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.
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.
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.
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