Spoiler alert: this blog is for people watching WandaVision on Disney+. Do not read on unless you have watched season one, episodes one to three.
Small towns: hard to leave
Let’s start at the end, with Wanda suddenly ejecting “Geraldine” into widescreen from their 4:3 confines. It seems Sword, the logo of which Geraldine is wearing around her neck, is working to reach Wanda through a sitcom fugue.
We have seen Wanda rewind time twice, adjusting events to play out as she would prefer. How aware she is of this ability is open to a few more weeks of speculation, but that it is a defensive measure now feels certain. Maybe Sword is just trying to help – but that still leaves us to wonder what happened since Endgame to cause Wanda to end up this way.
With the imagery of a character emerging out of a contained world, episode three can’t help but evoke The Truman Show – plus, again, the recent Watchmen series. The on-the-nose lyrics of Daydream Believer play out the hope that Sleepy Jean (Wanda, rather than Jean Grey of the X-Men) will cheer up.
Two characters in search of a sitcom
WandaVision reaches the 70s sitcom, which at least makes the 18-year age gap between husband and wife feel like homage. (To be fair, Paul Bettany was hired as a voiceover for Jarvis, then to be covered in makeup as Vision. Who knew his real skin was going to get an outing?)
What I am finding especially fun is how these leaps through time draw attention to the slim differences between eras of situation comedy – how the core concept (characters whose nature generates story and comedy) remains true whatever the style. The “situation” doesn’t refer to the place where the comedy happens; rather, it is the situation in which the characters live, one that interacts comedically with their fundamental personalities. It is the talentless manager running an office when a documentary crew arrive; the two guys in a flatshare whose only similarity is that they are awful people. May it send you all back to the great comedies of the past with an open mind.
Being a Marvel show
“Don’t you want to meet your son as yourself?” And with that and a lullaby, devotees of the Marvel Cinematic Universe wipe away a synthetic tear. Vision, who is dead, meets his children of undetermined reality and it is stated simply and clearly: he does not need to hide who he is when he has Wanda and his family.
Both Wanda and Vision’s powers came from the Mind Stone concealed within Loki’s sceptre
Because, oh yes, the movieverse is still progressing right behind the painted sitcom backcloth. “I’m a twin,” Wanda says, remembering (or perhaps re-remembering) her lost brother – and Geraldine invokes Ultron as the AI big bad from the second Avengers film to blame.
Funny how no one ever talked about how both Wanda and Vision’s powers came from the Mind Stone concealed within Loki’s sceptre. But maybe pointing that out takes us a bit closer to the idea that this married couple are magical cousins. Best rewind that thought. Skip it next time.
The thing is, Wanda’s twins (as in the comics – although, really, we have to put a limit on saying that) are unlikely to be real, so we don’t fully invest in them that way. But Wanda’s plight has just become much more troubling: by the time reality shows up to take her away, she is really not going to want to go.
Being a sitcom episode
Let’s be honest: episode three is not on par with one and two in sitcom terms.
There is fun to be had in birthing pains that alter the world around you – and a solid metaphor in there, too – but, as a sitcom plot, it is hard to play “people mustn’t know we’re magical” as the stakes when Vision is carrying the doctor around at super-speed.
If Vision is willing to tell the GP about their magical pregnancy, what does it matter if people see floating crockery?
Elizabeth Olsen does her best to make shooing away an unexpected stork a fun bit of business, but it is no “drunken Vision’s magic act”. The reasons for this are precise, but vital: if Geraldine sees the stork, or any other oddness, it is unlikely to be blamed on Wanda – and won’t be seen as important compared with the birth happening right in front of her.
Between the fact that revealing weirdness is not seemingly the danger we had previously seen (the 50s/60s being a better setting to create a fear of witch-hunts; have you seen how weird the neighbours are acting now?) and the feeling that Geraldine is more aware of what is going on than she says, the stakes drop right out of the sitcom. Megan McDonnell (writing as part of a team) leaves only the wider “reality” story to matter, the characters a little adrift without significant stakes. If Vision is immediately willing to tell the local GP about their magical pregnancy, what does it matter if people seeing floating crockery?
Style it out
If the strange feeling of slipping into a new aspect ratio is not enough, we get a rewind glitch on screen that feels like a streaming glitch. What fun this is having! When the production boasted that WandaVision had more effects shots than Endgame, I don’t think any of us thought they meant digital artifacting and a CGI stork.
In general, the eerie undertone continues to delight, with Herb and his hedge trimmer coming across like a character from Get Out. Indeed, the moments of weirdness will feel familiar to anyone who saw the imagined “Victorian” episode of Sherlock, a reality becoming ever more uncanny. The character who knows the truth trying to get everyone to snap out of it has a long history – not least in Marvel’s House of M comics (damn, I did it again) or the Jasmine story in season four of Angel.
That character, of course, is being called Geraldine, but Marvel marketing have already shown their hand by announcing that Teyonah Parris is in fact playing Monica Rambeau, the daughter of Captain Marvel’s best pal – and very likely an Air Force pilot, like her idol and her mother.
Marvel merchandising, meanwhile, have let slip on a Topps card that, in this universe, Sword stands for “Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division”. If you want to read “sentient weapon” as “people with powers”, making this a development of Civil War’s Sokovia Accords that placed limits on superhero activity, I am not going to stop you.
Has too much slipped out too soon? Probably not, judging by the number of speculation articles WandaVision is generating. Next up: the 80s. As WandaVision’s sitcom moves into the “raising kids” genre, I am looking forward to the idea of Roseanne for the first time in a while.