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WandaVision, Ep.7: Breaking the Fourth Wall

Note:  Welcome back to our episode-by-episode exploration of WandaVision.  Fair warning, there are spoilers ahead; this article assumes you’ve seen up through the seventh episode.

One of the unexpected pleasures of WandaVision has been the sneaky good reproductions of the sitcoms it’s emulating.  Episode 6 stuck its Malcolm in the Middle landing perfectly:  the editing, the camera placement, even the music.  So perfectly, in fact, that I expected to see director Matt Shakman’s name listed somewhere in the Malcolm credits.  This episode, we’re treated to Modern Family (2009 – 2020), with its fourth wall-breaking confessions and quasi-documentary style, as well as a title sequence evoking The Office.[1]Three of the most successful sitcoms of this era, Modern Family, The Office (2005 – 2013), and Parks and Recreation (2009 – 2015), all employed the same quasi-documentary elements, with … Continue reading  Elizabeth Olsen absolutely kills it channelling Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) and her high anxiety bemusement at the beginning of this episode.  Sometimes it’s the little things.

It’s the morning following last episode’s Halloween night, Pietro missing, the Vision still lying on the outskirts of town.  For all the otherwise dream-like nature of reality within Wanda’s zone, it’s interesting to note that the passage of time more or less stays constant with that of the outside world.

“Look, we’ve all been there, right?” says Wanda in her Modern Family talking head confessional.  “Letting our fear and anger get the best of us, intentionally expanding the borders of the false reality we’ve created…”

Wanda’s undergoing something of an existential crisis.  “As punishment for my reckless evening, I plan on taking a quarantine-style staycation.  A whole day just to myself.  That’ll show me.”  Her powers are glitching uncontrollaby, changing the time periods of random objects.  (“Yeah, I’m not sure what that’s about,” says Wanda).  Billy complains that his head feels weird; things are, like, really noisy, and he doesn’t like it.

Eight miles outside Wanda’s expanded zone — “Lucky for us she pumped the brakes,” says Hayward’s chief officer — an undeterred Director Hayward prepares his forces for an assault.  Not sure how that’s supposed to work, given the effects on people and things entering Westview, but maybe he knows something we don’t.  We learn the sitcom broadcast that S.W.O.R.D. had been monitoring is now just dead air.  No signal.

Inside the zone, the Vision awakens near what was the S.W.O.R.D. response base and is now a circus.  It’s a fairly subtle effect, one I didn’t notice on first viewing, but note how the aspect ratio changes when the Vision wakes, going from 21:9 to 16:9.  These aspect ratios will remain consistent depending on whether we’re inside or outside Wanda’s reality.  21:9 for ‘real life’ outside the zone, 16:9 for Westview.  The Vision recognizes Darcy, cast as an escape artist wrapped in chains after being handcuffed to the truck at the end of last episode.

At Wanda’s house, the absence of their father and their uncle is concerning the twins.  They ask Wanda what Pietro said about re-killing the Vision.  “Don’t believe anything that man said,” Wanda tells them.  “He is not your uncle.”

“Who is he?”

Wanda admits to the boys that she doesn’t have the answers they’re looking for, and worse, she’s starting to believe that everything is meaningless.  “You’re welcome to draw your own conclusions, of course,” she adds unhelpfully.  Agnes arrives to salvage the situation.  “Hey boys…why don’t we give your mom some me time?”  The twins, worried about their mother, are reluctant to leave, but Wanda insists that they go with Agnes.

In the real world, Jimmy Woo and Monica Rambeau, on their way to meet Monica’s mysterious contact, discuss the files that Darcy sent to Jimmy last episode.  They’re R&D reports about something code-named Cataract.  They deduce, finally and at long last, that Hayward wasn’t trying to decommission the Vision; he was trying to bring him back online.  Better late than never, I guess.

Monica’s contact, Major Goodner, isn’t anyone that rings any bells with me.  Whoever she is, between her and Monica, she’s apparently got enough juice to commandeer a mobile team and what looks like a very large, very expensive-looking planetary rover.  Think of the vehicle Matt Damon was driving around in The Martian (2015), but two or three times as big.

At the circus / former S.W.O.R.D. base, the Vision frees Darcy Lewis from Wanda’s influence, and recalls her name being attached to episode 5’s email warnings concerning radiation at the edge of Westview.  The Vision has questions, Darcy says she has answers.  They steal a truck to drive back to Wanda and the Vision’s house.

A brief segment of Wanda’s powers going haywire follows, with a related confessional:  “I don’t understand what’s happening,” says Wanda.  “Why it’s….why it’s all falling apart and why I can’t fix it.”

The unseen interviewer, breaking his own fourth wall, asks, “Do you think maybe this is what you deserve?”

“What?” says Wanda, taken aback by the question, or possibly the interviewer’s transgression against the format.  “You’re not supposed to talk.”

Cut to this episode’s commercial, for a medication called Nexus:  “A unique anti-depressant that works to anchor you back to your reality.  Or the reality of your choice.  Side effects include:  feeling your feelings, confronting your truth, seizing your destiny, and possibly more depression.  You should not take Nexus unless your doctor has cleared you to move on with your life.  Nexus.  Because the world doesn’t revolve around you.  Or does it?”  We’ll have more to say about this Nexus business near the end of this post.

Over at Agnes’s house, Billy tells Agnes he likes it at her place.  “It’s quiet,” he says.  “You’re quiet, Agnes.  On the inside.”

“Do you think our mom is okay?” asks Tommy.  Agnes gives him one of those patented Kathryn Hahn looks of dismay, a look that says, Oh, fuck no, she isn’t.  Not even close.  She lies and tells Tommy he doesn’t have to worry about his mom.  “You try telling a ten-year old that his mother is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” Agnes tells us afterwards.

Meanwhile, Monica and her rogue team of S.W.O.R.D. agents attempt to insert a space-suited Monica and the rover into the Westview zone, but can’t breach its walls.  As Monica escapes the vehicle, the half of it that’s in contact with the zone is ‘rewritten’ (Jimmy’s word for it) as a common truck, and spit back out.  Undeterred, and over Jimmy’s objections, Monica forces herself into and through the zone…and comes out the other side with glowing blue eyes and a new way of looking at the world, able to discern energy patterns.

While Darcy and the Vision encounter multiple obstacles on their way towards Wanda — everything from red lights to sudden work crews and crossing schoolchildren — Darcy catches the Vision up on events he doesn’t remember from Avengers:  Infinity War (2018) and Avengers:  Endgame (2019)….including his own death.  Darcy says she had assumed Wanda simply flipped a switch in the Vision’s head and brought him back to life, but doesn’t understand why he can’t leave the Hex.  The Vision suspects Wanda is working to intentionally slow his progress, so he leaves Darcy in the truck and opts to fly home.

Monica arrives at Wanda’s house, telling her that Hayward is after the Vision and that an attack by him is imminent.  An argument ensues, Wanda accusing Monica of lying and being behind all that’s happened — the drone, the missile, Pietro — and it looks for a moment as if she’s on the verge of expelling Monica for a second time, or perhaps even killing her.  When she doesn’t, Monica tells Wanda that her reluctance to do violence is the difference between her and Hayward.  “Don’t let him make you the villain.”

“Maybe I already am,” says Wanda.

Agnes notices the conflict — it’s taking place in broad daylight, right out on the street in front of God and everyone — and intercedes, telling Monica that she’s overstayed her welcome.  “Run along, dear,” she says, and begins leading Wanda away toward her house.  “Don’t make me hurt you,” Wanda tells Monica as a parting warning.

Agnes is making Wanda a cup of tea when Wanda notes the silence and the absence of her sons.  “Where are the twins?” she asks.

“Oh, they’re probably just playing in the basement,” says Agnes.

Wanda heads down to the basement to search for them, and finds the basement is part of a strange cavern, tree roots lining the walls — a literal root cellar — leading to a spooky chamber with symbols placed over arches, and several very interesting items, including a book crawling with some unknown energy.  More on that in a minute.

“Wanda, Wanda,” says Agnes, who’s followed Wanda downstairs and who’s not really Agnes at all.  “You didn’t think you were the only magical girl in town, did you?  The name’s Agatha Harkness.  Lovely to finally meet you, dear.”  Her power — purple, where Wanda’s is red — activates, locking the doors in the basement chamber, and revealing Agatha’s nefarious behind-the-scenes activities in a Munsters-like title sequence for a sitcom within a sitcom, Agatha All Along:

Who’s been messing up everything?
It’s been Agatha all along!
Who’s been pulling every evil string?
It’s been Agatha all along!

She’s insidious
So perfidious
That you haven’t even noticed and the pity is
The pity is…

It’s too late to fix anything
Now that everything has gone wrong
Thanks to Agatha
Naughty Agatha
It’s been Agatha all along!

“And I killed Sparky too!”

But wait…there’s more!  The first post-credits scene in the series!  Monica goes to check around Agatha’s house.  She finds a basement bulkhead with some cellar doors and opens them, sees the roots and strange purple energy lining the walls….and then is surprised by the missing Pietro:   “Snoopers gonna snoop.”

____

That’s the rough; let’s get to the tumble.

  • Once again, Tommy and Billy are wearing colors roughly associated with their counterparts in the comics.
  • Agnes is associated with the color purple from start to finish in this episode.  It’s strictly a WandaVision thing; Agatha Harkness in the comics doesn’t wear a costume.  Near as I can tell, the color scheme exists here to link Agatha to, and distinguish her from, Wanda.  Similar effects, different methods and motives.

    Scarlet Witch #13, Feb 2017 – Agatha Harkness with her familiar, Ebony. Cover by David Aja.
  • It occurred to me that the ‘suspicious mole’ on Agnes’s back that she can’t see could be an oblique reference to the Witch’s Mark, a mark or brand made by the Devil on the skin of his initiates.  Seriously.  It’s an actual thing.[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witches%27_mark  Probably not an actual thing intended by the makers of this show, mind you, but still…an actual thing.
  • “I actually did bite a kid once.”  Gentle reader, Kathryn Hahn is a goddamn four-alarm fire.  She’s an example of what I think of as the Don Cheadle Rule:  not everything she’s in is good, necessarily,  but all of it is better for her being in it.
  • In the Marvel Universe of the comics, the term nexus — defined as ‘a connection or series of connections linking two or more things’ —  typically refers to the Nexus of Realities, the place where all possible realities are closest to each other.  Here on this planet, the Nexus of Realities is in the Florida Everglades, and its guardian is the swamp creature known as the Man-Thing.  The Nexus commercial may or may not be alluding to the Nexus of Realities, but it wouldn’t be entirely out of place, given the nature of what Wanda’s doing in Westview, as well as the possible presence of a Pietro from another reality, and whatever weird shit is going on in Agnes’s basement.  The Nexus was first established as such in Fear #13, Apr 1973, created by Steve Gerber.
  • “You should not take Nexus unless your doctor has cleared you to move on with your life.”  Hmm.  Strange.
  • I don’t think I’d have noticed it if not for the way this episode is modeled after Modern Family, but Kat Dennings’s Darcy Lewis and Ariel Winters’s Alex Dunphy have a lot in common, to the point where I think we probably could’ve straight-up imported Alex Dunphy for Darcy’s role in WandaVision, and almost nothing would have changed.  The two characters even look alike.  Intentional or no?  I couldn’t say, but it’s hard to believe after all the careful imitations we’ve seen that the showrunners wouldn’t be aware of this particular parallel.
  • Paul Bettany’s look to the camera when the traffic light maintenance crew blocks his and Darcy’s path is priceless.  Dude might have missed his calling for a career in sitcoms.

    Priceless. Paul Bettany as the Vision, breaking the fourth wall.
  • Monica’s S.W.O.R.D. outfit that she’s wearing under her space suit looks like a utilitarian version of her Spectrum costume in the comics.
  • What the hell is up with Dennis the mailman?!  He’s always around, and the show always makes a point of making sure we notice him.
  • I’m wondering if that book in Agatha’s basement isn’t the Darkhold, a tome written by a Lovecraftian elder god of darkness.  If so, that’s…that’s bad.  Very bad.  The Darkhold is about as evil as an object can be, and a person risks madness and damnation just being around it, never mind handling it or God forbid reading any of it.  Vampires in the Marvel Universe were created by the Darkhold.  So were werewolves.  The elder god who wrote the book was mystically confined to one location, Wundagore Mountain, in eastern Europe.  In the comics, Wanda and Pietro were born and spent their childhoods in the shadow of Wundagore.  Did proximity to the mountain cause their powers?  I’m not the first to speculate on the possibility, let’s say that.  The Darkhold was created by Gerry Conway and Mike Ploog; its first mention was Marvel Spotlight #3, May 1972.
  • “The name’s Agatha Harkness.  Lovely to finally meet you, dear.”  Your humble Opposite of Cool correspondent isn’t going to lie, gentle reader.  It’s nice to be right after all these episodes.
  • Spooky and mysterious as she may be, the Agatha Harkness of the comics isn’t a villain.  In many ways, Agatha occupies the point opposite Wanda on the magical spectrum:  constant, rational, and pragmatic, where Wanda is mutable, emotional, and chaotic.
  • I might like the Agatha All Along title sequence as much or more than I like anything in the entire MCU canon.  According to the Wiki entry for the song, it was written by the show’s composers, husband and wife team Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez — they wrote Frozen‘s ‘Let It Go’ and Coco‘s ‘Remember Me’ — and Kathryn Hahn sings on it!  Whatever else you can say about this series, no one’s going to accuse the producers of having skimped on the cost.

Next:  We’re on to the penultimate episode of WandaVision!

References

References
1 Three of the most successful sitcoms of this era, Modern Family, The Office (2005 – 2013), and Parks and Recreation (2009 – 2015), all employed the same quasi-documentary elements, with the main characters speaking directly to the audience / documentarian.
2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witches%27_mark

4 replies on “WandaVision, Ep.7: Breaking the Fourth Wall”

As always, a fun read.

I thought Nexus was foreshadowing Monica’s superhero name. She’d made several of the same references in her dialogue that was used in the commercial.

Thank you, as always, for reading!

I caught the dialogue references in the Nexus commercial too, but assumed it was the showrunners hammering home the metaphor rather than any explicit connection to Monica. Monica Rambeau’s super-hero name in the Marvel Universe is Spectrum.

Loved the writing as always. Kathryn Hahn is awesome! I was thrilled Disney decided to do something different…this I thought was the biggest surprise. However, this where characters outside the sphere started to grind on me. Kat Dennings character was really poorly written. Her jokes landing like tire irons on a theater floor.

I think there are several elements at work here that, for lack of a better word, I’ll call meta-commentaries, and Kat Dennings’s Darcy is one of them. She could be imported from or exported to a sitcom like The Big Bang Theory, with no alteration, and she’d fit just fine. I know a lot more about comics than I do about TV — mid-to-late 80’s television is especially blank for me — and it’s occurred to me more than once that there’s probably a lot of TV stuff going on in WandaVision that’s sailed right over my head.

The guy who directed all nine episodes of WandaVision, Matt Shakman, has had a long, prolific career in television. No idea what he knows or thinks about comics. I’ve avoided reading anything in depth about WandaVision, because I wanted to come to it without bias or preconceptions. I’m sure there’ll be stuff I’ll read about later and kick myself that I didn’t notice it. Ah, well. That’s the high price of prognostication. You gotta be willing to look like an idiot. Clearly not an issue here!

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