‘WandaVision’ season 1 recap – episodes 1 and 2
(Courtesy of Disney+)
"WandaVision" Episodes 1 & 2
Directed by Matt Shakman
By Matthew Chu
Jan. 17, 2021 1:27 p.m.
Supervillains and blue sky beams take a backseat to laugh tracks and cartoon jingles in “WandaVision.”
It’s been more than a year since Tony Stark snapped Thanos out of existence, leaving the rubble of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ripe for a creative restructuring. While generally consistent in quality, the Marvel formula has seldom forayed into deeper levels of genre experimentation – “WandaVision” transfigures this status quo in delightfully mind-bending ways. Released Friday through Disney+, the first Marvel series on the platform is already benefiting from the creative liberties of long-form storytelling.
The first two episodes dive into the show’s bizarre premise with basically zero context, establishing a good deal of mystery from the get-go. The magically enhanced Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) was last seen grieving over the sacrifice of Vision (Paul Bettany) – her unlikely android partner – in the year 2023. But in episode one of “WandaVision,” the star-crossed couple are happily married in the 1950s, living out an idyllic life that fully embraces the era’s cult of domesticity.
While the setting is no surprise given the trailer footage, the episode remains surprisingly devoted to the television of the era throughout. Nearly every visual detail – from the set design to the 4:3 aspect ratio – uncannily captures the aesthetic of 1950s American sitcoms like “I Love Lucy.” Even a commercial break for a fictional Stark Industries toaster bisects the 30-minute runtime, adding another layer of immersion.
In true sitcom fashion, the episode follows the daily ironies of the sorceress-Synthezoid newlyweds, as Vision mistakes hearts on their calendar – the couple’s anniversary day – for a scheduled dinner with his boss, Mr. Hart (Fred Melamed). To Wanda’s chagrin, the mix-up forces her to cook up a meal for their houseguests on short notice – all while trying to hide her powers.
Olsen, whose acting chops have been somewhat underutilized in the MCU films, shines with a vocal affectation that wittily embodies the overenunciated acting of the period. The blatant use of jump cuts and chintzy props on strings – conveying Wanda’s conjuration and telekinetic abilities, respectively – smartly play into the dated special effects of the time as well.
Despite the self-aware meta humor, the episode lovingly commits to telling an insular story within the sitcom format. As such, the sharp dialogue actually manages to get some unironic laughs, paying tribute to the era’s comedic timing while alluding to Wanda’s and Vision’s cinematic backstories – a clever duality that also carries over into episode two. For example, when Wanda teases her husband for his indestructible head, fans will also recognize a double entendre that darkly references his unfortunate demise in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
But the apparent facade begins to unravel at dinner when Mr. Hart suddenly begins to choke after interrogating the couple’s dubious backstory, and his wife repeatedly exclaims, “Stop it!” to the point of eerie monotony. The disorienting sequence is enhanced by an overt shift from the predominant multicamera sitcom setup to cinematic close-ups. After Vision saves his boss, the episode ends as if nothing bad happened, but the camera pulls back to reveal that their story is being watched on a vintage television somewhere by someone, providing an intriguing framing device.
Episode two naturally inches ahead in terms of historical homage – arriving in the “Bewitched” era of the 1960s – but also with more unsettling, glitch-in-the-matrix moments. The episode follows a more autonomous Wanda, who prepares a magic act with her husband to gain neighborly favor at the town’s talent show. But things go awry when Vision accidentally swallows a piece of gum, making him the android equivalent of intoxicated and prone to exposing his superhuman powers.
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Olsen once again turns in an eerily accurate performance, meticulously evoking the ’60s TV heroines of whitewashed middle suburbia. But she’s also given more compelling moments that interrupt the sitcom format – like when she notices a red toy helicopter in her front hedge or a radio mysteriously calling her name.
Bettany gets more of the comedic relief, as his charming wit makes him a natural Dick Van Dyke to her Mary Tyler Moore. But because it’s a dated sitcom, side characters like Geraldine (Teyonah Parris) and the returning neighbor, Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), inhabit stock supporting roles that seemingly exist to contrivedly move the story along, adding to the mystery of their own backstories and free will in this reality.
Though Wanda ironically manages to salvage their performance using actual magic, the episode’s picture-perfect ending is disrupted by a visit from a mysterious man in a beekeeping suit, to whom Wanda impulsively reacts by seemingly reversing time with her powers. The prior scene then repeats, showing Wanda to be suddenly pregnant and romantically embracing Vision as the black-and-white picture turns to vivid color.
While the weekly sitcom rotation keeps things aptly confusing, the show’s only weakness so far lies in this slow-burn buildup, which is definitely an acquired taste.
Also, unlike Disney+’s other major show “The Mandalorian,” “WandaVision” isn’t as accessible to those not well-versed in the universe’s canon. It’s welcome that a major studio embraces storylines appealing to die-hard fans, but it also invites temptation to lean heavily on intertextuality, which may not feel narratively impactful in a show that has thrived on original ideas. Still, the series is a refreshing change of pace for the MCU that would never have worked on the silver screen – or even on network television. One of the strangest comic book couples deserves an equally strange storyline, and it’s definitely paying off so far.
“WandaVision” may not convert the likes of Martin Scorsese, but it’s certainly a worthwhile antidote for superhero-fatigued viewers.