It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole reading up on fan theories and upcoming plot details for a highly-anticipated series. It’s more than fair to label WandaVision, the first official Marvel Studios television production following the conclusion of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that way, probably almost as much as – if not more than – the first show to premiere on Disney+, The Mandalorian. Though it’s hard to tune out all the information that’s out there about what to expect from WandaVision and other Marvel properties in the future, this review will attempt to consider only what we know definitively so far based on these characters and what we actually see happen in the first two episodes. Minor spoilers for those opening installments follow, but no Googling was done to research unanswered questions that many have already tried to solve within hours of the show’s debut.
The first thought seeing Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) in a black-and-white sitcom format was to compare it to episodes of dramas like The X-Files and Mr. Robot that featured similar devices at one point throughout their respective runs, which was a bit jarring and definitely created a feel that was nothing like those shows’ typical vibes. One can specifically remember Mulder clarifying that his last name was pronounced “Petrie, like the dish.” Poking fun at the way comedy classics now seem very dated is of course one of the primary features of those episodes and this show in general. That seemingly simple task is more of a challenge given the possibility of laziness in parody. Both Wanda and Vision have powers, and anyone spending even a few minutes with them should be aware that things don’t feel right.
That’s where this show succeeds well, both in terms of entertainment and intrigue. Wanda being able to move plates with her mind and conjure objects when she needs them still doesn’t enable her to whip up a presentable meal on demand for Vision’s boss and his wife since she doesn’t have any idea what to make. Vision’s outright denial of his being a supercomputer is indeed funny, though all those brains can’t help him figure out what he actually does all day at work (that part reminded me of Colin’s job on What We Do in the Shadows). Just like how Clark Kent takes off his glasses and no one recognizes him as Superman, those in attendance at the magic show in episode one are easily convinced that what they’re seeing must be staged, even if the wires only appear after Vision is already flying in the air.
You can’t be sure about other viewers, but you’d think most are not watching this show for the sitcom elements, even if they’re relatively well-done, including supporting roles given to performers like Kathryn Hahn, Fred Melamed, and Debra Jo Rupp. It was those brief moments where something serious happens and a sign of the world that we know exists outside of this one flashes that will have you sitting at the edge of your seat, eager for more clues about what’s really going on. Wanda telling Vision to help Arthur when he was choking will jolt you out of the lighthearted antics and made it seem like Wanda is trying to keep Vision focused and grounded, lest he realize that he’s living in a fabricated world. The closing “Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?” and the presence of a bit of color both before and after Wanda rewound the scene to avert an unfortunate encounter further support that theory, that Wanda isn’t in complete control but she’s doing her best to maintain the illusion.
Whatever it is that’s happening – and it’s a worry that someone can read too much anytime a browser is opened to double-check the spelling of a character’s name or some other detail – it’s good to see these two characters, and the actors portraying them, getting their own TV showcase. Elizabeth Olsen really impressed in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and stood out in supporting parts in films like Kill Your Darlings and Ingrid Goes West. Paul Bettany is an extremely underrated element of A Beautiful Mind, and he also didn’t get enough praise for his spectacular work as Ted Kaczynski in Manhunt: Unabomber. The acting they’re doing here demands a lot of them, and, based on what we’ve seen so far, they’re more than up for the challenge.
One assumes there will be a point where this show takes place primarily in the real world and not whatever this fictitious setting is, though that’s not likely to come until much later in the season. It’s good that all nine episodes aren’t dropping at once, though it’s a sure thing that enthusiastic viewers would have already finished the entire thing by this point if they had. If the content is sincerely good, why rush it? Roughly half-hour episodes mean that there shouldn’t be a need for too much filler, though individual installments aren’t likely to have the same payoff as, say, an episode of The Mandalorian. MCU devotees won’t be going anywhere since they’ll be happy to see these characters in any context, and, after this start, it’s impossible not to be very curious to slowly learn what’s really happening.
The first two episodes of WandaVision are now available to stream on Disney+, with one new episode premiering every Friday.