Plot summary: It’s a classic sitcom mishap, as Wanda arranges a romantic anniversary celebration, when in fact Vision’s boss is coming to dinner.
As mentioned last week, I’m using the layoff before Loki to go back to Marvel’s first Disney Plus show, WandaVision, bringing you two episodes per week. It would irk me to look back on all of this one day and know I never did it, and what else am I going to do with my Mondays?
In general I’m going to write about these as if I didn’t know where it all leads, but it’s unavoidable that some of that will creep in here and there.
Episode Title: ‘Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience’
Air Date: January 15th, 2021
Directed: Matt Shakman (1)
Written: Jac Schaeffer (1)
As its title suggests, this episode actually was filmed in front of a live studio audience, and its length of 21min 40 (before the credits) was the standard length of a network sitcom.
Homages in this episode include I Love Lucy, I Married Joan and The Honeymooners. There’s also a lot of The Dick Van Dyke Show, even though that premiered in 1961 and this episode is set in the fifties.
More specifically, the calendar suggests the episode takes place on August 23. Avengers #238 saw Vision awakened from hibernation.
The wine served at dinner is called ‘Maison du Mépris’, which literally translates to ‘House of Contempt’… or if you’d prefer, ‘House of M’, one of the biggest influences on the series.
We learn via the ‘Opening Credits’ that Wanda and Vision are newlyweds who have just bought a house in the town of Westview. Oh and everything is in black and white!
Vision asks about a heart on the calendar for today’s date but Wanda doesn’t know either. Each tries to convince the other they remember but they drop it and Vision heads off to work (but not before changing his face to appear human).
Vision performs nonsensical admin work he literally does not understand, having to ask a co-worker what they do… and does not get a straight answer.
No time for that though, as his boss, Mr. Hart, makes it clear he and his wife are coming over for dinner that evening… and Vision’s future at the company depends on it going well.
Their nosy neighbour, Agnes, introduces herself to Wanda, who improvises that it’s her anniversary, inadvertently inviting Agnes to help prepare for the special occasion.
Vision telephones and we have our first delightful sitcom misunderstanding, as they talk past each other about a work dinner and a romantic anniversary. What could go wrong?
That question is answered immediately as the Harts walk into a dimly lit house featuring Wanda in a racy (for 50’s standards) negligee. Naturally Vision plays it off as Wanda’s European idiosyncrasies.
They regroup in the kitchen and Wanda endeavours to use her magic (and Agnes’ help) to throw a sophisticated evening together, taking turns to run interference to keep the Harts out of the kitchen.
Breakfast for dinner is served (let’s normalise this, please), but Mrs. Hart’s interrogative small talk completely stumps them. When Mr. Hart presses the issue he begins to choke, with Mrs. Hart eerily asking Wanda over and over again to “stop it.”
Vision uses his powers to save Mr. Hart, and their guests laugh the whole thing off and leave in good spirits. Wanda conjures rings for them and they look to camera as the credits roll… but the camera pulls back and an unknown individual is watching everything in the present.
Commercial of the Week
For a lot of people the first episode was a little too into its old sitcom aesthetic, feeling they needed to get to the Marvel of it all faster. Those people must surely have gotten a lot out of this first faux commercial, which in my opinion might be the best one of them all.
The Stark Industries toaster with an uncomfortably long countdown alludes to Wanda’s story from Age of Ultron about waiting for a Stark bomb to kill her, while the blinking red light is our very first use of colour in the series, and sets the precedent for almost all of the colour leakage being red, Wanda’s signature colour/danger/blood. It’s simultaneously subtle and incredibly on the nose, and in hindsight I think this one was a roaring success.
This was quite the risk for Kevin Feige and crew dipping their toe into the realm of television for the first time, with a number of people signing up to Disney Plus in anticipation of exclusive MCU content. I think that was entirely necessary though, as things definitely needed a shake-up after Avengers: Endgame; Regardless of how popular their movies are, audiences surely must be tiring of the same formula, which I say as an MCU die-hard.
However the deep commitment to the gimmick of Wanda & Vision being trapped in a sitcom aesthetic several decades older than their target audience was definitely alienating to a lot of people. A lot of that probably comes from the creative decision to have the protagonists blissfully unaware they’re in a TV show, with hints at there being more going on only creeping in towards the end. For that reason it was probably smart that Disney opted to drop the first two episodes on the same day, as the pilot is a firm commitment to the bit.
But that strong commitment is the strength of it in my opinion, with startling attention to detail right from the jump. Changing the Marvel Studios logo to black and white with a different font is easy enough, but the meticulous wardrobe and set design and near complete refusal to even acknowledge this is a superhero property and instead just play it 85% as a straight sitcom is all very impressive to me. They seeded just enough little hints at something weirder going on, which set the Easter Egg Video Content Factories ablaze week after week.
I’ve heard it said that the biggest weakness of the show is that while it’s paying tribute to all these iconic sitcoms, it isn’t a funny enough one itself. The Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip conundrum. That’s fair; if you sat down to watch this with no pre-existing Marvel investment – as a surprising number of people did – this would be a pretty unsatisfying 22-minute sitcom. But I personally find something warm and comforting about it, especially so on a re-watch. The lines are cleverer than funny, constantly winking and nodding to the couple’s true natures.
Most Marvellous Player
I don’t like to split this category as it feels like a cop-out, but I think it was so huge for the show that Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany and Kathryn Hahn were excellent right out of the gate. Their mutual excitement to do something to profoundly different (but still mainstream) can be seen on their faces at all times. Olsen and Hahn revel in the ridiculousness of the dutiful nuclear family housewife, grinning every problem away and making sure it’s all alright in the end. Likewise, Bettany is right at home as a dithery, horny airhead who keeps accidentally bumping up against the truth only to get distracted by some new mishap. He cited Dick Van Dyke and Hugh Laurie as huge influences on his performance, and you can see both here in spades.
Both leads make their characters infinitely more charismatic and engaging in just twenty minutes, after a half dozen so-so appearances in noisy blockbusters that barely had any time for them. Very few cared about Wanda and even fewer cared about Vision, even if they played the latter’s death incredibly well, but their work here immediately made it clear they had so much more to give.
Hahn’s job every episode seemed to be to try and steal the show, and she too hit her brief immediately. She seems so in her element barging in uninvited to gossip and interfere. Her delivery of “What kind of a housewife would I be if I didn’t have a gourmet meal for four just lying about the place?” is stellar.
There… isn’t one? How novel!
You could try and make some arguments that it’s Mr. Hart, Vision’s grouchy boss, and Fred Melamed plays that role to a tee thanks to his big booming presence and snippy attitude. I liked the little digs about political attitudes of the day, with him labelling Wanda a Bolshevik and one of Vision’s co-workers a beatnik.
Kind of a weird plug, but Andrew ‘Babish’ Rea is a huge MCU fan and actually attempted to make Agnes’ four course gourmet meal to… interesting results.
Check out The Matt Signal, in which I recap episodes of Batman the Animated Series every weekend. While the original run of the series is over we still have The Lost Episode to review, and then it’s time to dig into some NUMBERS!
The Superhero Pantheon also reviewed the whole series, obviously.