I try to avoid reading others’ reviews of WandaVision until I’ve thought through my own reactions. But I did see an online headline complain the show, in which each episode (so far) is styled and staged as a sitcom from a different decade, isn’t actually all that funny.
I agree—it’s not.
I think it holds some genuinely funny moments. This week, for example, Wanda desperately trying and failing to get the stork out of her living room without Geraldine noticing was genuinely funny.
But while WandaVision generally looks like a sitcom, it isn’t one at its heart, and laugh-out-loud humor isn’t its goal.
As one of my coworkers pointed out, the show at its heart is a J.J. Abrams-style “mystery box.” It’s slowly dealing out secrets amidst its superficial shenanigans. And the line between “superficial” and significant is becoming increasingly blurred.
The result is a fascinating half-hour immersion in an experience that feels largely familiar but which is ultimately strange and unsettling. As Vision tells Wanda at a key point in episode 3 (“Now in Color”)—a comment that sparks another of the so-far inexplicable “do-overs,” like the one ending episode 2—“I think there’s something wrong here.”
By design or not, WandaVision replicates those moments so many people have in real life: All seems superficially normal and familiar, but something happens to make us notice how mysterious and strange—though not necessarily always “wrong”—life actually is.
Pregnancies Don’t Have to Be Magical to Be Strange
Granted, in the real world, the things “tipping us off” to life’s strangeness aren’t as bizarre as the things Wanda and Vision are experiencing.
In the real world, full-term pregnancies don’t last only four days. A mother’s first sensations of a baby kicking don’t manifest themselves as butterflies. Her contractions don’t cause poltergeist-esque commotions in the kitchen. Her water breaking doesn’t cause an indoor thunderstorm.
The show is, I presume, calling attention to the powerful magic Wanda, Marvel’s “Scarlet Witch,” wields—even, in this case, involuntarily. But with its amazingly accelerated pregnancy storyline, “Now in Color” reminded me of an early Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “The Child.”
In “The Child” (no, not that Child), Counselor Troi carries a baby to term in a matter of days. Some of the Enterprise crew—well, some of the male members, it must be said—worry Troi’s accelerated infant may be a threat. It turns out he isn’t, but his uncanny gestation and birth raise the possibility.
I’m sure more knowledgeable Marvel fans than I already know whether Wanda’s twins pose a danger. I was intrigued by the verbal and visual suggestions these kids may not be all right:
When Vision is practicing changing diapers on a baby girl doll, he first tells it, in a faux threatening tone and with a “keeping my eyes on you” gesture, “I think we have an understanding.”
After Wanda and Vision “abandon the kitchen,” they adopt a back-to-back stance of alarmed readiness—looking, despite their lack of superhero costumes, like the Avengers they are, poised for battle.
Wanda’s screams while Tommy is born, and her and Vision’s screams as Billy is born, last much longer and are much louder than even the most over-the-top labor pains played for laughs on sitcoms.
Do Wanda’s twins—”human or Synthezoid” or “a bit of both”—represent a danger? Is this threat the reason some enigmatic agency (apparently S.W.O.R.D., which explains the logo Wanda and we have been spotting) is keeping tabs on her and Vis in Westview? Was Geraldine, wearing her S.W.O.R.D. emblem necklace, present for their birth by design? (Herb and Agnes’ conversation outside seems to suggest so.)
Time will tell. But the show’s depiction of Wanda’s presto-paced pregnancy underscores how disruptive every pregnancy can feel and be.
Don’t misunderstand me: Pregnancy is a natural process, and can be wonderful and beautiful to watch. As a woman carries a child, she can feel loving and tender, and, if one is present, so can her partner.
But for all its natural beauty, pregnancy is difficult, and can turn normal life upside down—for the woman bearing the child, and for those around her. “In our culture,” writes Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, “loving the journey of being pregnant feels mandatory.” She goes on to spell out some reasons not every woman does, and to assure those who don’t that their feelings are valid.
My point isn’t to convince you to change your feelings about pregnancy, only to point out it can be an ambiguous experience. It is mysterious and strange, but we sometimes fail to appreciate that mystery and strangeness because it’s such a common part of life. “Now in Color” can be an invitation to acknowledge the unsettling and confusing aspects of real-world pregnancies, and to sit for a half-hour with the unknowns welcoming new life into the world inevitably brings.
We’re Not Meant for “Worlds All Our Own”
The final scene of “Now in Color” is a kicker: Geraldine is forcibly ejected from Westview. Outside the city limits, she falls from a static-filled sky into a field filled with surveillance vehicles. As she is, the camera aspect ratio shifts from the squarish 4:3 of older TV programs to today’s 16:9 widescreen format. The change is a confirmation that, whatever Westview is, it isn’t solely inside Wanda’s mind.
I should have picked up on this fact before. We’ve already watched scenes involving Vis alone: his day at the office in episode 1 (“Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”), and his “neighborhood watch” meeting in episode 2 (“Don’t Touch That Dial”). But the series’ sitcom format didn’t lead me to think too much about this point of view split.
But “Now in Color” makes it impossible to conclude Westview and its residents exist only in Wanda’s head—or Vision’s, too, for that matter (especially since Thanos destroyed Vision’s “indestructible head” in Avengers: Infinity War). Even before the episode’s concluding reveal, we’ve watched Herb trying to cut through his fence, and we’ve heard Dr. Nielsen (a nod to the TV ratings system?) lament how hard it is to “escape” small towns—ostensibly he’s talking about a vacation getaway, but viewers know he means more.
Herb comes close to making a crucial revelation about Westview to Vis. He says Geraldine “came here because we’re all…” but can’t bring himself to finish. And Agnes urges him not to; she echoes what Mrs. Hart told Mr. Hart while he was choking in episode 1: “Stop it.”
Are all Westview’s residents prisoners? Are they perhaps all dead? For now, the mystery remains. But the revelation of Westview’s “reality,” in some fashion, serves up another mysterious and strange but often overlooked commonplace: We are not in this world alone.
It may feel as though we are living in, or trapped in, our own private “Westviews.” We may think we are all the “stars,” willing or not, of our own shows—a “world all our own,” as this episode’s “Hydra Soak” commercial puts it? But our neighbors are experiencing life in the same way, and are as surely as frustrated and scared as we sometimes are.
What if we recognized the pressure to live in “worlds all our own” is not good? What would happen if we confided more in each other, rather than hiding from each other—as Vision, when the stakes are high, risks displaying his superspeed?
Scripture says it isn’t good for us to be alone (Genesis 2.18). Maybe if we could metaphorically “cut through our fences” more, we and our neighbors could resist and overcome the sinister forces striving to keep us isolated and apart?
What the heck do you think is going on in Westview? Let’s talk about your hunches and hypotheses in the comments below!