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AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following review contains spoilers for WandaVision season one.
WandaVision is an interesting case in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: after finishing their first major arc with Avengers: Endgame, the MCU seems to be trying to branch out and diversify by dabbling in the world of television series. Sure, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Netflix shows like Daredevil or Luke Cage were somewhat linked to the cinematic universe, but not to the degree that the new shows are. Certainly not in the case of WandaVision.
As we all know, the vast majority of characters that were killed by Thanos on Avengers: Infinity War were brought back in Endgame, with one major exception being Vision due to the fact that he wasn’t vanished by the snap, but rather he was actually killed by the Mad Titan. And this series deals with Wanda’s mourn and the aftermath of losing another loved one.
This is a really good setup and one that fits the character of Wanda based on what we have seen so far in the MCU and her background in the comics (more on that later), so there was potential to do something different from what we have seen so far in the movies and, to their credit, they did try to do some things differently. Did they succeed at it? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
To summarize the story of the show: Wanda is grieving about the death of Vision and, in her pain, she takes over a whole town called Westview, creating a reality where Vision lives, they are married, have two kids named Tommy and Billy and they are living in a sitcom that goes through different decades, taking cues from famous shows like Malcolm in the Middle, Full House or Modern Family. While all of this is happening, an organization called S.W.O.R.D. decides to put an end to Wanda’s actions and this is how we get the introduction of a character that was important in the 80s Avengers comics, Monica Rambeau.
From the get-go, WandaVision was taking a somewhat significant detour from the typical MCU formula: instead of having a typical bad guy to stop, most of the damage is done by Wanda, but we don’t get answers from the beginning. The first two episodes show Wanda and Vision living in their home in a 50s and 60s sitcom, spending the vast majority of said episodes going through the façade, with only providing a few snippets of what the actual story was.
There was a lot of criticism for the first two episodes because of that and I think it was warranted because while it sets the mood for the tone of the series, it relies too much on the mystery of how Wanda and Vision ended up in that situation. If you are a comic book reader, you can infer that Wanda is responsible because she is known for doing that kind of stuff in the comics. But if you are an MCU fan that doesn’t follow the source material, you rely on the mystery, which is part of the problem (more on that later).
If this series was longer, I could understand the logic of setting this scenario and slowly breaking the lie that Wanda has created, but considering that this show has only nine episodes to tell a whole story, it perhaps was a bit too much. The first two episodes don’t give you too much in terms of story because you know that the sitcom elements are just a bonus and not the actual plot. It’s a nice compliment, but certainly, a bit frustrating when they focus too much on that.
But as the series progresses, things start unraveling and then we start getting the actual story and why we are here. We’re given more and better context of what is going on and they play a bit with the notion that maybe Wanda is being controlled, which sparked a lot of theories about an outside character manipulating her, with Mephisto being the main candidate. It wasn’t meant to be, but it did explore something that was very interesting and wasn’t fully developed: Wanda being the main antagonist herself.
Wanda is a very unique case compared to the other Avengers: while she is overall a good person, she is much more prone to morally dubious actions compared to, say, Captain America or even Iron Man. While this was mainly shown in the House of M storyline in the comics, this has been further developed in the MCU, with Wanda starting out as a radicalized terrorist on Avengers: Age of Ultron, so there was a root of perhaps not evil, but certainly a more morally unbalanced perspective on things.
The people in charge of the show said that WandaVision’s main theme was grief and how to deal with it and I agree: Wanda is certainly in denial and wants to create a reality that fits her heart’s desires. This is good and it definitely steers away from the typical MCU approach to things. Her relationship with Vision is believable and compelling; Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany have a good chemistry and they sell you that a witch and a machine could actually fall in love. That’s great and they are definitely the star performers of the show.
When I was watching the show, I was constantly asking myself how they were going to explain the sitcom angle and we eventually discover that Wanda used to watch American sitcoms with her parents when she was a kid. A nice explanation with emotional value, no doubt, but the writer in me was thinking that it would have been cool for this detail to have been shown in previous MCU installments–it would have been a nice way to use continuity to develop the plot of this story. But I’ll admit that could be viewed as nitpicking.
But my biggest issue with the show is that they don’t fully commit to Wanda’s mental breakdown. Sure, the whole plot is her going crazy and doing this for selfish reasons, but there is always an angle, especially through the character of Monica, of making her a victim of her grief. And while the show makes great emphasis in the pain she has gone through in her life by losing her parents, her brother Pietro and now Vision, leading her to this breaking point that was her doing on Westview, there is a harsh reality: it doesn’t take away that she has committed a very questionable act.
By the time we get to the end of the show, Wanda is not held accountable for her actions. We’re talking about mental torture to a whole city, plus often causing problems against the authorities in charge. Monica argues through the whole series that she is a victim and, sure, a lot of things she has gone through were not her fault, but this event was definitely her fault and no amount of grief can justify that.
I enjoyed large parts of the show and there is some good stuff here and there, but that is a huge aspect that needs to be taken into account: that she has to be held accountable for the bad things she has done. We’re talking about the plot’s whole resolution. But she flies into the sunset by the end of the show and we end up with Monica’s words about the citizens in Westview “not knowing what she sacrificed for them”, which is not something that makes a lot of sense. Why should these people feel bad about their tormentor?
I’m 100% on board with the concept of Wanda losing her sanity and doing selfish acts because she can’t cope with the reality of losing Vision. I’m on board with her walking a morally dubious line. And I’m on board with this false reality where you really feel the love she has for Vision and their kids, Tommy and Billy, which is definitely a good reflection from the comics and the one element that I think could make or break this show–if you don’t buy that she cares about her loved ones, the whole story fails, but Olsen does a really good job there. All I ask is some consistency within the plot based on what we have seen in WandaVision and the MCU as a whole.
Going deeper into the story, I think the kids that played Tommy (Julian Hilliard) and Billy (Jett Klyne) were quite good and they convince you that they are Wanda and Vision’s kids based on their onstage chemistry. You feel for them when they disappear at the end of the show, which, in a way, is part of the problem because they were never real, so I have a feeling that the people in charge of the MCU are not going to show them again in the films or series because it would be rehashing a lot of different moments that we saw here (Wanda getting pregnant, going through labor, the kids growing up and so on).
Paul Bettany had a lot on his plate with the character of Vision going into this story. He had to combine the more serious and machine-like aspects of the character with the comedic approach of the sitcom sections while also portraying the all-white version that is made out of the real Vision’s remains, showing up in the series’ third. It was a lot of different types of characters to do and he did a solid job.
The handling of Vision is interesting to analyze because the character himself is not really Vision. The one that we see on Westview is Wanda’s recollection of what Vision was, complemented by her own desires and perceptions of him and basically acting as her conscious in the final couple of episodes.
I would have loved for the show to make more emphasis on that from a psychological perspective. Vision represents the sanity in Wanda’s mind during the show and the one making questions of why things are going the way they do on Westview. It’s a very interesting concept, but it is one that is never focused on too much and we only get the final moments between them that, while compelling, leaves you thinking that maybe there was something more in there to develop.
Of course, you also get the white version of Vision, which was a major character arc for him in the comics in the late 80s and early 90s. Here he no longer has the Mind Stone and he acts as arguably the rival for the Westview Vision in the final act, but he finally manages to regain control of himself and disappears on his own, clearly setting up stuff for future MCU productions.
And that is a running issue that I had with WandaVision. While there are good ideas thrown here and there and you can find compelling moments where said ideas actually work, there is this feeling that the whole thing doesn’t fully click and relies too much on the mystery elements to keep viewers interested, which is something that the MCU as a whole has.
When you start watching the first episodes, you want to know the reason behind the sitcom and what is going on, with the show constantly making you wonder, but once you have the resolution, you can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed, not in terms of what the reveal was (Wanda losing her sanity) but rather how the journey wasn’t enjoyable enough to warrant the destination.
All that brings us to what could be viewed as the designated villain of the show, Agatha Harkness.
Actress Kathryn Hahn does a really good job portraying Agatha in the sense that, much like Bettany, she has to play two characters: the annoying neighbor Agnes in the sitcom parts and the evil witch Agatha Harkness, being convincing and fun on both ends. But I personally think that while she did a somewhat decent job as a villain in the series, it would have been a lot better for her to be more of a neutral presence.
See, Agatha being evil makes her role a bit less interesting. At first it seems that she is trying to show Wanda how her own powers work and what she is capable of, even dubbing her the Scarlet Witch (yes, we finally got Wanda’s superhero name in the MCU), forcing her to go through her past traumas.
It could have been an interesting revelation to see her pushing Wanda to learn and control her powers a lot more. In the comics, Agatha is not a villain and it could have been a nice way to build Wanda’s next character arc, where she has a mentor of sorts that has no qualms about pushing her buttons to improve as a witch. But alas, we got a somewhat one-dimensional villain, despite her origin story and the fact that Hahn really sells the character because you can tell she was having fun with the role, which is always nice to see from an actor or actress.
Agatha is not really responsible for anything that happens here, which is obviously Wanda’s doing. She could have acted as someone who was studying her and analyzing her potential and then come out by the end of the story, offering her help. That could have been a nice cliffhanger and it would have allowed the focus of the story to be Wanda dealing with her own mental issues and accepting the loss of Vision.
I liked the concept for WandaVision a lot: I think the MCU should try different approaches to storytelling and they did just that with this show. Between the sitcom elements, Wanda’s motivations to do the things she did, the tragic resolution that it had (Wanda basically rejecting an illusion of peace and happiness with Vision and their kids) and the morally dubious elements, you have material to explore one of the most emotionally unstable characters in modern Marvel Comics while telling a compelling story about how far grief can push you to do awful things.
And we kind of got that, but it feels like they tried to pull their punches and not recognize that Wanda has crossed a line that heroes simply don’t come back from, which is puzzling considering that she already worked with Ultron in the past and was a terrorist, so it’s not like she is a symbol of hope and kindness for Earth in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps they have another storyline in the future where she goes full-blown villain (maybe House of M, now that the X-Men are getting into the fold).
But considering all the information that we got so far, you can’t help but feel that this is a decent story that could have been a lot better. Leaving the lack of accountability for Wanda in the final episode aside, there are multiple little mistakes that start building up until you get a flawed show that can be quite interesting on the first watch, but I don’t think it is very replayable because it relies too much on the mystery of what is going to happen next. And once you know it, it loses a lot of impact as a story.
It is a decent show that could have been one of the MCU’s best stories if done well.