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I will say this about WandaVision: It’s nice to get to see some Marvel Cinematic Universe actors get to actually, y’know, act. The megafranchise has been historically populated by some of the world’s finest living film thespians, from Mark Ruffalo to Tilda Swinton to Cate Blanchett and beyond, but those people are largely just means to an end, a way to juice up the movies’ credibility and star wattage. When you actually watch the flicks, there are moments of comedy or pathos, for sure, but they’re mayflies, quickly perishing as the action ramps up again and the rapid-fire cuts and CGI bodies that the enterprise is built on keep us from dwelling too much on the work of an actor. It’s a shame, really.
In a stark contrast, WandaVision relies almost entirely on the acting prowess of its titular stars, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany. This is a wise move because the characters of Wanda and Vision have been tremendously bland and artistically useless in the MCU up until this show’s advent. The only way to get us to have an interesting ride on WandaVision is by letting us fall in love not so much with the characters as with the performers. At that, it does a decent job. Olsen and Bettany get plenty of room to breathe and do their beats, most of which in the second episode are simple sitcom doggerel with little twists here and there. They do the cheesy punch lines; they do physical comedy. We get lingering images of their distinctly un-CGI’d faces and forms. Luckily, both actors are pretty much up to the task and keep things both amusing and (somewhat) intriguing.
But what purpose does the acting serve? So far, WandaVision has yet to make much of a case for its existence. As I said in the recap of the series premiere, it feels almost unfair to be judging these episodes as stand-alones, because they’re so clearly just a prelude to the real plot, a prelude filled with intentional artifice and homage. There’s nothing beneath it other than a mystery, one that’s not particularly compelling yet. Yet.
We begin, naturally, with Olsen’s voice cheerily declaring, “Last week on WandaVision” and are shown a set of reminders about episode one that feel almost random (why include Agnes saying she’s Wanda and Vision’s “neighbor to the right?”), but which will likely be relevant in the episodes to come. We then cut to the happy couple asleep in separate twin beds, with a lot of room for the Holy Ghost in between them. Everything is still black-and-white. There’s a thump of some kind, and Wanda (whose hair and makeup for sleepytime are, of course, impeccably done up, as is appropriate for a period sitcom) and Vision (adorned with an adorable sleep mask) are startled. Vision remarks that he “did overhear a few of the lads at work remarking on a few unsavory characters settling in the neighborhood,” which prompts Wanda to point out that those colleagues may have been referring to them.
Abruptly, the beds slide together and Wanda opens the drapes with her powers revealing (seemingly) that it was just a branch hitting the window. Becalmed, it is then implied that they bang.
Cue the opening credits, these ones done as broad-stroked animation in the style of Bewitched, with Wanda and Vision floating around their little town, grinning. We quickly realize, if we’re TV-literate, that we’ve moved on to the sitcoms of the 1960s. (Which raises an interesting question: What the hell are Zoomers, who grew up after Nick at Nite stopped showing old reruns, making of this program? Do they get any/all of the tropes and references? If you’re a Zoomer, please write in and tell us.) We learn in these credits that their little burg is called “Westview,” for what it’s worth, as the new theme song simply repeats the phrase “WandaVision” over and over.
Enter the home of the happy couple, which has a different layout and furniture than it did in the previous ep. Vision is in a top hat and tails, practicing a magic trick of some kind; Wanda is in slacks, fretting over the fact that they have to get their magic act ready for the Westview talent-show fundraiser. They’ve dubbed themselves Glamour (Wanda) and Illusion (Vision), references to two stage-magician characters from Marvel’s comics. They practice having Wanda disappear in a giant cabinet, but it looks fake, worrying her husband. “Well, that’s the whole point,” the wife replies. “In a real magic act, everything is fake!” Mayhap that’s a comment on the real/unreal dichotomy of the series? Either way, it becomes clear that the pair is just dying to fit in.
They part ways to further the plot, with Vision visiting the local men at a library for a neighborhood-watch meeting. Wanda’s planning to head to a meeting for talent-show planning, but hears that thump again and heads outside, where she finds a colored object amid the monochrome: a toy helicopter with the S.W.O.R.D. logo that we saw at the end of the last installment. Before she can think too hard, Agnes sneaks up on her with a rabbit that she’s giving the couple for their magic act. “Señor Scratchy” is his name. Agnes sees a mailman named Dennis and has some comical business with him before checking out his ass, then takes Wanda to the meeting, instructing her along the way that the committee leader, Dottie, “is the key to everything in this town.” Wanda suggests that she’ll just “be myself” and Agnes just laughs and laughs at the very idea of that.
The meeting is, of course, a little weird, with Emma Caulfield (Anya from Buffy, among other achievements), as Dottie, repeatedly saying the benefit is “for the children,” which always prompts the group of ladies to flatly repeat, “For the children.” Curious! The other big development, other than raising the tension of Wanda’s efforts to impress Dottie, is the presence of none other than Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau, the daughter of Captain Marvel’s old pilot friend from Captain Marvel. But, curiously, she just looks like a housewife here and introduces herself, after some hesitation, as “Geraldine.” Mysterious! As Wanda does cleanup of the dishes for Dottie, she says, “I assure you, I don’t mean anyone any harm,” to which Dottie responds, “I don’t believe you.” A song about getting a woman out of your heart is playing on the radio and starts to fuzz out, and a man’s voice starts to come through the static, saying, “Wanda? Wanda? Who’s doing this to you, Wanda? Wanda? Wanda? Wan—” and then the radio shorts out, causing Dottie to crush her glass in her hand in surprise. Her blood is, somehow, red. Ominous!
Meanwhile, Vision goes to the library, where his presence is initially awkward for everyone, presumably because he and Wanda are, indeed, regarded as a problem in the town. A local named Herb offers Vision some gum after everyone calms down, but the gum, unfortunately, gets stuck in Vision’s interior robot parts. Trouble is clearly brewing. We get another commercial, with the same two presenters as last episode’s toaster ad, but this time, they’re getting ready for some classy evening out while a narrator informs us that it’s promoting a fancy watch. The brand is “Strücker” — the last name of the HYDRA agent who kept Wanda as a living weapon in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The face of the watch says, “Swiss Made” (perhaps a reference to Arnim Zola, the Swiss HYDRA scientist from the first two Captain America movies), “HYDRA,” and “1000M,” along with the HYDRA logo. Hmm …
Vision arrives at the talent show all gummed-up, which takes the form of him looking and sounding like a sitcom drunk. Wanda notes to Vision that weird things have been happening that she can’t explain, but he’s too out of it to understand. They go out and start doing magic tricks, but Vision keeps accidentally using his super-robot powers, which keeps leading Wanda to paradoxically use her conjuring powers to create things that make it look like Vision’s magic is all fake (e.g., a winch and rope when he starts flying). At the climax, Geraldine/Monica appears in that big box from before, looking confused, then delighted. Everyone applauds, “for the children.” Backstage, Wanda removes the gum, then they get an award for “comedy performance of the year.”
Then, all the plot business seemingly done, we’re back home with the victorious couple that night, where Vision’s face has reverted to its cyborg look and where the two of them muse with that eerie flatness that it was all “for the children.” Wanda gets up for popcorn and, voilà, she’s pregnant. She asks if this is “really happening” and he says it is. There’s another thump and they go outside to investigate. This time, the music gets weird and creepy, and they see a manhole cover moving. Frozen, they watch as a man in a beekeeper outfit gets out, surrounded by a cloud of bees. His uniform has the S.W.O.R.D. logo.
Wanda simply says, “No,” and, suddenly, the screen looks like a tape rewinding, taking us back to the living room from before. They’re back to the way they were before, except now they start to appear in color, leading both of them to look surprised. A cascade of color sweeps the room, shading everything. Notably, her clothes are scarlet. They kiss, and the title says, “The End.” But wait, we hear that voice again: “Wanda? Who’s doing this to you, Wanda? Wanda?” We’re at an angle to the screen and, as last time, the credits take us into the various colorful pixels as they assemble and reassemble into objects, the same ones as last time, I believe. WandaVision out.
Where does this all leave us? Damned if I know, and I guess that’s the point? The show, at this point, is hoping that you’re wrapped up in the mystery of what the heck is going on with this wacky robot-human pairing. But are we? The only thing that’s genuinely intriguing to me is the presence of S.W.O.R.D., which implies something having to do with aliens — a nonobvious choice for Vision and Wanda, neither of whom are aliens (that we know of). But that’s only interesting if you’re very familiar with comics and recognize the logo. For the lay viewer, there’s still not a ton to grab onto here other than the aforementioned tight performances from the actors and loving tributes to television shows past. If that’s what you’re into, you must be enjoying yourself. If not, well, here’s hoping the next installment has more to say.
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