“WandaVision” Episode 4 Snaps Us Back To Reality

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

It seems we’re not the only ones who can’t get enough of WandaVision, and the opportunities it gives us to come up with theories, endlessly debate possible clues, and have fun in the vast sandbox that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coming off a shockingly strong third episode, WandaVision now turns its focus to events happening in the “real” MCU, outside the magical force-field encircling or entrapping Wanda’s suburban utopia of Westview…and allowing us to witness everything from new perspectives, putting many of the series’ most bizarre moments into context.

WandaVision
WandaVision | digitalspy.com

But the absurdity of the show hasn’t decreased a bit: how could it, with the reveal that WandaVision‘s sitcom adventures are indeed being broadcast onto every vintage TV within a 5-mile radius of Westview, giving familiar MCU heroes a chance to develop their own theories about what’s going on? It’s getting pretty meta around here, so let’s dive right in.

The fourth episode is roughly split down the middle by a small time jump, with the first ten minutes or so following S.W.O.R.D. Agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and the remaining twenty minutes mostly focusing on astrophysicist Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings): both are returning characters from other MCU properties who, for a variety of reasons, have gotten entangled in a bizarre missing persons case in rural New Jersey…or rather, a missing town case. These two characters form the crux of the episode, and their brilliant performances make this interruption from the regular program both worthwhile and entertaining, but neither are able to fully overcome an infuriating time constraint that forces them to jump from one plot-point to the next like pinballs.

Monica’s part of the episode starts off extremely strong, as she’s in the process of being spontaneously resurrected from scraps of floating dust and ash – in what Spider-Man: Far From Home humorously referred to as “the Blip”, the moment when the half of Earth’s population that had been snapped out of existence by Thanos was suddenly brought back to life in Avengers: Endgame. Far From Home used the concept as an excuse for light comedy, but WandaVision‘s darker tone allows the series freedom to explore the event’s catastrophic aftermath: in Monica’s case, a hospital suddenly overcrowded by hundreds of patients being resurrected in their beds or in hallways, causing a panicked stampede. But for Monica, who has no recollection of being snapped and no idea what’s going on, there’s a more pressing issue before her: the death of her mother, Maria Rambeau, who was being treated for cancer five years before when Monica snapped while waiting beside her hospital bed for her to wake up after surgery.

The reveal that Maria and her daughter never got to say goodbye is heart-wrenching, particularly because we in the audience knew how much Maria loved Monica just from her one appearance in Captain Marvel. I know I shouldn’t have to write a eulogy for a fictional character, but Maria Rambeau was instantly charismatic, vivacious, energetic, and a daring yet coolheaded adventurer. WandaVision reveals that she was also one of the founding members of S.W.O.R.D., and helped set up guidelines in case the vanished, including her own daughter, ever returned one day. I know that Maria’s death is probably real and irreversible…but oh, I want to believe that she faked her own death and is up in space on Nick Fury’s secret space-station, working on some top-secret mission. I theorized a while ago that Maria and Monica would be a mother/daughter S.W.O.R.D. Agent duo, and I was right, but not in the way I’d imagined. I’m disappointed that such a potentially dynamic relationship was pushed offscreen, and deeply sad that one of the MCU’s few Black heroines has already died so tragically.

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Monica Rambeau and Jimmy Woo | syfy.com

Monica, who works at S.W.O.R.D. helping to observe and respond to threats posed by “sentient weapons” (and cautions her boss that S.W.O.R.D. shouldn’t be designing sentient weapons themselves, possible foreshadowing some future conflict), returns to work after the Blip only to find herself “grounded”, i.e. restricted to terrestrial missions. This at least confirms that S.W.O.R.D. has an interstellar presence, something we all questioned when the organization’s new acronym was revealed. It’s all part of Maria’s plan to stabilize agents left traumatized by the Snap and the Blip, but Monica is understandably upset until she becomes invested in her new assignment: helping the FBI track down an entire town in New Jersey, that’s disappeared behind a glowing force-field, leaving those outside the bubble with no recollection of the town, or its citizens. A bit like Beauty & The Beast – which also involves a powerful sorceress turning a group of innocent people into warped versions of themselves.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to spend much time with Teyonah Parris’ Monica before she vanishes into the force-field too, leaving the only witness, FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), horrified and in urgent need of backup. Maybe without that thirty-five minute mark looming on the horizon, we would have had more time to see Monica’s life beyond her work. A single scene of her visiting Maria’s grave could have gone a long way, as trope-y as it sounds.

The episode’s second half picks up twenty-four hours later, as an armored truckload of scientific professionals are escorted into the S.W.O.R.D./FBI camp outside Westview – one of those professionals being Darcy, whom we haven’t seen since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, back when she was still an intern to Jane Foster (who I guess is too busy being Thor to answer S.W.O.R.D.’s calls right now?). She hasn’t changed a bit: her unshakable sense of humor injects the perfect amount of levity into the intense atmosphere. And it takes her no time at all to discover that, for whatever reason, Westview is broadcasting episodes of WandaVision onto vintage TV sets: revealing to S.W.O.R.D. that superheroine Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is behind the recent disappearances.

I have to admit, I do love indulging in the nifty meta humor of watching S.W.O.R.D. Agents pick apart every detail in the WandaVision broadcasts, only to now do the same to the S.W.O.R.D. Agents myself. Marvel is lovingly teasing us keen-eyed fans, taking it right up to the brink of parody with visuals like Jimmy Woo’s giant whiteboard of theories (he seems perplexed by the hexagon imagery prevalent in Westview: it’s clearly because the number 6 is associated with the devil, a.k.a. Mephisto!). Darcy and Jimmy even get too invested in the series, sharing snacks while waiting for Wanda to have her twins. They’re like highly-trained fandom theorists, but we in the real world have an advantage over them: because WandaVision‘s broadcasts to the MCU choppily edit out all the scenes in which Wanda loses control over her reality – something that confuses S.W.O.R.D. nearly as much as it does me.

Dinner with the Harts, Dottie’s exploding lemonade glass, the beekeeper…all of it’s been cut by some supernatural network censor. S.W.O.R.D.’s attempts to break through to Wanda with drones, radio transmissions, and human agents, all end in failure as anything that goes into Westview becomes distorted by Wanda’s reality-bending magic. Unfortunately for S.W.O.R.D., that means they miss the best part of episode three, when Wanda turns on Monica and throws her out of Westview: they only experience the aftermath, as Monica comes flying out of the sky and crashes into the S.W.O.R.D. camp.

Thankfully, we the audience are treated to a flashback to that same encounter, but from Monica’s POV. Last week’s episode ended before we could see how things went down, but now we get to witness the violent power of Wanda’s hex-magic as she propels Monica through the side of her house and across town, hurriedly repairing the wall just moments before Vision (Paul Bettany) enters. As Wanda and Monica face off, the aspect ratio shifts as well as the style of Elizabeth Olsen’s acting (and nary a laugh-track to be heard), indicating that Wanda isn’t confused or conflicted about what’s going on: her fantasy has been disturbed by Monica’s presence, and to protect it she momentarily has to break the fantasy façade she’s built to deal with the intruder. This is followed by a freaky jump-scare moment from Wanda’s POV as she turns to greet Vision – and briefly sees him as a gray, corpse-like figure with blank eyes and a hole gouged out of his forehead. Her reality is splitting open, despite her claims that she has everything under control.

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Dead Vision | comicbook.com

The strong implication of this week’s episode is that everything in Westview is entirely Wanda’s doing. Wanda says so herself, and Monica’s first words after her crash-landing are “It’s Wanda…it’s all Wanda”. But I’m not buying it, and I’m not willing to accept S.W.O.R.D.’s findings as fact when they’re not even working with the same information we have. As I’ve said before, I think Wanda has some control over Westview, but I believe that’s a small concession on the part of whatever greater power actually designed this pocket dimension for her to inhabit, and is now using it to ensnare her children.

At least this episode will encourage us all to step up our theorizing game if we’re to beat S.W.O.R.D. to the answers. Time will tell if it was wise to introduce the MCU’s next great wave of space-based heroes as essentially a group of over-eager Wanda stans investigating Lizzie’s every move, but hey, it gives us a weirdly fun challenge to look forward to as viewers, so…I’m not complaining.

Episode Rating: 7.9/10

Who’s Who In “WandaVision”

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

As WandaVision‘s central mystery expands across several decades of television history and at least two distinctly separate realities, so too does its cast of characters, both major players and bit parts. And with Wanda raising the stakes dramatically in episode three, it’s becoming more important to tell characters apart and work out the most important details in any Marvel Cinematic Universe property – who’s connected to whom, and who’s working for whom? WandaVision hints at the idea that charming newlyweds Wanda Maximoff and Vision are being manipulated by dark forces lurking within their quaint suburban community of Westview: but after yesterday it’s looking more likely that Wanda herself has a hand in causing the strange events that plague her and her husband from day one of their married life together.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

Wanda Maximoff

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Wanda Maximoff | cnet.com

Our series’ heroine has always been something of a lone wolf. After the events of Avengers: Endgame, with Vision dead, her strongest tie to the Avengers family was severed – and it looks like she decided to finally follow Hawkeye’s lead and just retire. But Hawkeye already had a family with which to settle down. Wanda first had to build one of her own, which would require her to do…whatever she did to bring back Vision back to life, possibly only in her dreams. Noting how violent her reaction has been to the S.W.O.R.D. logo whenever it pops up in Westview, many fans have speculated that Wanda was working with S.W.O.R.D. (which stands for Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division in the MCU) to resurrect Vision when she went rogue and decided to hijack the experiment, eloping with her android boyfriend into a pocket dimension that she created on the site of the real town of Westview…or which someone else created for her, in order to lure her into a trap. Either way, it’s beginning to look like the citizens of the real Westview are now trapped there with her against their will, and are the real victims in this messy situation.

Allegiance: let’s mark her down as a free agent for now. It may turn out she’s being too heavily manipulated to see the chaos she’s causing, but honestly, it looks like she has a lot of control over Westview and is enjoying her newfound power. So even if she’s not entirely at fault, I don’t think she’s blameless either.

Vision

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Vision | indianexpress.com

How did Vision go from being killed by Wanda to being resurrected by Thanos, to being killed by Thanos, to being resurrected yet again in WandaVision? Well, extrapolating off the theory that Wanda was working with S.W.O.R.D. to resurrect the android post-Endgame, my guess is that S.W.O.R.D.’s tech was capable of rebooting Vision – but without any of his past memories, including those he shared with Wanda. Learning this could easily have spurred Wanda to betray S.W.O.R.D. and steal the android’s partially-rebooted body for her own purposes, and would explain why Vision’s memory seems so fragmented. He clearly remembers Wanda, or at least has been convinced to think he does, but he seems clueless about his past, and even his purpose in Westview: unlike Wanda, who enters the sitcom reality with a clear motive to settle down and fit in. But he’s also inquisitive, which will serve him well in the coming days/decades.

Allegiance: I believe he’s linked to Wanda, at least for now. He’ll probably try to exercise his free will as the couple clash in later episodes, but I have a nasty feeling Wanda will be able to tug him along whithersoever she goes. Doesn’t mean we won’t get an epic battle sequence out of it, though.

Agnes

WandaVision
Agnes | hollywoodlife.com

Many of us are so convinced that Wanda’s overly-friendly next-door neighbor Agnes is actually the evil witch Agatha Harkness from Marvel Comics that it’s become almost second nature to refer to her as Agatha. With literally every clue pointing towards this being the case (apart from the similar names, Agnes’ wedding anniversary is the same day the Salem Witch Trials started, she wears a witchy brooch, and even owns a rabbit named for Harkness’ son in the comics), it seems almost too easy a connection to make. Personally, I suspect Agnes will be Agatha in some form or another, and is probably still a witch, but I’m not convinced Marvel isn’t totally reinventing the character as a more sympathetic antiheroine, a victim of manipulative forces. My guess: she’s responsible for luring Wanda into the pocket dimension surrounding Westview at the orders of Mephisto, Marvel’s devil, and is thus aware of what’s going on – but isn’t fully evil.

Allegiance: Agatha Harkness being Mephisto’s right-hand woman in the comics paves the way for Agnes to fill a similar role. But her small panic attack in yesterday’s episode makes me think she’s unwillingly serving the devil and trying to escape from him. There’s an interesting story to be told there about the toxic and abusive relationships endorsed by the same patriarchal system that many classic sitcoms upheld.

Dottie And Phil Jones

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Dottie Jones | decider.com

Dottie (and, to a lesser degree, her husband Phil) is perhaps WandaVision‘s biggest enigma to me at the moment, and I’ve cycled through several theories about who – or what – she is. Her high status among the citizens (particularly the women) of Westview strongly implies that, like Agnes, she may be a witch. And with witches and Mephisto going hand-in-hand in Marvel comics, it’s not too much of a stretch to extrapolate that she could be working with the devil to steal Wanda’s twins – after all, she did lead the eerie communal chant of “For The Children”. But I’m beginning to wonder if the lemonade glass exploding in her hand and revealing her red blood (in the black-and-white episode) was an attempt by Mephisto to alert Wanda to the fact that Dottie, whether she’s a witch or not, is also a third-party intruder with her own agenda in Westview.

Allegiance: if Dottie has an ulterior motive for wanting Wanda to hurry up and have kids, what is it? Like Mephisto in the comics, she could be trying to absorb young Billy and Tommy into her soul to increase her demonic power…or, if she’s not evil, she might be trying to protect the children before someone else has a chance to kidnap them.

The Townsfolk

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Mr. Hart, Vision, and Mrs. Hart | dailyadvent.com

Despite how it looks, not everybody in Westview has some grandiose plan to steal Wanda’s babies – and now that episode three has confirmed that Westview is a real town in the real world, it would seem that most of the background players in WandaVision are just regular people who got sucked into the sitcom fantasy against their will. Judging by how close Westview appears to be to a large S.W.O.R.D. complex, some of these people might be low-level S.W.O.R.D. staffers, nonthreatening to Wanda. Vision’s co-worker Norm could fall into this category (his actor, Asif Ali, also played a low-level Cybertek employee in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Others, like Herb and possibly the mailman Dennis, might have a better idea of what’s going on – Herb even begins to disclose the truth to Vision, telling him that “Geraldine” arrived in Westview “because we’re all…she came here because we’re all…” before being stopped by Agnes, who confronts him with a panic-stricken expression. We’re all…trapped, I assume? Dennis has his own bizarre run-in with Agnes while walking past Wanda’s house, where they exchange what seems like coded banter.

Allegiance: most of these folks, with the possible exception of Herb and Dennis, probably don’t have any strong allegiances that will put them at conflict with Wanda, Mephisto, or even neighbors like Agnes. If that changes, I’ll be sure to point it out.

“Geraldine”

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“Geraldine” | elle.com

Long before WandaVision premiered, it had already been confirmed by Marvel that Teyonah Parris would be playing Monica Rambeau in the series, so “Geraldine’s” secret identity was never much of a mystery. Set photos and promotional material had also revealed that Rambeau, last seen in the MCU as the young and impressionable daughter of retired test pilot Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel, would now be working with S.W.O.R.D. in some capacity. If WandaVision were following the comics exactly, this would totally make sense: there, S.W.O.R.D. deals with space and explores alien worlds, and MCU Monica grew up surrounded by aliens thanks to Captain Marvel’s dealings with her mother. But MCU S.W.O.R.D. tackles “sentient weapons”, making Monica’s chosen career path a little more confusing. In the comics, Monica also has superpowers – which I think Wanda might have accidentally given to her when she wrapped Monica up in a hex-magic cocoon and tossed her out of WandaVision.

Allegiance: Monica seems loyal to S.W.O.R.D.; though a conflict could arise if S.W.O.R.D. responds to Wanda’s actions with further violence, and Monica cautions them to go gentle. Monica was raised to see the good in everybody: I think she’ll sympathize with Wanda’s pain, and genuinely want to help her.

“Ralph”

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Mephisto | looper.com

In the first three episodes of WandaVision, we’ve learned more random details about Agnes’ mysterious husband “Ralph” than we’ve learned about Agnes herself…but where is he? Who is he, really? Until he shows up in person, we won’t know – but my suspicion is that he’s none other than Mephisto himself, and that his marriage with Agnes is more metaphorical than anything (but literal enough that Agnes actively avoids her “mother-in-law”), a way of hiding in plain sight while observing Wanda. Agnes’ remarks about him paint a disturbing picture of a repulsive character whom Agnes wants to leave, but can’t.

Allegiance: if “Ralph” truly is Mephisto, he serves no one but himself, but freely manipulates those around him, like Agnes, Dottie, and of course, Wanda.

So what do you think? Which WandaVision characters do you want to know more about heading into episode four? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“WandaVision” Episode 3 Welcomes Wanda’s Twins To Westview

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

Now awash in technicolor splendor, Wanda Maximoff’s eerie suburban reality gets a shake-up in the third episode of WandaVision, with the series’ increasingly dangerous protagonist unceremoniously making room for two new additions to her faux family by kicking out an unwelcome visitor who had slipped through the cracks in last week’s episode. But as the invisible barriers around the town of Westview shrink ever inwards, it seems many of our characters – including Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) themselves – are starting to catch on to the fact that the world they know is actually some kind of custom-made, maximum-security prison…and Wanda herself is possibly the jailor.

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Vision and Wanda | cnet.com

This week’s episode strands us in the middle of the 1970’s, an era of acquired tastes: from the over-the-top fashion and hairstyles (I could write a whole separate blog post about Paul Bettany’s hair alone), to a whole new line-up of beloved classic sitcoms to mine for material, including The Brady Bunch; which WandaVision subtly parodies with this week’s opening sequence graphics and new design aesthetic. But though the change in decades has spontaneously updated every character’s appearance and wardrobe (I feel for the citizens of Westview, never knowing what time period’s atrocious fashion sensibilities they’ll be saddled with on any given day), it appears that the story has picked up right where we left off…in the late 60’s. Wanda’s entire maternity spans about a day, during which the world around her moves ahead by years.

Time and space don’t seem to mean much within the poorly-defined boundaries of Westview. Not only is the year and decade changing with each passing sunrise, but the exact location of the town is hard to pin down too…since there doesn’t seem to be anything beyond its outskirts. Wanda’s doctor (played by Randy Oglesby) seems excited to head to Bermuda for a vacation, and even packs his bags and starts his car to leave, only to promptly change his mind with the ominous phrase: “Small towns, you know. So hard to…escape.” Taking all the clues into consideration, it’s safe to say Westview is a prison in that no one is able to leave – that is, unless you get Wanda mad and she telekinetically body-slams you through the side of a house and catapults you out of her mini-universe. I’m not sure that’s a risk worth taking just to get to Bermuda, but hey, it’s an option.

So who’s running the prison? The most likely candidate is still the devil himself, Mephisto, and his henchwoman Agatha Harkness from the comics – who’s probably already shown up in WandaVision as Wanda’s nosy next-door neighbor, Agnes (Kathryn Hahn). Once again, we hear from Agnes about her as-yet-unseen husband, “Ralph”, whom many of us believe will turn out to be Mephisto himself: Agnes’ comment that he looks better in the darkness only adds to the mystery surrounding this character.

But this week’s episode also puts a new possibility on the table, and it’s one I never initially suspected: could HYDRA be behind all this? The covert Neo-Nazi organization hasn’t been very active in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Age Of Ultron, where – interestingly – their last major act was unleashing Wanda Maximoff and her twin brother Pietro on the Avengers, in an unsuccessful attempt to divide and conquer the superhero team. But Wanda’s old HYDRA handler, Baron von Strücker, was referenced in one of WandaVision‘s tantalizing commercial segments, and this week’s commercial features another nod to HYDRA, spoofing the Calgon “Take Me Away” advert from the 70’s with an important message about the rejuvenating powers of Hydra Soak: a bath powder that comes in a cute little blue package and features the tagline “find the goddess within” – a possible reference to Wanda’s latent mutant powers, unlocked by HYDRA’s experiments on her? This ad diverges slightly from the pattern established in the previous two, but not so radically that we can throw out everything we’ve theorized.

WandaVision
Hydra Soak | newsweek.com

Some Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans have been quick to point out the similarities between Hydra Soak and the blue soap used by HYDRA to mind-control citizens of their alternate reality in The Framework, in the long-running MCU-adjacent series’ fourth season. If that is what WandaVision is referencing with Hydra Soak, it’s theoretically possible that HYDRA is using some form of Framework technology to keep Wanda’s mind and spirit trapped in her sitcom bubble, while her unconscious body would remain in stasis – perhaps at some other location entirely. I’m nervous to jump onboard this theory because S.H.I.E.L.D. fans have been burned before, but I can’t deny it piques my interest going forward. Forget Ultron infomercials – give me more of that HYDRA mind-control soap!

But I’m not ruling out Wanda as the series’ big bad either. Whether provoked to action by her “mama bear” instincts, or motivated by some subconscious agenda, Wanda once again displays the cool-headed confidence and decisiveness that suggests that she has at least some control over Westview and its people, including interlopers like “Geraldine” (Teyonah Parris), and is in fact holding them hostage as extras for the sitcom she wants her life to be. It’s still hard to say what’s her doing and what’s not – for instance, when Vision gets put on rewind for asking too many questions about Westview, is that Wanda trying to shield her husband from the truth, or someone else stepping in to shut him up? – but Elizabeth Olsen effortlessly conveys the brokenness and bewilderment that makes this mystery work. Wanda herself doesn’t seem to know whether she’s really in control, but she clearly enjoys the feeling: so watching her step into her power and struggle with the consequences should be thrilling.

Compare that to Vision, who needs irrefutable facts and data to back up any decision he makes, and is clearly uncomfortable living in a world where he doesn’t know his place or purpose. Again, we’re seeing the very highest quality of acting from stars who’ve never really had a chance to shine in the Marvel films – and I’m thoroughly excited to see Paul Bettany take us on a journey of self-discovery with the innocent Vision as he begins to exert his independence from Wanda, as I assume he will after learning that his wife re-animated his corpse.

But as the intertwined wedding rings in the closing credits suggest, these two are bound together by something – and now it’s clear that will be their twin sons, Billy and Tommy, making their long-awaited MCU debut at last. In the comics, both boys grow up to be Young Avengers; with Billy becoming a sorcerer like his mother (and one of Marvel’s most prominent gay superheroes), and Tommy inheriting his uncle Pietro’s super-speed (a power which Vision also possesses in the MCU). Billy, in particular, is incredibly powerful – but both boys spent their infancy in the comics being hunted by demonic entities who wished to absorb their strength. WandaVision has teased that storyline, with all of Westview pressuring Wanda to have children and possibly using magic to induce her sudden pregnancy. It’s understandable why the couple are trying to hide that they’re expecting throughout episode three.

“Geraldine” is unlucky enough to be on hand when Wanda goes into labor (nine months early), and helps deliver baby Tommy – after first having a bizarre run-in with the stork painted on Wanda’s nursery wall, which comes to life and pursues her fish-patterned pants. The chaotic scene is exacerbated by an incident on the front lawn, with Wanda’s neighbor Herb (David Payton) cheerfully sawing away at the fence separating his property from Wanda’s with a hedge-trimmer. Following the birth, Vision finds Agnes also outside, questioning Herb about “Geraldine”. Vision confronts the two, and gets a string of vague excuses for their strange behavior – culminating in Agnes implying that “Geraldine” shouldn’t be allowed around Wanda because she doesn’t have a family, husband, or even a home, and Herb trying to let Vision in on some secret about the town only to be silenced by an uncharacteristic outburst from Agnes, who frantically implores him to “stop it!”.

The brilliantly edited sequence cuts back and forth from Agnes’ sinister gossip to the scene inside the house, where “Geraldine” and Wanda are making small-talk while looking after the newborns. Wanda casually mentions that she has a twin, and namedrops Pietro, sparking a glitch in reality as “Geraldine” suddenly blurts out that “he [Pietro] was killed by Ultron”, exposing her true nature as an intruder to Westview. Wanda circles her around the cribs menacingly, and then pauses, catching sight of the sword-shaped necklace pendant around her neck: the same sword she saw last week on a helicopter in her rosebush, and on the mystery beekeeper who emerged from the sewer.

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Monica Rambeau | metro.co.uk

But chillingly, when Vision enters the house just a few moments later and asks where “Geraldine” went, all Wanda says is that she had to leave in a hurry. There’s no happy sitcom ending this week: only a haunting shot of Wanda standing above her twins’ cribs, smiling down at her babies. And a final scene, set to “Daydream Believer”, of “Geraldine” flying through a night sky past a Westview billboard and hitting the earth hard, while armored vehicles and military personnel surround her. She’s been flung out of Wanda’s reality, clearly, and back into her own – confirming two things: firstly, that she is Monica Rambeau, an Agent of S.W.O.R.D.; and secondly, that Westview exists in the real world as well as in Wanda’s. In the real world, the town is encircled by roadblocks, force-fields, spotlights and barbed wire…but there are lights in the windows of visible houses.

So is WandaVision the harrowing account of an entire town being held captive by a mutant sorceress and distorted into a sitcom fantasy? I expect more answers when the series returns next week, with an episode some are speculating will recount Monica Rambeau’s adventure in flashbacks, explaining what’s going on outside the WandaVision bubble, allowing us to catch up with old friends like Darcy Lewis and Jimmy Woo, and hopefully clarifying whether the population of Westview is really being forced to wear 70’s clothes against their will.

Episode Rating: 10/10

What’s Up With The WandaVision Commercial Breaks?

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

The first two episodes of Marvel’s WandaVision, despite being relatively short to emulate the classic sitcoms they’re based on, were packed full of zany details, hidden Easter eggs, and clues pertaining to the larger mystery that the series brilliantly starts building right from the get-go. It’s pretty obvious at this point that something is deeply wrong in the charmingly antiquated town of Westview, and that both the town and its residents are being manipulated by something – or someone. But perhaps the strangest element in the series so far is its strategic usage of commercial breaks.

WandaVision
The Salesman and Saleswoman | tvline.com

About halfway through each episode, the WandaVision broadcast is interrupted by an in-universe commercial, where a smirking salesman (played by Ithamar Enriquez) comes onscreen, accompanied by an eerily grinning woman (played by Victoria Blade), to briefly explain why we should be purchasing some newfangled household appliance or accessory. At first, this might just seem like a funny gimmick to make the ad-free streaming series feel more like an actual TV sitcom, but these infomercial segments do more than just add to WandaVision‘s retro aesthetic. The products on sale in these segments, and even the salespeople themselves, appear to be intrinsically tied into the series’ over-arching mystery.

As many fans (myself included) have already pointed out, the products have connections to the larger MCU – and, specifically, to traumatic and painful moments in Wanda Maximoff’s life story, which you can read more about here. The first commercial advertises a toaster called the Toast Mate 2000, designed by none other than Stark Industries. Although this episode of WandaVision technically takes place about a decade before Tony Stark’s birth (sort of), it’s clear from context that this innocuous toaster is a symbolic stand-in for the Stark Industries bomb that killed both of Wanda’s parents during a period of civil unrest in her home-town of Sokovia – the impetus for her initial resentment of Stark, and part of her motive for hypnotizing him into taking the Mind Stone. The toaster’s single, blinking red light (a bold use of color in the black-and-white episode), and the device’s unsettling, fast-paced beeping sound just before popping out two fully-toasted slices of bread, makes this metaphor particularly creepy and morbid – but hey, it can apparently warm meatloaf and cherry pie. The machine’s sinister and demanding tagline reads: “Forget your past – this is your future!”.

Before we move on, I’d like to note that the Toast Mate 2000 probably also doubles as a clever nod to one of Vision’s most notable nicknames in the comics, “the talking toaster”…making Vision, quite literally, Wanda’s Toast(er) Mate. This series is so unapologetically weird.

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The “Toast Mate 2000” | geekslop.com

The second commercial is much shorter, and has a mini-story to it, more like a modern advertisement. Our salesman is dressed to the nines, clearly getting ready for an evening out, and voice-over informs us that “a man is never fully dressed without two important accessories”, which turn out to be “his special lady” – because misogyny is just as prevalent in these ads as in real-life ones – and “his Strücker”; a fancy, expensive-looking Swiss watch. As the camera zooms in on a display model of the Strücker watch, we can see that its face is marked with the tentacled-skull logo of the Neo-Nazi group, HYDRA. Strücker is obviously a reference to HYDRA scientist Wolfgang von Strücker, who used the Mind Stone to experiment on Wanda and her twin brother in a vile attempt to create a superhuman. It’s safe to say the memory of being locked in a cell for months and exposed to the raw energy of an Infinity Stone was probably uncomfortable for Wanda, at the very least. The watch’s tagline is marginally less creepy than the toaster’s, but perhaps more significant: “Strücker – he’ll make time for you.”

The commercials are different in style and tone, but they have striking similarities – even apart from featuring the same two actors. They both contain unnervingly sexist dialogue: with the Toast Mate 2000 being marketed towards housewives to save them the embarrassment of burning their husbands’ toast, and the Strücker commercial suggesting that women are accessories to complete a man’s formal attire. This could just be a jab at the insidious sexism prevalent in the era’s marketing (and too often carried over into modern day marketing, including for the early days of the MCU), or it could have a larger thematic meaning we can’t quite grasp yet. Another similarity is with the sound effects: the beeping of the toaster and the ticking of the watch, and how both accelerate rapidly.

If we assume these objects really are meant to represent Wanda’s worst memories, there’s a few reasons why they might be being advertised to her or to others in Westview. Perhaps these ads, like the toy helicopter Wanda finds in her rose-bush, the voice in the radio static, and the entire character of “Geraldine”, represent attempts by S.W.O.R.D. to infiltrate WandaVision using subliminal messaging to get into her head that Wanda has re-contextualized into something that fits with the internal logic of her retro reality. They might be trying to help her fill in the blanks of her past (though if that’s the case, they’re doing an awful job of it, focusing on the things she least wants to remember).

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The “Strucker” | esquire.com

To me, it seems more plausible that this is the work of someone like the devilish Mephisto, believed to be the evil mastermind behind WandaVision. And if that’s the case, I think there’s a good possibility that perhaps Mephisto isn’t directing these ads at Wanda herself, but at the other inhabitants of Westview – extracting Wanda’s memories of the most formative moments in her life and selling them off as part of an elaborate attempt to strip away her identity. So far we haven’t seen Wanda herself view or acknowledge any of these ads, and she doesn’t own a Toast Mate 2000, nor does Vision wear a Strücker…but maybe someone else in Westview does. And as more of Wanda’s traumatic memories get sold off, and she becomes more content in her new life as a result, perhaps time is running out for her to wake up to reality – lending a sense of urgency to the commercials, and explaining the sped-up sound effects in both. Mephisto himself might be the salesman, while the woman with him could be another version of the sorceress Agatha Harkness (whom many of us believe is currently disguised as Westview’s resident gossip, Agnes).

Whatever the case, it’s clear that a pattern is being established in these commercials: so keep a close eye on them going forward. Next week’s should logically feature a nod to Wanda’s time with the homicidal robot Ultron and/or the death of her twin brother Pietro Maximoff, and may give us more details about how the commercials fit into Wanda’s story, and who the salespeople really are.

But what do you think? What do you expect from next week’s WandaVision commercial? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

That Grim Reaper Clue In WandaVision Episode Two Could Be Huge

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

The first two episodes of WandaVision, which dropped on Disney+ this morning, certainly gave us plenty to talk about – and potentially theorize about. Although it’s still too early to predict exactly what great big catastrophe Wanda Maximoff and her family are headed towards, we can already begin to see clues coming together and potential story threads emerging from the tangled web that is Wanda’s new reality. The quiet suburban paradise that is Westview is not what it claims to be on the brochure, and there’s reason to believe that multiple powers are at play behind the scenes, manipulating the entire town – and especially the Maximoffs – for their own agendas. But what are these agendas? What do these dark forces want with Wanda, or her husband, or her soon-to-be-born twin sons?

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Grim Reaper | gamesradar.com

The most prevalent theory in the fandom – and a very convincing one, at that – is that the prime mover of events in WandaVision is Mephisto, Marvel’s version of the Christian Satan, and the lord of a fiery pocket-dimension he calls Hell (but which isn’t, technically). This theory is backed up by little references scattered throughout the first two episodes of WandaVision: from the name of Agnes’ adorable bunny (Señor Scratchy is a cute and devastatingly clever play on Satan’s real-life nickname, Nick Scratch), to the fact that Agnes basically just comes out and says it in episode two, noting that the devil’s in the details, but “that’s not the only place he is”. Agnes herself has long been believed to be Agatha Harkness, a sorceress from the comics who is Mephisto’s trusted acolyte and partner-in-cosmic-crime.

And as for who Mephisto is in Westview, well, there are good theories about that too: some fans think he’s Agnes’ mysteriously absent husband, “Ralph”, whom she’s only namedropped about a dozen times at this point. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out to be “Ralph”…or if “Ralph” then turned out to be the salesman who routinely interrupts the WandaVision broadcast to advertise painful memories from Wanda’s past, disguised as historically-accurate household appliances and accessories…or if the company behind those vaguely disturbing infomercials turned out to be the same company that Vision is working for in Westview – you know, the company where nobody knows what they produce, market, sell, or even do on any given day. It’s all connected, as they like to say in the MCU.

But as you can probably sense, I don’t think Mephisto is necessarily the main villain of WandaVision. I’m sure he’ll be a villain, and I strongly believe he’s the one who’s secretly in control of Wanda’s dream-world, feeding her wish-fulfilment and fantasies to keep her content until the day when she gives birth to her twins, and Mephisto arrives (or more likely sends Agatha – sorry, Agnes) to kidnap the kids and harness their chaotic power for evil in a ritual sacrifice or something similarly unpleasant. But if that’s not main villain behavior, then what is? Well, I think there’s a few ways this could go, actually, but simply put – my theory is that Ultron (yes, that Ultron) is coming back, and he’s bringing a brand new comic-book villain with him.

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Ultron | editorial.rottentomatoes.com

I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous. But let’s start with the opening credits for WandaVision, episode two – a fun little black-and-white animated montage modeled on the Bewitched opening sequence, that follows Vision as he glides through the walls of the Maximoff family residence. Caught up in the moment, you could easily miss the fact that at one point he passes straight through a wall that is, uh, filled with bones. I know I did, the first time around. But more importantly, you might (and I did) also miss the distinctive four-pronged helmet that is lying amidst all those bones – the helmet which belongs to a Marvel Comics villain named the Grim Reaper.

The Grim Reaper, wearing his helmet and wielding a scythe/buzz-saw/helicopter hybrid weapon has featured prominently in a number of comic storylines over the years, so just having him show up in WandaVision as an antagonist would make sense even if he serves no larger purpose. He’s also a powerful necromancer – and maybe that has something to do with the way in which Vision has been restored to perfect health after having his head bashed in by Thanos. Certainly it could be useful, given the Reaper’s helmet is lying in a small graveyard. But I believe there’s more they can do with the character, and there’s even precedent for it in classic comics. Allow me to explain.

1991’s Reaper And The Robot story arc featured the Grim Reaper and a familiar robotic fiend, the genocidal super-computer known as Ultron. In the MCU, Ultron has only been utilized once as a villain, rising to power in Avengers: Age Of Ultron and briefly enlisting Wanda Maximoff to his cause before betraying her trust and then acting all shocked when she and her brother Pietro betrayed him in turn. Ultron died a couple times, with Wanda ripping the heart out of his main body, and the last of the robot warrior skeletons into which he had uploaded his consciousness being pulverized by Vision at the end of the movie. But Ultron is almost beyond human comprehension – it’s hard to say for certain that he died, especially now that Vision is out here proving that you can literally have your head crushed TWICE and still come back in some shape or form.

In the aforementioned comic storyline, Ultron takes refuge from the Avengers in an underground lair that just so happens to be situated within a sewer system, where the Grim Reaper finds him. WandaVision episode two, meanwhile, ends with an anonymous character (randomly dressed as a bee-keeper) emerging from a manhole cover in the middle of the road, the implication being that people are infiltrating Wanda’s world through the sewers. This character is wearing the logo of S.W.O.R.D. on their bee-keeping uniform, which would seem to suggest they’re not out to harm Wanda but to rescue her from whatever trap she’s landed in, but that being said, the character in question definitely doesn’t appear friendly – especially not with their face strategically kept in the darkness. It’s gotten to the point where theorists are legitimately considering whether this person is the Spider-Man villain Swarm, an obscure character comprised of a humanoid swarm of mutant Nazi bees under the control of a dead German scientist whose skeleton they hold onto for…reasons. As much as I’d love that kind of a bizarre plot twist, I think it’s far more likely this character is either a harmless S.W.O.R.D. agent from the outside world, or the Grim Reaper.

But if the Grim Reaper is around in Westview, and if Ultron is supposedly down in the sewers, what happens next? Well, in the comics storyline, they meet and team up – with Ultron’s primary motive being to design murderous robotic versions of superheroes, including Wanda’s twin brother, Pietro Maximoff. In the MCU, it might not be possible to do this without first obtaining his body from wherever it was buried: and that’s where having a necromancer on your team suddenly makes sense. Without knowing the themes of WandaVision yet, it’s hard to say how this plot-point would or could be integrated: but I imagine there would be some kind of struggle between Wanda and a resurrected Pietro, perhaps more emotional than physical, and we’d finally see Wanda confront all the regrets and mistakes from her past that she’s pushed into the darkest recesses of her mind. Subtly supporting this notion is the existence of those strange infomercial segments interspersed throughout WandaVision, that hint at parts of Wanda’s past she’s tried to forget: including the death of her parents, and her history as a HYDRA lab experiment. And based on how the series is proceeding, episode three’s commercial will likely bring up another painful chapter of her life – her time with Ultron, and her brother’s death.

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Wanda and Pietro Maximoff | popsugar.com

If this storyline is adapted in any way, some elements will surely be altered. Perhaps Mephisto will be involved (in fact, I’d expect him to be), or perhaps Ultron will be radically different from how we last saw him. But with the pieces all falling into place, I can’t not present this as a possibility. We know so little about how WandaVision will play out, this is the perfect time for truly wild speculation.

On that note, what do you think? What are your best guesses about WandaVision, and what villains do you particularly want to see? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“WandaVision” Episodes 1 & 2 Review! SPOILERS!

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR WANDAVISION!

A year’s worth of quarantines and COVID-19 delays has changed us all, Marvel Studios’ classic formula and release date calendar included. Thus, WandaVision, originally slated to follow two more traditional Marvel installments (Black Widow and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier) onto the scene, is now kickstarting the MCU’s fourth phase of movies and Disney+ streaming series’. It’s a bold and potentially risky move: WandaVision is the kind of experimental property that Disney was probably afraid to lead with, due to its, shall we say, zanier qualities.

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Vision and Wanda Maximoff | marvel.com

But as the MCU expands across multiple new mediums and genres, WandaVision probably offers the most authentic taste of what’s to come in the near future. Refreshingly unpredictable, quirky, and a bit more mature in tone than what we’ve come to expect from Marvel, the series’ first two episodes released this morning offer up a complex yet intoxicating concoction – blending the charm of retro black-and-white sitcoms with a dash of chilling psychological horror. Ironically, the only ingredient absent from the recipe is superheroes – and I’m okay with that.

With no Avengers running amuck, and with both Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) trying to hide their supernatural origins from their neighbors, WandaVision‘s quaint suburban utopia is perfectly normal in every way, at least at first: and only hints of the larger cinematic universe are able to bleed through, mostly via brief, jarring, infomercial segments that interrupt each episode about halfway through, advertising some bizarre product with a hidden MCU connection – a Stark Industries toaster, which refers back to Wanda’s own complicated history with Tony Stark, and to Vision’s famous comics nickname; and a classy Swiss wristwatch named for Wanda’s old handler, Baron Von Strucker, and bearing a small, sinister, HYDRA logo.

But for the most part, we’re simply following Wanda and Vision’s day-to-day misadventures in the picturesque town of Westview, as if we were being dropped randomly into the middle of actual sitcoms. The first two episodes span two decades of television history – the first set in the 50’s, with a familiar aesthetic borrowed from The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy, and the second in the 60’s, with cute nods to Bewitched: including a near-identical animated opening sequence and some suspiciously witchy behavior. Each episode comes with a new theme song written by Frozen songwriting duo Kristen-Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez, but the cast of characters remains the same, their ages and appearances largely unchanged even as they advance rapidly through time.

Elizabeth Olsen is at the top of her game, bringing out the best version of Wanda Maximoff yet with the help of extremely well-written dialogue and witty jokes that land well more often than not (the live audience laughter is give-or-take, though it works with the setting). Olsen has great comedic timing, and, crucially, all the charisma and earnestness of the real-life sitcom heroines from this era. She finds opportune moments to subtly channel the sophistication of The Dick Van Dyke Show‘s Mary Tyler Moore, the casual confidence of Bewitched‘s Elizabeth Montgomery, and the unbridled campiness of I Dream Of Jeannie‘s Barbara Eden, depending on what any given scene requires – but her performance is entirely her own, and never crosses the line into parody. Paul Bettany, meanwhile, lends a surprising amount of physical comedy and slapstick humor to the series, as well as his character’s signature brand of sardonic wit. Combined, the duo are more compelling and more naturally romantic (I’d even go so far as to say “adorable”) than we’ve ever seen them to date. With the series jumping into the 50’s setting right off the bat and providing no explanation for why or how two characters last seen in the modern world (one of whom even died – twice) are now living in an oldschool sitcom, Olsen and Bettany’s relatable performances act as necessary anchors for the audience – the couple seem just as unsure and unsettled as we all are, but do their best to ease into Westview’s flow without making a stir because (a) they don’t really have an alternative, and (b) who wouldn’t do the same, placed in a similar situation?

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WandaVision | vox.com

Of course, their actions lead to some hilarious hijinks (a particularly funny one involving a mix-up with a wedding anniversary that neither Wanda nor Vision can remember, because, well, they haven’t actually gotten married yet), but the couple seem to be doing pretty well playing catch-up on everything they’ve missed, while making new friends in town.

In fact, one could argue the neighbors are a little too friendly, and too quick to forgive and forget any of the couple’s oddities in pursuit of some ulterior agenda. Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), Wanda’s next-door neighbor on the right (“my right!,” Agnes unhelpfully elucidates), pops by periodically to check in on Wanda or help her out of a predicament with a well-timed pineapple. In episode two, Agnes also provides Wanda access to the town’s high society cliques, including the event planning committee headed by a woman named Dottie (Emma Caulfield), who goes from hating Wanda’s guts to endlessly praising her. Eventually it becomes creepily clear what prompts this change of heart: Dottie’s motto, which she and her friends recite in a reverent chant, is “For The Children”; a simple message that glosses right over the fact that Westview has few, if any, junior members at all – until Wanda herself suddenly becomes pregnant near the end of episode two.

If you’re familiar with the comics, you’ll know that Wanda’s twins, whom I expect will arrive at some point in episode three, are of great interest to multiple dark powers lurking in the Marvel universe – including the evil sorceress Agatha Harkness, and the devil himself, who typically goes by the name Mephisto. Many fans have already caught onto the fact that Agnes is probably Agatha Harkness in some form or another, but Mephisto is probably already in Westview too. Agnes seems to confirm this in episode two, after Dottie remarks that “the devil’s in the details”, when she whispers to Wanda in an aside that he’s in other places too. Mephisto hasn’t shown up physically yet, at least not that we’re aware: he could be the salesman in the aforemtentioned informercial segments, whose products are all fragments of Wanda’s traumatic memories, and who is accompanied by a tall woman who might be another version of Agatha too. Or he might be Agnes’ mysterious husband, “Ralph”, whom she mentions in passing so many times he has to be significant. Even Agnes’ pet rabbit, Señor Scratchy, has a Mephisto connection: Scratch is a term often applied to the Christian devil, and Nicholas Scratch is the name of Agatha Harkness’ son, an ally of Mephisto.

There’s a distinctly creepy undercurrent to WandaVision – quite literally, as episode two’s cliffhanger reveals that anonymous characters from the outside world have been moving underneath Westview via the sewers, dressed in bee-keeping uniforms for some unbeknownst reason. There are loud noises in the night, a strange voice cuts through radio static to loudly address Wanda by name, and a colorized toy helicopter shows up in Wanda’s black-and-white rosebush. The show’s visual iconography feels straight out of an arthouse horror picture: a crimson splash of blood on Dottie’s hand, constantly flickering TV screens, Mrs. Hart (Debra Jo Rupp) laughing while her husband chokes to death on the floor. The implication is that WandaVision sometimes glitches – but whether that’s because of someone inside manipulating Wanda, or someone outside trying to exert control, or Wanda herself losing control over what she’s created, is unclear.

Certainly it looks like agents from S.W.O.R.D. are trying to break through to her from outside, and that Wanda is unintentionally absorbing them into her world, rebooting them with new identities and forms – in much the same way that, while dreaming, you might still be able to hear noises in the real world, but your brain contextualizes them within the dream’s internal logic. For instance, we the audience know that Teyonah Parris’ character is not who she says she is to Wanda, a cheerful young debutante named “Geraldine”, but is in fact a S.W.O.R.D. agent named Monica Rambeau (whom you may remember from Captain Marvel). But Wanda doesn’t know that, and Monica doesn’t seem to know either – she’s been so deeply absorbed into the fabric of Wanda’s reality that she’s forgotten her own.

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Geraldine and Wanda | elitedaily.com

It’s easy to see why. WandaVision masterfully recreates the world of classic sitcoms, employing practical effects and only the most rudimentary digital effects to convey Wanda’s chaos magic. From the shifting aspect ratio to the cinematography, to the hard work of the hairstyling and costume departments, to the period-accurate slang and mannerisms (for example: Wanda and Vision begrudgingly respect the constraints of unseen network censors until the 60’s, when Wanda converts their two beds into one), everything in this faux reality feels perfectly authentic, and detailed enough that I can’t wait to rewatch it again and again. My only major complaint is that I fear we won’t spend enough time in any decade to feel truly settled in one – though I rather suspect that’s the point, since Wanda and Vision are facing the same struggle: not being able to fit in no matter the era and changing social norms, and despite their best efforts to disguise their differences.

In episode one, Vision promises Wanda that their star-crossed romance will finally have a happy ending in Westview…but, well, considering that he’s actually dead and she’s about to lose everything again, we’ll see how long that lasts.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10

May Calamawy Joins “Moon Knight”!

Although Oscar Isaac has yet to be officially confirmed as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Moon Knight (though it’s pretty clear at this point that he will indeed be donning the antihero’s iconic mantle), the series is moving full steam ahead with a production start date already set for March, and has now begun casting other key supporting roles. May Calamawy has become only the second cast member to join the series, playing an as yet unnamed character who will join the Moon Knight on what Marvel president Kevin Feige described as a globe-trotting, “Indiana Jones-type” adventure.

Moon Knight
May Calamawy | refinery29.com

Calamawy, a Bahraini actress with Egyptian heritage, has risen to stardom through her popular role on Hulu’s Ramy, where she portrays Ramy Youssef’s  younger sister, Dena Hassan, and has helped to break barriers for MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) representation in TV. She will have a chance to do so again in the Moon Knight series, where she is likely filling the role of Marlene Alraune: an important figure in Moon Knight’s backstory. A casting call that MCU Direct was able to reveal back in September of last year suggested that Marvel was searching for actresses of any ethnicity, and in the same age-range as Calamawy, to play a character believed to be Marlene.

At the time, Marvel provided only a few details about the character, including that she would be “a manipulative operative working for a secret organization”, possibly hinting at a connection to the MCU’s S.H.I.E.L.D., or even S.W.O.R.D., which is being set up to have a major role going forward: S.W.O.R.D. agents will be tasked with trying to restrain Wanda Maximoff in WandaVision, and will likely show up again in the Secret Invasion series. In the comics, Marlene’s character has never had ties to either of these organizations, but then again, she’s also been little more than a rip-off of Marion Ravenwood from the Indiana Jones franchise – so I don’t mind if her backstory gets rewritten to better suit the modern setting.

Moon Knight
Moon Knight | superheroes.fandom.com

Marlene in the comics is a stereotypical “archaeologist’s daughter” (not to be confused with the very similar “scientist’s daughter”), and is most often utilized as a love interest to Marc Spector, a.k.a. Moon Knight. While accompanying her aging father on his final research trip to Egypt, she accidentally becomes embroiled in a fight between Spector and his nemesis, The Bushman, who kills her father and attempts to kill her too but is stopped by Spector: who is left mortally wounded in the attack. Spector is then revived by the ancient Egyptian moon deity Khonshu, and given a second chance at life in exchange for his services as an assassin and mercenary, carrying out the god’s dirty work on earth. Marlene accompanies Marc Spector occasionally on his crime-fighting missions, and has some fighting skills of her own that she’s able to put to good use, but most comic readers still only know her as Spector’s on-and-off girlfriend, who at one point leaves him for her ex-husband and then reunites with him later. The MCU has never been great at creating truly messy romantic drama, but WandaVision seems like it might finally reflect a widescale shift towards writing more complex romantic relationships – so I guess we’ll have to see what happens.

But regardless, this is still very exciting casting, and bodes well for Calamawy’s career beyond Ramy. I hope that we’ll soon see other MENA actors join Moon Knight in significant roles, making up for the MCU’s earlier, dated, and deeply offensive portrayals of Middle Eastern characters as terrorists. This stereotype continues to be perpetuated in mainstream media – just last month, Wonder Woman 1984 tried to get away with it too: in what may have been an ill-conceived and tasteless attempt to pass it off as just another hallmark of the 1980’s films upon which the DC sequel was based, like troubling depictions of women, dubious consent issues, and queerbaiting.

Moon Knight
Marlene Alraune | comicbookrealm.com

So what do you think about Calamawy’s casting, and how excited are you for Moon Knight? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

From Winter Soldier To WandaVision: Wanda’s MCU Journey.

I don’t usually write recaps. I mean, in some ways, all movie and TV reviews are just overly-detailed recaps embellished with a lot of flowery prose, but this is still pretty new ground for me. But it’s 2021, WandaVision is on its way to Disney+ in less than two weeks (!), and it’s time to try my hand at writing a comprehensive recap of Wanda Maximoff’s journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. The timing of this post is in no way meant to deliberately precede the official Marvel recap that is set to be released shortly before the series premiere…okay, well, maybe it is: but only a little (ask yourself honestly, who would you trust to give you the most detailed information on Wanda Maximoff? The studio responsible with actually overseeing her character arc, or me?).

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WandaVision | deadline.com

The purpose of any good recap is to muster up more hype (as if we could be any more hyped for WandaVision at this point), and to help give audiences – particularly newcomers to any given franchise – an idea of what’s come before, and what to expect. But I’ve realized that a good recap can also be helpful to me as a reviewer, because its existence means I don’t have to put as much exposition and background information into my actual reviews: I can jump straight into the action, while simply linking back to this recap. And now that we’re all up to speed, let’s get into it, shall we?

Wanda Maximoff’s MCU journey began in 2013, in the post-credits scene to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where she and her twin brother Pietro Maximoff first appeared as haggard, world-weary lab experiments trapped in a frigid Eastern European fortress under the supervision of Baron Von Strucker, a nefarious scientist working with the covert Neo-Nazi organization, HYDRA. Von Strucker and HYDRA are largely unimportant to the story of the Maximoff twins except insofar as they allowed the twins access to the Mind Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones that preserve the integrity of the universe itself, as part of a larger attempt to use the Stone’s power to artificially enhance human beings into superhuman killing machines. What exactly happened during this series of experiments is still unknown: but by the time they left Von Strucker’s fortress, Pietro had super-speed, and Wanda was a dangerously unpredictable sorceress equipped with telekinesis, telepathy, and reality-altering magic. The fact that these aren’t powers one would typically associate with the Mind Stone’s sphere of influence, and the fact that Pietro and Wanda are two of the most notable mutants in the pages of Marvel Comics, has always suggested to fans that there’s something more going on here than Marvel has yet revealed.

This wouldn’t surprise me: even if the MCU wanted to retroactively confirm that Wanda and Pietro are both mutants (and I think they very much want to), they couldn’t have done so until just recently, when Disney bought out 20th Century Fox and thus obtained the rights to the Marvel mutants and Fantastic Four. Mutants are characters born with latent superhuman abilities that typically manifest themselves at the onset of puberty, with catastrophic results. In the comics, Wanda and Pietro are not only prominent mutants, but the children of telekinetic mutant terrorist Erik Lensherr, a.k.a. Magneto, one of the most famous comic-book villains of all time. But what about MCU Wanda and Pietro? The MCU has conveniently left the twins’ backstory vague: their parents supposedly died during a period of civil unrest in their hometown of Sokovia, but we don’t know that for sure, and we still don’t know their parents’ names. Additionally, it appears that Wanda and Pietro were the only test subjects who survived being exposed to the Mind Stone’s raw power: something that immediately suggests they at least had superhuman levels of endurance prior to the experiment. A recent Marvel tie-in book hinted that Wanda’s powers were “unlocked” by the Mind Stone. And footage from the recent WandaVision trailer shows a possible flashback to Wanda’s first encounter with the Stone, so I believe we’ll finally get a conclusive answer to this question that has long divided the fandom.

By 2014, Wanda and Pietro were strong enough to take on the Avengers during the siege of Sokovia. While Pietro wasted his time running rings around Hawkeye of all people, Wanda confronted Tony Stark himself and sent him into a prophetic trance: a neat trick, and one with major consequences – as Tony saw visions of his friends slaughtered by aliens, and became so obsessed with the idea of building “a suit of armor around the world” that he took the Mind Stone and implanted it into a weaponized supercomputer he named Ultron. The Mind Stone caused Ultron to come to life and quickly grow hostile towards his maker, irrationally arriving at the conclusion that to protect the human race, he had to…wipe them out with a meteor. Ultron brought the newly liberated Maximoff twins under his wing, while designing a humanoid synthetic body for himself – which the Avengers stole from him and into which they implanted Tony Stark’s A.I. personal assistant J.A.R.V.I.S., before using the Mind Stone to bring their creation to life. Thus, Vision was born: and his ability to live inextricably tied up with the Mind Stone, and its fate.

WandaVision
Wanda and Vision – WandaVision | uproxx.com

Wanda and Pietro betrayed Ultron during the second battle of Sokovia, in which Ultron tried to uproot the city from the planet’s surface and use it as his meteor. Pietro, sadly, was killed while protecting Sokovian citizens, and Wanda – sensing his death from afar – unleashed a tidal wave of chaos magic that tore through Ultron’s robot army: saving the day at a terrible personal cost. She herself killed Ultron, tearing out his heart and crumpling it into a tiny ball of shrapnel, just to give him some idea of how she’d felt. It was Vision, however, who put an end to the robot once and for all, laser-beaming him out of existence. Both Wanda and Vision officially joined the Avengers team soon afterwards, and started developing feelings for each other.

When Captain America: Civil War rolled around in 2016, Wanda had dropped her vaguely Eastern European accent and acclimated to life as an Avenger. But not enough, apparently, to know that telekinetically flinging a suicide-bomber into the side of an office building maybe isn’t a great idea. Her actions proved to be the catalyst of civil war, quickly dividing the Avengers into two camps: those led by Tony Stark, who believed that superheroes needed to be regulated to minimize civilian casualties, and those led by Steve Rogers, who believed such regulation would only introduce more risks. Wanda, still traumatized by what she had done and viewed as emotionally unstable, was forced to stay back at headquarters under Vision’s surveillance. The two bonded over their foodie interests, but it wasn’t long before Wanda realized she was being confined and escaped with the help of Hawkeye, battling Vision on her way out.

The film’s third act pitted Wanda and Vision against each other again, but this time Wanda was ultimately arrested and taken to The Raft, a maximum-security submarine prison. From the time Steve Rogers arrived to break her out at the end of the film, to the time we reunited with her and Vision in Avengers: Infinity War, her life is a blur. On the run from most of the world’s governments and still regarded as one of the most dangerous Avengers, she went undercover, made up with Vision, and eloped with him to Glasgow, Scotland, where the two were still enjoying their honeymoon phase when Thanos’ minions arrived to kill them both. She (or possibly Vision himself: it’s hard to say) also discovered a way to disguise the android as a human being, a technique that will be reused for WandaVision, where the duo must pass for an average suburban couple.

But even as they were enjoying their romantic getaway, Thanos was assembling his Infinity Gauntlet, which required all six Infinity Stones to achieve full power. The Mad Titan dispatched his Black Order to retrieve the two Stones that remained on earth: one of which, the Mind Stone, was still embedded in Vision’s skull. Although the Black Order’s efforts were initially repelled, Wanda and the Avengers were forced to head to Wakanda to find scientists capable of separating the Mind Stone from Vision and destroying it without killing Vision in the process. It was hinted that this would have been possible, and Princess Shuri was already well underway with the process when the Black Order attacked again, but we may never know for sure unless this subject is brought up in WandaVision. Vision fled from Shuri’s lab with the Black Order in pursuit before the operation was complete, by this point realizing that the only way to render the Mind Stone unusable by Thanos was to have Wanda herself destroy it – and in so doing, Vision. The most heartbreaking scene in the film saw Wanda holding back Thanos with one hand while using the other to unmake the Mind Stone, all while staring into Vision’s eyes, never once losing sight of the man she loved. She was successful; Vision’s head exploded in a burst of light; and for a moment, audiences could breath a sigh of relief, assured that Thanos’ defeat was imminent.

But Thanos had already recovered the Time Stone from Doctor Strange, millions of light years away. He used that Stone’s powers to resurrect Vision, giving the android a few more moments to live before brutally ripping the Mind Stone out of his forehead, killing him again. Wanda’s pain at losing her lover twice in a span of seconds, at her sacrifice being all in vain, must have been devastating: it’s easy to understand why, when Thanos completed his Gauntlet and snapped his fingers, killing half of all living creatures including Wanda herself, she embraced death willingly.

But five years later, when Bruce Banner used a reconstructed version of the Gauntlet to snap half of all life back into existence, Wanda was one of those most eager to exact her vengeance on Thanos. Out of Avengers: Endgame‘s many highlights, the vicious duel between Wanda and Thanos stands out to me because of how deeply personal it is for Wanda – and because of how satisfying it is to see her go absolutely wild in that moment, caring nothing for mercy, controlled only by bloodlust. In a universe where many heroes are driven by some moral code, Wanda is refreshing in that she doesn’t have any code. She’s witnessed too much pain and human failure to believe in the unconquerable power of good. So when she singles out Thanos, she doesn’t waste a moment trying to rip him limb from limb: and she nearly succeeds, though Thanos is eventually able to catch her off-guard with a barrage of missiles.

WandaVision
Wanda Maximoff | io9.gizmodo.com

With her part in the battle complete, Wanda quietly disappeared under the radar. Last time we saw her, she was one of many heroes in attendance at Tony Stark’s funeral, and had a brief but touching conversation with Hawkeye on the subject of grief and memory. She seemed to be at peace: but we know from the WandaVision trailers that in the aftermath of Endgame she will be lured into an alternate reality where she and Vision are able to live happily ever after, with a house, friendly neighbors, and twins of their own. Modeled off the classic American sitcoms from which Wanda learned English, this utopian dreamscape is being manipulated by dark supernatural forces, and infiltrated from the real world by S.W.O.R.D. agents trying to rescue Wanda.

Has my recap been helpful? And what are you most excited for in WandaVision? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Mandalorian” Post-Credits Scene Reveals A Surprise 10th Spinoff!

SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN AHEAD!

My complete review of The Mandalorian‘s season two finale went up earlier today, and I had plenty to say about my deeply conflicted feelings on the entire episode. As a loving and only slightly passive aggressive nod to the way in which The Mandalorian‘s showrunners and writing team have seemingly structured seasons two and three as a two-parter (because there’s no way the cliffhanger “ending” we got works for the self-contained story that the series liked to claim it was up until this point), I have similarly composed my thoughts into two separate posts, which exist symbiotically. The first dealt with the episode itself: the second, the one you’re reading right now, is all about that shocking post-credits scene.

The Mandalorian
Fennec Shand and Boba Fett | ew.com

A post-credits scene that, to be honest, I would have completely missed if I didn’t have a habit of watching through the credits – partly because, as someone who reviews films and TV, it’s important to know about the talented individuals who pour their heart and soul into making entertainment possible; partly because it’s an instinctive thing, from the days when Marvel movies still existed. I also had a feeling that, even though Star Wars hasn’t (to my knowledge) experimented with post-credits scenes before, there had to be something there, because the finale itself ended without any big stinger – whereas season one concluded with the iconic shot of Moff Gideon standing atop his wrecked TIE-fighter with the Darksaber in hand. No way was season two going to end with any less dramatic reveal.

What season two went for, however, was completely unexpected. The scene takes place back on Tatooine, presumably only a short while after the events of the finale, in a very specific location that Star Wars fans know well: the mountaintop monastery once possessed by Jabba the Hutt and transformed into his personal palace, den of vice, and center of his flourishing crime empire. I’d always just assumed the place was abandoned after Jabba’s death by strangulation and the destruction of his entire court, but apparently not – and even more shockingly, it seems that members of his inner circle outlived the Huttese crime lord: most notably Jabba’s former majordomo, the pale and sickly-looking Twi’lek, Bib Fortuna (voiced by Matthew Wood this time around, and easily one of the top ten most hideous Star Wars characters even before his transformation in this scene), who it seems survived the attack on Jabba’s pleasure-barge and took over for the deceased Hutt, carrying on his vile legacy. This is the first reference to Fortuna’s survival in the new Disney canon, but the outdated Legends canon long ago confirmed that the Twi’lek escaped the barge’s explosion in a sand-skiff and took control of the palace before his death.

The Mandalorian
Bib Fortuna | starwars.com

Fortuna was tall and thin during the events of Return Of The Jedi, but in just the five years since the Empire fell, he has become a pale, bloated shadow of his master’s former glory, perched atop the Hutt’s dais with his massive lekku horns encircling his whole upper body. A few miserable-looking individuals wander around his palace looking bored, while a single Twi’lek slave sits chained to Fortuna’s throne.

And that’s where Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) suddenly come in, quickly defeating the slight resistance from Fortuna’s followers. As they come down the stairs, there’s a truly touching and memorable interaction between Fennec Shand and the Twi’lek slave, who struggles to unwind herself from the royal dais – a callback to the Twi’lek dancer who valiantly tried to strangle Jabba in Return Of The Jedi, before being fed to the Rankor beast beneath the palace floor. This time around, Fennec simply shoots the chains, exchanging a sympathetic and understanding look with the escaping Twi’lek before turning to the urgent business at hand.

Bib Fortuna briefly tries to plead his case, putting on an air of excessive friendliness when welcoming Boba Fett, who wastes no time shooting him in the chest and kicking his body off the dais. I imagine we’ve seen the last of this bizarre and truly repulsive character, but I guess it’s always possible we could see another story from Legends adapted: the one in which the ancient monks living below Jabba’s palace harvested Fortuna’s brain and transplanted it into a mobile spider-droid. It’s probably unlikely, but I thought you should know all the options.

What we know for sure is that Boba Fett, who settles comfortably into the throne vacated by both Jabba and Bib, is probably about to take the reins of Jabba’s once mighty empire, with plenty of help from Fennec Shand, who sits on the throne’s armrest, swigging from a flagon. The camera pans out, and a title card helpfully informs us that a new Disney+ series called The Book Of Boba Fett is coming in December, 2021. There are two distinct possibilities for what this means, both for Boba and for the future of The Mandalorian franchise.

The most popular and plausible theory is that The Book Of Boba Fett will be a new spinoff, a tenth new original Disney+ Star Wars series to add to the nine previously announced at the Disney Investors Meeting last week. There have been rumors that a Boba Fett spinoff is either in the works or actually already filming, and its absence from the official Disney lineup surprised many fans who have been following the news closely. Now it seems they may have been concealing its existence to preserve the surprise of this post-credits scene. I would love for this to be its own spinoff, because a Boba Fett miniseries gives us much more time to explore Fett and Shand’s new lair in Jabba’s palace, and for them to interact with all of the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals. The Mandalorian, which most of us originally thought focused on the bounty hunting business, has since become its own thing, freeing up this niche for The Book Of Boba Fett to fill.

The Mandalorian
Jabba’s Palace | starwars.com

The other possibility, and one that I don’t even want to consider, is that this “spinoff” is actually the third season of The Mandalorian, focusing on Fett and Shand rather than Din Djarin and Grogu. The strongest reason to believe this could be the case is the fact that both series’ are set to debut in December of 2021, and Disney+ hasn’t ever pitted two high-profile series’ from the same franchise against each other like that before (though, granted, The Mandalorian has been pretty much their only high-profile series from any franchise they own, so far). It would certainly be unusual if the two debuted against each other. It’s also convenient that Boba Fett, a Mandalorian, would be in a position to take over as the Mandalorian. His storyline is certainly compelling, and I’d watch anything with Ming-Na Wen in it, but I’m definitely not ready to give up Din Djarin and Grogu yet, especially not now that Djarin has just accidentally come into possession of the Darksaber, and Grogu is studying with Luke Skywalker at the newly rebuilt Jedi Academy. There’s still too much story left to tell with (and from the viewpoints of) those two characters. Or at least, I have to hope so.

What do you think? Is The Book Of Boba Fett going to be its own thing, or a continuation of The Mandalorian with a new and improved focus? Which would you prefer? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Mandalorian” Season 2 Finale!

SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN AHEAD!

How The Mandalorian‘s second season finale will be judged largely depends on what happens next, in either the sequel season it sets up with a not-so-subtle cliffhanger ending, or the spinoff it teases in an unexpected post-credits scene (or…are they are one and the same?), because what we got is very clearly not the resolution to a self-contained original story, but rather the prologue to a wider saga spanning the Star Wars universe. But right now, for this one blissful moment, my feelings are deeply conflicted yet generally positive…because you simply can’t do what The Mandalorian season two finale did in its closing minutes, and not excite the Star Wars fan in me.

The Mandalorian
The Mandalorian | deadline.com

Just as in season one, when Din Djarin (voiced and played by Pedro Pascal) had to assemble a team to defeat the unnamed Imperial client on Nevarro (the true identity of whom will likely remain one of the series’ many minor, irritating, unsolved mysteries), this season’s finale revolves around assembling a small gang of heavily-armed misfits and saving Baby Yoda – or Grogu, or The Child, or whatever you want to call him. Djarin had already gained the allegiances of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), and Cara Dune (Gina Carano). The last piece in the puzzle is the Mandalorian princess Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), who plays a pivotal role in the events of the finale, even though…well, it’s complicated, in a weird and somewhat unsatisfying way.

It’s nothing, however, compared to the intricacies of Mandalorian societal structures, which continue to grow increasingly messier the more we learn about them – today culminating in a face-off between Bo-Katan and Boba Fett where the two are barely able to resist from killing each other on the spot. The reasoning for that goes back a long way, to the animated Clone Wars series, in which it was revealed that most Mandalorians regard the entire House of Fett as outsiders to their creed and community – and Boba specifically as something entirely alien, due to the bounty hunter having been created inorganically as an identical clone of his father, Jango. Bo-Katan, who cast stones at Din Djarin for unknowingly belonging to a group of religious fanatics, now taunts Boba Fett with questions about his “donor”, and comparing him to other clones she’s known (and yes, that’s extremely hypocritical and uncharacteristic of her, since clone armies were instrumental in putting her in power after the Siege of Mandalore), causing a scuffle between Fett and Bo-Katan’s second-in-command, Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks). Fett, in turn, is utterly dismissive of Bo-Katan’s goal to unite the Mandalorian clans behind her and retake their ancestral home planet of Mandalore, which the Empire supposedly desecrated. In the end, the promise of finally being able to confront Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and win back the Darksaber is what convinces Bo-Katan to join: though Din Djarin valiantly tries the “they-took-the-Child” route with her. It’s worked for everyone else, and it seems to be almost be enough for Bo-Katan, but the show is painting her as a low-key antagonist to Djarin for whatever reason, so they can’t have her be too kindhearted.

This is one of two instances in The Mandalorian so far (the other being Ahsoka’s refusal to train Grogu because of attachments) that I would be tempted to classify as character assassination if the term hadn’t been hijacked by trolls who use it broadly to mean anything that ever happened in the sequel trilogy. There’s a difference between character assassination and character development that a lot of people don’t get: and Luke Skywalker’s journey in The Last Jedi, for example, is a textbook example of the latter. Character development is organic and typically serves a thematic purpose; whereas assassination is a shortcut used lazily to rush the story forward (in Ahsoka’s case), or to force a conflict where there was none (in Bo-Katan’s case). What’s particularly frustrating is that audiences who don’t know Bo-Katan from the animated series’ will now remember her best as the borderline ruthless, prejudiced, ambitious-to-a-fault schemer she is here.

Laying out an elaborate strategy for how to infiltrate Gideon’s star-cruiser, the gang sets out in a small Imperial shuttle stolen from its previous pilot (played by Thomas Sullivan, whom I immediately recognized from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The Mandalorian somehow has time to flesh out his character, and give him a pointless back-and-forth with Cara Dune, where he manipulates what I guess are supposed to be her traumatic memories of the destruction of Alderaan. The event has now been referenced twice this season, and, leaving aside the fact that Carano’s acting does nothing to convey the trauma of its aftermath (the dialogue literally mentions her shedding a tear, while Carano’s eyes are dry), it’s honestly just weird that people keep bringing it up in-universe.

Omid Abtahi briefly reprises the role of Dr. Pershing, the other occupant of the stolen shuttle, but there’s no time to interrogate him about Grogu’s exact midi-chlorian count. The fact that he was on his way to and not from Gideon’s cruiser bodes well for Grogu, as it implies he may not have had a chance to extract any further samples from the child (Gideon later confirms he’s taken his own samples of the child’s blood, but, well, that will be insignificant in the long run).

Director Peyton Reed is at his best while orchestrating the high-stakes, action-packed break-in – a stark contrast to his Ant-Man movies, which have mostly been low-stakes, filled with comedic action scenes and sight gags. Between this and the exhilarating spider chase he directed earlier in The Mandalorian‘s second season, he’s definitely given himself an upgrade before his next Marvel film, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania. His exceptional use of each character’s individual strengths makes for a very memorable string of fight scenes, and there’s a real sense of urgency and danger, even though most of our heroes are encased in beskar steel, which is nigh on impossible to shatter, dent, or damage in any way.

The Mandalorian
Din Djarin and Grogu | polygon.com

Din Djarin finds this out the hard way when he singlehandedly takes on Gideon’s elite platoon of robotic dark troopers – even with one of these super-sized metal juggernauts repeatedly hammering his face backwards into a wall with the force of a small battering ram, it’s the wall that gets broken to bits and Djarin who escapes unscathed, thanks to his beskar steel helmet. Hilariously, he’s then able to temporarily eliminate the dark trooper threat by blasting them all out an airlock.

While Bo-Katan and her all-female team storm the ship’s bridge looking for Gideon, Djarin accidentally but predictably encounters the Moff personally guarding his most prized possession, Grogu, with the Darksaber in hand. Finally, we can see why Lucasfilm hired Giancarlo Esposito for this role, as the ex-Imperial sneakily manipulates the conversation, feigning disinterest in the Mandalorian political situation while freely offering the child to Djarin. Although Djarin initially buys into his lies, it takes all of five seconds for Gideon to reveal his true colors and start hacking ferociously at Djarin with the Darksaber. The beskar steel gifted by Ahsoka Tano finally comes in handy, allowing Djarin the means to fight back in one of the series’ most hyped-up duels. The whole sequence is over suspiciously quickly, however, and Gideon is soon captured and dragged up to the bridge after being disarmed by Djarin.

When they reach the bridge, we find out just how cunning Gideon has been – possibly at the expense of established Star Wars canon. It was revealed a while ago in Rebels that, to wield the Darksaber and claim it as one’s own, one must first defeat the previous owner in combat. Or, at least, that was the case until Sabine Wren yielded the Darksaber willingly to Bo-Katan…who soon after lost it to Gideon himself, and spent years hunting him down, trying to make up for her failure and render her claim to the sword irrefutable. Gideon, by intentionally losing to Djarin, has now created a situation where Bo-Katan “can’t” take the sword unless she wins it in combat…from Din Djarin. Except she can. Sabine Wren set the precedent. Djarin offers it to her several times, only for Gideon to interject each time with a gleeful reminder of how Mandalorian law supposedly works. My best guess is that Bo-Katan blames her willingness to defy tradition and take the sword freely for all her failures, and for that reason won’t do so again. This whole thing is weirdly reminiscent of the Elder Wand debacle in Harry Potter.

It’s at this moment that the dark troopers return, flooding back onto the ship and charging towards the bridge, all while Gideon gleefully torments his captors with quips and boasts. His menace is rather undercut, though, by the sheer stupidity that compels him to grab a blaster and aim for Bo-Katan, who, reminder, is wearing beskar steel. He gets knocked unconscious by Cara Dune, and that’s literally the last we hear of him. A humiliating defeat for a villain that had just come into his own.

In the chaos, a single X-Wing fighter appears out of nowhere, heading for the cruiser. At first, I assumed it had to be the New Republic, come to save the day and convince us that a Rangers Of The New Republic spinoff series is actually necessary, but once the ship is confirmed to be flying solo and lands without communicating with the bridge, I figured I knew who its occupant had to be. Reed draws out the big reveal, forcing you to agonize and wrestle with your emotions and your “this can’t be happening” impulses, even as all the visual clues add up. And the brutal, beautiful suspense makes it that much more conflicting when the smoke clears, each and every dark trooper has been obliterated, and the person standing there is indeed Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)…but is also very much not.

The CGI replacement for young Luke – which uses Hamill’s digitally de-aged voice and likeness – is perhaps not quite as unnerving as the CGI Princess Leia in Rogue One, but nowhere near the seamless, stately elegance of CGI Tarkin in the same film. CGI Luke’s eyes are haunting and slightly unfocused, and his voice doesn’t quite seem to match the movement of his lips. He is, of course, revealed to be the Jedi that Grogu contacted back on Tython, but when they meet at last, Grogu waddles over immediately – only to spend most of the scene talking to Luke’s sidekick, R2-D2, in an excited chirping language matching the droid’s beeps, boops, and bops, while CGI Luke stands to the side; his ghastly top half purposefully out of frame, his lower half standing too still, like a background character in an animated movie.

The Mandalorian
Luke Skywalker and Grogu | menshealth.com

Disturbing digital effects aside, the Luke reveal is emotional and brilliantly executed, and it makes sense that he’ll be the one to train Grogu in the ways of the Force. But of course saying goodbye is hard: and so Djarin removes his helmet willingly, revealing his face to Grogu for the first (and hopefully not last) time. The puppet’s tiny claw reaches out to touch Djarin’s cheek, wide eyes take in every feature of his face…and yes, those muffled sobs you hear are mine. What can I say? I love character development.

And with that, CGI Luke sweeps Baby Yoda into his Ken doll arms, and takes off, concluding the second season of The Mandalorian. So much is still unresolved! Moff Gideon is defeated, Din Djarin commands the Darksaber and must now either embrace a new destiny or pass it on to Bo-Katan, and Grogu is headed to Ach-To, I guess. Oh yeah, and Boba Fett and Fennec Shand are getting a spinoff (or maybe just taking over The Mandalorian), which we’ll discuss in greater detail, in the second half of my finale review.

Because this show is so frustrating, one just wasn’t enough.

Episode Rating: 7.5/10

“Anastasia” Review!

So…this isn’t really a Christmas movie, or a holiday-themed movie in general. In fact, most of Fox Animation’s Anastasia takes place in the spring or summer. But just as the film has often been mistaken for a Disney Princess movie ever since its release in 1997 and is now even being categorized under the Princesses section on Disney+ (where it arrived on the 4th of this month), so to has Anastasia acquired a lasting reputation as a winter movie thanks to its iconic theme, Once Upon A December, one of only three memorable songs in the entire movie; and its early scenes in frigid Saint Petersburg during the Bolshevik Revolution.

Anastasia
Anastasia and Rasputin | eonline.com

Obviously, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, this movie has glaring historical inaccuracies. As many, if not more than, Disney’s Pocahontas: which is saying something. And look, I get it. The mystery of Princess Anastasia Nikolaevna’s “disappearance” is timeless and alluring, and in 1997 still technically unsolved…but even then, most people had already come to the logical conclusion (confirmed in 2009, after DNA testing) that Anastasia, like the rest of her family, was murdered by a Soviet firing squad. The long line of impostors who famously claimed to be the lost Romanov Princess were just that, impostors: most of them vying for the family’s fortunes rather than the throne of Russia. There’s even reason to believe the rumors of Anastasia’s survival were circulated by the Soviets themselves as a harmless distraction from the violent truth. Over the years, she’s become an almost mythical figure: whether she’s mythic enough to warrant a romantic fairytale about her life is a question for the ages.

But the film doesn’t just paint an inaccurate depiction of one historical figure’s life. More offensively in my opinion, it also makes the laughable decision to portray all of Anastasia’s family as heroes, whose opulent existence is justified because of how elegant and righteous they are. The truth is that the Romanovs (specifically Tsar Nicholas, Anastasia’s father) were tyrannical aristocrats who unknowingly orchestrated their own destruction. And in reality, the Bolshevik Revolution was spurred by Russia’s poor and battle-worn citizens, who rose up in protest of the Tsar’s crimes against his people – they were not inspired by demons under the control of the mystic Rasputin, a controversial and fascinating figure whom history has remembered as a devilish villain for reasons unfathomable to me. Even today, films like The King’s Man still rely on that trope. Obviously, movies are going to mess around with the truth: animated family movies especially. But who makes an animated family movie about a brutally murdered Tsarist princess to begin with?

Don Bluth, that’s who: and his talent shines through in the finished work, because Anastasia‘s stunning animation is among its strongest elements, blending the traditional hand-drawn style with bits and pieces of vivid CGI – still quite new at the time, and alarmingly beautiful even today, after 23 years. The character design is marginally more interesting than Disney’s formula, with Anastasia (voiced by Meg Ryan) in particular having a more mature face than many of her teenaged equivalents over at the House of Mouse.

Anastasia
Anastasia and Tsar Nicholas | themarysue.com

Meg Ryan and John Cusack are both well-cast, and perfectly likable as Anastasia and the con-artist Dimitri, who initially tries to pass off the unassuming amnesiac girl as the lost Romanov princess before realizing that she’s the real deal. Anastasia, despite bearing little more than a passable physical resemblance to her real-life counterpart, is actually a really compelling character in animation: confident, capable, and pro-active, taking the lead when she’s in trouble and fixing problems on her own. She’s not a damsel in distress, and it’s she, not Dimitri, who takes on the villain in the third act and defeats him. When this movie was released, no Disney Princess could boast the same claim (Mulan would become the studio’s first, a year later). Additionally, the movie puts a fun little twist on the classic “happily ever after” trope, which for most Disney Princesses means marriage, by having Anastasia and Dimitri elope and run off together instead (a minor scandal in comparison to the political crisis that Anastasia’s reappearance probably should have sparked in 1920’s Europe: something the film never addresses).

But as Disney demonstrated time and time again during the height of its Renaissance, a good animated movie needs a good animated villain – and by animated, I mean both literally and figuratively: the best of Disney’s villains are the big, bold, campy caricatures who leap off the screen thanks to their eccentric mannerisms, comedic vocal performances, and eye-catching designs. Think Ursula, Scar, Captain Hook, Jafar, or Cruella De Vil. Anastasia‘s villain, the mystic Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd), is a half-baked imitation of these and others. He’s cool in theory, a turbulent evil spirit trapped in Limbo, with limbs and appendages constantly popping off and scurrying away: but he’s also just…trapped in Limbo for most of the movie, relying on his minions to do his dirty work. He’s a big, bold, campy caricature that’s got nowhere to go and nothing to do until the third act. And whereas most Disney villains interact with the protagonist at least once or twice before their final confrontation, Rasputin doesn’t. So he nears success, but falls short of true greatness.

The other key ingredient in a Disney movie is a collection of hit songs that drive the plot forward and allow characters to reveal their motivations and goals to the audience in a dynamic and engaging way, rather than just unloading it all in a series of exposition dumps. Anastasia emulates the best of the best, but its songs – apart from “Once Upon A December” – don’t really match the film’s grandiose subject matter. “Journey To The Past” is probably the most effective song in the movie, being the next step up from an “I Want” song, in that Anastasia isn’t just singing about something inaccessible she yearns to have; she’s already singing about how she’s going to get what she wants, and simultaneously setting off on her physical and emotional journey (and interestingly, in recent years, Disney Princesses have begun to follow suit: “Almost There” from Princess And The Frog, “Let It Go” from Frozen, and “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana are all songs about and accompanied by action). One has to wonder how much of the film’s progressive attitude is the result of Carrie Fisher, an uncredited screenwriter who apparently lent her talents to helping craft the entire “Journey To The Past” sequence.

Anastasia
Anastasia | ew.com

It’s deeply ironic that Anastasia, which shamelessly followed the tried-and-true Disney formula and battled Disney’s Hercules for box-office supremacy in 1997, is now a Disney movie thanks to the Disney/Fox merger, and is already being ranked among the studio’s legendary princesses – although she’s still unofficial, and is unlikely to ever retroactively become an actual member of the line-up. When Anastasia released, Disney concentrated all its efforts on trying to sabotage the film’s marketing strategy, even re-releasing The Little Mermaid on the same day, and banning the film’s corporate sponsors from advertising on ABC’s Wonderful World Of Disney program. Now, the official Disney+ Twitter account has been busy promoting the movie as if nothing ever happened. That’s what I call character development (or typical capitalism: you decide).

Movie Rating: 8/10

Abomination To Return In “She-Hulk” Series!

Even apart from official confirmation that Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany will indeed be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Jennifer Walters (a.k.a. She-Hulk) in the upcoming Disney+ She-Hulk series – despite her insistent, and very convincing, claims to the contrary over the past few months –  there were several other reveals about the series that have me even more excited to see Maslany transform into the lovable, seven-foot tall, bright green bodybuilder: and prove once and for all that she is not simply a gender-swapped version of the Hulk, as some like to claim, but a unique and fascinating character in her own right, with an abundance of new stories to tell.

She-Hulk
She-Hulk | comicbookinvest.com

For one thing, the series will not gloss over Walters’ day job as a lawyer and activist for both societal reform on a widespread level, and individual superheroes. Marvel president Kevin Feige strongly implied that a couple of familiar MCU characters – both heroes and villains – might wind up in court before Walters, and that she might be placed in increasingly more tricky (and potentially dangerous) predicaments depending on who she’s either representing or trying to place behind bars. Heroes who might show up include Falcon, Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, and Kate Bishop, most of whom are already fugitives from the law. But they likely won’t end up in prison, or if they do, it won’t be for long. Villains, on the other hand…that’s where this gets interesting.

The MCU has long had a habit of discarding potentially interesting villains after a single film appearance, without ever actually killing them off – which was just lazy storytelling during Phases 1 through 3, but turns out to be a blessing-in-disguise heading into Phase 4: because now, with the Infinity Saga finally completed, we have time to go back and address all the unresolved storylines of these various antagonists. And there’s long been speculation that, as in the comics, a multitude of these long-forgotten villains will assemble their own version of the Avengers called the Thunderbolts, under the leadership of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, an anti-superhero watchdog (who, ironically, is secretly able to transform into the Red Hulk). With no specific Thunderbolts series or movie announced during the Disney Investors Meeting on Thursday, I believe She-Hulk will act as the Phase 4 set-up to an eventual Thunderbolts series or movie during Phase 5.

Think about it for a moment. Currently, the MCU has dozens of villains whose fates are still unknown, and a few who have yet to show up but probably won’t be killed in the near future: and all of these villains have committed more than enough heinous crimes to deserve high-profile court trials. Let’s go over a few. Justin Hammer, Tony Stark’s wannabe copycat in Iron Man 2, quietly dropped off the grid after unleashing a small army of heavily-armed robots on New York City; Ghost, the quantum-phasing antagonist of Ant-Man And The Wasp, never received the healing particles she was supposed to get from Scott Lang, and has likely regressed back into self-loathing and hyper-aggression; Yelena Belova, who is set to appear in both Hawkeye and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, probably won’t stop being a violent super-assassin anytime soon; Baron Zemo, the big bad of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, is far too ingenious to stay locked up for long (he’s already escaped one high-security prison); and Madame Masque, whom Vera Farmiga will likely play in the Hawkeye series, is just a really cool character. There are a bunch of others who could fill out the team roster, but the one that we need to focus on is Abomination.

She-Hulk
Abomination | cinemablend.com

First introduced in The Incredible Hulk in 2008, Emil Blonsky (better known as the horribly mutated, grotesque titan Abomination) has only been referenced in-universe once or twice since his debut: back in 2013, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. revealed that he was being held in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, in a cryo-cell in Alaska. Since then, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by HYDRA and been almost entirely disassembled from the inside, but there’s been no mention of Abomination since. Until now. She-Hulk will officially feature the return of the old villain, with Tim Roth reprising the role after over a decade – and hopefully getting a new and improved, comics-accurate, design. The fact that Roth’s involvement has already been announced suggests that Abomination plays a key role in She-Hulk…and what do you know, he also has connections to Thaddeus Ross, and thus to the Thunderbolts team.

So what’s my theory? I believe, based on everything we know so far, that Jennifer Walters’ work as a prosecutor will place her directly in Thaddeus Ross’ line of fire, as he tries to secretly unite various villains and keep them out of prison, even while Walters fights to incarcerate them. In the MCU, it may be agents working for Ross who give Walters the gunshot wounds that almost kill her, leading to Bruce Banner having to save her life with an emergency blood transfusion – which in turn leads to her becoming the She-Hulk, and gaining the extra brawn she’ll need to take the fight straight to Ross. And when she comes face to face with him (probably in the season finale, after figuring out how deeply the corruption goes), that’s when Ross will reveal his own alter ego, the Red Hulk, and engage her in an epic duel. Sounds pretty good to me.

She-Hulk
Red She-Hulk | wallpapersafari.com

As an additional bonus, Tim Roth’s MCU return means we could see other characters from The Incredible Hulk pop up in She-Hulk: including Liv Tyler as Betty Ross (herself a Hulk variant in the comics, the fearsome antiheroine Red She-Hulk). Tyler’s return is something that’s been rumored, and that fans have especially been hoping to see – and of course, I’m always up for a Lord Of The Rings star coming into the MCU, even though, in Tyler’s case, she’s been there for a while; just not getting the recognition and screentime she deserves.

So what do you think? What are you looking forward to from She-Hulk, and how do you want Tim Roth’s Abomination to feature in the series? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!