Marvel Studios’ first foray into television may have produced some of the most interesting and intriguing storytelling in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a shame that it also featured some of the most mediocre moments as well. Luckily, WandaVision‘s emotional core is incredibly strong. Spoilers for the entirety of WandaVision ahead.
Taking place directly after the events of Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision follows Wanda Maximoff and the Vision as they seem to be stuck in various sitcoms similar to those of decades passed. Over the course of the first three episodes, we slowly realize that Wanda appears to have some sort of control over the world around her. However, by the end of episode 5, we realize how much of it she has control over. Wanda has trapped the entirety of Westview, New Jersey in a hexagonal barrier with her controlling everything that happens inside as a way to cope with the loss of Vision. Over the course of WandaVision‘s run Wanda goes through the stages of grief as she is forced to accept that the version of Vision she loved is gone and that her actions are actively harming the world around her.
When WandaVision focuses on Wanda and Vision, it is near perfection. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany have endless chemistry and the amount of development the writers give them is astonishing. The scenes that stand out the most are the ones where the two just have each other to play off of, and their relationship is just as magical as Wanda’s powers. Their argument at the end of episode 5, “On a Very Special Episode…” is easily one of the best examples of this. They are easily my favorite relationship in the MCU, and much of that is due to the difference in medium.
Television lends itself perfectly to the storytelling present in comic books, with major cliffhangers between each section of the story that you then are forced to wait a significant amount of time before consuming the next section. The big difference being that there is only a single week between episodes instead of a month (or more) like there typically is for comic book issues.
This is reflected most in the way the series deals with its major reveals. Whether it be Wanda seemingly removing things from reality in the ending of episode 2, “Don’t Touch That Dial,” or the reveal that Agnes is really the witch Agatha Harkness and has been subtly influencing Wanda since the beginning of the show at the end of episode 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall.” Sadly, not all of them are executed well, such as Evan Peters’ Fietro, a reveal that is left feeling messy due to the way it is treated in the finale. That is not the only issue the finale has, but more on that later.
However, WandaVision‘s biggest pitfall is the subplot with S.W.O.R.D. While intriguing when first introduced in episode 4, “We Interrupt This Program,” over the course of the show it slowly becomes increasingly bland, often feeling weak compared to how intriguing the world inside the Hex is. The “real world” subplots are kept alive by the characters of Monica Rambeau, Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis, whose defense and understanding of the events that led Wanda to create the Hex help us sympathize with their part of the story. Teyonah Parris (Monica Rambeau), in particular, does an amazing job with the material she is giving, delivering a heartfelt performance despite the lackluster plot surrounding it.
The most glaring example of this weakness is how underwritten the antagonist is. Acting director of S.W.O.R.D., Tyler Hayward, has no real motivation other than simple greed, but the reason for his ambition is never shown. Compared to WandaVision‘s other major antagonist, Agatha Harkness, Hayward feels like an afterthought, which is a shame because it seemed like he had the potential to be interesting due to his experiences between Infinity War and Endgame that were hinted at in the fourth episode.
However, it is this exact weakness that allows WandaVision‘s eighth episode, “Previously On,” to shine so brightly despite the depressing imagery present within it. The time spent explaining the complicatedness of Wanda’s mind allows us to delve deep into her psyche as we, like Agatha, attempt to understand what led Wanda to create the Hex. The visual storytelling of each sequence is astounding and significantly better than most MCU films. Olsen’s performance in particular is exceptional, especially during her final breakdown that occurred shortly before the events of the first episode. Kathryn Hahn (Agatha Harkness) is enjoyable throughout this episode, playing a villain who seems to delight in her villainy. Writer Laura Donney and director Matt Shakman did a phenomenal job with this episode.
Because of the unbalanced storytelling quality of previous episodes, the finale felt like a mixed bag. The highlight of the finale was easily the conversation between the two Visions as they discuss the Ship of Theseus in a library, with Wanda’s Vision forcing a stalemate between the two of them over a sense of incompleteness. The final scene where Wanda says goodbye to Vision is fantastic as well due to how well developed their relationship became over the course of the show’s run. It left me feeling heartbroken, much like Wanda.
It is for this exact reason that I dislike the final “end-credits scene” with Wanda by herself in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. It feels like she is being further punished, as if being forced to give up Vision and her children wasn’t enough. While there is hope that she may find reincarnated versions of her kids (like in the comics), it still feels like an awful way to end this story. I realize it is a side effect of Marvel’s style of storytelling, but it still feels like a misguided decision by Marvel. It is strange that characters like Hawkeye and Iron Man can have happy family lives, but Wanda can’t.
Overall, WandaVision is a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with some strong emotional moments brought down by a lackluster subplot. I am excited to see where Marvel takes the Scarlet Witch next in Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness.