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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

WandaVision’s premiere is a bewitching journey into sitcom history—and Marvel’s TV future

WandaVision
WandaVision
Photo: Disney+
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The Vision (Paul Bettany) is dead. We all saw him die in Avengers: Infinity War. Sure, half the universe died in that film, but Vision’s death was, tragically, permanent. He was killed twice in fact, and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), the woman he loved, was responsible for the first one. But the happy couple seems to have moved past all that in the series premiere of WandaVision, the first of several planned Marvel TV shows, now streaming on Disney Plus.

In the first episode, newlyweds Wanda and Vision have settled in suburban Westview. They’re living the American dream, and there’s an intriguing dream-like quality to the show. Wanda and Vision are the stars of what, on the surface, looks like a 1950s TV sitcom, complete with an obvious laugh track.

The canned laughter isn’t necessary because series creator Jac Schaeffer delivers a damn good sitcom that presses all my adolescent, Nick at Nite- viewing buttons. WandaVision lovingly homages classic sitcoms such as The Donna Reed Show and Bewitched. There’s even a nod to The Dick Van Dyke Show when Vision almost trips over misplaced furniture in the intro. Stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are adorable, and they quickly settle into the episode’s comedic conflict: The current date is marked on their kitchen calendar with a heart, but for the life of them (including the Vision, who is both dead and boasts a perfect memory), they can’t recall the day’s significance.

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Vision is soon off to work like a good breadwinner, remembering to disguise his inhuman features. Bettany is spot-on as the frazzled sitcom husband. Vision’s computer mind makes him a whiz at his job—whatever it is. He has no idea, nor does his coworker. This is a funny jibe at the vagueness of the jobs of most sitcom dads, who wore a suit and tie to an indistinct office and worried about “reports” and “accounts.” But it was never clear what the company actually produced or sold.

Vision’s boss, Mr. Hart (Fred Melamed), reminds him that he’s coming over for dinner later. Presumably, that’s the meaning of the heart on the calendar, but Wanda and Vision aren’t prepared to host the Harts. Screwing up this dinner could cost Vision a promotion or even his job. Meanwhile, Wanda has met her neighbor “to the right,” Agnes, who is decidedly “wacky.” Kathryn Hahn is a delight who elevates every scene that features her. Agnes and Wanda have determined that the heart refers to Wanda and Vision’s anniversary, so Wanda plans a romantic dinner for two. When the Harts arrive with Vision, the house is dimly lit and Wanda is dressed provocatively. This is not going well.

Vision explains away Wanda’s odd behavior as customs from her homeland of Sokovia. She’s European, which Mrs. Hart (Debra Jo Rupp) claims is “exotic” because this is the 1950s. While on the run after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Wanda dropped her heavy Eastern European accent, but now she sounds like Mrs. Middle America. Vision, however, still speaks the Queen’s English. It’s obvious by now that whatever’s going on, Wanda has changed the most. For instance, she has overtly magical powers. This was the case in the comics, but not the films where her abilities were variations on telekinesis and hurling some kind of projectiles. The Scarlet Witch in the comics could manipulate reality itself. Is this what we’re seeing?

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Photo: Disney+

The Harts ask their hosts mundane questions about their pasts, and tension builds as it becomes clear they can’t answer. The mood shifts from Sherwood Schwartz to David Lynch when Mr. Hart starts to choke at the table while Mrs. Hart, whose smile remains eerily frozen, demands that her husband “Stop it!” Wanda calmly asks Vision to help Mr. Hart, who’s now collapsed and at the point of death. He’s happy to comply, phasing his hand into his boss’s throat and removing the offending item. The Harts apparently consider any dinner party you can walk away from a successful one because Vision is still on track for his promotion.

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Once the Harts leave, Wanda and Vision, snuggling on the couch, declare the day the “anniversary” of surviving their first dinner party. Wanda whips up wedding rings for each of them and they kiss as the credits roll. But the credits aren’t real, and it’s revealed that someone, in a non-black-and-white sitcom reality, is observing these events.

Episode 2,” written by Gretchen Enders, opens with a cute pre-credits sequence that further highlights Olsen and Bettany’s comic timing and chemistry. There’s also a neat Bewitched-style cartoon opening. Wanda and Vision are rehearsing a magic act for the town’s upcoming talent show. They think this will help them “fit in” at Westview. Wanda leaves the house later and finds a toy helicopter in the bushes. No biggie, right? Wrong: the helicopter is in color, a deep, bright red. Suddenly, Agnes arrives, declaring Wanda “the star of the show.” She’s loaning Wanda her pet rabbit, Señor Scratchy, for Wanda and Vision’s magic act. Señor Scratchy’s credits include playing Baby Jesus in last year’s Christmas pageant.

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Agnes takes Wanda to meet the neighborhood queen bee Dottie, who’s played by Emma Caulfield (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) because God loves us and wants us to be happy after a tough year. Dottie’s a bouffant nightmare who everyone is desperate to impress. She’s organizing the town talent show, the big fundraiser for Westview Elementary. She repeats the phrase “for the children” like a mantra. Vision joins the neighborhood watch group, eager to determine the source of the strange noises from the previous night. He’s a hit with the guys, but Wanda is less successful with Dottie, who has “heard things” about her and Vision. Wanda insists that she doesn’t mean anyone any harm, but Dottie doesn’t believe her. “Help Me, Rhonda” is playing on Dottie’s radio but it starts to break up, and a man is heard asking, “Wanda, can you hear me?” and “Who is doing this to you, Wanda?”

What was once just strange is now officially unsettling. What has happened to Wanda? The glass in Dottie’s hand shatters, and the blood on her palm is as red as the toy helicopter, another intrusion of color in this black-and-white reality. Dottie makes a joke and leaves. The talent show must go on.

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Vision swallowed chewing gum at the neighborhood watch meeting, which compromised his operating system or, you could say, “gummed up” his works. He shows up for their magic act late and seemingly drunk off his metal ass. I’ve probably seen countless versions of this plot but I still love it. “Drunk” Vision explains that he and Wanda are going to lie to the audience but they’ll buy the couple’s deceptions because “human beings are easily fooled due to their limited understanding of the inner workings of the universe.” And he’s right, you know. The magic show is a disaster, but if you’ve ever watched a classic sitcom, you’d correctly predict that the audience finds Wanda and Vision hilarious. Even Dottie’s a fan of their act. Bettany and Olsen kill this scene with some masterful physical comedy. These two were grimly fighting aliens the last time we saw them, and now they’re effortlessly busting guts.

When Wanda and Vision return home triumphant, successful in their attempt to “fit in,” they reveal one last trick: Wanda’s visibly pregnant now. “Is this really happening?” she asks, and Vision assures her it is before that strange noise returns. They go outside to investigate and discover someone in a beekeeper’s outfit emerging from a manhole cover in the street. Vision is alarmed, but Wanda forcefully says, “No,” and time reverses to the happy moment when they learned they were parents to be. They kiss and Vision’s face is now red, as well. Soon, the entire house and Wanda herself are in full color. The man’s voice from before asks again, “Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?” But it seems like Wanda is the one in control.

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Stray observations

  • Red as the color that breaks through the black-and-white reality reminds me of similar moments in Schindler’s List. It also references Wanda’s codename from the comics, the Scarlet Witch. When the show switches to color, Wanda is dressed entirely in red, similar to her comic book counterpart.
  • Wanda had an equally improbable pregnancy in the comics, which produced twin boys named Thomas and William.
  • Reviews have speculated that Kathryn Hahn is playing the MCU’s version of Agatha Harkness, but they describe Harkness as a villain. That’s a little unfair. In the comics, she was Wanda’s friend and confidante, just as we see here.
  • There’s a recurring gag about how Vision doesn’t eat. This could just reflect his synthetic nature, but it might also serve as a subtle reminder that he’s not actually alive.
  • The Beach Boys released “Help Me, Rhonda” in 1965. This fits my theory that the first two episodes are set in the early to mid-1960s, which everyone confuses with the 1950s. It’s a pet peeve of mine. Wanda, Agnes, and Dottie’s hair and wardrobe are clearly post-Jackie Kennedy.
  • The commercial “break” in each episode offer some Easter Egg clues. The toaster advertised in episode one is from Stark Industries, and the watch promoted in episode two is a “Strucker.” Tony Stark and Baron Strucker played key roles in Wanda’s life.
  • Schaeffer previously worked with Caulfield in the sci-fi rom com, Timer. Go watch it.
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