When the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had first announced that they were branching into television with three new shows, fans and critics alike were extremely curious to see how their effort would pan out. After all, the MCU under Kevin Feige had built up an entire universe with countless superheroes and heroines over a span of a decade for all of it to culminate in ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019).
With Iron Man and Steve Rogers’ Captain America out of the timeline, the time came for superheroes like Spiderman, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel to take a more central position along with several newer superheroes like Moon Knight, Blade and She-Hulk. With the announcement of the Doctor Strange sequel (scheduled to be released in 2022) named ‘Multiverse of Madness’, fans got to know that the Scarlet Witch would also play a big part in the movie. ‘WandaVision’ essentially serves as a link for Wanda Maximoff or the Scarlet Witch between the events of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ to the next MCU phase. The show also kicks off the fourth major phase of the MCU.
There is an episode in the latter half of the show where Wanda takes the villain Agatha through her life. Her idyllic life with a wonderful family is destroyed as Pietro and Wanda (better known as ‘Quicksilver’ and ‘Scarlet Witch’) soon lose their parents. Her powers are tracked by the evil organisation HYDRA and they experiment on her throughout her teenage years. Just when she is on the brink of adulthood armed with powers she cannot possibly control, she loses her brother and is left without her family.
Even with the Avengers, she is an outcast due to her immense powers but soon falls in love with another superhero Vision. Due to Thanos’ greed for the Mind Stone, she ends up losing Vision as well. After ‘Endgame’, most people get their loved ones back but Wanda never does. The audience is already familiar with Wanda’s life but the flashback sequence helps in reminding them how much she has lost.
In fact, one of the major themes of the show is grief and depression. Considering how Thor’s depression was constantly ridiculed and the constant fat-shaming he faced in ‘Avengers: Endgame’, one might be justifiably wary of how MCU treats these somber themes. However, rather than addressing these issues, the writers of the show simply chose to show the impact of utter devastation it can have on a person. A certain dialogue by Vision, “What is grief, if not love persevering?” rings true for Wanda who keeps grieving the beautiful life she should have had with Vision.
Being a superhero with mind altering powers and strengthened by the Mind stone – she brings that same dream alive but at the cost of the freedom of the humans who reside in the town of Westview. The first two episodes are a charming replication of the old American TV shows Wanda used to watch as a child. With wonderful styling and black and white imagery, the audience is transported to the 1940s and 1950s as Wanda and Vision try to manage one disaster after the other as Vision’s boss comes for dinner.
The show tried to walk a thin line between comedy and drama but the dialogues were not as funny and the “funny situations” could have been written better. Even the role of the major villain Agatha the Witch could have been written better as Agatha the ditzy neighbour was a fun watch but the moment she revealed herself to be the villain – it became a very formulaic portrayal that an actress as accomplished as Kathryn Hahn also struggled with.
The parts where the show shines are in its doubts, insecurities and moments of confusion which mirror the emotions felt by Wanda. At times, everything happens too fast and beyond comprehension but this tactic is a clever tool used by the writers to suck the audience into the same doubts that Wanda herself faces in her imperfect dream world. Wanda tries her best to keep the residents of Westview hostage but they keep regaining their consciousness.
In a stark contrast to the “role” of the happy, cheerful neighbours that Wanda makes them play for her own show – they are anguished and tortured with Wanda’s grief and manipulation. As the show ends, the future of the residents is not really addressed except for the accusatory glances they direct towards her. It would have been interesting to see how Wanda would apologise or try and make amends for her behaviour. It also brings up the question if Wanda’s grief was born out of love or a perversion of love, anger and denial that led her to harm ordinary people just to live her dream life.
The introduction of Monica Rambeau as ‘Photon’ was also exciting as fans would probably see her next in a Captain Marvel movie. Bringing back Randall Park and Kat Dennings as FBI agent Jimmy Woo and scientist Darcy Lewis was also an amazing decision as fans got to see some of their favorite supporting characters back on screen. Kathryn Hahn was also excellent as Agatha the major villain of the show. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany were strong enough to carry the show with their acting as they played the titular Wanda and Vision.
Through the trailer and the show, it was evident that MCU was trying to explore something new with the change in format as they took the show through different decades. The production, costume and styling departments were accurate in setting up the show and deciding upon the looks of the characters. It is also the second major MCU production with a woman in the central role. Wanda’s mind controlling powers which were shown in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ were also explored at length with important questions about freedom, agency and ethics when it comes to superheroes.
Many would argue that it is reductive to describe ‘WandaVision’ as a show which is just there to smoothen the transition between one MCU phase to another as it explains how Wanda comes into her full powers. However, it is hard to shake off that feeling that the show exists for its own sake when the show tries to hinge on different genres and explore different plot points just to leave them all incomplete. The episodes might have been entertaining with their own witty dialogues and special effects but it is difficult to feel that maybe all this could have been explained in another movie or through a shorter TV movie.
While opinions about ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ are divided and ‘Loki’ is slated to be streamed from June, it still remains to be seen if MCU can truly make TV shows for the sake of TV or just to continue the story that the audience can finally see on the big screen.
All images via WandaVision show on Disney+