January 24, 2021

Streamin' Meemies: WandaVision Season 1, Episodes 1-3


So the WandaVision series is supposedly the start of Marvel's "Phase 4," and the events of this series are reportedly going to tie into the next Dr. Strange movie, Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. (Does that make Disney Plus part of the Streaming Madverse? Maybe I should give that title to these reviews from now on.) However that works out, this series is starting out pretty damn weird. 

The three episodes so far are set in three different decades--the 50s, 60s and 70s--and taking off of sitcoms from each of those decades--I Love Lucy, Bewitched/The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Brady Bunch/The Partridge Family. But there's also a steadily escalating horror thread running throughout, especially in the last minutes of episode 3 when the canned laugh track fades away. We're not sure if the entire setup is the product of Wanda's traumatized, reality-twisting mind, an outside source with the acronym S.W.O.R.D. (with its upside down cross logo seen at the end of episode 1, the colorized toy helicopter in episode 2 and Geraldine/Monica's necklace in episode 3) or both. Another thing to remember is that WandaVision takes place after Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame, and in the latter, Vision was stone cold dead, the Mind Stone ripped from his head. Since he wasn't snapped, he also wasn't resurrected. Yet here he is, in all his redheaded synthezoid glory, even putting on a decades-appropriate human mask when he steps out of the house. 

We shall see. I have Tom King's excellent limited-edition Vision comic series, Little Better Than a Man/Little Worse Than a Beast, but I haven't read any of the older Wanda or Vision comics. But it seems to me Wanda Maximoff was terribly overlooked by the movies for as powerful as she is--I'd say she's at least the equal of Captain Marvel--so it's nice to see her spotlighted here. 

Episode 1: "Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience"

This is the 50's I Love Lucy episode, filmed in black and white with an old-style narrow screen on a single interior stage: Wanda and Vision's kitchen and living room. They have a theme song over credits of the two of them arriving in the town of Westview as supposedly a newly married couple. When we meet them, Wanda displays her powers in the house, and Vision shows his android head and body; but they don't know when or why they came here, how long they've been here, when they got married, or what the circled date on the calendar is. Vision goes to work at a "Computational Services" office and has no idea what he's doing there. All this is brought home later in the episode when the boss, Mr. Hart, and his wife come to the Visions' for dinner. After Wanda uses her powers to whip up the food (although she can't quite manage the four-course dinner the neighbor Agnes sneaks in the back door and changes everything to breakfast materials instead) and the four of them are sitting and eating, Mr. Hart peppers them with questions they can't answer. Then he chokes on something--I suspect Wanda made him do so just to shut him up--and the scene goes super creepy, as Mrs. Hart just looks at him and repeats "Stop it" over and over. Mr. Hart, still struggling to breathe, finally falls on the floor. Wanda looks at Vision and says, in a different, commanding tone of voice, "Vision, help him." Vision does, phasing his hand into Mr. Hart's throat and plucking out the offending chunk of food.  

The episode ends with Wanda and Vision grinning at the camera while the theme song plays and the end credits run. Then the camera pulls back and out of the ancient TV-style monitor to show someone watching, and a piece of paper or notepad bearing that upside-down-cross logo. 

Episode 2: "Don't Touch That Dial"

We now jump to the 60's sitcom model, opening with Wanda and Vision sleeping in twin beds and freaking out over a loud bang outside. They decide it's just branches hitting the window, but Wanda uses her powers to shove the twin beds together and wrap them in a full-size comforter. The two of them then dive under the comforter for a bit of nookie, which will be hugely important later.

The thrust of this episode is Wanda and Vision working up a magic act to perform at the neighborhood talent show "for the children" (another creepy phrase repeated throughout). Wanda gets to wear slacks and flat shoes in this episode, as opposed to the dress and high heels of the first. The first "crack" in her reality appears after Vision leaves to go to the Neighborhood Watch Meeting, and Wanda goes outside to see a toy helicopter caught in a rosebush. This helicopter is a a colorized bright red, sporting the number 57 and the upside down cross logo. We're not given much of a chance to dwell on this, as Wanda's neighbor Agnes shows up to take her to meet the group running the talent show, led by "Queen Bee" Dottie. This consists of white women with one exception: a beehived black woman with straightened hair calling herself "Geraldine" (although there's a split second hesitation when she says the name). After the talent show meeting, Wanda and Dottie have a bit of a confrontation and Dottie accidentally cuts her hand--and she bleeds red as well. At the same time, the radio suddenly sizzles and a man's voice emerges: "Wanda, Wanda, can you read me? Who is doing this to you?"

At Vision's (surprisingly integrated) Neighborhood Watch meeting, he is given a piece of gum to chew (after loudly proclaiming, android-like, he "doesn't eat food" before backtracking to amend, "between meals") and in a neat little animated sequence, the gum goes down his gullet and clogs his gears. This makes him act like he's drunk when he shows up for the talent show (and you can tell Paul Bettany is having a blast playing this). In fact, he keeps doing superhero things like hovering in the air and lifting a piano with one hand, and Wanda has to use her own powers to make it look like everything is a sequence of planned pratfalls. This goes over so well they are given a trophy for 'Comedy Performance of the Year.'

Back home, Wanda says, "It wasn't so hard to fit in after all." She gets off the couch and the camera pans down over a suddenly pregnant stomach. Wanda gasps, "Is this really happening?" There is more banging outside, and Wanda and Vision rush out to see what's going on. It's right here that the subtly building thread of horror comes into full view, as a man in a beekeeper's suit, bees buzzing around him, climbs out of a manhole in the street. Wanda, again in that flat, commanding tone of voice used in episode 1, says "No," and rewinds reality back to the moment she discovers she is pregnant. She says again, "Is this really happening?" meaning the baby, but more starts happening--Vision's head turns read and silver, and color splashes across the screen. 

And once more we hear the man's voice through the radio: "Who's doing this to you, Wanda?" 

Episode 3: "Now In Color"

This is the 70's Brady Bunch/Partridge Family analogue, with opening credits that are very much Brady Bunch. Wanda's hair is long, parted in the middle, and ramrod straight; Vision has collar length hair and jaw length sideburns; and Geraldine is rocking a gorgeous Afro and bright blue eyeshadow. This storyline centers on Wanda's accelerated pregnancy (12 hours) and the birth of her twins. There are more concrete hints about what's going on dropped in this episode, particularly at the end. 

Vision is obviously taking to his new role as a father, as he buys and reads Wanda books, works on breathing exercises with her, and practices speed-changing diapers on a doll. Opening the episode approximately four months along (confirmed by a house-calling doctor who condescendingly mansplains fetal development to the couple), Wanda suddenly pops out to her third trimester. This provides the first indication that the pregnancy is messing with her powers, as the baby kicks and makes the butterfly mobile that Wanda is about to hang over the crib come to life. This is a running gag throughout the episode, as first false labor contractions and then the real contractions makes the faucet spew water, causes pictures to revolve on the walls, ignites the logs in the fireplace, and floods the house when her water breaks. (Wanda summons some wind to dry out the carpet.) She also knocks out the power for the entire neighborhood, which complicates things when the real labor pangs begin and the phone doesn't work (and this being the 70's, cell phones don't exist). Vision speeds off to fetch the doctor, leaving Wanda there alone when Geraldine shows up. Wanda spontaneously generates coats and holds fruit bowls and vases of flowers to hide her bulging belly. Geraldine doesn't leave--she insists on sitting on the couch and regaling Wanda with a long drawn-out tale about her temp job, while Wanda tries to hide her stomach, her contractions, and the stork that popped off the nursery wall and is now walking around the living room. But it's just as well that Geraldine is there, as the baby is coming. Geraldine doesn't bat an eye at Wanda's sudden pregnancy, just laying her down behind the couch and telling her "it's time to push." And indeed it is, as the baby makes his appearance just before Vision returns, carrying Dr. Nielsen piggyback. Dr. Nielsen ushers Geraldine into the kitchen, giving Vision a moment to morph back to his actual synthezoid appearance and meet his son--or rather his 1st son, as the second of two makes his presence known as well.

After both babies are born, the creepiness starts and is ratcheted up beyond the first two episodes. Dr. Nielsen leaves, and Vision asks if he's still going on his trip (he was just about to get in the car when Vision grabbed him). No, says the doctor. "Small towns are so hard to escape."

Outside, Herb from episode #2 and Agnes are talking. They start to warn Vision about Geraldine, and there's clearly something else they want to say, but neither one of them can get it out. Herb tries to say "we're all" something and can't finish the sentence. Meanwhile, inside admiring the twins, Wanda admits she's a twin and she had a brother, Pietro. She then starts singing to the babies in the Solokovian language. Geraldine makes a mistake; she asks Wanda, "He [meaning Pietro] was killed by Ultron, wasn't he?"

This sets all of Wanda's alarm bells off. Not only Geraldine's question, but the fact that she notices Geraldine wearing a necklace with the upside down cross symbol. She demands Geraldine explain herself, and when Geraldine continues to dodge the question, insists she leave. By the time Vision returns from talking to Herb and Agnes, Geraldine is gone. He asks where she went, and Wanda says "she had to rush home."

But as we see, that's not quite what happened. Geraldine is suddenly shown flying through the air through a shimmer that looks like a force field (and this scene is shot in modern screen widths, instead of the compressed early TV ratio of the previous episodes) and lands on the ground. A helicopter hovers in the sky, modern-looking SUVs surround her, and the screen fades to black to the strains of "Daydream Believer."

So. There's quite a mystery here to unwind, whether it's all happening in Wanda's mind or otherwise. But it can't all be in Wanda's mind or generated by her powers, because Geraldine knows what happened to her, and Herb and Agnes are trying to warn Vision of something. There are also "commercials" in each episode dropping further hints: Episode 1 is advertising the ToasterMate 2000 for Stark Industries; Episode 2 shows off a fancy watch by "Strucker"; and episode 3, the most pointed, touts "Hydra Soak" soap: "Escape to a world all your own, when you want to get away but you don't want to go anywhere." This show is unlike anything Marvel has ever done, and I'm down for it.

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