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Monday, 18 January 2021

REVIEW: Welcome to the weird world of WandaVision.

WandaVision enchants and befuddles its audience with a double-bill premiere on Disney Plus.  For telly viewers not versed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the show stars Wanda Maximoff the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her synthetic domestic partner the Vision (Paul Bethany).  The duo are reprising their roles from the Avengers film franchise.  WandaVision cleverly subverted expectations by not immediately following-up the events of 2019’s multi-billion-dollar blockbuster Avengers: Endgame.  Instead, the audience is treated to an amalgamation of American domestic sitcoms from the 1950s and 1960s: Bewitched, I Love Lucy, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.



The show’s writers and producers clearly latched onto the similarities between Wanda and Samantha Stephens (
Elizabeth Montgomery), Bewitched’s magical protagonist.  Wanda has no qualms about using her telekinetic abilities to help the couple quickly settle into suburbia.  Unlike Samantha’s often dumbfounded husband Darrin Stephens (Dick York and Dick Sargent respectively), Vision is supportive of Wanda’s playful use of her powers.  Through the use of Vision’s ability to shift his appearance, the show is able to give a nod to Bewitched viewers who had to contend with two Dicks playing Darrin.  

WandaVision may have wholeheartedly embraced Bewitched, but the first episode contains a healthy number of character moments that can be attributed to I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Wanda’s interest in articles about “keeping your man happy” and faux fainting spells are classic I Love Lucy tropes.  Even the central mystery of episode one, the calendar mishap, could have been a Dick Van Dyke Show plot.  One of The Dick Van Dyke Show’s signature moves was a domestic miscommunication spilling over into the workplace or vice versa.   

WandaVision’s supporting cast expands in the second episode as the couple continues to integrate themselves into Westview society, by performing in a local fundraiser.  Wanda tries to curry favor with Debbie, Westview’s queen bee, with poor results.  Vision’s attempts to bond with other males in the local neighbourhood watch has mixed results until chewing gum causes his internal systems to malfunction.  Like a typical episode of Bewitched, Wanda is forced to use her powers to save the couple’s performance and their secrets after a malfunctioning Vision starts displaying his abilities in public.

Kathryn Hahn does a wonderful job of portraying Wanda’s nosy neighbor and wouldbe confident Agnes.  Hahn is clearly channeling Betwitched’s nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz (Alice Pearce and Sandra Gould respectively) in episode one.  However Agnes undergoes a subtle personality shift in episode two.  This Bewitched viewer does not recall Gladys flirting with the mailman and encouraging individuals to drink during a fundraiser meeting.  Fans of Bewitched know that Samantha’s mother, Endora, often created a lot of the chaos.  Hahn’s character has the same first name of Endora’s portrayer was Agnes Moorehead.  Perhaps the name Agnes is a hint at the character’s long-term direction?  Especially if Agnes is the MCU’s equivalent of Wanda’s mother figure from the comics Agatha Harkness.  

WandaVision is able to maintain the illusion of being a domestic comedy throughout much of the double bill, but occasionally the mask slips.  In those rare moments of suspense the show adapts a Hitchcockian tone with close-ups on the characters’ faces.  When Mr. Hart (Fred Melamed) chokes on a sausage in episode one, the tension builds until Wanda snaps out of the trance and prompts Vision to save his boss.  Ironically, cracks in the illusion appear more frequently (and often colorized) in episode two as the couple becomes more comfortable with their surroundings.  Who knew that a toy helicopter displaying the emblem of the Sentient World Observation and Response Department (S.W.O.R.D.), and a radio message accompanied by an edited Beach Boys’ song could cause so much strife.  To be fair to Wanda, I would probably warp reality and colourize myself too if someone wearing a beekeeper outfit emerged from the sewers outside my house.

Episodes one and two of WandaVision didn't deliver quite what you'd expect. I felt a degree of confusion and a slight bit of disappointment throughout.  Where were the literal bombastic moments that helped transition these characters from the pages of Marvel Comics to screens in theatres and our living rooms? Wandavision could have easily relied on these to launch, instead, it takes its queues from shows like Legion and Life on Mars where the idyllic dreamworlds these characters inhabit are hiding deep and unsettling secrets they've yet to discover. WandaVision may not have delivered what we'd expected, but it's only a matter of time before Wanda's world implodes on her and the show can start to stretch our MCU itch. -  Upon further reflection (and recollection of Scarlet Witch and Vision comic plots), I decided the suburbs can be quite horrific in the hands of a reality warper.      

Contributed by Mo Walker


                   Wandavision continues Fridays on Disney Plus

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