WandaVision, Marvel Studio’s first foray into television—the Netflix shows don’t count, as they were produced by Marvel Entertainment—gives us our first taste of the MCU in over a year. And a weird taste it is, as we find Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, FINALLY given something to do) and Vision (Paul Bettany, in mega-charming British mode) settling down in a picturesque suburb called “Westview”. The first two episodes dropped on Disney+ on Friday, with the remaining eight episodes to come in weekly format for the next two months. These first episodes are both directed by Matt Shakman (It’s Always Sunny, Game of Thrones), are in black-and-white and are a meticulous recreation of mid-century American sitcoms, the second episode even has a Bewitched-style cartoon opening. The first episode revolves around a classic sitcom premise: Vision’s boss is unexpectedly coming for dinner, and Wanda must prepare a five-course meal at the last minute. The second episode is about a local talent show. These are simple, cheesy setups, and WandaVision leans hard into them, featuring a laugh track culled from an honest-to-god live studio audience.
But don’t get comfortable, because something weird is going on. In the first episode, Wanda and Vision don’t know where they came from or when they got married, and in the second episode, well, Wanda becomes pregnant in the blink of an eye. There are also occasional intrusions into their sitcom bliss, as Wanda finds a toy helicopter in the bushes that is in color, while everything else is black and white. Weirder still, while listening to a radio a voice bursts in asking, “Wanda, who is doing this to you?” A second callout at the end of the episode makes the voice clearer: it’s Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), last seen tailing Scott Lang in Ant-Man and the Wasp. And there is a mysterious symbol of a circle with a sword in it that keeps recurring, including on that helicopter Wanda finds (hello SWORD, took you long enough to show up). And then there are two big clues to the audience: Wanda’s neighbor “Geraldine” is Monica Rambeau (we know because she is played by Teyonah Parris, who was confirmed as Monica Rambeau ages ago, and boy, wouldn’t it have been nice to actually be able to reveal her true identity within the context of the MCU, oh well), and each episode ends with a pull-back that reveals someone with that circle-sword symbol watching the “WandaVision show” on a computer monitor.
The setup of WandaVision is solid, introducing big questions in the first hour, but here is where the weekly format could hurt this show: it’s SLOW. It will require some patience to unpack what is going on, who is in control, and how much Wanda is or is not in control of herself (a “rewind” moment suggests she has some power over what is happening). The first two episodes, at least, are more loaded with classic sitcom references than they are with Marvel bait, such as That 70’s Show sitcom-mom Debra Jo Rupp appearing as one of the Westview residents, and a painstaking homage to Bewitched’s kitchen sequences. (Wanda’s mid-century kitchen is TO DIE FOR.) We probably didn’t really need TWO episodes of this setup, as the first episode makes it clear that Something Is Wrong with Wanda and Vision’s idyllic suburban life. The second episode is enjoyable in and of itself, but the pacing already feels off and the slow start isn’t helping. We’re only one hour in and it feels like WandaVision is stretching its premise for no reason. People always say television gives you more time to explore things, but it also just gives you more time, and you don’t always have to use it if it’s not actually forwarding your story.
But the little touches of weird that intrude on Wanda and Vision’s fantasy suburban life keep the wheels turning for now. At one point, their nosy neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn, making a real case that SHE should be playing Lucille Ball in the biopic), pops up wearing a weird little cape for no reason at all, and she has a Conspicuous Brooch, a pretty huge clue as to who she really is, and something is CLEARLY going on with Dottie (Emma Caulfield Ford), the domineering Stepford wife running the local planning committee. And, obviously, we have to find out what’s happening with Jimmy Woo and Monica Rambeau, and who is monitoring Westview, who the dude in the bee suit is, and how Wanda and Vision—who is technically dead—came to be there, and how much Wanda is or is not responsible for all of it.
There are reasons to stick with WandaVision besides just the plot points, though. Olsen and Bettany are fabulous, finally having proper character material to sink their teeth into, on top of getting to do all the sitcom gags (“drunk Vision” is DELIGHTFUL). Their romance in the movies felt rushed and forced, but here Wanda and Vision are tangibly affectionate and caring, and even though WandaVision plays on period-accurate sexless interactions, their mutual desire is palpable. (Vision telling Wanda to turn off the lights is probably the sexiest couple moment in the MCU, which says more about how entirely sexless the MCU is than anything.) If your favorite parts of Marvel movies are the hanging out parts, then WandaVision will be satisfying despite its slow start because there is a lot of hanging out, and it’s extra rewarding to spend so much time with characters who were never particularly served well in the movies. I just hope people give WandaVision the time to get where it’s going, because the show is clearly not going to get there fast.