Note: Welcome back to our episode-by-episode exploration of WandaVision. As always, there are spoilers ahead; this article assumes you’ve seen up through the sixth episode.
Unless someone out in the world knows something I don’t, we appear to have skipped the 90’s altogether: WandaVision‘s sitcom model in episode 6 is Malcolm in the Middle (2000 – 2006), notable for breaking the fourth wall — the eponymous Malcolm would speak to the audience directly — and for its general air of surreal oddity. Matt Shakman captures Malcolm’s aesthetic so perfectly that I was a little surprised to find him not listed among the series’ directors.
The lyrics of the Malcolm-ish opening theme and title cards this week match the trajectory and function of specific characters in Wanda’s sitcom:
Don’t try to fight the chaos
Don’t question what you’ve done (Wanda)
That game can try to play us
Don’t let it stop the fun!
Some days it’s all confusion
Easy come and easy go
What if it’s all illusion? (Vision)
Sit back, enjoy the show!
Let’s keep it going!
Let’s keep it going!
Through each distorted day! (Agnes, Billy, and Thomas)
Let’s keep it going!
Let’s keep it going!
Though there may be no way of knowing
Who’s coming by to play (Pietro)
It’s Halloween in Westview. Billy tells us directly that it’s “a magical holiday, that’s all about family, friends, and the thrill of getting to be someone else for the day,” which pretty much describes the theme and events we’ll see in this episode. Tommy, the self-proclaimed cool twin, disagrees, saying it’s all about candy and scaring people (but mostly candy).
The boys’ uncle, Pietro, is still asleep on the couch at four in the afternoon (a worshipful Tommy says Pietro even snores cool). The boys wake him up, and Pietro chases them around, causing a ruckus and mimicking a Psycho stabbing.
Wanda enters, descending the stairs in a classic Scarlet Witch costume. Billy asks if she’s supposed to be Old Red Riding Hood; Wanda tells him she’s a Sokovian fortune teller, which Pietro derides as lame: “Worse than the costumes mom made us the year we got typhus.”
A really funny flashback is inserted here, showing Wanda and Pietro as children back in dismal, war-torn Sokovia, trick or treating and getting a dead fish instead of candy. The automatic gunfire in the background is a particularly nice touch. “That’s not exactly how I remember it,” says Wanda.
“Mom’s been weird since Uncle Pietro got here,” Billy tells us in an aside.
The Vision enters in a version of his own classic costume.
“Never told me much about your brother,” the Vision says to Wanda, observing Pietro and the boys playing a video game. “I had no idea he’d be so…”
He watches Pietro teach the boys to shotgun cans of soda.
“…great with kids,” the Vision finishes, giving a sardonic thumbs up.
“Yeah,” says Wanda. “He’s just full of surprises.”
Wanda assumes that the Vision will be joining the family for the Halloween block party, but Vision tells her that he’s agreed to be part of the neighborhood watch instead. “No!” says Wanda. “That’s not what you’re supposed to — ”
“What?” says the Vision, interrupting.
“You didn’t tell me you had plans.”
“Well, I’m telling you now.”
“Mom and Dad have been…not fighting, but just, well…different,” Billy tells us (while Pietro gives him the side eye in the background).
It’s clearly not what Wanda had planned or expected, but Pietro offers to be the male family figure for the evening in the Vision’s stead, and she lets it go.
Back in the real world, at the S.W.O.R.D. response base outside Westview, the authorities are preparing to study the drone Wanda disabled last episode. An argument ensues between Director Hayward — who’s now in full Chief Robinson from Die Hard (1988) mode — and Monica, Darcy, and Jimmy. Monica argues, with some justification, that attempting to kill Wanda, needlessly antagonizing her in the process, is not a winning strategy. Director Hayward has the dissenting trio removed, but Monica and Jimmy overpower the evicting guards on the outskirts of the base, and the team sneaks back in.
In Westview, overseeing Tommy and Billy’s trick or treating, Wanda asks Pietro questions about their shared past.
“You’re testing me,” says Pietro.
“No, I’m not.”
“Hey, it’s cool. I know I look different…”
“Why do you look different?”
“You tell me. I mean, if I found Shangri-La, I wouldn’t want to be reminded of the past either.”
Wanda learns from Herb, running the neighborhood watch, that the Vision is in fact not part of the operation. We see instead that the Vision is investigating another dimmer, emptier part of Westview. The further the Vision gets from Wanda’s center of town, the more repetitious and rote the activity of the townspeople gets. One couple goes endlessly through the motions of decorating their yard, a woman reaching up to attach a ghost decoration to a clothesline, over and over. A tear slips out of her eye and rolls down her face as the Vision watches her.
An animated commercial follows for Yo-Magic, “the snack for survivors!” The kid on the deserted island given a cup of the snacks by an ominously helpful (?) surfing shark apparently isn’t one of those survivors, as he expires from accelerated starvation and exposure before he can get the cup open.
Back in Westview, Wanda remarks upon Pietro’s bad influence. “I’m just trying to do my part, okay?” says Pietro. “Come to town unexpectedly, create tension with the brother-in-law, stir up trouble with the rugrats, and ultimately give you grief. I mean, that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“What happened to your accent?” says Wanda.
“What happened to yours? Details are fuzzy, man. I got shot like a chump in the street for no reason at all, and next thing I know, I heard you calling me. I knew you needed me.”
Tommy and Billy interrupt, and it’s discovered that Tommy has speed powers like his uncle. Wanda tells Tommy that if he’s going to break the sound barrier, he has to take his brother with him. She warns the boys not to go past Ellis Avenue.
On the response base, Jimmy, Darcy, and Monica have found a conveniently empty room. Darcy manages to hack into S.W.O.R.D.’s secure database in literally less time than it took me to write this sentence. She discovers that Director Hayward has managed to find a way to look past Wanda’s barrier into the Westview zone, but didn’t share it with the response team. He’s tracking the Vision by his vibranium signature. Jimmy notes that the Westview citizens on the edge of town, in the Vision’s vicinity, are barely moving, and questions whether they’re even alive.
Joining the Vision, we see the residents on the outskirts aren’t barely moving; they’re not moving at all. They’re not dead, but everyone is frozen, eerily stopped in the middle of their normal activity (or whatever’s normal for Halloween).
The Vision sheds his Halloween costume and flies up to a high vantage point. He takes note of the boundaries of the town, and sees one car stopped at the intersection of Ellis Avenue and Rolling Hill Drive. It’s Agnes’s car, and while she’s not quite frozen like the other residents, she’s not far from it. She’s sluggish, entranced, and spacily claims she’s gotten lost on the way to the town square. “In the town you grew up in?” says the Vision.
He reaches out and frees her from Wanda’s influence, as he did with Norm last episode. “You…you’re one of the Avengers! You’re Vision!” she says. “Are you here to help us?”
“I am Vision. I do want to help…but what’s an Avenger?”
“What? Why don’t you know? Am I dead?”
“No. No. Why would you think that?”
“Because you are.”
“Because I’m what?”
The Vision tells Agnes that he intends to reach outside of Westview. “How?” says Agnes. “No one leaves. Wanda won’t even let us think about it. All is lost.”
Agnes grows increasingly hysterical, until the Vision is forced to re-impose Wanda’s control. The Vision promises Agnes he’ll fix this. “Okie-dokie, neighbor!” she says. “Happy Halloweenie!” She turns the car around and drives back up Rolling Hill Drive. And with that, the Vision walks purposefully across Ellis Avenue towards the boundary of Wanda’s zone.
Back on the base, Monica notes that she’s meeting her mysterious aerospace engineer contact, who will provide her a safe way back into the Hex. Darcy tells her that’s a bad idea. According to S.W.OR.D.’s lab results, yet another Hayward secret that Darcy has uncovered, crossing Wanda’s boundary not once but twice has “rewritten the energy” in Monica’s blood cells on a molecular level. Monica insists that she has some idea of what Wanda’s going through, and intends to help her regardless of the cost. Jimmy and Monica leave to meet the contact, while Darcy opts to stay in hopes of learning more of what Hayward is hiding. “There’s something big here. Something that can help us. I know it.”
In Westview’s town square, Pietro takes note of the children now running around…children that have been entirely absent during the course of this series (you’ll recall the Vision noted their lack to Wanda just last episode). “Where were you hiding all these kids up ’til now? I assume they were all just sleeping peacefully in their beds. No need to traumatize beyond the occasional holiday episode cameo, right? You were always the empathetic twin. Hey, don’t get me wrong. You handed the ethical considerations of this scenario as best you could. Families and couples stay together, most personalities aren’t far from what’s underneath, people got better jobs, better haircuts for sure…”
“You don’t think it’s…wrong?”
“Are you kidding? I’m impressed. Seriously. It’s a pretty big leap from giving people nightmares and shooting red wiggly-woos out your hands. How’d you even do all this?”
Wanda seems uncertain, and confesses she doesn’t really know how she did all this. All she remembers is feeling completely alone, empty, in an endless nothingness. She turns her head to shed a tear, and when she looks back, sees Pietro dead, glassy-eyed and bullet-riddled. She gasps and looks away; when she looks back, Pietro is normal again.
Darcy emails Jimmy Woo one of Director Hayward’s files, as Hayward and his team track the Vision’s progress to the barrier. Hayward orders troops to the Vision’s exit point.
The Vision can’t entirely escape the field. He forces himself a few steps beyond the boundary, but it seems to take everything he’s got to get even that far. He falls to his knees, and his body begins to fragment and fracture, pieces of him flaking off and flying back into the field. “Why aren’t you helping him? He’s coming apart!” yells Darcy. She’s detained by S.W.O.R.D. and handcuffed to a nearby SUV.
Billy senses the Vision’s peril, and runs to tell his mother. Pietro callously tells her not to sweat it, it’s not like her dead husband can die twice, and she hex bolts him square in the chest, sending him flying. “Billy. I need you to focus.”
“I can’t tell,” the boys says. “I see these soldiers…they think he’s dying.”
And that’s enough for the Scarlet Witch.
The entire town stops in its tracks, as she extends her power out in every direction, the boundaries of the zone expanding more swiftly than most of the S.W.O.R.D. response team — including Darcy, still chained to the truck — can escape it. Jimmy and Monica notice the expanding effect from a distance, while Director Hayward, being one of the first to hop into a vehicle and flee, manages to narrowly stay ahead of it.
“Does anyone read me?” says Hayward into a radio.
No one answers.
Please stand by…
Odds and ends:
- I’ve said all along that I felt there were other players at work here besides Wanda and S.W.O.R.D. My guess is that ‘Pietro’ is an agent of one of these unseen players. Note the breach alarm that went off at the S.W.O.R.D. base when Pietro was introduced at the end of episode 5. I don’t think that alarm was for something coming out; I think that was for Pietro going in.
- Along those lines, I still don’t think S.W.O.R.D. is here for Wanda; they’re here for the Vision. So far as S.W.O.R.D. is concerned, Wanda is largely just the obstacle standing in the way of their retrieval of the Vision’s body. I think they’d be perfectly happy to see her dead, but that’s a means to an end, and not their primary aim (if you’ll pardon the pun).
- This episode’s Halloween theme and Westview’s community activities put me in mind of the annual Rutland, VT Halloween Parade. The parade was developed in 1960 by local writer and comic book fan Tom Fagan, who passed away in 2008. Both Fagan and Rutland have appeared in comics by Marvel and DC, though it’s been quite awhile since either last did so. The first Marvel Rutland appearance was Avengers #83 (Dec 1970) by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer; the most recent was Generation X #22 (Dec 1996), by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo.
- The Halloween costumes worn by Wanda, the Vision, Pietro, Billy, and Tommy in this episode are all cheesy versions of the classic costumes worn by these characters in the comics. Wanda, the Vision, and Pietro’s first appearances have been covered in earlier Opposite of Cool posts. Billy and Tommy’s first appearance as infants was in Vision and the Scarlet Witch #12 (Sep 1986), by Steve Englehart and Richard Howell. As in WandaVision, the twins grow up to have powers similar to their mother and uncle.
- Billy Kaplan in the comics is Wiccan; he first appeared in his super-hero incarnation in Young Avengers #1 (Apr 2005), created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung.
- Tommy Shepherd in the comics is Speed; he first appeared as a non-infant in Young Avengers #10 (Mar 2006), again by Heinberg and Cheung.
- Director Hayward’s obvious antipathy towards ‘super-powered individuals’ mirrors that of a character from the comics, Henry Peter Gyrich. Gyrich is a pedantic, paranoid asshole who’s often put in charge of government oversight of super-human operatives and organizations. Gyrich’s first appearance was Avengers #165 (Nov 1977), created by Jim Shooter and John Byrne, and he’s been making life miserable for everyone ever since.
- Not sure I agree with Monica’s logic that if Wanda is the problem, she has to be the solution, but there’s some wisdom to the idea that when dealing with an entity capable of warping reality at will, it might be wise to tread a little more carefully. Echoes here again of the Red King in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (1871), Hayward saying that if Wanda is taken out, this whole nightmare ends. Monica disagrees, saying no one knows what will happen ‘in there or out here’ if Wanda dies.
- “Unleash Hell, demon-spawn!” Hmm.
- Wanda is shown several times with the Coronet Theater in the background, emphasizing again the Red King aspect. A coronet is a type of crown.
- S.W.OR.D. really needs to beef up their cyber-security.
- “Wait, why is Hayward tracking Vision?” For the same reason he was ‘storing’ the Vision’s body before: Hayward runs an outfit called Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division (I’m reasonably certain the Vision fits the bill as a sentient weapon). Also, this tracks with Hayward’s likely profile as a straight-up AIM goon. Hail Hydra.
- The question Monica should be asking is, “How did Wanda know where to find the Vision’s body?
- Monica’s empathy with Wanda’s grief marks her as a kind of thematic counterpart to Wanda: a reflective, rational moon caught up in the inescapable gravity of Wanda’s sorrow. In traditional astrology, the moon symbolizes dreams, emotion, and the unconscious, traits that are more readily attributed to Wanda, while the sun is associated with rationalism and masculine energy, which are more Monica’s traits.This also ties in Monica’s powers in the comics, which are light- and energy-based. Here, however, those attributes are reversed. I’d be surprised indeed if the show’s creators intended any of what I’m talking about beyond simply linking Monica and Wanda in grief, but I think it’s an interesting aspect to consider whether they intended it or not.
- Still no proof that Agnes the mysterious neighbor is Agatha Harkness. Still no proof that she isn’t, of course…and she is dressed as a witch for Halloween…
- Still unsure who Monica’s guy, the aerospace engineer, is.
- The movie playing in the town is the classic Night of the Living Dead (1968), d. George Romero. Kind of heavy duty for a Halloween block party with a bunch of little kids running around…!
- I’m unsure by the ending if Wanda’s boundary has continued to expand or has stopped.
The home stretch of the series beckons! See you next episode!
|↑1||This also ties in Monica’s powers in the comics, which are light- and energy-based.|