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Taken as a whole, WandaVision is a boldly innovative piece of entertainment. But I would contend that we shouldn’t take it as a whole. No one has previously attempted or pulled off a piece of filmed serial fiction about Marvel superheroes trapped in an altered reality made to look like a succession of old sitcoms, a reality that is sometimes idyllic and other times eerie in its suggestion of a sinister truth. And yet every individual element of that sentence I just wrote has been attempted ad nauseam in film, television, prose, and/or comics. Like everything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s a bunch of old wines poured into a new bottle with the hope that it’ll taste nice and get you buzzed. However, it can just as easily turn out to be something you’ll want to spit out.
In its third episode, WandaVision throws a few curveballs but is ultimately still hawking the same selling points as the first two. We’ve jumped ahead in TV history yet again, this time to the Day-Glo domesticity of The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch, and other anodyne staples of the Me Decade. As usual, the WandaVision team more or less nails the look and tone of the subject matter it’s homaging, but to what end? “Episode Three” sets out to dial up the weirdness and confusion, and it more or less achieves that goal; but the only challenge the series is presenting to us is that of gathering clues in order to speculate about what’s in the Mystery Box of the setting and setup. And that’s just about the emptiest, most patronizing way to keep people coming back to something.
We can’t definitively pass judgment on what it is WandaVision is up to just yet — and, trust me, I don’t know any more about how it turns out than you do at this point, as the stingy House of Mouse only gave out three advance episodes of the show. But what we’ve seen so far is concerning to me. Perhaps the powers that be kept episodes four through nine away from critics because that’s when things start to get genuinely interesting, and they wanted to avoid spoilers. I’m not getting my hopes up, but I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
Speaking of surprises, the episode begins in the wake of the big one from last week: our female protagonist’s abrupt pregnancy. After some groovy opening credits, we’re plopped into yet another living-room set (people who make actual sitcoms must be unbelievably jealous of how much the MCU can spend on set design), where a wide-bellied Wanda is getting a checkup from a doctor by the name of Nielsen (at least I assume that’s the spelling) while a turtlenecked and tweeded-out Vision follows along anxiously. Nielsen says she’s four months pregnant and seems unfazed by the fact that she was zero months pregnant the day before. He doesn’t really answer the question but does deliver a mini-monologue about how fetuses at various stages are colloquially compared to the sizes of various fruits: pear, papaya, grapefruit, honeydew, and so on. Vision walks him out, asking him to keep the matter under wraps, and Nielsen departs for a trip to Bermuda. While outside, Vision encounters his neighbor, Herb, who is for some reason cutting through a brick wall with a chain saw, a smile plastered on his face.
Vision walks back into the house, and Wanda, somehow even more swollen than she was a moment ago, is using her telekinesis to put together a nursery, complete with a painting of a stork and a hanging mobile with butterfly-shaped ornaments. The butterfly mobile, of course, is one of the objects that appears in the end credits of each episode, and it only gets stranger when Wanda says she has a “fluttery” sensation in her belly and the ornaments turn into actual butterflies. Vision wants to call the baby Billy and Wanda is aiming for Tommy — the names of the characters’ kids in Marvel’s comics universe, for what it’s worth.
Vision munches some fruit (ah? Ah?), and Wanda has a contraction that apparently causes everything in the house to go crazy and then be engulfed in a blinding white light. We then see various other folks in Westview experiencing blackouts. The camerawork suddenly gets a lot more MCU-ish, and Vision notes that a lot of weird stuff has been going on: “Something’s wrong here, Wanda,” he says. Then there’s a stutter in the image and we’re back a few seconds ago, prior to his statement about the weirdness, and everything seems fine again, not unlike the incident with the beekeeper from last episode. Is Wanda doing that? Is something rattling the simulation they might be in? Who knows!
But the peace is not to last, as Wanda then gets a huge contraction that leads to it suddenly raining inside their house. “I think my water just broke,” Wanda remarks, prompting guffaws from the studio audience. Cut to commercial, where our man and woman from the previous ads are doing household tasks that keep getting screwed up. “Do you need a break?,” says a narrative voice, before offering the chance to “escape to a world all your own where your problems float away.” Turns out it’s an ad for soap, specifically “Hydra Soak Luxury Bath Powder” — Hydra, of course, being the evil sect that used to keep Wanda as a bioweapon. “Find the goddess within!” is the slogan, which may allude to the godlike (even reality-warping?) powers Wanda may possess.
Anyway, we go back to the narrative, where the rain stops and Monica (still dubbed Geraldine in TV land) stops by the house. She says she needs to borrow a bucket, as her ceiling pipes burst, and Wanda goes through comical high jinks to keep her pregnant tummy covered up throughout the visit, including, at one point, by holding a bowl of … fruit! She also holds up a coat, but it keeps changing into different kinds of coat in the blink of an eye. Monica reveals that she’s been having trouble at her temp job at a cereal company, but Wanda is distracted by the presence of a large stork behind them. She tries to discreetly make it disappear in a poof of scarlet smoke, but it doesn’t work. She then assaults the bird with — you guessed it — fruit. But unfortunately for our heroine, Monica then enters the baby room by accident, learning the big secret.
The house starts to go crazy again as Wanda contracts, and this time it’s the Big One. The studio audience is suddenly gone, and serious, non-sitcom music starts to swell. Wanda pushes and breathes, Vision speeds in with Dr. Nielsen, and soon Monica holds up a brand-new baby. Vision, curiously, turns his face back from human mode to robot mode, but no one seems to notice. Wanda screams again and another baby pops out. Billy and Tommy, welcome to the MCU.
Doc Nielsen walks out the door with Vision and remarks that “small towns” are “you know, so hard to … escape.” Vision looks confused and then sees Herb and Agnes talking to each other conspiratorially. Indoors, Wanda says to Monica in a daze that she’s a twin, adding, “I had a brother. His name was Pietro,” before she starts singing in what I presume is supposed to be Sokovian, though I welcome anyone to point out what language it actually is, if any. Monica looks confused and concerned, then says, “He was killed by Ultron, wasn’t he?” (He was.) It’s then Wanda’s turn to look confused and reply, “What did you say?” A single tear rolls down her face, and she asks Monica to leave. It’s then that she sees the SWORD logo on Monica’s pendant.
(Side note: Marvel has been releasing info through little in-universe guides and tidbits outside of the actual show, and, apparently, according to that stuff, SWORD actually stands for “Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division,” meaning it’s not the alien-fighting organization that it was in the comics. Okay! I kinda hate that you have to do digging outside the show to fully understand what’s happening in it, but that’s the world we live in, I guess!)
Outside, Agnes and Herb remark that Monica has no family, no husband, and no home. Herb starts to talk strangely: “She came here because … She came here because … She came here because we’re all …,” he says, then drifts off, leaving Vision confused. Agnes starts to panic and tells Herb to knock it off. Agnes then delivers a wacky sitcom wink to the audience and runs off; Herb starts sawing the wall again. Vision runs back in with his robot face on, and Wanda says, ominously, that Monica/Geraldine left.
The show’s aspect ratio changes to wide-screen again, as it did at the end of the first episode, and we are all of a sudden in some remote, barren location at night, with picture quality that looks like an MCU movie. We see a beat-up sign reading “Welcome to Westview.” A body gets thrown through a static blur in the sky, and it’s Monica, who collides with the ground and lolls her head. Trucks and SUVs and helicopters appear all around her, and men with guns emerge to make contact. The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” starts to play as the pixelated credits roll once again. As it fades out, one final lyric can be heard: “A daydream believer and a homecoming queen.”
Might that be a poetic and perhaps prophetic reference to our heroes? Probably! Are these odd developments somewhat intriguing? Sure! Will the next episode be set in the ’80s? Presumably! Will the show’s mysterious threads weave together to form an interesting tapestry or a dull one? We’ll see, I guess!
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