After the release of Avengers Endgame, a movie that was fundamentally designed to be the end of an era of movies that many people had grown up with and loved, many people, myself included, were left with the question “what could Marvel possibly do next?” Marvel and Disney’s answer seemed to be to take their existing characters and slap them on TV so that, judging from the line up of movies they have coming out, the old beloved characters could still get attention while the movies set up new heroes. WandaVision was the first of those TV shows.
When the FBI approaches S.W.O.R.D, a replacement for the dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D, about a peculiar missing person’s case in the town of West View, investigators soon come to realise that the case goes beyond just one person and to, in fact, the entire town. It is quickly discovered that Wanda Maximoff, former Avenger, has resurrected her dead lover, the Vision, and put the entire town under a spell which imprisons them and forces them to play along with her fantasy like puppets under her mind control. But as the investigation continues, information becomes unearthed that Wanda may not be the only super magical entity inside the town of West View.
What surprised me most about this show being announced was that Wanda and Vision were to be the stars; Two side characters who were largely under developed in the mainline Avengers movies. Beside some interesting dialogue in Age of Ultron, Vision was benched for most of Captain America Civil Was and never truly held the spot light in Infinity War despite his importance to the plot of that movie. Then there’s Wanda who, other than the fact that she’s always sad, wasn’t really developed much either. In fact, though their love was alluded to, their entire coming together and learning to love one and other was an off-screen occurrence that we didn’t get to see and only got a glimpse at in Infinity War. Needless to say neither were the most interesting characters in the world in the Avengers movie, and most of their allure came from the fact that both were very powerful.
So, if WandaVision succeeds at anything, it is taking these characters injecting them with interest.
Wanda’s “Hex” (a term used to describe the spell and illusion she had put West View under) has all of West View’s inhabitants behaving as though they’re in sitcoms from various eras of television that Wanda herself grew up watching as a child. The first three episodes are entirely committed to this premise and present us with a good mage of what life is like under Wanda’s spell. The first episode is in the style of a 50’s sitcom about Vision’s boss coming to the house for dinner and the two trying to impress him, which is played completely straight. That is until the end, where the boss begins to choke on some food. His wife, unable to react due to Wanda’s spell, is unable to do anything to react but laugh at the man on the ground. Vision, likewise under the spell, stares in distress and unable to react. Wanda herself simply watches as the man chokes, disturbed, until finally asking Vision to help him. When the ordeal is over, the boss and his wife act as though nothing happened and so do Wanda and Vision. Similarly, the next two episodes take the same approach by playing the sitcom angle completely straight, until some disturbance comes at the end to remind Wanda that this world she had made for herself is fictional. In episode two, a beekeeper later revealed to be an agent for S.W.O.R.D enters the town at the middle of the night through a drain. Upon seeing the threat, Wanda rewinds time so that it had never happened. In episode three, one of West View’s residents temporarily becomes free of the spell and recognises her as one of the Avengers. Wanda reacts by using her powers to throw her out of the Hex.
In my opinion these first three episodes are the best that the series has to offer. All of them succeed in luring the audience into a false sense of security before abruptly shifting the tone to something that can only be paralleled to that of a horror movie. The disturbing tone, compiled with Wanda’s unwillingness to grant freedom to the innocent people she has under her control and how that itself is executed make for the most compelling and mysterious parts of the show. Each disturbance is an escalation upon the last and reveals something about Wanda’s motives with the sort of subtlety we could never get in the typical blockbuster action films that Marvel usually provides. I feel that if the show had kept going in this direction, and had opted for slowly drawing back the curtain of Wanda’s illusion and her capabilities, then it would have been one of the best pieces of media in the MCU. However, it didn’t quite go that way.
Episode four is the worst episode in the series. It picks up with the woman Wanda had thrown out of the Hex for recognising her, a woman name Monika who was a S.W.O.R.D agent sent to investigate the Hex before being caught inside of it herself. Wanda and Vision aren’t in this episode at all as it serves to give context on what the hell is happening: We meet an FBI guy called Jimmy who called in the distress to S.W.O.R.D, are made aware that Monika is an agent, get reintroduced to Darcy Lewis (who you may remember from such HIT films as Thor the Dark World) and get to see the leader of S.W.O.R.D, Hayward, begin his operation to bring down the Hex. The problem with the episode is that is dissolves the mystery that the show had established up until this point by giving the audience definitive answers to the majority of the questions it had presented. All of that only four episodes into a nine episode series. On top of that the new characters just aren’t that good. Jimmy and Darcy are basically the same person as both serve as Marvel’s archetypal comedy relief and/or big brain scientists authority figure. Monika, by contrast, is played too straight and results in a character so disinteresting that it hurt to see them fuel her with motivation to try and bring Wanda, a super being who enslaved her for weeks, back to the light. Hayward is also boring. He is basically Nick Fury, but more of a dick. His plan to destroy the Hex is to kill Wanda; Wanda being the woman who twice held her own against Thanos and, on one of those occasions, nearly killed him on her own. It was almost laughable how his dumb he is, and even more so that anyone under his command genuinely supports his plan to kill and Avenger.
Then episode five happens and it’s actually good again. It basically revolves around Vision becoming aware something is wrong and pressing Wanda to tell him if she’s been using her powers to some selfish end.
Episode six is a halloween themed episode where Wanda and Vision dress up as classic version of themselves from the comic books. Also Wanda has made two fictional children for herself who she takes out trick-or-treating, alongside a reincarnated version of her brother, Quicksilver, who she swears she didn’t bring back to life. But the highlight of this episode is that Vision has become more self aware and is no longer confined by Wanda’s spell. He acts on his suspicions she has done something bad to the people of West View and tries to leave the Hex to warn the outside world. However, when people ask him for help because he’s an Avenger, it appears that he doesn’t have any memory of who he used to be before he was bought back to life so he has no concept of what an Avenger even is. After successfully leaving the Hex, Vision begins to disintegrate as a bunch of S.W.O.R.D agents watch on and refuse to help. Then Wanda’s children find out, beg their mom to help, and Wanda expands her spell so that Vision can be safe and also absorbs all of the S.W.O.R.D agents into it too… And also Darcy Lewis because why not. Hayward, Monika and Jimmy manage to avoid being caught in it.
In episode seven Jimmy and Monika are working on their own because Hayward threw them off the mission because they refused to help him kill an Avenger (Seriously, Hayward is such a badly written character). So Monika willingly goes back inside the Hex and for some reason gets super powers even though no one else who did that got super powers, and is not under Wanda’s spell even though everyone else who goes in is under Wanda’s spell. Meanwhile Wanda is struggling to maintain control over the town, which is implied to be because of a lot of self doubt and loathing of herself. Also Vision frees Darcy from Wanda’s spell and she tells him all about his past as an Avenger and how he died and Wanda had to kill him. Suddenly Vision becomes aware that Wanda’s motives for doing this to the town are because she has lost everything dear to her and wants to have a semblance of normality in her life. Basically she’s not evil, but she has done something very bad for selfish and relatable reasons. At the end of the episode Monika tries to talk to Wanda who (Surprise, surprise) ain’t in the mood for talking. At this point a minor recurring character called Agnes shows up and saves Wanda from the conversation by inviting her into her home. Then Agnes reveals herself to be a witch and has magic runes so Wanda can’t use her powers inside of the house. Then it ends.
Episode eight is the second worst episode in the series because it spends 45 minutes establishing Wanda’s past and motivations even though the audience already knows Wanda’s past and motivations. There is a good flashback between Wanda and Vision that helps to contextualise why and how they came to love each other better, since the movies mostly avoided that. We also learn Agnes’ real name is Agatha Harkness and she is like a bazillion years old, and wants Wanda’s powers for herself because Wanda is super duper powerful.
Episode nine is the finale where Hayward uses the real Vision’s dead body to fight the pretend Vision Wanda had created. Meanwhile Wanda fights Agatha. Then, after doing literally nothing since he was initially introduced, Quicksilver gets bested by Monika. The first half of this episode is a bit garbage because it is generic super hero fighting. But there is some good iconography, such as when Wanda throws a car at Agatha and you see her boots poking out from under it like in the Wizard of Oz. However the end is much more interesting. The two Visions stop fighting and do what two super computers realistically would do if they were in a fight: Debate the respected meaning of their existences until the good Vision convinces the bad Vision that he cannot fulfil his orders to defeat the Vision, since he himself is the real Vision (God, I hope that makes sense on paper). Then Wanda uses Agatha’s tricks against her by putting runes all around the Hex so Agatha can’t use her magic and then Wanda condemns her to an eternity of living as a slave in West View. Meanwhile Hayward tries to kill children, Monika saves them, and Darcy smashes into him with a car. Jimmy does literally nothing, I don’t know why he is in this show. Wanda is made aware of all the pain she has caused and realises she has to destroy the Hex and free West View. Then Vision comes to terms with the fact he and his children aren’t real, and that they will have to die if the people of West View are to be freed. It’s a very touching moment that is well executed. Wanda suffers another tragedy as she literally dissolves her dream life around her. But then she gets to walk away without suffering any consequences… I mean yeah, she redeemed herself, but she also ENSLAVED THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE FOR WEEKS and we’re supposed to be happy she doesn’t get any kind of punishment? This taking place in a world where the Sokovia Accords exist to control super humans so this stuff doesn’t happen? The Sokovia Accords having been made in part due to the actions of Wanda in a previous film? Seems like a colossal oversight, but okay.
And that’s the end of WandaVision. It started out as one of the most interesting, thought provoking and genuinely disturbing pieces of media in the MCU. It gave two of the lesser Avengers a lot of depth and characterisation that was lacking in the movies, and those two characters kept the show afloat and worth watching even in the worst episodes. However, Jimmy is a character who does literally nothing after his initial introduction and remains in the show forever. Monika is boring and breaks the established rules of the show routinely. Darcy is annoying and unlikeable and not funny – she is overwritten and I think they try to hard to make her quippy. Agnes/Agatha was a good character who was the source of a lot of the disturbing and experimental scenes on the show, up until she became a supervillain at which point she became super boring because she had one-dimensional motivations for power, and had absolutely no depth. I also believe it is criminal to write a character as genuinely bad as Hayward.
What I’m saying is that everything that takes place inside of the Hex is generally a lot better than the boring crap S.W.O.R.D are up to on the outside.
All in all it is a VERY mixed bag. WandaVision contains some the the best moments of the MCU as a whole alongside some o the longest running flaws the franchise has suffered since the original Iron Man movie. Overall there is just about more good than bad, however. For this reason I would actually recommend it if you are at all in to Marvel. It is by no means a master piece, but it still has a lot to offer and is one of the most unique additions to the MCU to date.
The Fandom Menace
There is more to it than that though. To me, this show isn’t just interesting because I enjoyed it, but because of what I got to see going on around it by interacting with the fandom as the episodes were released. And it all has to do with fan theories.
For the first three episodes speculation was fairly grounded, with fans discussing the fact someone could be manipulating Wanda into doing all of the evil stuff that she does – primarily Mephisto who is like Marvel’s ultra-powerful version of Satan. While a solid 99% of these theories died down after episode four confirmed that Wanda was willingly doing this stuff herself, this Mephisto theory lingered.
As I mentioned, Agnes/Agatha had been a recurring minor character who usually bought along the illusion breaking moments of the earlier episodes and so it stood to reason that if Mephisto was going to be in the show, then it would be her. Or at least, that’s what the theorists with brains had been thinking about. There were just as many, if not more, about other minor characters who were broken from the illusion to, many of whom only appeared for an episode or two either to highlight the extent of Wanda’s power or to what lengths she has used her abilities selfishly and to the detriment of others. After a couple of weeks of anyone and everyone saying that literally anything in the show could be Mephisto in disguise, it became a running joke more so than a theory. But while you might think that would be the end of it, it would seem that this wasn’t just a joke to some people and that they had treated these theories as truth rather than speculation, which was reflected when some fans were disappointed with the ending of the show not having some big twist to it that would re-contextualise everything. The character of Mephisto had never been mentioned, foreshadowed or built up towards in any way and yet there was a passionate and adamant segment of fans who believed that this irrelevant character would take the show by storm, and held onto that idea until the credits rolled of the final episode.
But Mephisto wasn’t the only character some fans had anticipated. With the reveal of Quicksilver, who was depicted by Evan Peters (The guy who played the character in the X-Men films) there were those who expected some X-Men characters to show up. After all, Wanda is a mutant in the comic books and WandaVision is based on the House of M storyline, which primarily revolved around the X-Men. Some saw this as a way for the Disney to introduce mutants into the MCU since Disney has recently acquired 20th Century Fox, and thus the X-Men franchise. The most popular X-Men theories are saw were that Wanda’s Hex would turn people into mutants because of how it gave Monika super powers, and then there was another theory that Magneto would show up since he’s the father of Wanda and Quicksilver in the comics.
Then there were all the multiverse theories. Since it has been implied (or at least read into) that the next MCU Spiderman film with be a live-action Spiderverse film, and that the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel literally has the word “multiverse” in the title, that the coming of Evan Peter’s Quicksilver could signal that Fox’s X-Men franchise and Disney’s MCU exist in the same shared universe. This led to much disappointment when it was revealed that WandaVision’s Quicksilver was just some random guy that Agnes/Agatha had mind controlled in order to manipulate Wanda, and was thusly not from another dimension or the multiverse.
The recurring theme here, if you haven’t picked up on it, isn’t that some fans are theorising, but that they believe those theories to be true simply because they get traction, and disappoint themselves when (surprise) they’re names aren’t among the writers when the credits roll. It got to a point where the show runners released a tweet, shortly before the release of the series finale, that they thought fans would be disappointed because they knew none of the theories would come true during the ending… Which is exactly what happened. And a part of me is kind of sad that creators had to down-play their own creation, which they clearly put a lot of love and effort into, to satiate the masses.
But why did this happen? I believe part of this is that the cast were encouraging theories, which is only natural since is drives positive discourse amongst fans. This, I think, led to some unintentional errors on their part. For example, Elizabeth Olsen said to expect a “Luke Skywalker level cameo” from the show. This is a reference to the Mandalorian Season 2 where the arrival of a Jedi is foreshadowed and set up multiple episodes prior to it happening, and that Jedi happened to be Luke himself. Based on comments like these, it isn’t hard to see why fans were theorising so thoroughly for what they wanted to be in the show. But, in all likelihood, Olsen’s comment was most likely in reference to Evan Peters returning to the role of Quicksilver.
When asked on the matter, Paul Bettany further amped up the hype for a big cameo after Quicksilver’s reveal, which made people wonder who the hell else was going to be in the show. In hindsight, however, we can now say that Bettany was most likely making an offhand joke about himself being the cameo for the second version of Vision, since he’d be playing two characters in the show who were also paradoxically the same character.
Beyond that, not all of these fan theories were as unfounded as the Mephisto one was. I believe fans were in a very right mind when they anticipated the arrival of the X-Men in a series whose high-point was introducing a fan-favourite X-Men actor and character into it. In that case – that is the case of Quicksilver – it was a slap in the face to have introduced him that way only for it to become a throwaway joke. There were other minor moments that run throughout the show that followed this trend of disappointment, such as when it makes a point to linger on Monika saying she’s going to ask an astrophysicist friend of hers to help get get into the Hex, leading to many fans theorising characters like Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four could appear, only for that friend to be some random extra whose in the show for all of forty-five seconds.
And the sad reality is, for all of these theories, the only real tease fans got for the future of the MCU was a post-credits scene in the final episode where Monika talks to a Skrull – One of those shape shifting aliens from Captain Marvel, a film that was hardly the best received among fans and whose sequel is years down the pipeline. This was a moment no theory had predicted and which, unlike those theories, had absolutely no foreshadowing or build-up. It was simply there to be an advertisement. You might say most Marvel post-credits scenes are advertisements for the next product, which I would agree with, but it isn’t as satisfactory when it comes at the end of a 7-9 hour TV show that ties into a completely different character than Captain Marvel, than it would in a movie with a conclusive ending. In moments like this it’s hard to say that the showrunners weren’t misguiding the audience the whole time, but it’s also hard to say they were doing it maliciously or out of intention.
So it isn’t hard to see where these sorts of theories came from, and I want to make it clear that I’m not bashing fans for being passionate about media that they like: But I think that WandaVision fandom should serve as a cautionary tale about what happens when fans confuse the reality of what a TV show is with what they want it to be. Likewise, it should also be a cautionary tale to producers and creators about what happens when you overhype your own content in such a way that makes your audiences expectations go above and beyond what you have prepared for them.