Something Strange in the Neighborhood – “WandaVision” Episodes 1 & 2

Poster art for “WandaVision”. Source

With the first two episodes of the new miniseries WandaVision dropping on Disney+, the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets started on its first slate of stories set after the events of Avengers Endgame and Spider-Man: Far from Home. Using the tropes and storylines common to sitcoms over the eras, WandaVision explores the relationship between Wanda Maximoff and Vision. And there is definitely something strange going on in this idyllic TV neighborhood.

When I originally watched the trailer for WandaVision, I was skeptical that this would be something I’d enjoy. That isn’t because I don’t like Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in their roles. Far from it, in fact. When Paul Bettany became part of the proper Avengers cast in Age of Ultron, I thought he handled the weird nature of Vision with great ease. And Elizabeth Olsen continued to grow as Wanda over the course of the movies she was involved in. Even though the majority of their relationship happened off-screen, what we did end up seeing between the two actors was genuine chemistry. And for me, at least, they were the beating heart of Avengers Infinity War.

House of M series, one of the inspirations for “WandaVision”

The first two episodes managed to surprise me and intrigue me. The show manages to slide in between being a send-up of the classic TV sitcoms of yesteryear and a disturbing psychological thriller that is leading toward a larger mystery. The biggest part of that mystery is how is Vision alive, given that Thanos destroyed him at the end of Infinity War. And Wanda has apparently gained a staggering amount of control over her powers since Endgame, demonstrating control over her environment that goes far beyond simply moving things with her mind. For those not familiar with the comics these stories are roughly based on, Wanda Maximoff’s abilities as The Scarlet Witch are game-breakingly powerful (as seen in the story arc House of M), with her being able to ultimately reshape reality as she sees fit. The series is playing with that powerset, given her ability to become instantly pregnant at the end of the second episode and rewind time during that same sequence.

The Vision (2015) limited series, another source of inspiration used for “WandaVision”

I won’t be delving too much into the scenarios used during the episodes, since these are stories that were common to the sitcoms of the era that are being spoofed. What I do find most interesting is how everything is set up to increase the level of weirdness on display. There are times that you can clearly see the exteriors of the house Wanda and Vision share don’t match the interiors at all. And in the transition from episode 1 to episode 2, the interior of their house changes dramatically in both furniture and floorplan. The camera angles used during the tense dinner sequence in the first episode remind me of techniques used by Hitchcock to increase the tension in some of his films and television specials. There’s also the laugh track that is being used during the show, which goes off at awkward times, even when there isn’t a punchline being used. All of these factors are used to increase the sense of everything in this setting being off-kilter but never fully revealing why, which is what has caught my attention. The showrunners and Marvel are playing things close to the chest at the beginning, counting on their audience to continue watching patiently for the reveal of what is going on.

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And given what’s been revealed so far, there are references to SWORD (the sister agency of SHIELD that monitors extraterrestrial threats) as well as Hydra and Stark Industries (the commercials set at the halfway point of the episodes), it appears that Wanda is either voluntarily creating this environment or has become stuck somewhere that is causing this environment to be her reality. Given that she was able to reverse time and make herself several months pregnant at will, I’m more inclined to believe the former rather than the latter. Either way, WandaVision has definitely got my attention and I’m looking forward to seeing where this weird story goes in the future.

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