Categories
Television

WandaVision, Ep. 5: On a Very Special Episode…

Note:  Welcome back, unwary traveler, to our episode-by-episode exploration of WandaVisionAs always, there are spoilers ahead; this article assumes you’ve seen up through the fifth episode.

A whole lot going on in episode 5, the longest episode thus far at 42 minutes:  family ties, growing pains, leggings, mom jeans — oh, those mom jeans! — and a couple unforgettably vulgar displays of power.  Let’s get after it.

The cold open features Wanda and the Vision, now in a sanitized 80’s sitcom, trying to get their new twins, Tommy and Billy, to sleep.  Wanda suggests to the Vision that maybe they need some help with the boys, and right on cue, Agnes arrives, to audience applause and a tinkling theme.  In tried and true sitcom tradition, like every sitcom neighbor ever, she gives the doorbell a cursory ring and then just breezes on in, and it’s a good thing no one’s ever naked or chasing the dragon or otherwise doing something they might want to keep on the DL.

Anyway.

“I was just on my way to Jazzercise,” says Agnes — because were else would she have been going in the 80’s? — “when I heard your new little bundles of joy were on a sleep strike!”

Wanda Maximoff (Eilzabeth Olsen) and the Vision (Paul Bettany)

An awkward moment follows when the Vision nervously objects to Agnes handling the children, and an uncertain Agnes asks Wanda if she wants to take the scene again from the top.  Wanda convinces the Vision to let Agnes care for the boys, and shortly after that, we see the twins, in yet another nod to television tradition, age from infants to young children.

“Kids,” says Agnes.  “You can’t control them.  No matter how hard you try.”

An opening credits sequence follows, a weird (and clever and funny) blend of Family Ties (1982 – 1989) and Growing Pains (1985 – 1992) that perfectly captures the treacly 80’s in all that decade’s awful, performative emptiness.  You may as well know, gentle reader, that the 10 or 20 seconds of Family Ties and Growing Pains I watched on YouTube just now, researching this post, comprises the entirety of the time I’ve spent watching either of these shows in this lifetime, and it’s 10 or 20 seconds I’m never, ever going to get back.

Back in the real world, Monica Rambeau is undergoing some post-eviction questioning and testing.

“What’s the first thing you do remember?” says Tyler Hayward, S.W.O.R.D. director.

“Pain,” says Monica, “and then…Wanda’s voice in my head.”

“Did you try to resist?”

“There was this feeling keeping me down.  This hopeless feeling.  Like drowning.  It was grief.”

Monica reunites with Jimmy Woo, and meets Darcy Lewis for the first time.  A response team briefing follows, with a recap of Wanda’s MCU origins, noting her telekinetic and telepathic abilities after unspecified experimentation with the Mind Stone.

“Back up, Jimmy,” says Hayward.  “Does Maximoff have an alias?”

“No, sir.”

“No funny nickname?”

“Not a one.”

Nice.

Hayward is quick to label Wanda as the principal victimizer of Westview, and a terrorist, a term Monica rejects:  “I don’t believe she has a political agenda, or any inclination toward destruction.”  Monica also says she doesn’t believe Wanda’s actions are a premeditated act of aggression.

To counter that, Hayward shares video from nine days ago of Wanda simply marching into the top-secret S.W.O.R.D. location where the Vision’s body was being stored and stealing it.  According to Hayward, she then brought the Vision’s body to Westview and resurrected him.  How she might have done this without the Mind Stone, the item that previously animated the Vision, is a mystery to Jimmy and Darcy.

Back in the sitcom, Tommy and Billy have found a small terrier they want to adopt, and Wanda has found the ultimate mom jeans outfit.  As before, Agnes appears on cue, with the Vision noting she’s carrying “exactly the item we require,” a doghouse.  The boys first think to name the dog Sniffy, but after the dog nearly electrocutes himself by way of a wall socket, Agnes suggests Sparky.  Wanda makes it official, conjuring the dog a collar and name tag in an open display of her powers, much to the Vision’s dismay.

“Wanda…!  Agnes was right there!”

“Well, she didn’t notice.  She didn’t even notice when the boys went from babies to five-year olds!”

“That’s not what we agreed upon.  You made no effort to conceal your abilities.”

“Well, I’m tired of hiding, Vizh.  And maybe you don’t have to either.”

“Wanda, we are usually so much of the same mind, but right now…what aren’t you telling me?”

The boys interrupt, asking if they can keep the dog.  Their parents tell them they’re not old enough, and in response, the boys age themselves up yet again, this time to around ten years old.

Meanwhile, at the response base, Monica and Darcy are trying to find a way for Monica to safely re-inter the anomaly zone.  Jimmy speculates on the identity of Wanda’s twins.  Monica assures him that the twins are indeed Wanda’s; that things on the TV show may look fake, but everything in the zone is real.  Darcy says that if everything they’re seeing on the show is solid matter being manipulated by Wanda, that’d be an insane amount of power.  Jimmy notes it would be far in excess of anything Wanda has displayed in the past.

Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings)

The trio visits the lab on a hunch by Monica, and discover that Monica’s 70’s pant-suit from episode 3 is largely made of the S.W.O.R.D. uniform Monica was wearing when she went in the zone.  “It’s not an illusion,” says Monica.  “Wanda is rewriting reality.”  Your humble Opposite of Cool guide does not want to say he told you so, gentle reader, but, well…he told you so.

Monica considers the imaging drone that was changed to a toy helicopter.  Why change it?  Jimmy thinks production design.  Monica wonders what if something was sent into zone that was compatible with the sitcom’s era.  If you sent an 80’s item into an the 80’s sitcom currently broadcasting, would there be any need for Wanda’s powers to change it?

Back in the sitcom, the Vision has installed some office computers at work and hooked them up to the early internet.  The email the office gets is a top-secret S.W.O.R.D. communique regarding Darcy Lewis’s findings of radiation at the Westview perimeter.  The Vision’s colleague Norm asks what the Vision is going to write back.  “It’s a joke,” says Norm.  “Can’t you tell?  None of it is real.”

The Vision uses his powers to somehow reach into Norm’s head and free him from Wanda’s influence.  Norm — whose real name, you’ll recall, is Abilash — begs the Vision to make Wanda stop what she’s doing.  He grows increasingly loud and desperate, until the Vision is forced to reverse his liberating effect.

Back home, Wanda and the boys are playing with Sparky.  The boys have taught the dog to sit, speak, and spin on command, and want to show their father.  Wanda tells them he’s at work.

“But it’s Saturday,” says Billy.

“No, it’s not,” says Wanda.  “It’s Monday.”

“This morning was Saturday,” says Tommy.

“There was an emergency at the office and your father had to go in,” says Wanda.  “End of story.”  The boys are unconvinced by this explanation, and Wanda tells them their father just needed a distraction.

“From what?  From us?” say the boys.

“No!  No way!  No!  Sometimes your dad and I aren’t on the same page, but that’s just temporary.  Like the two of you, you might fight over toys, but he’s always going to be your brother, and he’s always going to be yours.  Because family is forever.”

“Do you have a brother, mom?”

Wanda, doubtful:  “I do.  He’s far away from here, and that makes me sad sometimes.”

Sparky jumps up and starts barking at a disturbance at the door.  “Something’s scaring him!” says Billy.  Wanda gets up to investigate, telling the boys to stay where they are (they don’t).  What the dog is reacting to is the 80’s-era drone S.W.O.R.D. has managed to insert into the zone.  The signal from the drone is weak, but is sending back live images.  Jimmy and Darcy note that Wanda doesn’t allow footage of the drone into the sitcom broadcast:  “Wanda decides what makes it on to her show and what doesn’t.”

Monica attempts to communicate with Wanda through the drone, but Wanda doesn’t respond, save for her eyes beginning to glow red (never a good sign).  Hayward tells a subordinate to take the shot.  Monica objects, saying the drone isn’t armed.  “Take the shot!” repeats Hayward.  The visual display from the drone cuts off…

…and the breach alarm starts ringing.

“What did you do?” says Monica.

Hayward, Monica, soldiers and vehicles all rush to the site of the breach…and stepping out of the field, in all her terrible glory, is Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, dragging the disabled drone behind her.  She walks right up to the cluster of armed soldiers and flings the drone at Hayward’s feet.  “Is this yours?”  She’s immediately lit up by dozens of points of laser light, rifles aimed at her.

“The missile was just a precaution,” says Hayward.  “You can hardly blame us, Wanda.”

“Oh, I think I can.  This will be your only warning.  Stay out of my home.  You don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.”

“I wish it could be that simple.  You’ve taken an entire town hostage.”

“Well, I’m not the one with the guns, Director.”

“But you are the one in control,” says Monica.

“You’re still here,” says Wanda, in a tone that suggests Monica should have elected to be otherwise.  She charges up her red energy, holding it.

“Wanda, I didn’t know the drones were armed.  But you know that, don’t you?  A town full of civilians, and you, a telepath, brought a S.W.O.R.D. agent into your home.  You trusted me to help deliver your babies.  On some level, Wanda, you know I am an ally.  I want to help you.”

“How?  What could you possibly have to offer me?”

“What do you want?”

“I have what I want.  And no one,” looking at Director Hayward, “will ever take it from me again.”

And with that, Wanda Maximoff releases the energy she was holding.  It spreads among the soldiers, affecting their minds, and all of them turn from aiming at Wanda to aiming at Director Hayward, who’s understandably more than a little alarmed at this turn of events.  Wanda doesn’t even look back to see the effect; she walks back the way she came into Westview, leaving shock and awe in her wake, Monica calling after her.

Another commercial follows, this time for Lagos brand paper towel.  Lagos, you may recall, was the site of an Avengers operation in Captain America:  Civil War (2016) that ended with Wanda diverting an explosion that wound up killing several Wakandan humanitarian workers, which in turn led to the Sokovian Accords, international regulations governing the operation of super-humans.

Back in the sitcom, Wanda and the boys discover Sparky has passed away after eating azalea leaves in Agnes’s yard.  The boys first think to age themselves up again in their grief, but Wanda tells them not to, to resist running from their feelings.  The boys urge their mother to bring the dog back from the dead (“You can do that?” says a stunned Agnes).  Wanda demurs.  There are rules in life.  “We can’t rush aging because it’s inconvenient.  And we can’t reverse death no matter how sad it makes us.  Some things are forever.”

Later that night, Wanda and the Vision argue bitterly about Wanda’s oversight of the town and its citizens, and perhaps over the Vision himself.

“You can’t control me the way you control them,” says the Vision.

“Can’t I?”

The credits for the sitcom begin to roll, but the Vision persists.  “What is outside of Westview?”

“You don’t want to know, I promise you.”

“You don’t get to make that choice for me, Wanda!”

“You’ve never talked to me like this before.”

“Before what?  Before what?  I can’t remember my life before Westview!  I don’t know who I am!  I’m scared!”

Wanda reminds him that the Vision is her husband, the father of Tommy and Billy.  Isn’t that enough?

The Vision asks why there aren’t any other children in Westview.  Wanda asks the Vision if he really believes she’s controlling everyone in Westview, walking their dogs, mowing their lawns, getting them to their dentist appointments on time.  “I don’t know how any of this started in the first place,” says Wanda.

The Vision tells her what she’s doing here is wrong…and then the doorbell rings.  “I didn’t do that,” says Wanda.

Wanda answers the door…

…the breach alarm sounds outside in the S.W.O.R.D. response base….

…and it’s Pietro, Wanda’s brother…but not the Pietro we saw killed in Avengers:  Age of Ultron (2015).

“She recast Pietro?” asks an incredulous Darcy.

Aaaaaaaand…scene!

____

All synthezoid, all the time:

  • Agatha Agnes mentions being sprayed with lavender by her husband Ralph every night, which is supposed to have a calming effect, but that “there’s no taming this tiger!”  Later scenes with Agnes in the kitchen feature a small tiger figurine on the kitchen table.
  • I’m waiting to see where this show takes them before spilling the full details on their comic book counterparts, but I’ll say for now it’s not an accident that, starting with their five-year old versions, Billy is always the one in red, and Tommy the one in blue and green.
  • Interesting that Monica’s labs are blank.  I’m not sure what, if anything, that signifies.
  • Director Hayward says the Vision’s body was being stored at a top-secret S.W.O.R.D. facility, but to my eyes, it looked like the body wasn’t being ‘stored’ so much as it was being ‘actively studied and / or worked on.’
  • On a related note, S.W.O.R.D. certainly seems to have taken an AIM-ish turn in Monica’s five-year absence.  AIM, you’ll recall, is the techno-terrorist mad scientist wing of Hydra.  If it looks like AIM, acts like AIM, and smells like AIM…it’s probably AIM.  It’s not much of a stretch for me to imagine Director Hayward ‘Hail Hydra-ing’ his way across the dance floor at the MCU’s version of Mar-a-Lago, trying to convince the likes of Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy that science works and can totally be used for evil.
  • Vision #6, Jun 2016 – Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta

    Though very different in form, function, and origin from how he appears here, a version of Sparky the terrier first appeared in Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s Vision #6, Jun 2016.  No one asked, but King and Walta’s 12-issue series is hands-down one of the best things Marvel has published in the last decade.  Much to my sorrow, Mr. King has since gone on to write exclusively (and successfully!) for DC, taking home an Eisner Award — the comic book equivalent of an Oscar — for Best Writer in 2018.  Good stuff.

  • I feel like I should know the aerospace engineer Monica references, gentle reader, but I’d be lying if I claimed I knew who she was talking about.
  • Not sure either what Monica’s somewhat negative reaction to mention of Captain Marvel is all about.  It raises Jimmy and Darcy’s eyebrows, so I’m not the only one who noticed it.
  • Darcy calls the area effect Wanda controls ‘the Hex’; in the comics, that’s how Wanda refers to her own powers, as hex powers or hex effects.
  • I like how once Wanda’s not preoccupied by the twins, she can sense the presence of the S.W.O.R.D. drone in her space before she sees it.
  • Is Dennis the mailman the same fellow what’s running around in all these commercials?!
  • Pietro Maximoff in Avengers:  Age of Ultron was played by Aaron Johnson.  The Pietro Maximoff at the door at the end of this episode is played by Evan Peters, who also played the character in a trio of X-Men movies produced by Fox.  Same character, ostensibly different cinematic universes.  Very curious!

One last note here before we sign off.  One of my favorite moments in the entire MCU happens in Captain America:  The Winter Soldier (2014).  It’s a quiet bit of business, not an action scene at all.  Sam Wilson explains to Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff that the last of the EXO-7 Falcon suits he uses is located at Fort Meade, behind three guarded gates and a 12-inch steel wall.  Steve looks at Natasha, who just shrugs.  “It shouldn’t be a problem,” says Steve, and it’s not, because there’s nothing going on at Fort Meade that can, or was ever meant to, keep out two A-list super-heroes like Captain America and the Black Widow.  The film doesn’t even bother to show us the retrieval.  Next thing we know, Sam has the suit, and that’s that.

We’ve discussed in earlier posts the MCU’s general reluctance to embrace the mythological aspects of its characters and concepts.  With rare exceptions, the movies have proven much more comfortable with street-level elements that can be somewhat plausibly explained.  Judging by their treatment of Thor in particular, the magical and the mythical seem almost embarrassing to the MCU’s showrunners.  For once, that’s not the case here.  Wanda’s confrontation with Director Hayward and the forces of S.W.O.R.D. grants her the full, terrifying scope of her awesome powers.  Elizabeth Olsen is wonderful here, all anger and sadness, dominance and despair.  The show allows her to  put the super in super-hero, and the message couldn’t be more clear:

Don’t fuck with the Scarlet Witch.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, if you see anything I missed, go ahead and lay it on me!

See you next episode.

Categories
Television

WandaVision, Ep.4: We Interrupt This Program

Welcome back to our episode-by-episode exploration of WandaVision.  There are spoilers up ahead; this article assumes you’ve seen up through the fourth episode.  Also, if there are Marvel Cinematic Universe movies of recent vintage you haven’t seen — everything since 2018, say — you might want to check those out before continuing, as those will be pertinent to our discussion here.

Like lightning from a clear blue sky, in a plot twist I did not even sort of see coming, WandaVision ep.4 appears to offer up more answers than questions, and now I hardly know what to do with myself.  You do remember I said a certain scarlet associated person warps reality, yes?

Our story this week begins with Geraldine (Teyonah Parris) — who’s actually Monica Rambeau; you may remember her as Captain Marvel’s friend Maria’s daughter, Lieutenant Trouble, in Captain Marvel (2019) — coming back from the dead, along with everyone else who was a victim of Thanos’s extinction of half the life in the universe back in Avengers:  Infinity War (2018).  If we’re gonna go full geek with it — and this blog is called the Opposite of Cool, so full geek it is — we’ll recall that all the victims of Thanos got brought back at great personal cost by the Infinity Gautlet-wearing Hulk in Avengers:  Endgame (2019).  This event is known as the Blip (as opposed to the original Thanos event, which is called the Snap), first noted in Spider-Man:  Far from Home (2019).

Monica has no sense or memory of either Snap or Blitz.  The last she remembers, she was in her mother’s hospital room following a successful surgery.  Monica learns she’s been presumed dead and gone these past five years.  Her mother died from cancer three years ago.

Monica returns to her job at S.W.O.R.D., or tries to; her card no longer works, and a former colleague, Tyler Hayward, has been installed as director of the organization while she’s been gone.  Monica is given what’s intended to be a softball assignment assisting the FBI on a missing persons case in Westview, New Jersey, overseeing the use of a high-tech S.W.O.R.D. imaging drone.

The FBI agent in charge of this operation is James ‘Jimmy’ Woo (Randall Park), who made his MCU debut in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018).  He needs the S.W.O.R.D. drone because not only has his contact in a witness protection program gone missing, none of the contact’s friends or associates have ever even heard of him.  More, the local cops Jimmy has enlisted claim point-blank, not ten feet from a Welcome to Westview sign, that the town of Westview doesn’t exist.[1]The police claim they’re from Eastview, and the stencilling on their car would appear to back that up.  As Monica sums it up, Jimmy can’t reach anyone inside the town, and everyone outside of it has selective amnesia.

“Why haven’t you gone inside to investigate?” asks Monica.

“Because it doesn’t want me to,” says Jimmy.  “You can feel it too, can’t you?”[2]This put me in mind of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1975), 12-year old Mark Petrie cutting Susan Norton’s adult rationalizations regarding a vampire king off at the heels:  … Continue reading

Monica’s S.W.OR.D. drone, S-57, disappears into the energy field surrounding the town, mystifying Monica and Jimmy; shortly after that, investigating the field up close, Monica disappears into it as well.

Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings)

24 hours later, a full federal response has been set up oustide Westview at a makeshift S.W.O.R.D Response Base.  Astrophysicist Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), from Thor (2011), is one of several experts brought in to help solve the Westview mystery (other fields include nuclear biology, artificial intelligence, and chemical engineering).  Darcy discovers a ‘colossal’ amount of CMBR, Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, connected to the energy field surrounding the town.  She also discovers another wavelength superimposed over the CMBR…and tunes in to the WandaVision sitcom we’ve all been watching.

“Is that…?” Jimmy asks.

“It looks like her,” says Darcy.  “Look, I know it’s been a crazy few years on this planet, but he’s dead, right?  Not blipped.  Dead.”

“Is this authentic?” Director Hayward asks.

“I’m not sure how to answer that,” says Darcy.  She admits she doesn’t know where the broadcast is coming from, if it’s happening in real time or pre-recorded.

“So you’re saying the universe created a sitcom starring two Avengers?” asks Jimmy.

Darcy tells him it’s a working theory.  She watches the end of WandaVision ep. 1, with its I Love Lucy style credits, and we see the notebook with the S.W.O.R.D. logo.  This happens almost exactly at the halfway point of the episode.

The response team begins identifying real-life townspeople who have been cast in the sitcom, including Monica, who’s been woven into the tapestry of the show.  Meanwhile, a S.W.O.R.D. agent in a hazmat suit had been sent through the sewers to try to make contact with Monica, and provide a first-hand account of what’s going on.  This agent in the hazmat suit turns out to be the beekeeper who popped up out of the sewers at the end of episode 2, prompting Wanda to impose her rewind.

Darcy comes up with an idea to match the broadcast frequency of the show, attempting to communicate with Wanda through one of the radios seen on the set.  We saw the results of that in episode 2 while Wanda was cleaning up with Dottie — it was Jimmy Woo’s voice saying, “Wanda?  Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?” — and Darcy notes a strange editing effect at work.  She never sees the broken glass and blood on Dottie’s palm, which has apparently been removed entirely from the broadcast.

Jimmy and Darcy are watching episode 3, ‘live’, following the birth of Wanda’s twins (“Twins!  What a twist,” says Darcy), when Geraldine / Monica mentions Ultron.  “Did she just say the name Ultron?” asks Jimmy.  “Has that happened before?  A reference to our reality?”

“No.  Never,” says Darcy.

Jimmy and Darcy see the beginning of Wanda and Monica’s episode 3 disagreement, and then…cut straight to closing Brady Bunch style credits, Wanda and the Vision sitting on the couch with their twins.  “What happened?  Where’d she go?” says Jimmy.

“God, not again,” says Darcy.  She rewinds the recording.  “There’s nothing here.  One second, Monica is standing right there, and the next, she isn’t.  Someone is censoring the broadcast.”

An alarm sounds, reporting a breach of the energy field.

Darcy and Jimmy don’t see it, but we do:  what really happened between Wanda and Monica at the end of episode 3:

“Who are you?” says Wanda.

“Wanda…I’m just your neighbor.”

“Then how did you know about Ultron?  You’re not my neighbor.  And you’re definitely not my friend.  You are a stranger and an outsider.  And right now, you are trespassing here.  And I want you to leave.”

Wanda violently expels Monica from Westview, blowing her through walls and fences (she fixes the property damage with a wave of her hands).  The Vision enters shortly after.  “Where is Geraldine?”

“Oh, she left, honey.  She had to rush home.”  She turns to the Vision, and for a moment sees him dead, pale and colorless, a ruined, violated space on his brow where the Mind Stone that animated him once sat.  She looks away and clears her head, and he’s back to normal (or what passes for normal in a reality-warping sitcom with a synthetic man who’s supposed to be dead).

“We don’t have to stay here,” the Vision tells her.  “We can go wherever we want.”

“No, we can’t,” Wanda tells him sadly.  “This is our home.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh, don’t worry, darling.  I have everything under control.”

Outside Westview, dazed and hanging on to consciousness as we saw her at the end of episode 3, Monica makes a startling declaration as to the cause of the anomaly:  “It’s Wanda.  It’s all Wanda.”

Back in the WandaVision reality, Wanda and the Vision settle down on the couch for a bit of television.  Roll Brady Bunch style credits, to Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return).’

____

High diving head-first into the shallow end:

  • Monica Rambeau is the super-hero known as Spectrum in the comics, created by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr.; her first appearance was Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, Aug 1982.
  • We have confirmation of S.W.O.R.D.’s involvement, though the acronym, and presumably the mission statement, has been changed somewhat.  In the comics, S.W.OR.D. stands for Sentient World Observation and Response Department; here in WandaVision, it stands for Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division.  Going by the name, I’d guess that the MCU’s S.W.OR.D. is an outfit dedicated to winning (or at least keeping pace in) the super-human arms race (though I’d caution that’s just speculation on my part).  S.W.O.R.D.’s first comics appearance was Astonishing X-Men #3, Sep 2004, and they were created by Joss Whedon[3]The same Joss Whedon that would go on to direct Avengers and Avengers:  Age of Ultron. and John Cassaday.
  • Yellow Claw #1, Oct 1956, by Al Feldstein and Joe Maneely – 1st pre-Marvel appearance of Jimmy Woo.

    Jimmy Woo is a character whose existence predates Marvel Comics altogether.  His first appearance was in Atlas Comics’ Yellow Claw #1, Oct 1956, created by Al Feldstein and Joe Maneely.  Jimmy Woo is notable for being the rare (if not only) Asian protagonist in the comics of this period.  His first official Marvel Comics appearance was Strange Tales #160, Sep 1967, story and art by Jim Steranko.  Where the Jimmy Woo of the MCU is kind of a comedic figure, the Jimmy Woo of the comics is exceedingly crafty and capable.  Lots of secrets, lots of plans.

  • No confirmation in this episode as to whether my Agnes as Agatha Harkness or Dottie as the Enchantress theories are true.  Then again, neither do we have confirmation that they’re not true.  According to the S.W.O.R.D. response team’s board, Agnes has a sheet but hasn’t been matched up to a driver’s license or ID yet; Dottie doesn’t have any sheet at all.  Same deal with AIM.  There’s nothing definitive that tells me AIM is involved with all this, but neither is there anything definitive to tell me they aren’t.  All those Hydra commercials and that beekeeper…it’d be quite the coincidence if all that added up to nothing, wouldn’t it?
  • Captain America (Chris Evans) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014).

    More AIM / Hydra:  is it just me, or does Director Hayward’s stroll with Monica through S.W.O.R.D.’s Mission Operations area, and his accompanying speech — “The world’s not the same as you left it.  Space is now full of unexpected threats.” — evocative of Nick Fury’s speech to Captain America regarding the threat-identifying (and -eliminating) helicarriers in Captain America:  Winter Soldier?  Hmm.

  • Yet more AIM / Hydra:  Might be something, might be nothing, but an associate of Opposite of Cool pointed out the number on the ‘Eastview’ police car is 1966.  The Scarlet Witch’s first appearance is 1964, the Vision’s 1968, Hydra’s 1965, Jimmy Woo’s 1967…but AIM?  You guessed it.  1966.  And lest we forget, AIM started as a Hydra division.
  • The number on Monica’s SUV is S-8512.  Again, might be nothing, but…Agatha Harkness makes an appearance in Vision and the Scarlet Witch #3, Dec 1985.  It’s also the issue where Wanda gets the idea to use magic to make herself pregnant.  Just sayin’.
  • The number on Monica’s imaging drone is S-57, which, as we’ve noted, alludes to the Vision’s first appearance in Avengers #57, Oct 1968.  This is the same drone re-imagined as a toy helicopter that Wanda picks up out of the bushes in WandaVision ep.2.
  • Kat Dennings’s character, Darcy Lewis, has no analog in the comics; she’s a character original to the MCU.  Metatextually, Darcy is herself something of a sitcom chacter, with her snappy joke-a-second dialogue and demeanor.  She wouldn’t be at all out of place on The Big Bang Theory (2007 – 2019), say.  Dennings is probably best known for her work on a sitcom, 2 Broke Girls (2011 – 2017).
  • It pleased me to see characters recognize Wanda and the Vision right off the bat.  While many super-heroes in the Marvel Universe have secret identities, many do not.  Avengers tend to be household names and are often famous on a global scale.  It totally tracks for me that people would immediately recognize a pair of Avengers, even in this unexpected context.
  • The shape of the energy field around Westview is hexagonal.  We’ve seen plenty of hexagonal imagery up to this point in WandaVision.  The I Love Lucy credits at the end of episode 1 feature a hexagon, as do the Bewitched credits at the end of episode 2.  The opening Brady Bunch-style credits of Episode 3 feature hexagons instead of squares.
  • The tether connecting the S.W.O.R.D. agent / beekeeper turns into a plastic jump rope when it crosses the boundary of the energy field.  I haven’t seen one of those in a long, long time.  Took me a moment to place it!
  • I don’t know for certain if this is what’s happening — I still suspect Hydra / AIM / Enchantress shenanigans — but it makes me a little weepy to think that Wanda Maximoff in her unbearable grief may have created her own controllable reality and pulled it in after her.
  • That said, it makes me happy to see, for once, an MCU character given the full mythic scope– maybe — of her abilities.  The Scarlet Witch of the comics has the power (and the personality) to do something like what we’re perhaps seeing the Wanda Maximoff of the MCU do here.  She’s a hero, yes, but one possessed of a terrible (and terrifying) power.

I hope you’ll let me know if you have any questions, or if you see something I missed (though mind the spoilers).  See you next week, when we’ll pass the halfway point of WandaVision!

References

References
1 The police claim they’re from Eastview, and the stencilling on their car would appear to back that up.
2 This put me in mind of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1975), 12-year old Mark Petrie cutting Susan Norton’s adult rationalizations regarding a vampire king off at the heels:  “Can’t you feel how bad he is?  Doesn’t that house make you afraid, just looking at it?”
3 The same Joss Whedon that would go on to direct Avengers and Avengers:  Age of Ultron.
Categories
Television

WandaVision, Ep.3: Now in Color

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.

Avengers (2012), d. Joss Whedon

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.

At all.

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.

    Vision and the Scarlet Witch #12, Sep 1986, by Steve Englehart and Richard Howell
  • “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?”[1]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:

  1. S.W.O.R.D.[2]Which stands, gentle reader, for Sentient World Observation and Response Department
  2. Agnes / Agatha Harkness
  3. A.I.M[3]That’s Advanced Idea Mechanics to us!
  4. 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 Moore[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 … 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.

Sound familiar?

And like what I think we’re seeing in WandaVision, it all goes swimmingly…

…until it doesn’t.

See you next week.

References

References
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.
Categories
Television

WandaVision, Ep.2: Don’t Touch That Dial

Note:  Welcome back to our episode-by-episode exploration of WandaVision.  There are spoilers ahead; this article assumes you’ve seen the show up through the second episode.

It occurred to me more than once, watching this episode, that to this point WandaVision encourages a kind of active conspiracy theorizing.  You’re presented with events and information that not only don’t feel quite right; you question whether or not they’re tethered to objective reality at all.  What, if anything, here can be taken as ‘fact’?  So you begin this elaborate game of connecting the dots, searching for meaning and connotation where it’s possible none exist.  Mind you, like any committed conspiracy theorist, I think in this case meaning and connotation do exist…but can I prove it?  Gentle reader, I cannot.  Not at this juncture, at any rate.  This must be what those Q-Anon adherents feel like, minus the lunacy, sedition, and racism.

Still in classic sitcom black and white, WandaVision ep.2 begins with a cold open, Wanda and the Vision awakened in the middle of the night from their individual and ever-so-separate twin beds by a series of loud crashing sounds.  They eventually determine these sounds are being caused by tree branches blowing against the house in the wind.  But are they?

We’ll come back to this matter of crashing noises outside, but first, a note about these twin beds, which are first pushed together by Wanda and then magically combined altogether:  The Hays Code kept even married couples on television in separate beds until 1964, usually with a night-stand or something in between, so as not to foster any notions among impressionable viewers that the beds were being pushed together to create an indoor arena for that most questionable and damning of sports.  Curiously, Ozzie and Harriet had a double bed, but we never saw them sleep in it (and somehow that seems even more perverse and suggestive than if they had just slept in it).  The first couple to actually share a bed on American network television?  Darrin and Samantha Stephens of Bewitched (1964)…the very same show which, not incoincidentally, provides the inspiration / template for this episode’s animated opening credits.  And as we’ll see, it might be fitting in other ways, assuming my conspiracy theories are anywhere close to hitting the mark…but I digress.

Come post-credits daybreak, Wanda and the Vision prepare for their part in the local talent show, a benefit ‘for the children.’  They’re performing a magic act, Vision as magician and Wanda as assistant, with a ‘Cabinet of Mysteries’ that makes the person in the cabinet disappear.[1]I couldn’t help but think of Gob and his similar Aztec Tomb in Arrested Development, insisting to his brother that it’s an illusion; a trick, he says, is something a whore does for … Continue reading  Vision worries about the transparency of the disappearing act — it’s of course just a rotating panel in the box, nothing magical about it — but Wanda assures him that’s the whole point:  “In a real magic act, everything is fake.”  Indeed.

The Vision leaves for a gathering of the neighborhood watch at the library, while Wanda prepares to attend the seating committee for the talent show.  Before she has a chance to leave, she hears the crashing sound again.  She goes outside to search for the source of the sound, and finds a small toy helicopter in the bushes.  The helicopter is easy to make out, as it’s the only thing in this black and white environment that’s in color.  Red and gold.  Stark / Iron Man colors.  It’s also sporting a sword logo, like what we saw on the notebook from last week’s closing credits.

Before she has a chance to inspect it more fully, however, her friend and nosy neighbor Agnes arrives to drop off a pet rabbit for the magic act.  Wanda drops the helicopter back into the bushes, takes the rabbit inside, and then the two walk to the committee meeting.  The meeting is chaired by neighborhood mean girl, Dottie (Emma Caulfield Ford), who Agnes refers to as ‘Queen Cul-de-Sac.’  Agnes attempts to give Wanda a bit of friendly advice:  Dottie is the key to everything in this town, and that Wanda should be on her best behavior to ingratiate herself with Dottie.  “Or maybe I could just be myself, more or less,” suggests Wanda.  Agnes gives her a look that’s pure dismay; somewhere in  between Oh, honey…no and Are you fucking crazy?  The ensuing silence is just long and awkward enough to make an impact before Agnes breaks into nervous laughter.  It’s nice work by Kathryn Hahn and director Matt Shakman.

Wanda gets off on something of a wrong foot with Dottie at the seating committee, though to be fair, it’s probably hard not to get off on the wrong foot with Dottie.  Wanda claps at the wrong time, speaks at the wrong time, eats at the wrong time.  She does manage to strike up a friendly bit of conversation with a new acquaintance, Geraldine (Teyonah Parris), whose name is almost certainly not Geraldine.  We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Dottie, Queen of Cul-de-Sacs (Emma Caulfield Ford)

Meanwhile, the Vision attends the neighborhood watch gathering at the library.  Turns out the only neighborhood watching going on concerns gossiping, farting around, and eating danishes.  Someone gives the Vision a stick of gum, which he accidentally swallows, playing havoc with his internal parts.

Back at the seating committe, Wanda has been chosen by Dottie to stay behind after the meeting and help clean up (which means Wanda does all the work while Dottie supervises).  A strange conversation ensues:

“I’ve heard things about you,” says Dottie.  “You and your husband.”

“Well, I don’t know what you’ve been told,” says Wanda, “but I assure you I don’t mean anyone any harm.”

“I don’t believe you,” says Dottie.

And then the nearby clock radio, sitting on a lawn table, begins to screech with static and the Beach Boys’ ‘Help Me Rhonda’ — another heart reference:  Help me, Rhonda, yeah, get her out of my heart — before a man’s voice says, “Wanda.  Wanda, can you read me?  Wanda?”

Both women look at the radio, stunned.  “Who is that?” says Dottie, frightened.  “Who are you?”

“Wanda?” says the man’s voice on the radio.  “Wanda.  Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?”

The radio blows a fuse and the glass in Dottie’s hand shatters, cutting her palm and breaking the spell.  Wanda procures a towel for Dottie’s hand (her blood is in color), and as with the Lynchian choking scene in the last episode, just like that we’re back to ‘normal.'[2]David Lynch is the director of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive, and creator of the television show Twin Peaks.  Scratching the surface of the mundane to reveal the sinister strikes me … Continue reading

“Pop quiz, Wanda,” says Dottie.  “How does a housewife get a bloodstain out of white linen?  By doing it herself.”  It’s presented here as comedy, cued by the laugh track, though the line itself strikes me as deeply ominous.

Another of these in-universe commercial follows, this time for the Strucker brand wrist-watch, with the same actors as last week’s commercial for the Toastmate 2000.  Strucker, you’ll recall, is the Hydra goon who engineered Wanda and Pietro Maximoff’s powers back in Avengers:  Age of Ultron.  It’s the second episode in a row we have a commercial for an appliance or piece of machinery, which ends with a metronomic sound increasing in frequency and volume.

At the talent show, Wanda and her new friend Geraldine, acting as the stage manager, anxiously await the Vision’s arrival.  He shows up late and obviously impaired, the gum he swallowed back at the library still doing its number on him.  There’s no time to figure it out before the pair are whisked on-stage for their magic act.  Billed as Glamor and Illiusion, hijinx ensue from the Vision’s confusion:  he unwisely displays many of his various powers — flight, super-strength, intangibility — with Wanda covering for him, Bewitched style, with her magic.

The Cabinet of Mysteries

The Cabinet of Mysteries is the last of their magic tricks.  Vision shuts the door to the cabinet before Wanda can get in it, but thanks to Wanda’s magic, when the Vision opens the cabinet, it’s a somewhat puzzled Geraldine who steps out.

Backstage, Wanda figures out what’s affecting the Vision and removes the offending gum from his system with her powers.  The pair attempt to slink off back home, believing that Dottie and the committee will think they’ve ruined the show, but instead, they’re given an award for the ‘inaugural Comedy Performance of the Year’ and a standing ovation from the town.  “For the children!”

After arriving back home that night, Wanda and the Vision discover, with the strange logic of dreams — more David Lynch — that she’s several months pregnant.  “Vision…is this really happening?”  Their moment is interrupted by another loud crashing sound.  They go outside to investigate (the only people in the neighborhood to do so) and watch as a sinister figure in a beekeeper suit, bees buzzing around him, emerges from beneath a manhole cover.  He stands in the street, taking in his surroundings, before suddenly turning his gaze directly towards Wanda and the Vision.

“No,” says Wanda Maximoff, and we rewind, literally, back to, “Vision…is this really happening?”  This time, no crashing sound occurs, or perhaps is allowed to occur…and black and white gives way to technicolor with Wanda’s gaze, surprising her and the Vision both.  The couple kiss, with a Bewitched-style end credits overlay imposed, and then a repeat of the radio man’s voice:  “Wanda.  Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?  Wanda.”  Roll credits.

____

And here I was thinking, gentle reader, that this post would be shorter than the last one.  Wishful thinking.  Let’s tackle some of this in more depth, shall we?  You know you want to…

  • This episode takes a lot of its visual and thematic cues –including the animated opening credits and the sly nod to the double bed — from Bewitched, a series that ran from 1964 to 1972 about a suburban housewife, Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) who was a witch.  Indeed, she was from a whole family of people with witch powers, and like Wanda in this show, would use her magic powers to get in and get out of all kinds of trouble.  Wanda’s magic in this episode is often accompanied by a twinkling sound, similar to the sound that would sometimes accompany Samantha’s magic.
  • Wanda’s powers in this episode aren’t so much telekinetic or mind-affecting as we’ve seen in the past; here, they’re more straight-up magical.  Or reality-affecting.  Take your pick.
  • The toy helicopter with the Iron Man colors and the sword logo has a number 57 painted on it.  The Vision’s first comic appearance was Avengers #57, Oct 1968.
  • Fantastic Four # 94, Jan 1970 – First appearance of Agatha Harkness.

    I still think Agnes the nosy next-door neighbor might well be Agatha Harkness.  I’ve no proof of it, and it’d be a deep cut if so.  Of course, there’s no guarantee that even if she is Agatha Harkness, she’s anything like her comic book counterpart.  Agatha Harkness first appeared in Fantastic Four #94, Jan 1970, as a nanny / babysitter to yet another reality manipulator, young Franklin Richards.

  • No idea who or what Dennis the mailman / messenger might be.  My guess is it’ll be something we learn later.
  • Wanda is sporting a very Laura Petrie-ish fashion vibe with her sleek pant ensemble at the seating committee meeting.  Laura Petrie was Rob Petrie’s wife on The Dick Van Dyke Show, played by the iconic Mary Tyler Moore, and so far as I’m aware, she was the first woman to regularly wear pants on network television.[3]My TV expert / consultant tells me that Moore’s screentime in pants was carefully monitored by the network, with limits set on the time she could spend in them!
  • Time for some wildly unfounded conjecture concerning Dottie / Queen Cul-de-Sac and Her Merry Homemakers:
  • Dottie is normally a short form or nickname for Dorothy.  The most famous and obvious Dorothy, of course, is Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz (1939), a movie with which this episode of WandaVision has some parallels:  camera work that goes from black and white to color, and an odd dreamscape with one foot in reality, featuring people from real life cast in the fantasy land.  That movie culminates with a seemingly god-like figure behind the scenes revealed to be, well…not all that.  No Marvel Universe character named Dorothy is springing to mind, but bear with me on this Dottie business.
  • Agnes tells Wanda that Dottie’s roses “bloom under penalty of death,” an odd phrase.  It comes right before Agnes’s friendly advice about Dottie being “the key to everything in this town.”  And the first thing Agnes says to Dottie is, “Your roses are divine.”  Hmm.  Later, Dottie tells one of the women at the seating committee that the Devil is in the details.  “That’s not the only place he is,” says Agnes to Wanda.  That’s a lot of talk in a very short span of time alluding to death, divinity, and the Devil.
    Journey into Mystery #103, April 1964 – First appearance of the Enchantress.

    So…no one named Dorothy I can think of, or Dottie, for that matter, but Dottie sounds like daughter to me, which made me think of Angela Odinsdotter,[4]Thor’s sister in the comics, created by Neil Gaiman which made me think of Asgardians and divinity.  And that in turn made me think that there’s at least one Asgardian in the Marvel Universe who would most definitely be inclined to get all up in the Scarlet Witch’s business.

    Amora, the Enchantress.

    Hey, I told you it was wildly unfounded conjecture.

  • The talent show is ostensibly a benefit for Westview Elementary School children…children that are never seen or otherwise referred to anywhere.  People in the town associated with the talent show have a disturbing habit of repeating For the children like a mantra or prayer whenever someone utters the phrase.
  • “All of this,” says Dottie, “is for the children.”
  • More Bewitched:  the seating committee suggests a witch’s coven to me.  Indeed, there are three women at the seating committee, sitting apart from everyone else, who never say anything — except maybe for the children  — and who follow Dottie around.  Three is a number traditionally associated with witches and figures of prophecy.  Think the Fates, the Norns, and Macbeth’s three witches.  Again, might just be conspiracy theorizing on my part, attempting to assign meaning where there is none.  Somtimes a cigar is just a cigar.  And sometimes it’s three witches watering the roots of the World Tree.
  • “I’m Wanda.”
    “I’m…uh…Geraldine.”
    Oooookay.
  • Contrary to what we see in this episode, it’s my understanding that the Vision’s body isn’t full of gears and the like.  He’s a synthetic person, not a robot; think artificial instead of mechanical.  It’s true he doesn’t eat food — he’s solar-powered — nor does he require sleep, but in most respects he’s physiologically more human than a terminator, say, or C3P0.
  • Vision and the Scarlet Witch #9, June 1986 – Glamor and Illusion on the Tarot cards, and…holy shit, is that the Enchantress?!

    Wanda and the Vision’s ‘Glamor and Illusion’ personas are taken from the comics, sort of, as is their attempt to live like normal-ish people in the suburbs (Leonia, New Jersey in the comics!).  The tale of their suburban lifestyle can be seen in Vision and the Scarlet Witch (1985) #1 – 12, by Steve Englehart[5]Englehart, who wrote Avengers from 1972 to 1976, was the writer who first put the Vision and the Scarlet Witch together. and Richard Howell.  Glamor and Illusion were Glynis and Ilya Zarkov, neighbors of the Visions, and like Wanda and the Vision in this episode, they had a magic act augmented by super powers; they first appeared in Vision and the Scarlet Witch #4, Jan 1986.

  • Wanda and the Vision have a different front door than the one we saw in episode 1.  This episode’s front door is exactly like the Stephens’ front door from — you guessed it — Bewitched.  They also share a bedroom layout similar to the Stephens’ (note, if you’ve a mind to, the fireplace next to the bedroom window).
  • The fellow crawling from the manhole suggests one thing and one thing only:  Advanced Idea Mechanics, a.k.a. AIM, the mad scientist wing of Hydra, created by none other than former Nazi asshole Baron von Strucker.  They traditionally wear these bright yellow numbers that resemble beekeeper outfits.  And while most of what we’ve seen so far concerns Wanda Maximoff, it’d be the Vision that’d likely draw the interest of AIM.  AIM was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; their first appearance was Strange Tales #146, July 1966.

    AIM ‘beekeepers’; art by Jack Kirby.
  • Wanda’s reaction to the beekeeper — “No.” — followed by a literal rewind is what I’d expect from the Scarlet Witch.  You do remember I said her powers warp reality, yes?
  • Wanda and the Vision are more or less in their traditional colors during the episode’s last scene.  The Vision in green and gold, Wanda in scarlet (what else?).

That’s episode 2!  Thank you for being here, and for allowing me to do my level best to melt your mind and exhaust your patience.  If you know something about TV that I don’t — not just possible, but likely — please let me know, and if you think I might know something about Marvel Comics that you’d like to know, ask away.  See you next episode!

References

References
1 I couldn’t help but think of Gob and his similar Aztec Tomb in Arrested Development, insisting to his brother that it’s an illusion; a trick, he says, is something a whore does for money…”or candy!” he adds for the benefit of the small children crowding about the Tomb.  Weird fact:  the pilot episode of Arrested Development the Tomb appeared in was directed by Joe and Anthony Russo…the very same Russo Brothers who would go on to direct Captain America:  Winter Soldier, Captain America:  Civil War, Avengers:  Infinity War, and Avengers:  Endgame.
2 David Lynch is the director of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive, and creator of the television show Twin Peaks.  Scratching the surface of the mundane to reveal the sinister strikes me as characteristic of much of his work.
3 My TV expert / consultant tells me that Moore’s screentime in pants was carefully monitored by the network, with limits set on the time she could spend in them!
4 Thor’s sister in the comics, created by Neil Gaiman
5 Englehart, who wrote Avengers from 1972 to 1976, was the writer who first put the Vision and the Scarlet Witch together.
Categories
Television

WandaVision, Ep. 1: Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience

Note:  There are major spoilers ahead.  This article assumes some familiarity with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so if you haven’t seen Avengers:  Infinity War, Avengers:  Endgame, and the first episode of WandaVision, do that first and then come back.

One of the weirdest things about the post-geek world we find ourselves living in is the way in which what was once the secret, shameful province of a select and outcast few has not only been embraced by mainstream pop culture, but has become, for the moment at least, a vital part of its foundation.  Thanks to the movies, you find people who’ve never read a comic book in their lives taking ownership of the likes of Captain America and Iron Man, and discussing the Marvel Cinematic Universe by the cold light of day, as if that’s a perfectly normal thing to do (which now, I guess, it is…but oh, my sweet summer children, ’twas not always so).  This phenomena is a little jarring for someone like me, who’s been living intimately with the idea of mutants, androids, super-soldiers, thunder gods, and crime-fighting teen-agers in spider costumes for pretty much the entirety of their life.  I’m not sure how many Marvel Comics I’m harboring / hoarding in my collection, but it’s somewhere well north of sanity…all of which is to say that I’m walking in the door of any MCU movie or television show pre-burdened with decades of history and unreasonably militant notions too powerful for mortal brains to contain.

X-Men #4, March 1964: First appearance of the Scarlet Witch, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Both the principal characters of WandaVision have been around for 50+ years in print form.  The quick version:  Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, made her debut in X-Men #4, March 1964.[1]The actual publication date, according to the online Catalog of Copyright Entries — it’s as much fun as it sounds — was January 4 1964.  Back in the days when comic books could … Continue reading  She and her brother Pietro, a.k.a. Quicksilver were a pair of east European orphans press-ganged into Magneto’s mutant rights terrorist group, the helpfully-named Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Avengers #16, May 1965 – The Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye join Captain America as the first replacement Avengers.

Later, in Avengers #16, May 1965,[2]March 13 1965, CCE. Wanda and Pietro, along with Hawkeye, would join Captain America as the first Avengers replacing the departing original members.  As for the Vision, his first comic appearance was in Avengers #57, October 1968[3]August 10 1968, CCE.  Created / repurposed[4]We’re not going to go into it, but trust me when I tell you that the particulars of the Vision’s origin story are a labrythine rabbit hole of epic proportions. by the ape-shit evil super robot Ultron-5 to destroy the Avengers, the Vision instead wound up embracing humanity and joining the group.  If you’re thinking that creating a synthetic super-being for the express purpose of eliminating your enemies is taking the long way around, fact is that’s just the way shit got done in 1968, particularly if you were a megamaniacal human-hating robot.  Anyway…

The Marvel Cinematic Universe versions of these characters — the ones we’ll be dealing with here in WandaVision — both made their first appearances in Avengers:  Age of Ultron (2015, d. Joss Whedon), with Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff[5]To the best of my knowledge, she’s never actually called the Scarlet Witch in the MCU. and Paul Bettany as the Vision.

There are some notable differences between comics and movies, some which may prove relevant to events in, and our understanding of, WandaVision:

  • Avengers #57, Oct 1968 – First appearance of the Vision, created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema.

    The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver of the comics are mutants, people born with powers that typically manifest at puberty.  Mutants are an often feared and distrusted minority in the comics.  Wanda and Pietro Maximoff in the movies are super-humans whose powers were engineered by Hydra’s Baron Strucker, utilizing the power of one of the six Infinity Stones, the Mind Stone.[6]The other five are Space, Reality, Power, Soul, and Time.

  • The Vision of the comics was created by Ultron, with “brain patterns” based on the deceased Simon Williams, a.k.a. Wonder Man, to destroy the Avengers.  In the movies, the Vision is created by Ultron to house Ultron’s consciousness.  The Avengers steal the synthetic body, uploading Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S. AI into it, and the Vision is given somewhat accidental Frakenstein life by lightning from Thor’s hammer and use of the Mind Stone — the very same stone that granted the Maximoffs their powers — which the Vision wears upon his brow.
  • The Vision’s powers work more or less the same in both print and film versions — he can control his body’s density, and fire solar-powered rays — but that’s not the case at all with the Scarlet Witch.  Up to this point, the Wanda Maximoff of the movies has shown some ability to affect minds (in Age of Ultron), but her primary power seems to be telekinesis; she moves things with her mind, typically accompanied by a swirling red effect.  The Scarlet Witch of the comics, however, warps reality.  You read that right:  her power warps reality.  Usually in small ways, sometimes in larger ways, and on at least one occasion on a scale that was world-changing, even godlike.
Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)

Now that’s a whole lot of virtual ink spilled on comic books for what’s supposed to be a review of a television show, but I suspect that this matter of reality warping may have some part to play in WandaVision.  One big clue:  the last time we saw our Avenging heroes in Avengers:  Endgame (2019), the Vision was dead.  Or inert.  Non-functioning.  No longer in operation.  Whatever we’d call it when a synthetic person stops working, that’s what the Vision was, the Mind Stone that animated him taken from his brow by Thanos in Avengers:  Infinity War (2018) and returned to the time stream by Captain America at the conclusion of Endgame.

All nine episodes of WandaVision were directed by veteran Matt Shakman, who’s done a ton of television:  episodes of Raising Hope, Mad Men, Fargo, The Good Wife, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Game of Thrones, and Billions, among many others, plus an Emmy nomination for the episode of The Great he directed.  It’s a little unusual for a single director to handle every episode of a season or series; it’s a lot of work.  Typically, there’s a sort of ‘house style’ employed by a rotating stable of directors under the firm hand of the show runner (think something like The Sopranos:  one style, multiple directors).

The Vision (Paul Bettany)

This first episode appears to be nearly all set-up, with lots of questions, few (if any) answers.  No mention is made of the last time we saw these characters, and no explanation provided as to how or why they’re here.  Filmed almost entirely in black and white, most of the episode takes place in an idealized American Neverland mixed with elements of the MCU; a classic TV sitcom blend (complete with laugh track and Mid-Atlantic pronunctiation) of I Love Lucy (1951), Leave It to Beaver (1957), and The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961).

The episode’s plot concerns Wanda and the Vision hosting a dinner party for the Vision’s boss and his wife, the Harts (played by Fred Melamed, from the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, and Debra Jo Rupp, from That 70’s Show).  Wanda is given some unsolicited help for this dinner party by a persistently nosy neighbor, Agnes (Kathryn Hahn).  The dinner party is important for purposes of the Vision’s professional advancement at his job, Computational Services Inc., though what exactly that job entails, no one is quite sure, or they’re not saying:

“Would you be so good as to tell me what it is we do here exactly?  Do we make something?”

“No.”

“Right.  Do we buy or sell something?”

“No and no.”

“Then what is the purpose of this company?”

“All I know is since you’ve gotten here, productivity has gone up 300%!”

“Yes, but what is it we’re producing?”

“Computational forms.  And no one can process the data quite like you do, pal.  You’re like a walking computer!”

“What?  I most certainly am not!  I’m a regular carbon-based employee  made entirely of organic matter much like yourself, Norm!”

This entire episode, in fact, revolves around matters of memory, time, identity, and function:

  • Wanda hides her powers from the Harts, the Vision masquerades as a human in front of his colleagues.
  • Both Wanda and the Vision puzzle at first over the significance of the date, August 23rd,[7]If this date alludes to anything in some metatextual way, I confess, I’ve no idea what it is. before realizing it’s the night of the dinner date with the Harts.
  • Agnes assumes on their first meeting that Wanda is single, noting she’s not wearing a ring, and Wanda assures her she is married, to a man, “a human one, and tall!”  When pressed how long they’ve been married, after Wanda tries to pass off the significant date as her anniversary, she tells Agnes that it “feels like we’ve always been together.”  Later, Wanda will tell the Vision, “It’s our anniversary!”  The Vision’s reply:  “Anniversary of what?”
  • There’s an in-universe commercial for an advanced toaster, the Toastmate 2000 by Stark Industries.  Let’s recall here that in the MCU, Tony Stark is one of the creators of the Vision.  There’s a blinking red light on the toaster — the one and only thing in color to this point in the episode — accompanied by an alarm that sounds like a heart monitor.  The light with the sound blinks with increasing urgency to the end of the commercial, which ends with an exhortation to “Forget the past, this is your future!”
The Harts (Fred Melamed and Debro Jo Rupp)

Misunderstanding and narrow escape characterize the dinner party, until things take a momentarily Lynchian turn in terms of lighting and event.  When Mr. Hart presses them for their origins, neither Wanda nor the Vision knows exactly.  “Why did you come here?” asks Mr. Hart, growing agitated, and then beginning to choke on a morsel of food.  “Stop it,” says Mrs. Hart repeatedly, stress-smiling through this strange nightmare, as Mr. Hart falls to the ground, unable to breathe.  The Vision reaches into Mr. Hart’s throat and pulls the obstruction free at Wanda’s behest…at which point the laugh track returns, and the Harts make a sudden, polite exit.

After the Harts leave, Wanda and the Vision remark upon their lack of history, their lack of normality.  In-universe end credits begin — the same font and background as I Love Lucy! — before the camera pulls back and we see the in-universe credits on a monitor.  The world outside the monitor is in full color and apparently objective reality.  Someone writes some notes and then closes a notebook with a sword logo[8]There is an organization called S.W.O.R.D. in the Marvel Universe of the comics; they deal with extraterrestrial threats, invading aliens and the like. on its cover.

Some final thoughts on this episode:

  • As noted earlier, the Scarlet Witch’s powers in the comics warp reality.  If a person or organization had it in mind to create some sort of simulated existence, tapping into Wanda’s powers might be one way they could go about it.  It’s possible this sitcom existence might be a Sokovian girl’s idea of the ideal American experience.  Why create or manipulate a simulated reality?  Well, if you were an evil person or organization, and you found out there was a super-hero who literally had the power to alter what was or wasn’t at a whim, you might see your way to finding out if you could appropriate or direct said power for your own ends.  Not saying that’s what’s happening here, but I wouldn’t rule it out.  It’s also possible Wanda has created her own pocket reality in her grief over the Vision’s loss, though that doesn’t necessarily explain the notetaking and remote operation going on at the end of the episode.
  • The Vision struggles with memory in this episode, and that shouldn’t be possible.  With regard to the Vision’s powers of recall, he’s more machine than person; he should be able to recollect everything that’s ever happened to him or that he’s learned with unerring clarity.
  • I think Arthur Hart and his wife may represent Wanda and the Vision’s subconscious efforts to wake themselves up.
  • The only analog I can think of for Agnes is Agatha Harkness, who’s a no-shit burn-her-at-the-stake Salem-style witch.  The Agatha Harkeness of the comics has a long history with the Scarlet Witch as a kind of mentor, so her involvement would make some sense here.  Agatha Harkness isn’t young like Kathryn Hahn, though I suppose if you’re a witch who’s managed to stay alive for several lifetimes, altering your appearance probably wouldn’t prove all that difficult.  Also, as noted, what we’re seeing here probably isn’t ‘reality’ in any objective sense.

And there it is!  WandaVision Ep. 1, in the books!  Thanks for joining me; I hope you’ll let me know what you think, and if you have any questions!

References

References
1 The actual publication date, according to the online Catalog of Copyright Entries — it’s as much fun as it sounds — was January 4 1964.  Back in the days when comic books could still be found at newsstands and in grocery and convenience stores,, the thinking went that placing the cover date a couple months in advance of the actual publication date would fool proprietors into giving the book a longer shelf life.
2 March 13 1965, CCE.
3 August 10 1968, CCE.
4 We’re not going to go into it, but trust me when I tell you that the particulars of the Vision’s origin story are a labrythine rabbit hole of epic proportions.
5 To the best of my knowledge, she’s never actually called the Scarlet Witch in the MCU.
6 The other five are Space, Reality, Power, Soul, and Time.
7 If this date alludes to anything in some metatextual way, I confess, I’ve no idea what it is.
8 There is an organization called S.W.O.R.D. in the Marvel Universe of the comics; they deal with extraterrestrial threats, invading aliens and the like.