Spoiler alert: This blog is for people watching WandaVision on Disney+. Do not read on unless you have watched episodes one to six.
Though the main influence this week is Malcolm in the Middle, Halloween episodes have become a mainstay for American sitcoms that are trying to find funny stories for 22 episodes a year – it’s nice to have a reliable option right there on the calendar. Roseanne and Modern Family always made the most of the chance to dress everyone up. Comedy and horror share basically the same rhythm, after all.
The delight of Wanda in a cheesy version of her already cheesy comics costume, and Vision with his perfectly wonky “mind stone”, never goes away over this half-hour-minus-credits. More troubling is Agnes’s witch outfit: while the ongoing theory had this as just another marker of the nosy neighbour being a part of the bigger story, here her (apparently) true nature is revealed and … she’s scared?!
Might our assumed Agatha Harkness be less than we predicted? Just a local witch, stuck like everyone else and trying her best to help?
One thing’s for sure, if Evan Peters is playing the X-Men version of Quicksilver he’s sure not leaning into the same characterisation. Through the WandaVision lens Pietro might be the traditional “annoying older brother/uncle”, all leather jacket and couch-surfing, he’s insightful and compassionate in a way that Peters has never got to play before.
It’s a canny story choice to make Pietro the person who can talk to Wanda about the fiction all around them without incurring her wrath. When Vision got close, he got shoved off to work without knowing it, then tempers rose as Wanda tried to roll the credits on their argument.
Here, Pietro chats over the WandaVision situation – how everyone’s a version of themselves, how the kids of Westview are only released occasionally and Wanda seems relieved to have someone to share it with. (Did Wanda essentially get the children to safety, make them sleep, to protect them from whatever really caused all this?)
In theory Vision and Pietro have a similar deal – both have died (and Wanda’s seen both in shocking corpse-o-vision), both revived in Westview, both loved by Wanda. But where Wanda’s trying to protect Vision from the truth, Pietro seems to be part of the lie, and thus she barely fights him. She seems glad to have someone to talk to about this at last.
In a cheaper show one might put the recasting of Quicksilver down to cost and scheduling – if Aaron Taylor-Johnson was unavailable, Peters is a perfect alternate for a show already playing with tropes. (Cost would also explain why we only get one clip of Taylor-Johnson after they were studiously avoided during last week’s recap of Wanda’s youth.) But it’s hard to believe budget’s much of an obstacle here and it’s easy to see why fan theory would have Pietro as, say, a version of Wanda’s brother pulled from another dimension.
Maybe the whole of Marvel’s fourth phase is going to rely on specific multiverse alternates. J Jonah Jameson already popped in from the Sam Raimi Spider-Mans in Far From Home, the sequel for which has revealed other multiverse casting – such as Jamie Foxx’s Electro from the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man universe. Maybe Shang Chi will fight an alternate Mandarin rather than Trevor “toast of Croydon” Slattery, and perhaps Jane Foster’s already been Thor for years in her universe before Love and Thunder.
Wiccan and Speed
The first glimmers of characterisation come through for Billy (dorky kid) and Tommy (cool kid) after their time as standard identical kids, and with their Halloween outfits and first uses of the powers one suspects their teenage personas are not far off.
A crowdpleasing Marvel move is to unveil an extra superhero in the latter stages of a story. It’s how Falcon hid in plain sight during The Winter Soldier, how Vision himself showed up for the last act of Age of Ultron – hell, it’s how Pepper arrived as Rescue at the end of Endgame. Might we expect the superpowered twins to come into their own in time for the big fight brewing at the end of WandaVision?
Also part of this little stockpile of set-ups is Monica, whose medical tests suggest her Photon persona is not far off. Though given that this is apparently down to passing through the barrier twice we should probably worry about every soldier who just got zapped as Wanda expanded its perimeter …
Episode writers Chuck Hayward and Peter Cameron did a strong job this week with the nightmare-sitcom story – the conflict of Wanda lying to Vision, and thus Vision lying in return as he sneaks off to investigate the town, meshes perfectly with a sitcom marriage in crisis.
Likewise the distrust of a long-lost brother is textbook, so the added layer of “Why do you look different?” slots splendidly into WandaVision’s uncanny experience. And note how Vision is still sticking to the sitcom rules – only revealing his true form when it’s safe to do so.
Meanwhile the “Kids, can’t control them” theory we were all kicking around last week has become a simple fact of this episode, something Pietro is already on top of. The storytelling is bang in sync with the viewer, which makes the slow burn pace feel alive rather than frustrating.
That said, the ending feels rather abrupt and change-free – “Wanda makes the barrier bigger” is no “Monica was cast out into the real world” or “How the hell is her brother here?!” In theory a conflict has begun in earnest, but in practice it plays more like the status quo just expanded a bit.
The Agents of SWORD side of the show is generally less thrilling despite this technically being the story where our gang go rogue. Things escalate on the SWORD side of the fence because … well, because Hayward says they should. And while this is presented as a deliberate choice, it can’t help but feel like a cheat to get the pieces in place for the final act.
“Get them off my base!” Hayward yells, meaning the only three people who have had any success in figuring out what’s going on here. Hayward is apparently with Michael Gove when it comes to experts. But when the experts are being wedged into their stock roles so abruptly, even splitting up for nebulous reasons, it’s hard to blame him.
Moving the “agents” into their “outlaw” phase felt inevitable, but it didn’t have to be executed that way. “Hayward you sneaky bastard,” Darcy says while hacking SWORD’s files as if it’s especially devious for the head of such an organisation to protect his digital data. And Woo and Rambeau’s fisticuffs are oddly perfunctory. It’s hard to argue that these easily dispatched soldiers were a homage to The A-Team.
There’s also a lot of work being done to try to bond Monica with Wanda without the chance to give them scenes together. Since the characters had no relationship before WandaVision, and only a magically altered one within it, this has been a stretch. Using “both have experienced loss” has proved a solid foundation, but also feels like a strange way to make them exceptional in a world affected by The Snap.
(This is a bigger Marvel problem than WandaVision can take on alone, of course. Where Thor and Iron Man arrived in a world that was essentially our own, the loss of half the population, and their weird return five years later, makes this officially Not Our Earth. Going forward, the MCU needs to be careful not to become so peculiar as to lose casual viewers.)
Where the SWORD trio triumph is empathy. Monica’s insistence that she and Wanda understand each other might be as much wishful thinking as fact, but it makes her endearingly compassionate. And check out Darcy’s response to Vision in pain – done in the grand tradition of cinema’s great “You’re killing him!!” scenes, this is the most heartbreaking moment so far.
Once again, Darcy is us. And I’m excited to see her next week as a fan inside her favourite show – complete with WandaVision sitcom persona.