Spoilers through episode 5 of WandaVision
In my review of the first two episodes of WandaVision, I said the show got off to a slow start and a lot of people argued with me (which happens whenever you say anything less than positive about Marvel online). Listen, I, too, enjoy these characters and spending time with them, and I, too, like seeing Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany get to play more interesting versions of Wanda and Vision. But WandaVision did get off to a slow start. They established the central conceit—Wanda and Vision are living an idealized sitcom suburban life, but Something Is Wrong—in the first 20 minutes, and then we spent over an hour reiterating that point before the story advanced. There was a lot of fun stuff along the way, like the arrival of Wanda and Vision’s twins and Wanda banishing “Geraldine” from Westview, but the first three episodes treaded water. It wasn’t until episode four that things got moving again.
This is not an uncommon problem for Marvel; a lot of their movies get off to slow starts, too. The difference is, a slow start in a movie is like, 15 minutes, max. And then it gets going and usually ends so spectacularly that you forget about the slow bit at the beginning and just remember the strong finish (see also: The Avengers). But for a TV show, we spend weeks mired in it. The solution is simple: Marvel should have dropped the first THREE episodes together, not just the first two, and then by week two, WandaVision would have been right into the action. And this is not about babying audiences who have no patience—the fact that everyone stuck with WandaVision for three weeks while it got going shows how patient the audience really is—it’s about serving your story. If your story isn’t going to start at the start—which again, Marvel movies almost never do, and this is basically a four-hour movie—then at least get to the start as quickly as you can. Streaming offers unique advantages, releasing multiple episodes together is one of them. I think a three-episode drop off the top would have pretty well silenced the criticism of the pacing because we would have immediately dug into story in week two.
And what a story! Now that WandaVision is actually moving forward, there is a lot to get on with. The root of Something Is Wrong seems to be planted in Wanda’s years of trauma. She became the “Scarlet Witch” (even though she has apparently not earned that name yet in the MCU) because her parents were killed in an airstrike when she was a child, then she was a villain for a second, then her brother died, she became an Avenger, and then she was on the run, Vision died, and she got dusted. Now she’s back and has to deal with all that compounded trauma and the result seems to be the “Westview anomaly”, in which thousands of people are trapped and forced to “perform” in her sitcom fantasy. It’s an easy leap to make, that in her trauma and grief—Monica Rambeau says she felt overwhelming grief while trapped in the anomaly—Wanda more or less accidentally propelled Westview into existence.
Of course, there are many complications. Wanda can’t control everything in Westview, which suggests someone else has input, too. Vision is learning of Wanda’s role in the anomaly, and he is beginning to ask hard questions about it, and what is really happening to him—he can’t remember anything before Westview. The confrontation between Wanda and Vision in episode five is the single best moment of the series so far, as these characters respond in believable, emotional ways to their circumstances and the mysteries surrounding them. The second-best moment is when Wanda exits the anomaly to confront SWORD and we see her grief and anger laid bare. These are fantastical characters in a fantastical situation, but this is ultimately becoming a show about grief, trauma, and coping with loss. Interestingly, even as Wanda appears to play-pretend a perfect existence in the anomaly, she acknowledges to her sons that death is permanent, and we have to learn to let go when we lose someone we love. That’s a bit rich coming from her, but it feels like the next leap for this series to make is Wanda confronting this truism within herself and finally, really, letting Vision go (which I assume would also end the Westview anomaly, because without Vision, there is no reason for Wanda to maintain the alternate reality or pocket dimension or whatever it is).
And then there is the big reveal: Evan Peters, of X-Men Quicksilver fame, showing up as Pietro, a “recast” version of Wanda’s dead brother. A lot of people are now hung up on whether or not this is the introduction of the X-Men, and by extension the multiverse, to the MCU. The answer is obviously yes, as Elizabeth Olsen is even now in London filming Doctor Strange 2, which is going to be tied directly to the events of WandaVision. The more interesting question is what it means for Wanda’s grief process that one, she didn’t “cast” Pietro in her show—she says to Vision she didn’t make the doorbell ring, indicating someone else is responsible for this—and two, she has to directly confront her not-brother and how this won’t fill the void left by the “real” Pietro. Presumably, we will see some of this in episode six, and learn how Wanda reacts to what is, basically, a taunt about her dead brother.
There are, of course, many questions about SWORD and Monica’s blank MRI, all of which feels like setup for future movies (especially that beat where Monica visibly bristled at the mention of Captain Marvel, someone is NOT HAPPY with her Aunt Carol). Also, Tyler Haywood (Josh Stamberg), the acting director of SWORD, is Obviously Evil and clearly trying to scapegoat Wanda for some sh-t he did (I do appreciate that Marvel has always recognized white guys in business suits as nefarious). He had Vision CHOPPED UP in PARTS, which begs the question of how he even got Vision’s body (surely the surviving Avengers buried him?), and what he intended to do with it. His certainty that Wanda is “weaponizing” Vision means that he was definitely weaponizing Vision and now wants to eradicate Wanda and blame her for everything. This stuff is fun—JIMMY WOO IS THE BEST—but again, it’s not delivering as much depth as the ever-darkening trauma cloud around Wanda.
But the story about Wanda and her grief is compelling. Superheroes absorb a lot of trauma and rarely stop long enough to deal with any of it, but WandaVision is (mostly) about that very thing. So far, the little bit of action we have seen is tied directly to Wanda lashing out to challenges of her idealized life, and I hope that continues. When the story is captivating, the punchy-kicky stuff becomes less important and you don’t even really miss it because so much other stuff is happening. Vision unraveling the truth about Westview, Wanda trying to maintain her façade of control, whoever is interfering with Wanda, the emotional confrontation forced by the arrival of A Pietro but not THE Pietro, all of these things are compelling and don’t need punchy-kicky to make them worth watching. I’m sure we’ll get to the punchy-kicky eventually, but for now, WandaVision is falling further down its own rabbit hole and consistently pulling out more interesting complications and revelations.
WandaVision is streaming on Disney+ with new episodes arriving each Friday.