A review of this week’s WandaVision coming up just as soon as I tell you a story about my temp job…
(With apologies to Sherwood Schwartz and Frank De Vol…)
Here’s the story
of a lovely lady
who was hexing up a very lovely life.
She had bought a nice new house
in the suburbs
where she’d be Vision’s wife.
Here’s the story
of a man named Vision
who died so Thanos could take the Mind Stone.
He’s alive now,
working in an office,
so she won’t be alone.
Though WandaVision is on a weekly release schedule, Disney+ gave us the first two installments last Friday. It may have been a way to speed up the amount of time before the series’ larger plot began to reveal itself, as happens in this episode’s final minutes. But those two chapters also felt very much of a piece, both riffing on popular Sixties sitcoms, both largely shot in black-and-white (with the second episode shifting to color at the end, which Bewitched itself did after a couple of seasons), and both blurring the lines of which sitcom was being paid homage in which episode. The dinner with the boss going awry due to Wanda’s magic powers felt more like a Bewitched plot taking place in The Dick Van Dyke Show living room, for instance, while Wanda’s capri pants (which Geraldine admired in the second ep) were taken straight out of Mary Tyler Moore’s wardrobe as Laura Petrie.
The Brady Bunch, the chief inspiration for this week’s episode, debuted in 1969, but it is in many ways the quintessential Seventies sitcom. If we’re talking quality, popularity, or topicality, then All in the Family is your champion for the decade. But the look of the Brady home, the Brady fashions, and, in later years, the Brady men’s perms, make it the key pop-culture artifact you would show future generations to illustrate what that era looked and felt like. Though Carol Brady is not a witch like Samantha Stevens, there is a sense of magical unreality to the blended family’s adventures that make it not only a great match for whatever the heck WandaVision is doing, but for the extended Sixties hangover that so many Americans felt throughout Watergate, gas lines, and the rest of the Me Decade. That transparent phoniness — right down to the backyard clearly consisting of Astroturf — is part of the reason The Brady Bunch became such a Generation X touchstone over other shows of that moment: The series dealt in traditional family sitcom plots (step-siblings fighting, vacation disasters), but with an added gloss of oddity that made those stories stickier than they deserved to be. (Ditto Schwartz’s Gilligan’s Island, which has endured in a way that, say, F Troop has not.)
WandaVision this week blends the style of the Brady Bunch credits with action shots of Vision, Wanda, and the other characters now fully embracing the loud fashions and hairstyles of the transition from one decade to the next. It’s only the day after Wanda found herself pregnant, but already years seem to have passed, with the house now transformed into a mirror image of the Brady home’s interior. (Not every detail is the same, but the staircase by itself screams Brady Bunch.) Both our heroes seem understandably perplexed by how Wanda could suddenly be four months pregnant, but they’re otherwise oblivious to these rapid changes. And Wanda doesn’t really want to question things. Last week, she made the man in the beekeeper suit (possibly a nod to Marvel’s villainous AIM scientists, who dressed in modified beekeeper costumes) disappear because she didn’t want him disrupting her suburban fantasy. Here, Vision tries listing all the things that have gone awry, but then he glitches back a few seconds and begins a far more innocuous conversation.
Just as everything on The Brady Bunch felt ever-so-slightly off, so too is the situation in Westview. It’s not just Vision’s glitch, but things like Herb obliviously turning his hedge trimmer onto the wall separating his house from Vision and Wanda’s, or the way that Herb and Agnes seem to know more than what they’re willing or able to tell Vision. There are also the shenanigans in and around the birth of Wanda’s twin sons, Tommy and Billy — including the arrival of a real, live stork — but most of them can be ascribed to labor pains causing the spontaneous firing of Wanda’s hex powers. Without diving too deep into the comic-book lore, her powers in those earlier stories have a tendency to fly wildly out of control, particularly when it comes to Tommy and Billy — who shouldn’t exist at all, given the synthetic nature of their father.
Power-wise, the strangest part of the episode actually involves Vision, who starts using superspeed to run and fetch the obstetrician before the doctor, his wife, and his wife’s brand-new two-piece bathing suit can head down to Bermuda. Vision has a lot of powers, both on the page and onscreen. He can fly, phase through solid objects, become incredibly heavy and/or dense, be strong, and even shoot power beams from the gem in his forehead. What he has never been able to do, in any form, is run really fast like the Flash…
… or, more appropriately, like Wanda’s late brother Pietro, a.k.a. Quicksilver.
It’s been a minute since Avengers: Age of Ultron, the first MCU movie to really feature Wanda and the only one to really feature Pietro, who died saving Hawkeye and a kid during the evacuation of Sokovia. The movies have so many other characters and conflicts to deal with that there hasn’t been room for Wanda or anyone else to mourn, or even discuss, Pietro. But losing your twin brother — especially when the two of you had long been each other’s only family after everyone else was killed by a Stark bomb — isn’t something you just let go of, any more easily than losing a lover. So when Wanda and Geraldine(*) are talking about the new twins, and Wanda recalls her own twinhood, it’s startling — a reference to a long-forgotten character in the franchise, but also the most significant intrusion of Wanda’s real life into this fantasy/prison/whatever. Geraldine blurts out a reference to Ultron killing Pietro, and this is even worse than the beekeeper man or Vision’s attempt to play sleuth. Wanda gets angry, recognizes the sword emblem on Geraldine’s necklace — the same one visible on the toy helicopter, and in the viewing room where someone was watching this all unfold on a vintage TV set — and somehow banishes her from Westview, and into what sure looks like the real world.
(*) Shoutout to Teyonah Parris for absolutely nailing the antic vibe of a Seventies sitcom wacky neighbor — even if she was more Willona from Good Times than anyone in the Brady neighborhood — in the sequence where she’s telling Wanda her work story while oblivious to everything else happening in the house. Even more than Olsen, Bettany, or Kathryn Hahn, I’d really like to see what Parris could do in an unironic multicam sitcom environment.
It doesn’t feel coincidental that Vision would suddenly be zipping around like Quicksilver in the same episode where Wanda is forced, quite painfully, to confront the memory of her brother’s murder. The two most important men in her life were both killed by genocidal Avengers villains, and if Westview is a place she created to cope with that trauma — or even if it’s a place someone else created, but where her powers can’t be wholly controlled by outsiders — then it makes sense that those two men would begin to blur together.
As Geraldine comes flying out of a portal in the sky, we hear “Daydream Believer” by The Monkees — a band that was created entirely for the purposes of a Sixties sitcom. The Monkees wound up having artistic life outside of their NBC show, becoming a real band that fought to take control over their music in a way no one expected when Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork were assembled as a pre-fab foursome. That sequence easily could have been accompanied by one of the songs the Brady kids performed in their show’s later seasons, or perhaps something from its early Seventies peer The Partridge Family. Going with The Monkees instead implies that Wanda may soon be seizing control over whatever is happening — or that what we’re seeing is the result of her already doing exactly that. Either way, it’s good to have the story finally moving, and to see the series step confidently into a different era of television.