Note: Welcome back to our episode-by-episode exploration of WandaVision. There are spoilers up ahead; this article assumes you’ve seen up through the third episode.
When Avengers (2012) came out, I naturally got a whole mess of questions from people about who these characters were and what they were all about. A few had some rough familiarity with the comics. Most had none. One friend, educated and insanely intelligent, knew of Thor not from the comics but from the actual Norse mythology he’d read. “How is it,” this friend asked, “that these mortal heroes are the equal of Thor?”
My answer was simple. “They aren’t. None of them are the equal of Thor. All of the other Avengers put together aren’t the equal of Thor. They’re mortal people in costumes; Thor is the God of Thunder.”
Not a bad answer, given what I knew then, but time and experience have reavealed the flaw in it. My 2012 answer assumed that the Thor of the comics and the Thor of the movies were roughly the same character, and they’re not.
The Thor of the comics is the the son of Odin the All-Father; a figure of unparalleled might, majesty, and grandeur. The Thor of the movies is a genial, incredibly handsome doofus, more King of Queens than Prince of Asgard. The MCU in general has a tendency to reduce and de-mythologize its subjects.
We’ll come back to this idea of demythologizing and comics vs. movies in a future post. I’m bringing the subject up here because now is as good a time as any to admit that much of my convoluted prognosticating for where this series might be going is based on a lifetime spent marinating in a
rich toxic stew of Marvel Comics geekhood (there’s a reason this blog is called the opposite of cool, after all). It’s a perspective that informs and misleads, all at the same time.
The Dottie as Enchantress theory, for instance? That’s based on the fear and trepidation with which Agnes regards Dottie (which itself depends on Agnes being who I think she is); the coven of witches always hovering around; the starkly feminine sway Dottie holds over the town; and the flurry of terms evoking dread and divinity that are associated with her. That theory depends entirely upon my preconceptions concerning Asgardians, who may be gods in the comics, but are apparently just funky space people from the planet Studio 54 in the movies…which kind of blows the whole Dottie idea out of the water.
Like its predecessors, WandaVision ep.3 — now in color, and on a Brady Bunch set — offers more questions than answers. The episode seems to take place with one foot in reality and one foot out of it. Wanda and the Vision seem to be aware, for instance, that last week’s episode took place, for them, literally hours ago, but never remark on the fact that they’re now living in a completely different house in a different era.
The town doctor confirms Wanda’s pregnancy, which is accelerating rapidly. The Vision calculates that they have three days’ time before Wanda is due, but this turns out to be in error. When Wanda’s water breaks (signified by an indoor rain shower!), the Vision leaves to retrieve the doctor. While he’s gone, Geraldine arrives, and after some stork-related hijinx, Wanda gives birth to Tommy, the first of two twins. The Vision and the doctor arrive shortly after, as does Billy, the second of the twins. The Vision sees the doctor out, and is given a cryptic warning about Geraldine by neighbors Agnes and Herb, while inside, Wanda and Geraldine have an increasingly tense and unpleasant conversation. When the Vision gets back inside, Geraldine is gone; Wanda tells him she had to rush home. The episode ends with a glimpse into ‘real life’: a ‘Welcome to Westview’ sign at night, with Geraldine expelled from some sort of energy effect into a field near what looks like a cross between Area 51 and a temporary military base. Helicopters and military vehicles arrive to retrieve the dazed Geraldine, still in her 70’s outfit. The camera pulls back to show an energy zone bound by what look like stadium lights, presumably Westview. Roll credits to the Monkees’ ‘Daydream Believer.’
Let’s roll around in the muck, shall we?
- Opening credits and set design suggest The Brady Bunch (1969 – 1974), with maybe a touch of The Patridge Family (1970 – 1974) thrown in for good measure. TV history is not a strong point for me, I’m sorry to say, so if you, gentle reader, recognize other influences at work in this episode, I hope you’ll let me know.
- We should take a moment to recognize the versatile camera work being done on this series. British cinematographer Jess Hall, probably best known for Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007), did all nine episodes of WandaVision. A lot of what you see here, evoking the shows and techniques of different eras, with every episode so far completely different than the one before it and the one after it, can be attributed to Hall. Pretty bad-assed.
- Most of the episode, until the very end, is shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which are the dimensions your television would’ve been in the early 1970’s.
- In keeping with this episode’s general theme of breaching boundaries and keeping secrets, we see Wanda and the Vision’s neighbor Herb using his hedge trimmer to cut through the low yellow wall separating their respective properties. When the Vision points out that Herb might have taken his hedge trimming a little too far, Herb allows that it’s true…and keeps right on cutting through the wall.
- Similar to last week’s reality adjustment, there’s another curious rewind / edit effect that happens here. Wanda tells the Vision that with all the close calls they’ve been having, it seems the people of Westview are always on the verge of discovering their secret. “I know what you mean,” says the Vision. “Mr. and Mrs. Hart, dinner. Outside with Herb. I think something’s wrong here, Wanda.” And then we’re ‘edited’ back to the Vision saying, “I know what you mean.” Reality gets rewound, rebooted, and the conversation from there switches tracks and goes in another direction entirely.
- Another in-universe commercial, this one for Hydra Soak Luxury Bath Powder, and it might be the single most revealing thing in this episode.
- Narrator: “Do you need a break?”
Woman: “You read my mind!”
Narrator: “Escape to a world all your own, where your problems float away. When you want to get away, but you don’t want to go anywhere. Hydra Soak. Find the goddess within!” Uh huh.
- The Vision has super-speed powers, like the Flash (or Quicksilver!) in this episode, and I’ve no idea what that’s about. The Vision has never, in any medium I’m aware of, been shown to possess super-speed powers. I’m not sure if this is a way of showing the malleability of this pocket reality or dimension we’re in; whether it’s a nod to the eventual powers of one of these twins (trust me, it’s a whole thing); or whether the show-runners just don’t understand what the Vision does or how he works. Weird.
- Wanda Maximoff gave birth to twins Thomas and William in Vision and the Scarlet Witch #12, Sep 1986.
- “I don’t think we’ll get away after all,” says Doctor Nielson ruefully. “Small towns. So hard to escape.”
- Herb and Agnes tell the Vision that Geraldine is new in town. “No family,” says Agnes. “No husband. No home.” When the Vision asks for clarification, Agnes stops Herb from saying more.
- Wanda mentions to Geraldine that she too was a twin. She had a brother, Pietro. Geraldine, as if just awakening or realizing something: “He was killed by Ultron, wasn’t he?”He was, back in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). When Wanda presses her — “What did you say just now?” — Geraldine repeatedly attempts to gaslight her.
- “Hey, I’ll take a shift rocking the babies.”
“No, I think you should leave.”
“Oh, Wanda, don’t be like that.”
- Wanda notices Geraldine’s necklace with its sword symbol. “What is that?” Geraldine seems surprised and dismayed to see it hanging around her neck. “Who are you?” says Wanda. Geraldine stumbles over her answer, which one might well do when faced with a woman who could conceivably erase your entire existence at will. Not just kill you, but make it so you never existed at all. In that moment, Wanda has left the building, and Geraldine’s left dealing with the Scarlet Witch. Not a good place to be.
- Note the aspect ratio switch in the final scene from 4:3 to what looks to my untrained eye like 21:9. It’s a nice touch, something that tells us we’re dealing with an entirely different reality or environment from the rest of the epsiode.
- The Monkees’ ‘Daydream Believer’ was released in 1968, and it’s a good thematic fit here.
So…to this point, I believe I’ve identified at least two, maybe four, major players here, not including Wanda and the Vision themselves:
- S.W.O.R.D.Which stands, gentle reader, for Sentient World Observation and Response Department
- Agnes / Agatha Harkness
- A.I.MThat’s Advanced Idea Mechanics to us!
- Dottie / The Enchantress
The thing that’s throwing me with these major players is that, in the comics at least, no one of them has any affiliation or alliance with any of the others.
S.W.O.R.D. deals with threats from outer space, aliens and the like. I’m not seeing where or why they’d have any interest in Wanda or the Vision one way or the other.
Assuming Agnes is Agatha Harkness and she’s anything like she is in the comics, she’d be on Wanda’s side. Mentor, friend, and protector. She wouldn’t have anything to do with S.W.O.R.D. or A.I.M.; she might not have ever even heard of them.
A.I.M. is a group of mad scientist techno-terrorists; I can see them maybe having some interest in the Vision, but Wanda?
And the Enchantress, well…assuming there’s a connection there with Dottie, the Enchantress isn’t on anyone’s side but the Enchantress’s. She doesn’t have friends. She has pawns and minions and acquantainces of convenience, but friends? Allies? Not so much.
I’ve narrowed down my overall theories about what’s going on to two main variants:
A. What we’re seeing is a pocket reality created by Wanda Maximoff, and someone, S.W.O.R.D. or A.I.M., is trying their level best to limit this pocket reality’s spread. Arguments for this variant include the presence of the Vision, who, I’ll remind you, was stone cold dead the last time we saw him.
B. What we’re seeing is a pocket reality created by someone else in which Wanda is trapped. Possible reasons for this might be to manipulate Wanda’s powers for nefarious purposes, and / or to get their hands on any children or offspring she might produce (for the children!). Arguments for this variant include the man’s voice from the radio: “Wanda? Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?”
In either variant, I don’t think things are going entirely to plan. I imagine most of the townspeople might be S.W.O.R.D. agents, but Agnes? Dottie? What looks like an A.I.M. guy crawling up from the sewer? Geraldine and what feels like her impromptu (and possibly unauthorized) insertion? None of that looks planned to me. Whoever’s running this Westview show — or trying to run it — is riding a tiger with no clear way to get off it.
You’ve almost certainly never heard of it, and I strongly doubt the showrunners have either, but in the 1980’s, Alan MooreOne of the giants of the comics world, Moore’s writing credits include Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Watchmen. For my money, ‘The … Continue reading wrote a series called Miracle Man, published by Eclipse Comics, about a Captain Marvel-like hero: normal guy speaks his magic word — Shazam! — and turns into a super version of himself. In this story, a mad scientist fellow named Emil Gargunza has managed to reverse-engineer some alien body-swapping technology / wizardry, and apply it to some young men and boys (and a girl) that he’s kidnapped. To keep them pliable, Gargunza hooks them up to a kind of alternate reality, what he calls a “somatic inducer,” and feeds them programmed stories.
And like what I think we’re seeing in WandaVision, it all goes swimmingly…
…until it doesn’t.
See you next week.
|↑1||He was, back in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).|
|↑2||Which stands, gentle reader, for Sentient World Observation and Response Department|
|↑3||That’s Advanced Idea Mechanics to us!|
|↑4||One of the giants of the comics world, Moore’s writing credits include Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Watchmen. For my money, ‘The Anatomy Lesson,’ Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, Feb 1984, written by Moore, with art by Steve Bissette (pencils), John Totleben (inks), and Tatjana Wood (colors) is the best single-issue comic book ever produced.|