WandaVision Opened With a Stylishly Old-Fashioned Web of Lies and Intrigue

Wanda contemplating a mess.
Wanda contemplating a mess.
Screenshot: Disney+/Pixar

The first of WandaVision’s many secrets is one that the new Disney+ series actually reveals to you in the premiere episode’s first moments. You watch as Wanda Maximoff (aka Scarlet Witch) and her longtime beau, Vision, beeline straight from the altar to their new suburban home in the city of Westview. The Visions’ neighbors might not know it, but he’s a synthezoid, and she’s...something else.

Of course,  you know the pair isn’t really just an average couple, and that’s really all that matters as Marvel’s first Disney+ streaming series cuts straight to the chase in its first episode. The story brings us up to speed with the happenings in Wanda and Vision’s lives which are now seemingly taking place within an in-universe shown called “WandaVision.” What neither character seems aware of or perhaps concerned about is how they ended up there, why they’re living within a reality styled after American sitcoms of days past, or how not to come precariously close to slipping up getting caught using their superpowers.

Illustration for article titled WandaVision Opened With a Stylishly Old-Fashioned Web of Lies and Intrigue
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WandaVision’s first episode sells its own comical off-ness by choosing not to acknowledge any of it despite the attention that things like dishes floating on wires or jump cuts to simulate magic draw to themselves. Trapped in the ‘50s as Wanda may be, the series illustrates just how much more fine control she now has over her powers than we’ve seen in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s past. However, instead of blasts of energy, she puts them to use tending to all sorts of daily domestic duties that keep her occupied while Vision’s busy at work. By hiding his natural appearance, it’s easy enough for the artificial man to masquerade as yet another ordinary pencil pusher who dutifully clocks in and out of his job where he manages to make pleasant enough small talk with colleagues. Though he can never seem to figure out what, exactly, it is that they all do working for Mr. Hart.

What’s especially interesting about WandaVision’s first half-hour chapter is the story it tells with the negative space it purposefully creates in your understanding of what’s going on in a larger sense. While everything in the series—from costumes to cheesy gags—is noticeably on point and well-defined, details like what date it is are left fuzzy enough for the show’s TV-trappings to come rushing back just in the nick of time to pull your attention elsewhere with a laugh track or a brief commercial break.

Those formless, unarticulated mysteries are what’s going to make WandaVision fascinating to unpack as the series progresses. The show makes the interesting choice to distract you from concerning yourself with them all too much by peppering its decidedly I Love Lucy-inspired first episode with a handful of explicit references to Wanda’s real life, like being from Sokovia. Everyone’s understanding that the country is in Europe acts as a misunderstanding between the married couple when Vision invites Mr. Hart and his wife home for dinner the same night that Wanda plans to surprise Vision with a romantic dinner (and perhaps more).

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Wanda and Vision thinking about their lack of a back story.
Wanda and Vision thinking about their lack of a back story.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

Having to whip up a multi-course dinner for four on the fly gives both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany a chance to flex their comedic acting chops as Wanda’s powers kick into overdrive in the kitchen, and Vision does his best to distract the Harts with an impromptu sing-a-long rendition of The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak.” Between Wanda moving food about with her mind, and Vision very quickly losing his ability to play a convincing human, their dinner with the Harts very interestingly reveals a sort of second stage and a more subtle truth about itself: each episode is a kind of contained superhero story.

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When Mr. Hart’s curious prodding about the Visions’ origins ends with him beginning to choke on a piece of food to the point that it seems he may suffocate, the tone changes sharply to one of both suspense and action. Because Hart begins to choke after Wanda and Vision both fail, or refuse, to recall their pre-Westview lives when asked, the implication is that one of them is causing the danger. Clearly, Wanda’s history in Marvel’s comics make her the obvious choice here, but as Hart falls to the ground, she instructs Vision to help the man, and the synthezoid jumps into action by breaking character to phase his hand into Hart’s throat to clear his airway.

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What’s interesting to note is how Vision’s phasing with Mr. Hart is styled the way the character has used that ability in Marvel’s other productions set in the MCU’s present day, whereas the other instances of how powers are all produced in the show have more ‘50s-appropriate animated effects. In the moment that he saves Hart’s life, some part of him is being the hero he’s been established as, and Wanda knows it, but the entire strange occurrence is brushed off once Hart recovers, and he and his wife depart for the evening. WandaVision’s shift into even weirder territory becomes increasingly unnerving as the couple gazes directly into the camera and presumably “fake” credits begin to play over the screen, and a slow pull back reveals that everything you’ve just seen has been broadcasting onto a television monitored by a faceless S.W.O.R.D. operative.

Another clever trick WandaVision pulls that works particularly well, because of the first two episodes premiering back-to-back, is the shift in tone that comes during each episode’s proper closing credits that feature swarms of LED-style glowing lights forming into constructs from the show like Wanda’s classic headdress and the Visions’ home. For all the inventive ways that WandaVision finds to wholeheartedly embrace its identity as a streaming miniseries, the credits are undeniably Marvel in the big screen sense, and they act as a foreboding reminder that this story is meant to be a precursor to what’s set to play out in Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

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Wanda and Vision as a magic act.
Wanda and Vision as a magic act.
Photo: Disney+/Marvel
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Before the Visions get mixed up with their fellow Avengers in the movies again, though, WandaVision episode two brings things back down to Earth with a new opening sequence that would make Bewitched’s Endora scowl in thinly-veiled delight. The couple settles into their new home quite fast and it’s unclear just how concerned they are (if at all) about what happened with the Harts in the previous episode or whether the details of their relationships with the larger world they’re living in have changed along with WandaVision’s jump into the future.

While it’s presented mostly in black and white, WandaVision’s second episode is colored in shades of both the ‘50s and ‘60s that establish how the show’s sense of time is inexact and of little importance to its characters—they’re more focused on winking at the real world’s long-dead Hays Code with their late-night pillow talk. It’s charming, and frankly refreshing to see a modern comic book adaptation plainly acknowledge that most superheroes are adults, and adults are sometimes sexually attracted to one another, which Vision and Wanda make obvious tn the way they constantly flirt with one another in between jokes.

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After a night of off-camera marriage bed shenanigans that an audience would “ooh” at if it could see, Wanda and Vision busy themselves preparing for the town’s upcoming talent show that they plan to use as a chance to further throw their neighbors off their super secrets. Common sense would tell Vision and Wanda that posing as a magician and magician’s assistant in front of the whole neighborhood is precisely the sort of thing people hoping to avoid revealing themselves as superheroes in hiding to the public should not do. But because everyone living within WandaVision’s bubble operates using sitcom logic, they steamroll ahead and venture off on different adventures that give us a better understanding of Westview’s other residents and the city, which isn’t quite as idyllic as it seems.

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The look of confusion on Wanda’s face as she hears the sound of a muffled explosion and finds a toy helicopter emblazoned with a SWORD logo on her lawn is difficult to read, but it feels safe to assume it has something to do with the toy being a vibrant red and yellow—in sharp contrast with her otherwise black and white world. Again, WandaVision creates a sort of whiplash by juxtaposing the helicopter discovery with Agnes’ arrival at Wanda’s home, where she’s come to drop of her pet rabbit for the magic act, and scoop up her new best friend to drag to a local gathering of the ladies.

Though Kathryn Hahn’s Agnes breezes through WandaVision’s first episode with a promise to be a loving thorn in Wanda’s side, it’s in the series’ second episode that you really get a chance to see her in action. She cracks wise at Wanda’s expense as preparation for meeting Dottie (Buffy’s Emma Caulfield Ford), the queen bee-type heading up the talent show committee. Wanda being unfamiliar with the planning committee’s power dynamics is interesting because of how it underlines that, at least within the reality of “WandaVision,” the couple being new transplants is one of the only things that’s truly constant here.

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Difficult a time as Wanda has at bonding with Dottie, she makes fast friends with another MCU newcomer, Teyonah Parris, as a woman who introduces herself as “Geraldine” (we know she’ll ultimately be revealed as Monica Rambeau). There’s the briefest of pauses as Geraldine introduces herself that give you the sense that she’s not quite sure how to pronounce her own name. But the surprise of meeting another woman who feels out of place within Dottie’s sphere is enough to make both her and Wanda brush the awkwardness aside as Agnes pours herself another drink and Dottie continues to be a menace.

Wanda hearing something on the radio.
Wanda hearing something on the radio.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel
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Before the second episode catches up with Vision—who’s busy bonding with the other husbands who are all members of the neighborhood watch—the show’s false reality is interrupted by a song that begins blaring from the radio in the middle of Wanda and Dottie having a one-on-one conversation. Just moments after Dottie begins to insinuate that she knows there’s something out of place about Wanda and Vision, a voice emanating from the radio begins to question Wanda directly about what’s going on and whether she knows what’s causing it. Here, the terror on Wanda’s face is far easier to interpret, though there’s still some question as to whether she’s afraid of being exposed or whether she’s recognizing that she, like everyone else in Westview, is being manipulated.

In addition to not being able to break from a trance as the message plays, Dottie similarly can’t perceive the deep wound on her hand that forms after she shatters a glass and begins bleeding a bright red that only Wanda apparently can see. Dottie’s demeanor and the character archetype she embodies within “WandaVision,” (not to mention Marvel keeping Caulfield’s casting rather quiet ahead of this week) suggests the possibility of her being WandaVision’s more traditional villain who, in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-ish way might somehow have trapped Wanda and Vision in a magical television.

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However, the series’ second fake commercial might point to a just as likely a hint about the show’s subsequent revelations. While the first episode’s commercial for a Stark-brand toaster at first comes across like a nod to Tom King’s Vision Marvel Comics series, it takes on a different significance when you compare it to the second episode’s ad for a Hydra-built luxury timepiece. Though neither of the commercials spell anything obvious about WandaVision, they both gesture towards two of the MCU’s most powerful organizations responsible for creating technologies that changed the universe.

Stark and Hydra may have toasters and watches in their portfolios, but they’re also responsible for creating Tony Stark’s B.A.R.F., which Mysterio weaponized in Spider-Man: Far From Home, and systems that harnessed the Mind Stone’s energies to initially give Wanda her powers and bring Vision to life in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Much as the series is playing with the concept of altered realities, narratively, that’s the sort of plot device the MCU hasn’t extensively explored yet, and it would be genuinely surprising if the series were to end up going full-on House of M.

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Marvel’s track record of fudging the details a bit in order to adapt plots from the comics for live-action is well established at this point, and WandaVision’s premise would lend itself to that being the case here. It is interesting to see, though, that the Mind Stone’s very much intact in Vision’s forehead up to this point, and the story doesn’t at all comment on the gem’s presence or Vision being alive. That’s not surprising but is interesting all the same because of the questions left unanswered as WandaVision moves along.

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The show goes on in every sense of the phrase and WandaVision brings a nervous Wanda and a very inebriated Vision back together just in time for them to put on their magic act in the town square. It’s ridiculous to think the walking result of billions of Stark tech and an Infinity Stone could get literally gummed up on the inside by eating candy, but Bettany sells drunken Vision because he is meant to be a bumbling goofball who needs Wanda’s help to get by. Each time he almost gives up their ruse by using his actual powers rather than the cheap stage magic they prepared, Wanda uses her seemingly limitless powers to create explanations for the impossible things her husband does.

What’s surprising isn’t that Wanda manages to pull the whole shebang off to a round of applause, and heal her husband, but how she attempts to talk to Vision about the weird things she’s been seeing. The couple’s interrupted before Wanda can get a word in edgewise, and by the time they’ve returned home, they’re back to being on-script and joking about the unseen children whom the adults have been obsessing over for the entire episode. Even though WandaVision’s real-world commercials teased that the show would eventually tackle its stars becoming parents, it’s legitimately surprising when Wanda stands up and reveals that she’s suddenly become visibly pregnant even though she and Vision had only slept together the night before.

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The sewer beekeeper.
The sewer beekeeper.
Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel

The juxtaposition of WandaVision’s “for the children” line and Wanda’s instant pregnancy implies their child may have a more substantial role in the MCU’s near future than one might assume, but even as those possibilities begin to form in your mind, the story drops one more shocker into the mix as a stinger.

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Surprised as the new parents-to-be are at Wanda’s baby bump, yet another loud noise draws them out of the house where they witness a man in a beekeeper’s uniform climb out of a manhole with a swarm of bees. Stunned as the pair are, where he’s actually scared of what’s happening, her expression reads first as dismay, but then as resolve. She simply says “no,” and the entire scene begins to rewind back to the moment inside their home when Wanda asks Vision whether their becoming a family is really happening. This time around, there’s no loud noise outside or manhole beekeeper to ruin their happiness, and the world begins to turn technicolor as they share a tender kiss and the closing theme’s strings start to swell.

In just two episodes that, together, clock in under an hour, WandaVision lays out the basics of one of Marvel’s most intricate and misleading stories yet that, at this point, could go in any number of directions. It’s an impressive feat for the studio’s first episodic series that’s made all the more chilling when you consider that sooner than later, whatever the hell this broken world is, it’s all going to come crashing down in a way that changes its heroes.

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WandaVision will air weekly on Fridays on Disney +.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

So hear me out...
In the second episode Agnes lends Wanda her rabbit, Senor Scratchie. Many people speculate that Agnes is actually AGatha HarkNESs from Marvel canon. In Marvel Comics Agatha has a son called Nicholas Scratch.

Also outside of Marvel Nick Scratch is a common name for the devil in human form in stories, and everyone expects Marvel’s devil, Mephisto to show at some point...

Am I off my rocker with this one?