Apparently recapping Batman: The Animated Series twice a week isn’t enough for me, as I’ve decided to begin weekly coverage of the various forthcoming Marvel TV shows.
If I had a time machine I’d have started this column to coincide with the first episode of WandaVision, but I’ll get the ball rolling with my overall thoughts and then from next Monday episodic coverage of The Falcon and the Winder Soldier will begin. SPOILERS ahead.
Chances are you’re slightly sick of people talking about WandaVision, whether you liked it or you’re No Fun like Mike Thomas. I think both sides can agree the “But what is grief, if not love persevering?” line got out of hand. While it was nothing new for the episodes to be torn apart for easter eggs, the prediction videos about Mephisto and the X-Men got incredibly out of hand, and it’s depressing that the showrunner had to preemptively apologise for the finale.
It remains to be seen if some of that was just Marvel entering new territory, prolonging the worst habits of the fanbase for eight weeks, or the lack of other new media to share the spotlight with thanks to COVID. Hopefully expectations will be tempered from here on out. Personally, I don’t think they’ll be dropping any universe-altering revelations like the arrival of the X-Men or Fantastic Four in any of these shows, because no matter how many subscribers there are to Disney Plus, there are simply more eyeballs and revenue tied into the films.
Instead, these shows are the ideal place to tell more intimate character stories for those willing to invest the time in them, but with their events easily summarised in a single line of dialogue in a future movie. And boy did they tell an intimate character story with their first at-bat.
Wanda’s incredibly harmful way of dealing with her grief following the death of Vision in Avengers: Infinity War allowed Marvel to get truly weird for the first time, with six of the nine episodes featuring the couple living in wedded sitcom bliss, moving through the decades throughout the series while the residents of Westview were telepathically forced to play along.
The show was at its best when it truly lost itself in these homages to The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, Family Ties, Malcolm in the Middle and Modern Family (with a few others blended in for good measure). Many complained about the first episode committing too hard to this premise, and it was certainly risky given the age bracket of their key demographic, but personally I felt it was important to slow-roll the reveals that everything is not as it seems, making it all the more distressing when Mrs. Hart ‘broke character’ during the awkward dinner.
Episode 2 ramped things up with the beekeeper, the splashes of colour and the radio message (as well as letting Paul Bettany lean into his posh drunk idiot tendancies), which is likely why they released both on the same day. People seemed a little more on board from there, with Episode 3 moving to colour and outing ‘Geraldine’ as an imposter who Wanda ejected from the town.
That leads us right into the dream team of Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Paris), Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), whose incredibly chemistry made their unlikely alliance work. I fully support the idea of Woo acting as the new Agent Coulson, popping up in all of the shows, but I’m not holding my breath. Retelling the events of the first three episodes from their point of view was a nice interlude, and brought SWORD into the continuity.
Episode 5 was pivotal for perception of the show, with Wanda shocking everyone by strolling out of Westview, fully cognisant and threatening SWORD to back off, dispelling the idea she was unaware of what was going on. It was also where Evan Peters arrived as a ‘recast’ Pietro, launching a thousand fan theories about the cast of the X-Men movies entering the MCU after all, or that Peters was in fact Mephisto.
In my opinion things became a little more hit-and-miss from there until the finish line, with the stellar performances of Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn carrying us through the bumpier territory and generic CGI-filled final episode.
I feel guilty waiting this long to acknowledge these two, because honestly they were revelatory. Wanda and Olsen weren’t held in high regard by many before the show thanks to the middling Avengers: Age of Ultron and Olsen’s wandering accent. Personally, I thought Infinity War did a lot to rehabilitate her, but I was not prepared for Olsen’s tour-de-force performance. She wore SO many hats, effortlessly adapting to the different time periods and Wanda’s changing role. I thought she crushed the to-camera format of episode 7 in particular, but you could see how much fun she was having as the doting housewife in the 50’s and the big haired 80’s.
Most knew Hahn was a severely under-appreciated talent, but this was truly her coming out party, unleashing her range as ‘Agnes’ the nosy neighbour. The big campy wink is a meme now. ‘Agatha All Along’ topped the charts for a couple of days. She chewed the scenery in the best possible way, and clearly had the time of her life revealing herself as the wicked witch Agatha Harkness. Much like Brie Larson, she’s spent too much of her career as the best friend of main characters, but I think those days are firmly behind her now.
I enjoyed Agatha’s reframing of the events of Wanda’s life, and it gave Marvel a smart way to say mutants have been here all along, and the Infinity Stones merely kickstarted their dormant abilities if they choose to go that route. More importantly, I loved them at last using the name Scarlet Witch by making Wanda a prophesied figure of legend from the Darkhold. Fans have been calling Wanda that for years, but it took a moment for the penny to drop that Marvel themselves have never done so. I also like their take on her classic costume (after nodding to the more ridiculous version of it in the Halloween episode).
But that final episode was a little deflating in my opinion. Given the money spent – this is perhaps the most expensive TV show ever made – we probably shouldn’t be surprised that it ended in characters flying and shooting energy at each other against a murky CGI background, but I’m still disappointed in them for not sticking to their guns. There was a real opportunity here to try something different, or at least hop between the different decades as the town crumbled around them. The fact they finally filmed on an actual location didn’t even translate because of how they colour-keyed the sky. I didn’t think much of the colourless Vision either, regardless of the whole Ship of Theseus debate and whatever To Be Continued elements he left.
I’ve seen it said that they blew the farewell to the kids, as no parent would ever close that door, regardless of the consequences. Wanda will obviously ‘find’ Billy & Tommy again using the Darkhold, setting the table for a potential ‘Young Avengers’, but the moment probably would have worked better if it was beyond her control once the bubble began to burst.
I think the show sets them up nicely for the future, both with the above that will almost certainly directly bleed into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, an empowered Monica getting recruited by Nick Fury and Jimmy Woo’s still unresolved missing persons case. Personally I’m hyped for Chiwetel Ejiofor rocking up in Westview and telling Agatha “this is a good death.” Heck, Wanda feels like a character that audiences will be actively excited to see in future, rather than the take-it-or-leave it attitude many have had in previous movies, giving them a viable tentpole star for the future.
My overall on the opinion went up and up… before coming back down to earth a little by the finale. It might just about sneak into my personal top 10, but at one point it was flirting with the top of the list.
They might never get this bold again, which would be depressing, as it doesn’t even remotely contend with Legion on that front (and from which they could learn a little something about how to do non-standard fight scenes), but I’m glad they made a token attempt with their first foray into television (and a post Endgame world) to change things up a little from the standard formula, even if it did end in a more generic manner than it started. I would expect The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to play it MUCH safer, but we can all find out together next week!
For podcast coverage of every film in the MCU so far, check out Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey.
As mentioned at the start, I recap two episodes of Batman the Animated Series on Saturdays and Sundays. This weekend Poison Ivy settles down in the suburbs and some rich guys do some crimes because they’re bored.
The Superhero Pantheon have their own review of WandaVision dropping tomorrow. Fingers crossed it’s less waffly than the above!
Some Justice League related shenanigans are likely coming to the site soon to coincide with Zack Snyder’s… FOUR HOURS?!? WTF?????