“WandaVision” Episode 8 Reveals Wanda’s True Identity

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

Trying to devise ways for characters to spew exposition and backstory organically is always a stumbling block for writers (I speak from personal experience), particularly when that exposition has to introduce complicated concepts like Chaos Magic and “probability hexes”. Which is why it’s so awesome that WandaVision sidesteps this issue by simply devoting all but a few minutes of episode eight (the series’ penultimate installment) to a series of exceptionally well-written and well-acted flashback sequences that allow us to see everything in real-time without being wordy or dull. What commentary there is, is dry, witty, and delivered with characteristic dark humor by onlooker Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), who describes it as looking “at some real reruns”, an ingenious way of tying everything back to the sitcoms that started it all (quite literally, as we soon find out).

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The Scarlet Witch | denofgeek.com

Even before those real reruns get started, though, we’re treated to some more flashbacks of Agatha’s own tragic past. Last week’s “Agatha All Along” musical recap sequence was the campy cultural reset we all needed, and even though episode eight doesn’t provide us with any more tunes to get us through the weekend, we have instead been blessed with Kathryn Hahn hamming it up for an over-the-top ridiculous Salem Witch Trial flashback that reveals how Westview’s resident sorceress (well, one of many) got her start, by stealing forbidden knowledge of dark magic from her coven – and then transforming them into withered corpses, including her own mother (whose pendant she now wears as a creepy reminder). I don’t mind me some Agatha wearing colonial attire – the energy of that outfit is not heterosexual, that’s all I have to say – but I do find it interesting that WandaVision is radically altering the witch’s backstory to remove Mephisto from the equation. Suddenly I have to wonder: will the devilish Hell Lord even appear, or did Marvel play us?

There are still possible nods to Satan early on in the episode, and Agatha’s rabbit in particular is beginning to look suspicious, but for the most part the focus is on dark magic, and its many varieties. The MCU has notoriously been reluctant to ever admit that magic is actually magic: from trying to claim that gods are actually technologically-advanced aliens in Thor, to never calling Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) by her comics alias Scarlet Witch (we’ll get to that), the franchise has historically been more comfortable in the realm of quantum physics and nonsensical science lingo that might as well be magic, rather than the real deal. But that changed today, with Agatha giving Wanda – and WandaVision audiences – a schooling on the subjects of magic, mind control, transmutation, chanting mysteriously in Latin, and opening portals through space and time (yes, I know the latter is something Marvel heroes do on the regular: but rarely does the process require a single hair extracted from the unwilling victim).

Agatha’s basement, filled with macabre trinkets and guarded from Wanda by seals of protection on the walls, is only the threshold of a harrowing spirit journey for Wanda, who is about as clueless to the inner workings of magic as we are, and for Agatha, who’s intent on discovering how the young sorceress accumulated so much power. All along, that’s seemingly been Agatha’s goal: not to summon Mephisto up from hell, or resurrect the dead, but to learn the secret behind Westview’s spontaneous creation, something she had no part in…and honestly, same. Isn’t that what we’ve all been trying to figure out for the past few weeks? Okay, okay, so the vast majority of us probably didn’t steal people from the Multiverse to act as spies in Westview, but the point still stands: Agatha is just a misunderstood Marvel fan-theorist whose been driven to the brink of insanity by WandaVision‘s twists and turns.

But with Wanda unable to give Agatha the information she craves, the cunning sorceress decides to do some digging into Wanda’s past to get to the root of it all – that feeling of emptiness that Wanda claimed was the only thing she could remember about the beginning of her time in Westview. Together, the delightfully dynamic duo set off through one portal after another, reliving Wanda’s trauma in real-time as Agatha inches closer to an answer. They start in Sokovia, when Wanda and her twin-brother Pietro are still children, learning English with the help of classic American sitcoms like I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and Wanda’s personal favorite, The Dick Van Dyke Show. Perhaps even more so than the sitcom-inspired WandaVision episodes, this brief yet touching scene beautifully captures the magic of being immersed in old sitcoms – and subtly explains why Wanda in particular finds them so enchanting: they’re low-stakes. Every ridiculous predicament, every fantastical shenanigan, every little problem gets sorted out in under thirty minutes with no lasting consequences.

But this is Wanda we’re talking about, so she never gets to enjoy such mundane mischief. Moments later, the screen goes black as an explosion rocks the Maximoff family household, killing Wanda’s parents and stranding the twins under a bed while a Stark Industries missile sits a few feet away, beeping ominously, and Dick Van Dyke keeps playing in the background (somehow the TV survived). We learn that it was Wanda who kept the second bomb from exploding, using a probability hex to protect her and her brother for two days. Agatha’s suspicions piqued, they quickly move on to HYDRA’s laboratory in Sokovia. The trailers had previously revealed a snippet of this sequence, which sees Wanda being goaded by HYDRA doctors to touch the Mind Stone: but the resulting collision of powers is a spectacular lightshow, amidst which Wanda glimpses a stunning premonition (the most breathtaking visual in the episode) of herself in silhouette rising from the Mind Stone’s shards, wearing her half-moon tiara and a version of her comics costume, all accompanied by her soaring instrumental theme.

The HYDRA doctors are baffled by Wanda’s strength, but Agatha comments that the Stone only amplified her existing powers. And while that might seem to point towards a mutant origin reveal…that’s not where this is going. The next flashback doesn’t expose anything huge, and Agatha seems disappointed in it, but it’s a brilliant showcase of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s talents, as the couple share a tender emotional moment in Avengers Compound soon after Wanda’s arrival in the States, and illuminates the thematic heart of the series – the intersection between inconsolable grief and unquenchable love. You get an Emmy, and you get an Emmy, and you get an Emmy too, Kathryn Hahn.

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Vision | cinemablend.com

Finally, we get to witness events from just a few weeks prior to WandaVision‘s start, and an unedited account of Wanda’s arrival at S.W.O.R.D. headquarters looking for the Vision’s body. Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg) framed Wanda’s actions there as those of a delusional and dangerous woman overcome by grief – but like any misogynist trying to portray a powerful woman as a villain, he left out vital context where it benefitted him: like the bit where Wanda actually just wanted Vision’s body to get a proper burial; or the bit where Hayward invited her in and showed her that S.W.O.R.D. had secretly been operating on the android for years, before trying to emotionally manipulate her into violently seizing the body; or, most damningly, the bit where she considered doing just that and then decided against it, exposing Hayward as a liar. I had always wondered how, even with all the magic available to her, Wanda would have lugged Vision’s splintered corpse hundreds of miles from S.W.O.R.D. HQ to New Jersey…but she never did. She got back in her car (Wanda owning a car is somehow weirder to me than her dragging body parts across America), and drove off to Westview alone save for a single piece of paper: a blueprint for a house that she and Vision had planned to build there together, where they could settle down, start a family, and grow old. I didn’t know WandaVision could retroactively make me hate Thanos even more, but I’ve never been so eager to rewatch Endgame just to enjoy the look of horror on his face as he got snapped out of existence.

If you’ve been following along with my reviews, you know I’ve been dubious that Wanda created The Hex. Well, I was completely wrong. Not only did she create it, but we get to witness the moment her reality-altering powers finally exploded outwards over Westview, redesigning the rundown hamlet into a quaint fantasy world, as grief and pain brought her to her knees. No Satanic influences, no Nightmarish manipulation; but one woman standing in the eye of the hurricane, ripped apart from the inside by a love so powerful it could change the very fabric of the universe.

When Darcy wondered aloud why Vision (Paul Bettany) can’t leave The Hex, I thought it was because his body was dead in the real world – but I was operating under the assumption that there was only one Vision, that Wanda really had stolen and reanimated his body. She never did. She made her own, from memory, using her own power to give him life. Which is…still not great from a moral standpoint, but certainly a step up from having kids with a mutilated corpse.

Speaking of kids, Wanda remembers hers are in grave danger as Agatha finally lets her go, and the two confront each other on the soundstage for WandaVision episode one (like, they’re actually on the literal set – and the camera turns to pick out Agatha in the empty auditorium, mockingly clapping in an echo of the live studio audience applause heard in the pilot). Agatha has what she needs: she vanishes, and suddenly Wanda hears her children screaming for help. She breaks another fourth wall and runs from the stage, from Agatha’s basement, out into Westview.

And Agatha is levitating there, Cher-style hair blowing dramatically in the breeze, gripping Billy and Tommy Maximoff by two leashes of purple energy. It’s a bizarre visual, but it’s hard to focus or care (sorry, kids) as Agatha begins talking, and delivers the episode’s big zinger:

“You’re supposed to be a myth. A being capable of spontaneous creation…this whole little life you’ve made, this is Chaos Magic, Wanda. And that makes you the Scarlet Witch.”

It’s a crowd-pleaser moment, for sure: we’ve waited years to hear the Scarlet Witch title used of Wanda in the MCU, and Marvel’s aversion to the supernatural delayed it far longer than necessary. But from Agatha’s words, it seems like the Scarlet Witch is much more than a nickname – it’s an identity, and the implication is that other Scarlet Witches have existed in the past, similarly gifted with the power to wield Chaos Magic (the most powerful magic in Marvel Comics, capable of rewriting reality and destroying the universe). Is she some kind of goddess? A force of nature? A metaphysical construct? My best guess is that WandaVision is adapting the concept of Nexus Beings, living creatures whose mere presence balances the universe – much like the Infinity Stones. These beings, deified archetypes with immense power, have no alternate versions anywhere in the Multiverse: and what do you know, Wanda is one in the comics.

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White Vision | cinemablend.com

The mid-credits stinger revisits Tyler Hayward, whose planning his attack on Westview and has brought in new equipment to help – or rather, old repurposed equipment. Before the reveal happened, I knew it had to be Vision (as in, the real one that Wanda didn’t steal). But I didn’t expect the White Vision to finally make his MCU debut like this. A hollow emotionless vessel outfitted for war, the existence of the White Vision actually gives me hope that Vision (as in, the fake one that Wanda created) will be able to inhabit this new character’s alabaster body after his old one disintegrates, as it inevitably will when The Hex comes crashing down next week.

Episode Rating: 8/10

“WandaVision” Episode 7 Debuts The Big Bad (Or So We Think)

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

Yes, I know I’m late. The Marvel fandom has had their fun with WandaVision‘s seventh episode already, bopped to dozens of “Agatha All Along” remixes over the weekend, speculated endlessly about the Nexus and the Multiverse and the hexagons, and yet here I am, rushing out this review on the eve of a new episode…and you know what, I don’t care. I’ve been out of action for the past few weeks following an emergency appendectomy, I’ve missed my window to properly review two episodes of WandaVision, and I’m not letting this last opportunity to review episode seven slip away!

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Agatha Harkness | filmschoolrejects.com

Now it’s your turn to say “I don’t care”.

The fourth wall isn’t the only thing that gets shattered into a million pieces in WandaVision episode seven, a brisk and tightly-edited installment that sees Wanda’s cozy suburban utopia begin its inevitable descent into surrealist calamity. As the dark forces swirling around Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) close in on her, her control over the volatile situation – which once seemed almost absolute – is ebbing away…because, surprise, she was never really in control at all. But it takes a whole musical montage to finally wake Wanda up to this realization, after spending decades (well, days, actually, but whatever; time moves differently in “The Hex”) under the impression that all of Westview’s brainwashed citizens answered solely to her.

Of course, it seemed far too easy for Wanda to have complete creative control over The Hex, a world that seemed so tailor-made to her specific needs and wants that it almost had to be the product of some nefarious scheme. That being said, it’s still slightly too early to say for certain if my assumption was correct all along, that The Hex was built by someone else to trap Wanda within, and that she was given a false sense of power to lull her into complacency. That’s one working theory, as Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) would say: the other, which I still don’t entirely buy, is that Wanda did create The Hex, but her control over it has slowly been leeched into the hands of another entity over the course of the series. There’s evidence for both theories, but either way, we now know the identity of WandaVision‘s antagonist (or, well, one antagonist: there’s a slew of other baddies who could still show up, including but not limited to Mephisto, Ultron, Nightmare, the Grim Reaper, and HYDRA).

But I’m jumping ahead. The episode picks up the morning after the previous week’s events, both in the real world – where the scattered remnants of S.W.O.R.D., headed by Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg), have regrouped eight miles outside of Westview’s glowing boundaries and are prepping another assault: the lack of brain-cells is truly staggering – and in Westview, where Wanda wakes up with a magical hangover, still wearing her Halloween costume from the night before (sans half-moon tiara, the only element of that costume I genuinely wish she’d keep), and reeling from the mental and physical strain of having to expand the boundaries of The Hex to absorb S.W.O.R.D.’s initial base camp. Luckily, an invisible film crew has taken up residence in the Vision residence, allowing Wanda a safe outlet to express her grief, disillusionment, and burgeoning sense of self-awareness, all while breaking down the fourth wall in a spoof of 2000’s sitcoms like Modern Family and The Office, which employed the “mockumentary” format.

The hustle and bustle of a chaotic morning routine provides the perfect backdrop to Wanda’s entire world coming untethered from space and time. Vision (Paul Bettany) still hasn’t returned from his late-night escape attempt; the con-artist-formerly-known-as-Pietro Maximoff (Evan Peters) is missing; and all of Wanda’s furniture and household appliances are erratically changing shape. Just as the stress of trying to parent twin boys in the midst of all this chaos becomes too much for Wanda, overly-friendly neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) arrives to escort the kids back to her own house, leaving mom to a self-inflicted quarantine-style staycation…as “punishment” for her reckless behavior. As always, Olsen’s brilliant performance keeps Wanda firmly relatable and sympathetic even as everything else is beginning to spiral down the drain.

Several miles away, Vision wakes up in a field full of clowns – alive and fully-functioning again, but deeply confused about life, the universe, and everything. Thankfully for his sanity, it takes him no time at all to reconnect with Darcy Lewis, who was last seen being unwillingly absorbed into The Hex alongside him, and who has now been recontextualized into a carnival escape-artist. Vision has questions, Darcy has answers, and the duo escape in a funnel-cake truck (did you notice the potential Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. callback in the set dressing?) to get back to Wanda, while Darcy gives Vision a rundown on his MCU backstory: including a partial account of his multiple deaths, two of which Wanda was unlucky enough to witness first-hand, and one of which she caused. Darcy’s poor storytelling and tendency to leave out vital context doesn’t seem to help the paranoid android process his own confused emotions (yes, I squeezed two Douglas Adams references into this paragraph: I don’t know what that’s about, either).

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Monica Rambeau | menshealth.com

Back in the real world, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) head to the boundaries of The Hex to meet Monica’s aerospace-engineer friend, who…doesn’t actually show up, leaving us with more unanswered questions about their identity. But whoever they are, they dropped off a nifty little armored vehicle that Monica hopes will be able to break through Wanda’s magical TV-static barrier. It doesn’t, making that entire subplot slightly pointless (at least until the engineer shows up in-person and turns out to be massively important), but it allows for an ultimately more epic sequence in which Monica, rather than admitting defeat, chooses to run headfirst into the barrier in a desperate attempt at re-entry. Despite her apparent beef with Carol Danvers, she’s certainly inherited a lot of the captain’s recklessness.

Monica’s body begins disassembling in psychedelic slow-motion, while voices from her past rush through her head – but she pushes forward, mustering the strength to literally pull herself back together and step through the barrier, as her eyes glow electric-blue. Although WandaVision audiences have now heard plenty of references to how Monica’s frequent passages through The Hex have rewritten her DNA on a molecular level, this would seem to mark the precise moment at which Monica officially becomes a superhuman: fulfilling her destiny from Marvel Comics, where she goes by the name Spectrum. As in the comics, her powers appear to be light-based, and include the ability to see Westview as it really is: an abstract alien landscape with vivid purple skies stained by lazy splashes of neon light and humming with extradimensional energy. Donning a version of her comics-accurate black-and-white costume, Monica sprints off into Westview, unfazed by her superpower epiphany.

The episode deftly balances all these converging plotlines, bouncing back and forth from Vision (who abandons Darcy and takes to the skies after a series of contrived obstacles initially keep the duo stuck on the outskirts of Westview: obstacles that Vision mistakenly believes were put in place by Wanda to keep him away) to Monica, who breaks Wanda’s quarantine, barging through the front door with an offer of help – which Wanda rejects out-of-hand, telekinetically dragging Monica onto the front lawn and levitating her there for the whole neighborhood to see. Monica uses her own powers to avoid being crushed on the sidewalk, leading to a tense confrontation as Wanda’s forced to back up and listen to what she has to say. Monica is empathetic; she warns Wanda to not let her grief overcome her, and not to let Tyler Hayward make her the villain of the story. And despite Wanda’s eagerness to claim villain status, Monica does seem to be getting through to her.

Which is why Agnes shows up a split second later to extricate Wanda from this potentially paradigm-altering experience and lead her back to her own house (which cleverly borrows its façade from the actual Bewitched house). There, it seems no amount of magic or sitcom silliness can hide the truth about Agnes’ evil intentions: the house is dark, eerily quiet, and inhabited by cicadas – but there’s no sign of Agnes’ husband, Ralph…or Wanda’s twins, whose half-eaten sandwiches are still sitting on the coffee table while Yo Gabba Gabba! plays threateningly on the TV. Wanda’s search for her kids leads her to the basement, which extends far below the house and connects to a network of overgrown tunnels and a temple complex decorated with hexagonal emblems, ram skulls, Satanic artwork…and a small black book spewing fiery energy, which could be the Darkhold of Marvel lore. No stranger to live-action adaptations, the Darkhold was used in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to help design an alternate reality in which HYDRA conquered the world, and could serve a similar purpose in WandaVision.

But before Wanda gets a chance to do any sleuthing, Agnes joins her in the basement, wearing a quirky grin and her familiar pendant. “You didn’t think you were the only magical girl in town, did you?,” she taunts Wanda, while showing off her own supernatural powers. Whether she’s been orchestrating Wanda’s movements and actions pre-Westview or first had to infiltrate The Hex to do so, Agnes is the series’ antagonist heading into the penultimate episode (which means she’s at risk of dying, and that….terrifies me). And, to nobody’s surprise, “Agnes” was only ever an alias in the same vein as every other Westview resident’s adopted identity: a clever one, to be sure, but not too clever to outwit Marvel fans, who long ago guessed that Agnes would turn out to be Agatha Harkness, a sorceress from the comics whose relationship with Wanda involves mentoring her in the art of chaos magic, babysitting and occasionally kidnapping her children, and walking a fine line between protecting her and manipulating her trust. And sure enough, last week’s episode confirms what we all suspected, with the help of a musical montage that deserves to be ranked alongside the best Disney Villain songs.

Inspired by The Munsters‘ intro, “Agatha All Along” elevates the villain reveal from boringly predictable to delightfully campy. Through Wanda’s eyes, we watch past events with a new twist – Agatha gliding into Westview in a quickly-glimpsed witchy costume (before turning to the camera with a gasp of faux-astonishment), gleefully messing with the talent show in episode two, manipulating Herb’s mind in episode three, and puppeteering Pietro’s unexpected arrival. Her encounter with Vision on Halloween? That was all an act. Even the cameraman interviewing Wanda this very episode was Agatha in disguise. But you don’t need me to tell you that: just listen to the song, and/or its multitude of remixes and covers.

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WandaVision | insider.com

The episode features WandaVision‘s first mid-credits scene, a quick stinger showing Monica breaking into Agnes’ basement only to get caught by Pietro – whose line, “Snoopers gonna snoop”, is delivered totally deadpan. Agatha having summoned Pietro to Westview and controlled his every movement, it would make sense that he’s still obeying her – but lift the spell, and he’s probably not a bad guy. He’s also definitely not Pietro, but he probably is Peter Maximoff from the X-Men cinematic universe, because there’s literally no other reason why this version of the character would be here. Further proof of that lies in the episode’s commercial, which (a) hilariously parodies overly-optimistic real-life drug commercials, and (b) directly references the Nexus of All Realities: the crossroads at the heart of the Multiverse, where universes collide. With the “real” version of Pietro dead in the MCU’s main timeline, Agatha would have reached into the Multiverse to find another – and ripped Peter Maximoff out of his timeline, given him Pietro’s memories, and installed him in Westview to play along with her game.

So was it really Agatha all along? Or is she too a minion? We still don’t know, but what I do know is I’ve been watching WandaVision for the past week (the fact that that’s a direct quote from the show speaks to how meta things are getting), and I’m certain that killing off Agatha in the series finale would be a waste of Kathryn Hahn (not to mention Agatha’s clear talent for producing quality music). So Marvel, please, pay attention to what the fandom is telling you and stop killing your villains before you’ve had a chance to use them properly: I don’t want to have to revisit this subject in two weeks time.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10

“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.

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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.

WandaVision
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

WandaVision
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

WandaVision
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

WandaVision
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

WandaVision
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”

WandaVision
“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”

WandaVision
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.

WandaVision
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.

WandaVision
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.

WandaVision
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).

WandaVision
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!

“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.

WandaVision
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?

WandaVision
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

“WandaVision” 2nd Trailer!

The annual Disney Investors Call this year turned out to be a far more spectacular event than anyone could have guessed, with creatives from all of the studio’s many divisions (including Lucasfilm, National Geographic, Disney Animation, Pixar, and Marvel) revealing new information about upcoming films, TV series, and Disney+ originals. The deluge of teasers, trailers, and reveals will take a while for me to work through – so let’s start with something sweet and simple: a new trailer for Marvel’s swiftly-approaching superhero sitcom, WandaVision, which many of us thought would drop earlier in the day that it did. Either way, we got it, and I’m glad we did.

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Wanda Maximoff and Vision | gamesradar.com

The first trailer for WandaVision, which dropped a few months back, quickly broke records and proved that Marvel fans are ready and willing to jump back into the MCU. WandaVision, however, appeals to audiences from all different backgrounds, with a retro aesthetic and zany comedy that are sure to be a hit with fans of classic sitcoms like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, and The Brady Bunch, or more recent ones like Modern Family, which is also said to be an inspiration for the six-part Marvel series.

This new trailer is a cleverly edited blend of both the sitcom mayhem and the superhero action – plus the touch of psychological horror that I find most fascinating about WandaVision‘s premise. Once again, we see Wanda Maximoff and Vision using Maximoff’s reality-bending superpowers to live out their dream life, with a nice house in the suburbs, twin babies, and suspiciously friendly neighbors. Wanda is able to change the time period at will, and the trailer gives us a better look at the various decades of television history we’ll see replicated in extraordinary detail throughout the show, while the aspect ratio changes accordingly. For instance: notice how Wanda’s magic is achieved with practical effects for scenes set in the 1950’s and 60’s, while actual CGI is used more and more only as the series progresses into the future. The scenes in the 70’s (where Paul Bettany’s Vision sports an appropriately atrocious blond hairdo) seem to have matte painting backgrounds, which is another cool little nod to old filmmaking tricks. In the background, a slowed-down, psychedelic version of “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees plays.

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WandaVision | theplaylist.net

But something dark lurks beneath the cheery façade Wanda has designed for herself, as we can see when scenes and characters start glitching. Teyonah Parris, who plays superheroine Monica Rambeau, shows up at Wanda’s door with a knowing smile – but then doesn’t seem to know who she is, or why she’s there. Eerie voices cut through normal radio broadcasts, and a creepy-looking figure in a hazmat suit appears suddenly in the darkness. Even Wanda’s neighbor Agnes (whom we’ve believed for a long time is actually the evil witch Agatha Harkness from the comics) looks a bit freaked out. Meanwhile, in the real world, a team of S.W.O.R.D. agents led by Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis try to break through to Wanda, bringing in armored vehicles, military helicopters, and entire squadrons of army troopers to deal with a massive, flickering red wall of light – which I believe is enclosing Wanda in the pocket-reality where she’s crafted her suburban utopia.

We also get a new tease of how Wanda was able to resurrect Vision, who died in Avengers: Infinity War after having the Mind Stone – his power source, and supposedly the source of Wanda’s own magic – ripped out of his head by Thanos. In this new trailer, Wanda can briefly be seen interacting with the Mind Stone, before an explosion knocks the wind out of her. Since the Mind Stone was destroyed offscreen by Thanos in Avengers: Endgame to prevent anyone from ever being tempted to use its power again, there can be only one explanation: Wanda is strong enough to recreate the Infinity Stones. And even though I don’t expect her to bring back the entire set, one is enough to accomplish what she wants – and probably enough to attract the attention of any number of Marvel villains who might want to exploit her rare skill.

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WandaVision | cbr.com

Whether that’s the case or not, Wanda isn’t going to let herself be exploited so easily – which I like, because I’ve always been worried that WandaVision could repeat a long-since trope of depowering strong female characters by having them go mad, usually because they’re “too emotional” to handle the weight and responsibility of their own strength. But what we can see from Wanda is that she’s ready to fight to defend her home and her loved ones, and there’s an awesome shot of her taking flight into battle, buoyed by her characteristic fireballs of red energy – while the final sting shows her and Vision taking each other’s hand and getting ready to face some unseen enemy. Hopefully she has plenty more opportunities to show off her capability and competence, as this trailer promises.

Trailer Rating: 8/10