There are some stories that are better suited to a specific medium than others. WandaVision is such a story. I realise that this is a film site, and this is meant to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe retrospective, and I’m talking about a TV show – but I have two very good reasons for this. One, that unlike Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, the Netflix shows, and Cloak and Dagger, this is the first TV show that is specifically about a core member of the Avengers. The second is that, because of this stupid pandemic, there is very little MCU stuff to write about so I’m picking and choosing.
WandaVision might be the best thing the MCU has ever produced. A big claim, I know, especially with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, three Avengers movies, and my own personal favourite, The Winter Soldier, existing. WandaVision is better than all of these for one very simple reason: TV is a better medium for the long-term storytelling that Marvel wants to invest in than film. This show is a bit of a miracle, mainly due to the fact that it’s central focus is an origin story for a completely new version of a character that we already know. Well, make that two characters.
Ticking the Romance Box (spoilers for the whole show)
WandaVision is about the grief that love brings. We follow Wanda after the events of Endgame – so lonely, so depressed, and so angry that her powers go into overdrive to create a world in which she always found comfort, that of a sitcom. Vision’s death in Infinity War was one of the few that the Snap 2.0 didn’t reverse, and I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t care much for the character before this, yet in WandaVision, I absolutely love him.
This is mainly due to the show’s writing team realising that getting the audience to buy into Wanda and Vision’s relationship is solely their responsibility. The movies have done nothing substantial to set up this relationship, even skipping them getting together in the first place, trusting that we’ll just accept the rinse-and-repeat standard romances we’ve seen in the franchise so far. Now, thanks to WandaVision, the scenes between Wanda and Vision in Civil War and Infinity War will have much more emotional impact.
Wanda and Vision make for a couple you want to root for. What is brilliant is that unlike, say, Cobb’s corrupted memory of his dead wife in Inception, the reveal that this sitcom Vision was created by Wanda herself has the opposite effect. Wanda’s memory of Vision is so pure and loving that she creates a version of him that is willing to stop her. It’s the heart of the show, the strongest aspect, and leads us to the darker places that grief can take us. Not to mention the fact that Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen have a warm, genuine chemistry that helps land the more pathos-heavy moments of their arc.
The Actually Not Wasted Villain Corner
Pop quiz, hotshot: who is the villain in WandaVision? Wrong, it’s Wanda. Agatha is a great antagonist but that doesn’t mean she’s actually the villain. She’s amoral, happy to leave Wanda in her fantasy as long as she gets her powers, and the only background we get about Agatha is her killing her coven in self-defence – the worst thing she really does in this show is kill an imaginary dog, and basically a fun chance for Kathryn Hahn to witch and bitch it up for a few episodes. And that theme song? Instant classic. Number one with a bullet.
Wanda is the villain. She’s the villain at the start of the show, and the end of the show. In the best episode of the season, the penultimate “Previously On”, we see all of Wanda’s trauma: losing her parents, losing her brother, loving Vision then losing him. These are the kind of traumatic events that would test the purest of heroes, and Wanda was never the purest, often vengeful and violent. She trapped people, forcibly invaded their minds, and shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. That we completely empathize and sympathize with her throughout these deeds is a mark of how great the story-telling is.
The MCU Problem
WandaVision is perfect until it’s finale. Then it turns into a rote MCU final act, with two actors miming throwing big gobs of light at each other during far too much of the runtime. After so much careful emotional development, shifting into something so blunt and generic feels like a waste; the moment this show remembers its place in the cinematic Marvel world, it’s downright dull in comparison to what came before. And, while I don’t hate it at all, the reveal that fake Quicksilver was just some dude Agatha got to play the part (though don’t be surprised if there is more to that in the future) is annoying Marvel fans so much that it makes the Mandarin reveal look positively prestige.
Still, WandaVision is an overall success. It’s the origin story of a deeply relatable villain who is only just discovering the game-changing power that she has. This is the story of the Scarlet Witch, and I wouldn’t get in her way – and I’m glad that the Marvel-ness of it all stayed out of her path for most of this season, to really give her story space to thrive. As part of the MCU, WandaVision is a firm statement to give more time to these characters outside the movie standards we’ve come to expect, and I hope this marks a shift in the way that the long-standing (and sometimes downright exhaustingly repetitive) franchise develops both its villains and its heroes.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via GamesRadar)