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WandaVision: On a Very Special Episode...

"Do you want me to take that again?"

Well, that certainly clarified a few things.

Holy crap.

One of the things that WandaVision has, deservedly, been heavily praised for is how well it's recreated the tone of the sitcoms it's recreated. From Dick Van Dyke, to Bewitched, to Brady Bunch, it's completely nailed the acting styles, mannerisms, use of sound cues and lighting, the whole package.

This is even more impressive when you consider that all of those elements differ a lot between the above listed shows. Even Bewitched and Dick Van Dyke, the two most similar, have interesting variations in acting style, the type of sets and how they're used, and the way they use lighting cues, just for a few random examples.

So for the first three episodes of the season the tone of the show was almost entirely presented as variations of sitcom reality. And before I go on with the point I have to say that I would have cheerfully watched a 22 episode season of nothing more than that. The gradually increasing number of moments when that sitcom reality broke down were the spice, not the main meal.

Then episode four came along and, true to its title, interrupted the program. Gone were all the sitcom semiotics, and instead we were back to the acting style and visual language of the MCU. This was, deliberately, a huge tonal shift and totally paid off. For more on that point, please if you haven't already check out Samantha M. Quinn's excellent review of that episode.

So that brings us to episode five: 'On a Very Special Episode...', which has the nearly impossible task of jumping back and forth between those two genres. This should be 100% guaranteed to result in a bloated, tonally confused mess. But it doesn't, because they found an extraordinarily clever way to make it work.

Which brings us to... the 1980's.

Now, I'm not sure exactly what the current level of public awareness is for the whole concept of 'very special episodes,' so it's probably worth a brief explanation just so we're all on the same page. Forgive me if you're already up to speed. Back in the 1980s, for a variety of reasons that aren't really important right at the moment, there was a fashion for sitcoms to announce upcoming 'very special episodes' in which they would make some sort of statement about a serious 'adult' issue. And so for just one week, Nancy Reagan would show up and explain that drugs were bad, or Arnold's friend Dudley would get molested by kindly Gordon Jump who ran the local bicycle shop. Both real examples, by the way.

The theory was that the shows were using their platform to help educate the kids at home on important safety issues, whether or not they were actually achieving that goal. The relevant point here is that for one week the jokes were pared way back, some previously untouchable subject matter would creep in so that the show could make 'deep' pronouncements on the issue, and the moral of the story was sledgehammered home with all the subtlety of the arrival of Kool-Aid man.

There are two important points to focus on here. First, the idea that they allowed somber, adult moments to creep in and alter the tone of the show might be useful to a show which has two disparate tones to reconcile. But more importantly, they were almost always opened by one of the show's actors, out of character, breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience about what they were about to see "Next, on a very special episode of..."

You see where I'm going with this. Unfortunately I can't go any further without entering spoiler country, so if you haven't watched the episode yet, please do not read any farther past this picture of Paul Rudd looking concerned for the purity of your viewing experience.

It's surprisingly difficult to find a picture of Paul Rudd not smiling.

It's pretty hard to argue at this point that Wanda isn't the villain of this story. A hugely sympathetic villain, absolutely, but clearly the villain. She's absolutely terrifying when she walks out of the Hex zone, broken assassination drone in hand, and lets Acting Chief Hayward know, in no uncertain terms, who has the power in this situation. For all of her attempt to manufacture a 'very special' moment earlier when she sits the boys down and explains that they'll always be one another's family and that family is forever, and the 'very special moment' later on when she has to comfort her boys over the death of their dog, the real 'serious content creeping into the lighthearted sit-com tone' is without question her rage-fueled ultimatum to SWORD.

And this is just such a fascinatingly nuanced scene. From Wanda's perspective, all she wants is to be left alone. 'You don't bother me, I won't bother you'. But as Monica points out, she's hurting hundreds of people to get what she wants. Wanda is beyond reason at this point, and has enough power to make that the most terrifying situation imaginable.

I mention the death of Sparky a moment ago, because it's indicative of something bigger that's going on. Wanda's losing control, and it appears to be escalating. She clearly had nothing to do with Sparky's death. As everybody including the mailman points out, Sparky dying should have been impossible just by virtue of Wanda not wanting it to happen. And Wanda is obviously shocked that it did, no matter how well she rallies and turns it into a 'very special episode' moment for the boys. The fact that her speech is completely hypocritical given what we've just learned about her stealing and reanimating Vision's body (or something along those lines) AND that the boys are outside of her power and completely free to push back on her about it all underscores how Wanda's control is starting to slip.

The first instance of this is interesting because it's played like just another 'glitch in the matrix' moment like we'd been getting all season. Agnes breaks character and asks if they should take the scene from the top again. The difference this time is that there's no reason for it. Nothing's happened to break the sitcom mood, she just sort of... stops. It's like Wanda's hold on everything is starting to loosen and that's the first sign of it.

For what it's worth, I think Vision got it more or less right. I think for the first couple of episodes Wanda was herself as much in the fiction as everybody else. It seems like it was her showdown with Monica Rambeau that brought to the surface what she had done and was doing. Monica wanted to reach the Wanda that was buried inside, and she did. And it turns out to have been the worst thing she could do because that Wanda is infinitely more dangerous.

And then there's the big last minute reveal. Unfortunately I had this spoiled for me because some jackass posted a video labelled 'Spoilers for WandaVision' in big letters, which is fine and proper etiquette, but then used a great big picture of Evan Peters as Quicksilver as the thumbnail. Thanks, asshole. I hope something you love gets set on fire.

Ahem.

So yes. The last minute stranger at the door turned out to be none other that Quicksilver, but the Evan Peters version from the X-Men movies. This is obviously huge, and the beginning of the culmination of the Fox deal finally happening. I'm not going to say a lot more about it at the moment since I suspect we're all going to spend a lot of time talking about it over the next month, but I will say that it's interesting that we're not really sure if Wanda made the doorbell ring to interrupt her fight with Vision, as Vision clearly believed she had done. Just moments before she tried to shut him up by rolling the closing credits, and having their hugely emotional, long brewing confrontation going on underneath the 'safe' closing credit scroll might be the most effectively transgressive thing they've done so far. So... did she just bust open the multi-verse just to derail an argument? I wouldn't swear either way.

As for the conflict itself with both of them flying into the air at one another in open hostility – it genuinely upset me more than the Steve Rogers/Tony Stark fight in Civil War.

Cannot wait to see where this goes from here.


Bits and Pieces:

-- The sitcom riff this weeks was Family Ties, the 1980's Michael J. Fox vehicle that was originally supposed to be the 1980s Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney vehicle. I haven't thought about those opening credits in literally thirty years, and yet they nailed every beat of them so well I just kept thinking 'I remember that! Oh, and that! Oh, and the painting thing!' Delightful, and I wasn't even particularly fond of Family Ties at the time. Nostalgia's a funny thing.

-- And why can't Wanda control the boys like everyone else? She couldn't control the stork last week either. Fortunately, nobody in the town is even pretending to be surprised by all the magical goings on. And having the twins age a couple of times was probably a godsend on the schedule as far as 'rules for when child actors can work' go.

-- Vision's body was kept at SWORD headquarters for the five years that everybody was snapped away. I wonder what the turnaround time was between Wanda attending Tony's funeral and her breaking in to steal his body. There has GOT to be more to that story. We still have four episodes left, I'm fully convinced that whatever happened in that gap is going to be a huge deal.

-- Whatever Wanda did to Monica makes her X-ray blank, so that's how they're going to work into Monica getting her powers one assumes. Will the hundreds of other town residents get similar upgrades?

-- I know that it doesn't really matter in artificially created sitcom realities, but the late 80s was a little early for e-mail. Vision's joke about the computer one day helping Norm find a wife was funny though.

-- Your heart had to break for poor Norm during his brief moment of self awareness. He has a sick father and his sister is caring for him. I can't wait to see Vision's other interactions with temporarily 'de-characterized' townsfolk. Apparently they're all aware of what's happening and helpless to fight it on some level. I'd compare it to the Imperius Curse, but talking about Harry Potter makes me sad these days. Still a pretty good shorthand explanation for what seems to be happening though.

-- Billy and Tommy seem to be fraternal twins. Was that the case in the comics? Outside of my readership, I'm afraid.

-- How is Darcy a big fan of Monica's? It's been implied that Darcy was snapped as well, so what was Monica doing five years ago that was impressing astrophysicists? It's not really important, but I'm super curious about it.

-- Kind of surprised to hear that the Sokovia accords are still around. Disappointing. Also surprised to hear that Vision had an official living will. But that one's admirable. We should all have that taken care of, he said hypocritically.

-- The commercial for Lagos papertowels has the catchphrase, "Lagos: Because when you make a mess, you didn’t mean to." No relevance there, no sir. (Lagos was where Wanda accidentally blew up that building which was the last straw that launched the Sokovia accords in Captain America: Civil War, if the name didn't ring a bell).

-- 'The Hex'. Oh my glittery Jesus, I feel like an idiot for not putting that together. All the hexagons, Darcy referring to it as 'the Hex' because of its shape. In the comics they refer to Wanda's abilities as 'Hex Powers.' That's why they've had so many hexagons in the production design. I cannot believe I didn't think of that.


Quotes:

Vision: "Wanda, did you really not see what I saw?"

Agnes: "Kids. You can’t control ‘em. No matter how hard you try."

Darcy: "There’s a briefing at ten. Pants are encouraged."

Jimmy: "I, uh, try not to speak ill of people."
Darcy: "Then let me. Hayward’s a dick."

Hayward: "You can hardly blame us, Wanda."
Wanda: "Oh, I think I can. This will be your only warning."

Monica: "What do you want?"
Wanda: "I have what I want. And no one. Will ever take it from me. Again."

Vision: "You don’t get to make that choice for me, Wanda!"

Quicksilver: "Long lost bro get to squeeze his stinking sister to death or what?"
Darcy: "She recast Pietro?"



There's just so much good here that I could easily have gone on about it for another few pages and this is already way too long. Is it next Friday yet?

Four and a half out of four poisonous azalea leaves.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

I actually think the scariest moment was when Vision was confronting Wanda and said ''you cant control everything, you cant control me''....and she just responded with a creepy tilt of the head ''Cant I''... That was the cherry on top of the threatening Sword agents, Wanda is already just behind Thanos as my fav MCU villain..Really hope they commit to this and dont redeem her too soon....Also i love how she tried to roll credits mid argument.

Speculations:
Agnes reacts differently to everybody else even within the confines of this place. Like Vision realised she always had whats needed despite not being in the vicinity when that something happens.
Her ' Kids, you cant control them line'' felt very pointed. The fact the whole fabrication has no children is strange and Wanda's own Children seem outside her control, maybe they summoned Pietro hearing their mother in distress..
Sword where obviously developing tech and weapons with Visions body. With Cap and Iron man gone who from the avengers would be able to take authority over that. I like that we are seeing the post snap chaos, a little with Monicas return but also in what the organisations are doing. Agent Haywerd came off like an asshole in this episode but especially post snap is his method really that surprising or questionable. Wanda as mentioned nearly killed Thanos.
Back to Agnes I think shes is Agatha Harkness who in X men is a powerful witch who played a mentor ish figure to the likes of Wanda, Mystique and Rogue and always took advantage of their mental states to achieve her goals.. Sometimes she was genuine but usually had a goal in mind.

sunbunny said...

I was so into this show when it was imitating Bewitched and being mysterious. AND THEN IT GOT BETTER. Really, really loving this. Best new show in years.

I really wish I’d had the same reaction to Wanda and Vision flying at each other. All I could think at the moment was how dumb it looked (sorry).

Either all children are uncontrollable or it’s just Billy and Tommy (which makes a kind of sense) and Wanda couldn’t bring herself to torture the children of Westview. Which I’d prefer honestly. It would mitigate the damage she’s doing.

Anon - that’s brilliant. I’d LOVE to see more Kathryn Hahn.

Valkyrie30 said...

Just amazing review. Loved it!!

Billie Doux said...

Mikey, I'm so glad you and the other Agents of Doux are reviewing this show and I'm not, because all of this MCU stuff is going right over my head. It's not that I'm not enjoying the show -- I am. But I had absolutely no idea who came in the door at the end.

Ben said...

I'm pretty sure that Darcy was not snapped. I think her being a big fan of Monica was just Jimmy having talked to her about Monica.

Ben said...

Yep, Kat Dennings confirms it:
https://comicbook.com/tv-shows/news/wandavision-darcy-lewis-jimmy-woo-avengers-endgame-thanos-snap/

sunbunny said...

Also, Mikey I also related what Wanda’s doing to the Imperious Curse and then got sad because everything Harry Potter related makes me sad now. Probably for the same reason it does you.

Billie - I love superhero stuff but I honestly hateee reviewing it because I feel like, not being a comic reader, I miss 80% of what’s going on. BUT doing reviews in a round robin is fun because I can give my perspective and have someone else come in with the comic knowledge the next week. Fortunately, we’ve been blessed with so many clever writers and commenters who know the comic books.

citten said...

Both Wanda and Vision doing a knee bend on the one leg while flying lookes silly, but maybe true to the era (didn’t Superman do that...?)
Besides from that I really like the series so far!
Thanks for all the insights :)

Panda said...

I... still think there’s more to the “hex” than it simply being all Wanda’s doing. There’s a large level of complicity there, but I suspect we’re not getting the full story there.

Agnes not being under Wanda’s control throughout this episode also seems like more than Wanda losing her grip on the neighborhood. There may be credence to those fan theories out there, which makes me very excited.

Cthulhu Ferrigno said...

It needs to be pointed out that when Norm told Vision that "she" was in his head, he didn't explicitly say "Wanda". I also don't believe Agnes is posted on the wall of townsfolk hostages. Suspiscious. IMO

And I believe using Evan Peters in the Pietro/Quicksilver role was more a clever swerve than an opening of the Multiverse; the theme of the episode was that as powerful as she is, raising the dead is still outside of Wanda'a abilities. Reanimating Vision's body is one thing, but she couldn't bring Sparky back. So in place of reviving her Pietro, she did literally 'recast' him with another one of the townsfolk hostages (it wouldn't surprise me if he turns out to be Jimmy Woo's missing person). IMO

Lastly, Darcy rules. IMO

Diogo said...

Agnes breaks character and asks if they should take the scene from the top again. The difference this time is that there's no reason for it. Nothing's happened to break the sitcom mood, she just sort of... stops."

Actually there was a reason: it's implied that Vision was supposed to follow the "episode's script" (ie: he should have let Agnes take care of the children), and his refusal to do so is what prompted Agnes' request (adding more proof to the notion that Agnes was never under Wanda's mind control and she has an agenda of her own that somehow involves the children).

The real screw up wasn't from Agnes, it was Wanda's. Like the audience, she knows that in previous episodes Wanda did rewind and "edit" Vision's reactions, and Agnes was just assuming that Wanda would do it again. And so the real question is: why didn't Wanda do it? More to the point, why is she allowing Vision to rebel the way he is. The three possible answers are: 1)she can't (she's losing her control over the reality); 2) She doesn't want to (even as low as she has fallen, she still must on some level feel like it's wrong to brainwash your loved one, and she's starting to regret doing it so much; I am reminded of Willow and Tara); and 3) a combination of reason 1 and 2.

Personally the part of me that still wants to believe Wanda isn't irreedemable hopes it's answer number 2.

Sidenote: I'm so happy that the show didn't dump all of its episodes on the same day! Part of me resents not being able to binge watch, but I am loving these public discussions and theorizing on the show, it reminds me of the Lost days... it's something we definetly don't get as much nowadays because of the normalization of binge watching on streaming.

Billie Doux said...

Diogo, I so agree with your sidenote. Bingeing is fun, but there's nothing like the enjoyable speculation as we all wait for the next episode together.

sunbunny, I do really enjoy it when a bunch of us can rotate reviews of a show like this. I'm also not a comic reader, but I'm more familiar with the DC stuff. I don't always track the MCU.

Diogo said...

Billie thanks for the kind response! For real, I feel bad for the people who are waiting to binge watch or haven't thought of watching the show yet, they will miss part of the fun.

Lamounier said...

Mikey, terrific review. Wow.

I could still do without the sitcom shenanigans, but this series is slowly winning me over. The Quicksilver reveal was such a great moment (slightly ruined by the applause track).

I don't think Wanda is controlling Westview all by herself. I think someone is manipulating her to alter reality, but her power is not big enough to alter the reality of the entire world, so it's contained to Westview. If Wanda was doing it all by herself, why would she choose to live in a sitcom world and jump decades every day? And how would Wanda know so much about American sitcoms? Why have the twins grow so quickly?

I wonder if the twins will keep growing until they are teenagers, thus old enough to become the next generation of the Avengers.

If people know what happened in the battle against Thanos, and if they know Wanda almost single-handedly finished him off, why would Hayward believe he can take Wanda out with a traditional weapon? Dude...

Adding to the choir re: binging vs. watching one episode per week. I'm glad they dind't drop all episodes at once. Speculating, having awesome comment sections like this one and waiting for the next episode are a big part of the experience of savoring a TV series.

Lamounier said...

Forgot to say... Elizabeth Olsen is going very good work here. She played Wanda's frustration and confusion very well. Her line delivery of "Pietro?" was everything.

sunbunny said...

I've definitely missed being able to theorize about shows with friends. I think it's especially fun when the show in question is a mystery like this one is. I do wonder about the later MCU shows, if I'll get frustrated waiting for an entire week to get the next episode of Falcon and Winter Solider or Loki. But for now it's hugely fun.

Josie Kafka said...

Mikey, your spoiler kitten looks quite odd. What's wrong with its ears?

I'm enjoying this show so much, and Elizabeth Olsen is impressing me in ways that she wasn't able to (given the limitations) in the MCU movies. She's a phenomenal actress.

Especially with her 80s hair, though, I kept seeing a resemblance between her and Kristin Wiig, though. So odd.

Whatever Wanda did to Monica makes her X-ray blank, so that's how they're going to work into Monica getting her powers one assumes. Will the hundreds of other town residents get similar upgrades?

Or Monica already has powers! (That's what I'm rooting for.)

Sunbunny, I am also always underwhelmed by flying scenes.

Is anyone else shipping Jimmy Woo and Darcy?

Mikey Heinrich said...

"Mikey, your spoiler kitten looks quite odd. What's wrong with its ears?"

That made me genuinely spit out coffee all over my desk :)

Yeah, I'm LOVING the wait each week for the next episode. It's such delicious agony. How did we just always use to live like this? All the time theorizing and discussing - I had no idea how much I'd missed it.

Diogo - totally makes sense. I didn't read the scene that way at first because what Vision was saying still read to me as sitcom shenanigans, but I think your read is probably what they intended.

I saw a comment the other day musing about how when House of M went down in the comics (more or less this, sort of, a little) It was a fairly easy transition for people to see Scarlet Witch as a villain because nobody had any particular emotional attachment to the character. Now, however, thanks to Elizabeth Olsen, lots of us totally adore her and so this time it hurts so. much. more.

I've been thinking about Willow and Tara a lot during this series.

I've been very aware also that in the comics, after waffling a bit on whether they exist or not, the twins help form 'The Young Avengers' as Wiccan and Speed, and that one of them (I think Billy/Wiccan) is gay and dates Hulkling. I have absolutely no idea who Hulkling is, but I can guarantee a young gay guy in his early 20s would be into it.

With Cassie Lang, Hawkeye's daughter whose name escapes me and a few others coming to Disney+ shows, plus these two - they're totally planning to do a Young Avengers movie, aren't they.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I also keep thinking, 'Steve's probably the only one who could talk her down from this. She'd listen to Steve.'

But of course everyone in the MCU thinks he's dead after Endgame, don't they. I still wish someone would make that argument though.

There's a chance Clint could, I suppose. He did 'talk her good' in Age of Ultron. There's a bond there. Probably more likely that she'd talk him evil though given that she has a much stronger personality than he does and he's been in a dark-ish place himself for awhile.

I just can't stop head-cannoning a scene of Cap walking into the town unchanged and being the emotional support Wanda desperately needs. Totally Xander/Yellow Crayon kind of thing.

Josie Kafka said...

:-)