(Contains minor spoilers for the first two episodes of WandaVision)
Want proof not all superhero stories have to feel formulaic? Watch WandaVision, the first original MCU content to hit Disney+.
It’s not quite clear exactly what this limited series is, but in its own way its as much a departure from Marvel Studios’ previous productions as were the original Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok.
Ironically, it looks and feels so different because it painstakingly recreates something so familiar. It fits the magical Wanda Maximoff and the android Vision into the world of old-fashioned, half-hour, multi camera domestic sitcoms.
Evidently, each installment will evoke a different decade’s sitcoms. The first two recreate the visual style and ethos of such 1950s and 1960s hits as The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched. (Episode 2 even begins with a delightful title sequence animated in the same style Bewitched and Jeannie used.)
But even as WandaVision pays obviously affectionate homage to classic TV sitcoms, it smartly subverts them.
Moments Designed to Spotlight WandaVision’s Mystery
Like the couples in the classic sitcoms, Wanda and Vision want nothing more than to enjoy a simple, quiet life in their white picket fenced corner of American suburbia, a small town called Westview. Unfortunately, madcap mayhem keeps getting in the way. One advantage WandaVision enjoys over its Golden Age models is that, since both the husband and wife in this couple are superheroes living among mere mortals, causing chaos has become an equal opportunity endeavor.
But neither Wanda nor Vision have full knowledge of their lives in the MCU. They know they’ve come to Westview from elsewhere. They even know Wanda is from Sokovia and “Vis” is a machine. But when asked, “What’s your story?,” they don’t have an answer.
WandaVision uses some clever visual tricks to highlight moments presumably key to unraveling this mystery. Flashes of color in the otherwise black-and-white world are obvious signals to pay attention: the blinking red light on the Toast Mate 2000 in the episode 1 “commercial,” the red and yellow toy helicopter Wanda finds in the bushes, Dottie’s bloodied hand. (At the end of the second episode, we witness a Wizard of Oz-like transformation to full color, meaning the show will have to find some other way to spotlight critical moments.)
Even more impressive were the sudden shifts in cinematography. For example, as soon as he starts pressing Vision and Wanda for information about themselves at dinner, Mr. Hart starts choking, while his wife repeatedly tells him, “Stop it.” The cuts and angles abruptly become less like those in a standard multi camera sitcom and more like those from an episode of The Twilight Zone.
I’m sure merrier Marvel marchers than I spotted abundant Easter eggs. I heard the mention of Stark Industries and saw the Hydra symbol, but will have to consult the internet for other clues about possible connection to the wider MCU. I don’t know, for instance, whether the logo on the toy helicopter and on the monitors someone is using to watch the action in this false reality unfold, a la The Truman Show, is a bit of established Marvel lore. But I’m willing to bet it’s not the sign of anyone who’s up to any good.
Asking Questions about the Absurdities of Conformity
As WandaVision goes on, it may become a more conventional superhero story. The no doubt nefarious plot hinted at in these episodes—the repeated loud thuds, the voice calling Wanda through the radio, the Westview citizens’ creepy chants of “What’s in the box?” and “For the children”—will be revealed and, surely, defeated. But I hope the show will keep us guessing as long as it can.
For one thing, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany seem to be having a great time playing their MCU roles in such absurd circumstances. Their broad and exaggerated performances are enjoyable from start to finish.
But for another, the absurdity of Vision and Wanda’s predicament invites us to stop and think about some absurdities of conformity.
“I don’t know what I was so worried about,” Wanda tells “Vis” at the end of episode 2. “It wasn’t so hard to fit in after all. And all we had to do was be ourselves.” “Well,” Vision replies, “with a few modifications.”
Westview is a shallow, superficial, false reality where conformity is valued above all else, where suggesting one should simply be oneself is met first with stunned silence, then by wild laughter.
Why should Vision and Wanda, who are superheroes, even want to “fit in” to such a place?
Only because they are currently ignorant of the truth. Almost certainly, WandaVision will culminate, somehow, in Wanda’s realization of reality and her return to a world where she does not have to conform—a world where she can be who she is without “modifications.”
When that happens, viewers will only be able to ask what “modifications” they are willing to make in order to fit in and be accepted. Which changes are acceptable, and which ones sacrifice too much? When does hiding who we are from others in order to fit in lead to forgetting who we are altogether?
The apostle Paul urges Christians, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12.2, NRSV). If we are going to be ourselves “with a few modifications,” let’s be sure the reality to which we want to conform is worth it.
If you’re watching WandaVision, what do you think so far? Share your reactions, theories, and thoughts below!