Cheers! This is the 101st time I’ve published an article on my blog since I started it about 8 years ago and if you’re wondering why I didn’t celebrate the 100th it’s because, and this is very important: I didn’t notice, so hooray 101! On with the fun.
I am old. Not too old, but old enough to have lived in both the analog and digital era, which is something I really appreciate and if being proud about knowing how to use a rotary phone seems like a weird flex, that’s one of the things about being old: the victories get smaller and stupider. Back in my day I grew up in a pretty crowded household and one of the only bastions of privacy I had was late at night, when everyone else had gone to bed. And in the middle of the night I would watch TV and since the only thing we could afford was basic cable, that meant hours upon hours of Nick at Nite where I enjoyed everything from The Dick Van Dyke Show to I Love Lucy to Anne of Green Gables to The Andy Griffith Show…the list goes on but suffice it to say I didn’t have a lot of friends as a child. Correlation? Maybe.
WandaVision, the first entry in Marvel’s Phase Four, starts out as a paean to this era of television which it very much succeeds at in both tone and humor and this is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it’s funny and charming while hinting at a sinister secret, that there is something terribly off about this Rockwellian dreamscape. It’s bad because that’s everything we already know from the trailer; the first two of nine total episodes tells us absolutely nothing new, which would be fine if Disney Plus were treating us like adults instead of desperately trying to add to their subscriber base by releasing episodes weekly…but they are releasing these episodes weekly going forward. Further, they only clock in around 20 or 30 minutes in length but I want something to write about so we’re going to dig in to what we have so far.
Things to Like: The scene where Vision phases through the ottoman while carrying Wanda is tribute to Dick Van Dyke, who would famously and hilariously trip over his which is positioned in the same spot, and that was super cute, I thought, I like this, this is a thing I like.
Things to Not Like: The first episodes are structured the way many Golden Age sitcoms are, and I thought, Oh neat, it’s like they are recreating the tropes and antics of an episode of I Love Lucy. And then that’s exactly what they did. Which is great if you’ve never seen an episode of that show, but if you have seen every episode it’s a bit like hearing a new, modern band in concert (remember concerts?) start playing a golden oldie like Free Bird or Simple Man but they play it exactly the way Skynyrd does, without bringing anything new or adding their own spin. There’s a few scenes, of course, that go a little haywire, but they come and go without any real sense of dread and we are back on (laugh) track in no time. This concerns me because with WandaVision I want David Lynch, but what we are probably getting is Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Things to Like: Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen are delightful and it’s fun watching them work, especially when they have to switch between “Oh, darling! (cue laugh track)” and “I think our reality is a lie (……………….cue laugh track)”. I expect this to ratchet up as the season progresses.
Things to Not Like: Marvel and Kevin Feige have got us by the short and curlies and they know it. Instead of opening with a bang, they are going to draw this out as much as possible and I don’t like it, no sir. Their audience is captive, we have to know what’s next after the devastating conclusion of the Infinity Saga and while I have the same obvious suspicions about where Phase 4 is going, I’m concerned in a nerd-sense that we are rushing to a middle on Marvel’s ability to innovate and reinvent. This happened when I read comics enthusiastically, the constant resurrections and retcons invalidated any sense of stakes and I moved on to novels and more mature fare, this is fairly inevitable when it comes to this kind of serialized storytelling. So a cautious Yellow Alert, which is a Star Trek reference and that ‘not having a lot of friends growing up’ thing is making more and more sense now, isn’t it.
Things to Like: There are a ton of Easter eggs and interesting casting decisions sprinkled throughout the first two episodes (is there any role that Katherine Hahn can’t be Katherine Hahn in? She’s like a female Vince Vaughn) and then Monica Rambeau for some reason. And this S.W.O.R.D. logo appearing? I don’t mean to slight anyone here, but it’s a little bit like that stupid show I definitely don’t watch, The Masked Singer, where everyone is like OMG who is the singer?! And they reveal the singer and America is like I don’t know who that is! with no loss of enthusiasm or joy. This sounds like a thing that I do not like but I’m trying to be polite, like when someone’s parents hire a clown to perform at a birthday party and all the kids humor him even though they are uncomfortable but also they were raised right. I think two metaphors are enough. I’m just saying I hope these cameos and Easter eggs make sense later on. What was up with that creepy toaster commercial?
Things to Not Like: Disney Plus. Disney is like Gus Fring, genial and polite on the surface, but whose avarice and capacity for manipulation know no bounds. Disney Plus is their most recent Los Pollos Hermanos, their latest vehicle for extracting nostalgia and sentimentality for cash, and like any successful fast food franchise, they have gotten very good at following a formula. Just like anyone with a pulse and a childhood, I really enjoyed The Mandalorian, especially the heart-warming, thrilling finale of the last season. I mean, I don’t really identify as a Star Wars fan exactly and I had tears running down my face. But as well made and entertaining as that show is, however, it was not exactly an artistic labor of love. Someone didn’t have a story that needed to be told and, through the right combination of persistence and luck, managed to find a way to bring it to life.
Disney wanted a new Star Wars property so they hired Jon Favreau to make it happen and we’re all better for it but from a marketing perspective the entire thing is just a commercial for Disney Plus. That’s why most of the episodes are ~30 minutes long and why they are regressing to the weekly episode format, it’s the same reason drug dealers don’t offer to sell to their customers in bulk. WandaVision already has that feel to it, but I’m hoping Disney’s better half in Kevin Feige, has some say in at least the quality of this latest commercial.
Now for something I’m going to call
SPECULATION-LAND …a thing I need a new name for. If you don’t want to be spoiled by my conjecture or comparisons to the (potential) comic book source material go no further. Thar be potential spoilers ahead.
So this is confirmed to be at least influenced by House of M, right? There were a lot of questions about where to go after Thanos annihilated half the Universe, what stakes could possibly compare to that kind of scale and scope. Well, Scarlet Witch is the logical next step for a few reasons. In the comics she is one of the most powerful mutants in existence and the House of M storyline is the perfect mechanism for reorienting the MCU to include a host of other intellectual properties that they have been tip-toeing around since the beginning rather inelegantly, specifically, the X-Men franchise that Fox has been desperately milking for cash after Bryan Singer’s career self-destructed. After the abysmal Dark Phoenix someone finally stepped in and took their toy away from them then made them sit in the corner to think about what they’ve done. I mean, not really, 20th Century Fox was sold, but it’s what I imagine happened every time I remember trucking out to the theater to see dumb-ass Dark Phoenix.
Anyway, another review referred to Disney as the House of Mouse and I went, DAMN it, why didn’t I think of that, I wish I could go back in time, stop myself from reading that article and then come up with that inference on my own. There are obvious obstacles to recreating the source material in that the two major protagonists/antagonists are either dead (Quicksilver) or do not exist in the MCU (Magneto) which leaves very few alternatives. If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was canonical (which I don’t think that it is since the Snap did not seem to occur or effect the series, time travel shenanigans aside) then Hydra is also a no-go, Agent Coulson and company destroyed them…multiple times over if I recall.
If Marvel stays true to tradition the antagonist will be someone who was incidentally harmed or effected by the Avengers while they were doing do-goodery and forms a lethal fixation on destroying them from the inside out or something, I don’t know, that’s been kind of their villain motif. It’s been announced already that WandaVision is essentially the opening act for Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness which will truly kick off Phase 4, and that’s all fine and good, I haven’t wanted to see a Sam Raimi film in a long time but this seems like the perfect combination of material and talent, even if I will have to put up with Tobey Maguire in the suit again (come at me, bro).
But it’s important to note that the other source material Feige referenced was The Vision and the Scarlet Witch, which I have not read but appears to have more to do with the actual relationship between Wanda and a (currently dead) robot. I suspect this is where the emotional manipulation comes in, and what will have me blubbering like a little baby boy whose balloon floated away by accident (true story). That we will have an examination of the relationship that Wanda and Vis could have had and the ultimate realization that that life is never going to happen will be what shatters her psyche. I can’t imagine them portraying the Decimation, it’s too similar to the Snappening (or the “Blip” as the MCU refers to it but I never will) and also, how are you gonna decimate mutants when there are no mutants? It’s all very exciting.
That’s it for now, I don’t think it will be possible to review every episode so we’ll do this in portions. When I said “hooray 101, on with the fun” I didn’t mean to rhyme it. I apologize.