me?”

It’s funny, actually, that when Friends did a missing animal plot – with Marcel the monkey – that too was used as a way to interrogate the problems of the show’s main romantic couple. But there it forced the pair together to realise their conflicts; here, Vision doesn’t even know about the lost dog and the conflict comes after everyone’s home again.

Still, I’m always here for Vision doing John Goodman-like playfulness, phasing dummies into his robotic non-ears. And Elizabeth Olsen is doing, ahem, wonders adjusting her performance meticulously to each era, and to a whole other level outside the Hex as she faces down a gorgeous green spider’s web of laser sights.

To love some body

It looks like Monica Rambeau is about to discover SWORD, and her boss Tyler Hayward, aren’t the goodest of guys. Bad enough Hayward wants to dismiss Wanda as simply a radicalised terrorist and allocate her a nickname to dehumanise her – worse that, from the video Hayward foolishly shows, what Wanda actually stole wasn’t the body of Vision … but the body parts of the lovable synthezoid.

Monica
Is Monica Rambeau starting to realise that SWORD may not be the good guys? Photograph: Suzanne Tenner

Since Vision died in more or less one piece, this clunky and exposing info-dump scene suggests SWORD were doing weapon research on the corpse – against what we are told were Vision’s express wishes. If we were looking for the incident that drove Wanda to do what she is doing, we may just have found it.

As hoped, it looks like this is going beyond the comics’ male-driven take on Wanda and interrogating the “hysterical woman” trope rather than just doing it. The desecration of Vision’s body by a man seeking to dehumanise his targets may be the real cause of the trouble here. Can you really blame her for a case of the red eyes if they’ve been trying to weaponise her lost love?

Of course, we’re also looking at a Wanda who reverts to her original Sokovian accent when “being the villain”. So that whole “foreign = bad” trope is still lurking around. The unsettling nature of the TV Americana balances this out, but I’m wary of “American idyll gets unsettled by a foreign witch” – that’s Hayward-type thinking.

Elsewhere, Monica suggests Wanda protected her life when ejecting her from Westview, and is quarantining the area, protecting the population beyond the Hex. So it’s still possible that this is as much about Wanda containing a threat (from Agnes?) as creating one …

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