Spoiler alert: This blog is for people watching WandaVision on Disney+. Do not read on unless you have watched episodes one to four.
Episode four is all about offering up a decent smattering of answers – gratification has been delayed for 90 minutes and that’s quite long enough. Streaming shows that save this stuff for later seasons and pad out the middle (hello Apple TV+’s Servant) please take note.
The canny move here is to connect the reveals to new protagonists, to make sure all information comes via a point of view. First up is Monica Rambeau, whose mum apparently took their alien adventures in Captain Marvel as inspiration to set up SWORD.
The efficiency of the storytelling is impressive, and all the better for us experiencing it as Monica does: we see her erased in Thanos’s “Snap” from Avengers: Infinity War, and returned five years later by the Hulk’s from Endgame. In her five-year absence, her mother (Maria, who we met in Captain Marvel) has died. It’s a fast-track to empathy and you’re already on Monica’s side by the time we reach SWORD.
And pretty swiftly WandaVision is back to doing what it does best: unsettling curiosity. Nothing like a cop insisting a town doesn’t exist while standing next to a Westview sign to bring the creepiness. (Interestingly, the town seems to work in a manner akin to Storybrook in Disney’s sometimes brilliant fairytales-in-reality show Once Upon a Time.)
There’s a weird backwards moment where Monica sends a drone into Westview before even knowing there’s an energy field present – one might have expected the cops to drive off and vanish on the road, prompting the use of a drone – but once she’s found it, she’s sucked right in. Monica, if you were willing to touch anything you found with your bare hands, what was the point of the drone?
Episode four is a relay race, with protagonists passing the baton so the story can pour out. It’s lovely to see Ant Man and the Wasp’s buoyant Jimmy Woo again (Randall Park has a sitcom pedigree of his own with Fresh off the Boat and Veep).
For a series about magic (of course they played Voodoo Child) Jimmy is a sweetly appropriate choice. Last time we saw him he was learning card tricks from Scott Lang, and he’s kept that up with some business card sleight of hand.
“The universe created a sitcom starring two Avengers?” Jimmy asks, and one can’t help but wonder what was going on inside Westview before these guys started picking up the signal. Were there radio sitcom episodes with a 40s setting? Did this begin as live theatre? (And what happens in the town after the credits roll?!)
The best thing about Thor: The Dark World returns to science up the place. Writers Bobak Esfarjani and Megan McDonnell keep the relay race going by handing the baton to audience insert Kat Dennings (from sitcom 2 Broke Girls). And oh boy, do we feel seen.
Why is the show jumping sitcom eras? “Can’t be purely for me, can it?” Darcy asks. But the key line is: “Has that happened before, a reference to our reality?” Darcy is watching the show right along with us, and obsessing over the same details.
On the SWORD whiteboard are the very questions we have: “Why hexagonal shape? Why sitcoms? Same time and space? Is Vision alive?” Expect answers to all of these, and – since WandaVision is in the business of audience satisfaction rather than infuriation – expect them long before the finale.
Characters can be locked in quickly if you meet them the right way, and our first minutes with Darcy see her breaking the rules in the back of a van before outsmarting everyone around her to get to the answers, and all the time fascinated by the oddness. We didn’t know those were her hands in the foreground when we first saw someone watching WandaVision on TV, but it’s a relief to know it’s her.
This week, we left Wanda’s POV until the end, and the downside of the implied threat of SWORD turning into the reassuring presence of Monica, Darcy and Jimmy is … well, then where’s our threat coming from? And here the show pivots to Wanda in a choice that, in the short-term, is going to be pretty upsetting.
Darcy hands the narrative baton to Wanda in the final moments – episode four essentially runs parallel to episodes one to three, so we’re catching up on the same ending again – and our worst suspicions are confirmed: Wanda is, at some level, “doing this”.
My concern now is that Wanda will become the villain of her own story. With kids and a revived Vision to protect, she looks to be in a very dark place. Thus a male hero’s concern in Endgame – Tony’s refusal to travel in time unless his life with a wife and daughter be undone – becomes a female concern and, potentially, one that leads to bad things. This is an oft-cited concern about the comics’ handling of Wanda and it’s going to need a deft hand not to make the same “hysterical woman” mistakes.
(Along with Iron Man, by all means line this up next to Buffy violently attacking her friends to keep her hallucinated life in a mental hospital because her mum was there, versus Lister in Red Dwarf being simply gently reluctant to leave a dreamworld because his lost love was there.)
Remember Age of Ultron? Wanda’s very first major power was the ability to create dreamlike visions. Those scenes combine with Wanda and Vision’s first “couple” scenes in Infinity War to create a sort of “pilot” for WandaVision: a love story tossed around by superhero circumstance with a dreamweaver at its core.
No question, when we see Wanda eject Monica that’s some scary stuff from Elizabeth Olsen. “I have everything under control.” Oh shit. How did this get started? She probably tried to resurrect Vision. Her brief “hallucination” of Vision’s dead grey face is legitimately horrifying.
The anxiety that Wanda might go full-on villain is balanced by a simple structural fact: this is episode four. We have more than half the series to go and the most likely outcome is that Wanda might have to snap out of her current state, but not before taking down a bigger Marvel villain. One suspects Agnes (very likely Agatha Harkness) is behind more than we yet realise – which means a middle with a wavering Wanda before she grabs control of her own story (told you that baton was important) and rises out of her fugue to stop something worse.
What should we watch tonight?
Discovering that the WandaVision show-within-the-show is lankily “edited for content” will resonate with anyone who’s tried to watch classic sitcoms on a UK TV channel.
As we noted in week one, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s emphasis on character made the move to sitcom a surprisingly natural one. (Nowhere is this more clear than in the Office-style One Shot by Taika Waititi, Team Thor.) With its leads forever replaced in a new-but-also-familiar set-up, WandaVision also echoes The Good Place, making this Vision’s metaphorical afterlife. The question, “Where do we belong?” is apparently on the culture’s mind right now.
Still, we should mark the passing of the all-sitcoms, all-the-time mode of WandaVision – turns out we have to wait for versions of Roseanne, Mad About You and Modern Family, and likely they’ll be a lesser part of the show going forward now that we know what “reality” – the one with superheroes – looks like.
What if Marvel shows did this with other styles? Falcon and the Winter Soldier in the style of The A-Team – blowing things up but killing nobody – or Moon Knight doing the under-lit sexy creep of The X-Files.
Still, talking of telly formats: Isn’t it funny how much we use the timeline indicator on digital players? We know how much of an episode there is to go and marry that to our understanding of what the show is doing. With that in mind, what’s with every episode running full movie-style credits for six minutes?! Throwing our internal clocks right off as we watch – surely some of those FX teams haven’t even had their work in the show yet?