WandaVision: Season 1 (and only?) — a review

The finale of this series aired back at the beginning of March 2021.

I was still quarantining with my wife back then, with a lot of extra time on my hands. Still, I never watched an episode of WandaVision the same day it aired, even though I was watching them soon after, perhaps even just a few days. This means I finished this series by the second week of March, at the latest.

I’m writing my review more than three months later. Not exactly timely, but this writing project has been on my to-do list since March. I just had a few more posts I wanted to publish before this one. I also find that putting a little distance between the product itself and writing my review of the same gives me a little more objectivity, even more clarity, than immediately firing off a review while the events of the finale still ricochet around my frontal lobe.

I’ve been thinking about this show—a lot—since March. Since then, I’ve also watched all of The Falcon & The Winter Soldier (review under construction), and the first episode (so far) of Loki. I’m fully invested in this streaming, episodic phase of the MCU. In turn, I’m beginning to grow excited about Phase 4 of the motion-picture version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will eventually include the Fantastic Four taking its rightful place in the MCU. Exciting times.

Those cats at Marvel aren’t afraid of taking story risks. I’ve got to hand that to them.

The DC Comics streaming series not on the CW network have taken risks as well, I’ll admit. I’m thinking of Doom Patrol and Titans, which I enjoy. The DC-on-CW series seemed designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator and seem too conscious of the possibility of offending some random viewer. Still some good stuff to be mined there, of course, but nothing really exciting.

On the other hand, the Marvel shows, on various networks and platforms, have taken bigger risks. Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter became almost separate genres from the standard superhero fare. Legion was Marvel’s Sgt Pepper, a brief foray into psychedelia. The Netflix shows, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Punisher, took the stories in a more decidedly adult direction, with over-the-top violence and bad language. Now, we’re being introduced to the next generation of Marvel streaming series on Disney +.

For fans of the superhero genre, this has been a true embarassment of riches.

WandaVision is very nearly the anti-superhero series. Yes, Wanda Maximoff is the Scarlet Witch, with natural hex powers capable of warping probabilities around her. The Vision is an android, who we saw killed—um, deactivated?—in one of those last Avengers movies. I’ve been aware of both characters since the early ’70s, at least, when I made the leap from DC to Marvel. I remember reading reprints of those John Buscema-drawn Avengers stories.

I’m not completely up-to-date on comic book continuity. I know that, in the comics, Vision was somehow cobbled together from the original Human Torch, who was an android, and the brainwave patterns of Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man (who was dead for a while). I know that Wanda and Vision married in the mid-1970s. Beyond that, my knowledge is sketchy at best. I seem to recall that the comics were suggesting that Magneto was actually Wanda and Pietro’s father (since they were originally mutants in the comics, and members of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, this made sense). I was no longer actively reading comics shortly after the ’70s, so I missed a lot.

According to the infallible internet, Vision and Wanda did later have twin sons in the comics, just like in this series, and I’ve heard Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen talk about the limited-run series The Vision, written by Tom King, in which Vision creates his own synthezoid “family” and attempts to settle down in a normal life. This series seems to adopt elements of that story as well. Since I’ve never read it (or plan to), I can’t really compare and contrast the two.

I understand that the MCU is something that exists, at least in part, outside of the comic-book continuity. In the movies, Vision was created by Tony Stark, not ultimate utility player Hank Pym (your go-to guy if you need a giant, an ant, or a wife-beater). Just as the Avengers versions of the Scarlet Witch and Pietro (aka Quicksilver) weren’t called mutants because Disney didn’t acquire the rights to the X-Men until later.

WandaVision tells a poignant story of grief using classic television sitcoms. Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are the two heroes we know from the Avengers movies. But, they are also the stars of the various shows-within-the-show, homages to such classic series as I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, Family Ties, and Modern Family. The result is a surreal dreamscape that’s being created by Wanda herself as she tries to recapture what she’s lost.

There is repeated breaking of the fourth wall, as it becomes apparent that some of the players are becoming aware that they are characters in a fictional work. Underlying the canned laughtrack is a pervasive sense of foreboding. It gives the series a bit of the texture of The Twilight Zone.

Outside of this false world created by the Scarlet Witch, we follow several other characters of some importance in the MCU. Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is introduced as a secondary protagonist. You might remember that a young Monica Rambeau was introduced in the MCU’s Captain Marvel (2019). I understand that Ms. Rambeau became the second Captain Marvel in the comics. We also get Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) from Ant-Man, and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) from the Thor franchise.

Kathryn Hahn also has a memorable supporting role as Agnes, the classic nosy sitcom neighbor.

Disney +’s first foray into an episodic MCU series defies being pigeonholed into a single genre. It is superhero entertainment only because it stars a couple of known superheroes. Otherwise, there is very little in the way of traditional comic book action in the series. Instead, we get some great character drama and one huge Mystery Box, a puzzle to solve in nine episodes.

The result is experimental and artsy, to be sure. While I wouldn’t be interested in another season with a similar structure, I found the format refreshing in this one. It looks like WandaVision will be a one-and-done series, but anything could happen.

I think this season was at its best before the big reveal and the solution to the season’s mystery arc. The spot-on homages to classic sitcoms results in some complex, layered acting performances in the series. Olsen and Bettany are amazing in their roles. I was never truly won over by Olsen’s Wanda in the movies, but I’ve changed my attitude toward her after this show. Kathryn Hahn is allowed to demonstrate her incredible range as an actor as well, from lighthearted wackiness to full-tilt dark drama. It’s an impressive performance.

I applaud the ballsy ideas underpinning this series. Somehow the MCU manages to remain fresh as an entirely new slate of movies is scheduled to release in the theaters. WandaVision is the standard bearer for the MCU’s Phase Four. It makes me look forward to what’s coming next.

I believe the weird tone of this series will carry over to several other titles.

Firewater’s Look-It’s-the-Star-of-the-Show! Report Card: B+

WandaVision owes more to the surreal and cerebral freakishness of Doctor Strange than the superhero bombastics of The Avengers, but it is a well-done character study and meditation on grief. I liked it.


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