I clearly remember the first time I saw The Prisoner episode, “Living In Harmony.” The classic, world-building intro is gone and the story immediately begins with star Patrick McGoohan, dressed like a cowboy, riding a horse somewhere in the American West. I was intrigued, then increasingly frustrated, as it seemed liked the narrative would never return to what I’d expected. Indeed, all the standard trappings of the series—The Village, the spy vs. spy plots—were absent until the episode’s shocking climax, which remains one of my favorite moments in the entire series.
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“Living In Harmony” loomed large in my mind as I watched WandaVision’s fourth episode, “We Interrupt This Program.” After three installments spent in an alternate genre, the series returns, with a wallop, to the Marvel Cinematic Universe proper.
“We Interrupt This Program” is arguably a “safer” first episode of WandaVision than “Filmed Before A Live Studio Audience.” It opens with Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) materializing inside a hospital during the events of Avengers: Endgame. She was among the unfortunate half of the planet’s (well, universe’s) lifeforms that Thanos erased from existence. Her mother, Maria, survived “the snap” only to die during the five years Monica was gone. Endgame didn’t cheat viewers with a tidy, happily ever after. Millions of lives were restored but left forever traumatized. A frantic doctor tells Monica, “I have to call my wife,” and you can’t help but wish she was also lost in the “Blip.” Yet, there’s an equal chance that he’ll discover she was left behind and understandably moved on without him.
Monica attempts to pick up where she left off, reporting for duty at S.W.O.R.D. headquarters. Her badge doesn’t work anymore, and the jerkass security guard gives her grief as if he hasn’t watched the news for the past three weeks. She meets Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg), who fell into the role of S.W.O.R.D. acting director after everyone else vanished. (Maybe it’s all the old sitcom homages but this immediately reminded me of how Harry Stone became a judge on Night Court.) Hayward, while unsettlingly nice, has nothing but bad news for Monica: The former astronaut is grounded, and her first mission back is to chaperone a S.W.O.R.D. drone the FBI has requested for a seemingly routine missing persons case.
When Monica arrives in Westview, New Jersey, she meets FBI Special Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park, last seen in Ant-Man And The Wasp). Jimmy had stashed a witness in Westview, but not only has the witness disappeared, none of his friends or family remember he ever existed. Jimmy introduces Monica to the local police who insist that there is no Westview. They go so far as to claim they’re from “Eastview.” We’ve gone from The Brady Bunch to The X-Files in just one week.
Monica sends the S.W.O.R.D. drone into Westview, which vanishes in the energy field surrounding the town. (We later learn that it’s the “toy copter” Wanda discovered in her front yard during “Don’t Touch That Dial.”) It’s mroe than a little ridiculous that Captain Monica Rambeau, who is highly trained and seemingly in possession of all her faculties, would examine a mysterious energy field with her bare-ass hand. I don’t like when smart characters suddenly act stupidly because that’s what the script demands, but when I watched the scene again, it seemed like she was drawn to the field—to Westview itself—in a way Jimmy was not. Monica’s living with a fresh trauma, attempting to bury her loss in her work when she couldn’t bury her own mother. Perhaps whatever is happening in Westview latched on to her grief and transported her to a more pleasant alternate reality.
Parris has been a joy to watch as Monica, but before I have a chance to miss her, the series reintroduces Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Darcy stole the show in Thor and its sequel, Thor: The Dark World, and her dramatic kleptomania remains intact. She owns the episode from here on out. I love how she cuts through the government’s “highly classified” BS. Before she’s even had a cup of coffee, Darcy has identified a “colossal amount of CMBR [cosmic microwave background radiation]” coming from Westview. Because she’s a frickin’ genius, Darcy locates a broadcast frequency emitted within the CMBR. She asks for a TV—“an old one; like, not flat”—and soon she’s watching WandaVision, just like the rest of us.
“Living In Harmony” is one of my favorite Prisoner episodes because it benefits the most from repeated viewing, as you pick up on subtle clues to what’s actually happening. For instance, the usual intro was there all along, just refashioned for the western format, and the conflict at the heart of the show—the individual versus society—was never presented more movingly. The same is true of WandaVision. The first three episodes were more than just an extended Saturday Night Live sketch. This has always been a show about a woman coping with unimaginable trauma. The series presented a mystery that played fair with its audience.
The X-Files often delayed and outright avoided providing answers to the questions it raised. WandaVision doesn’t leave us hanging, while ramping up the suspense. Darcy and Jimmy identify the “cast” of WandaVision as actual Westview residents: Mr. and Mrs. Hart are Todd and Sharon Davis (Fred Melamed and Debra Jo Rupp). Abhilash Tandon is Norm (Asif Ali). Harold Copter is Phil Jones (David Lengel). Isabel Matsueida is Beverly (Jolene Purdy), and John Collins is Herb (David Payton). Noticeably absent are Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) and Dottie (Emma Caulfield Ford). The obvious conclusion is that neither woman exists in the real world. Agnes is the first person Wanda meets in Westview and she pointedly tells her that Dottie is the “key to everything in this town.” The creepiness surrounding both of them has only increased.
“We Interrupt This Program” dispels any doubt about Wanda’s involvement in the Westview anomaly. We clearly see Wanda exile Monica from her perfect world. It’s simultaneously disturbing and cartoonish as Monica flies through several houses and across the town before exiting the barrier. There’s no way she could’ve survived this, yet she does. Westview must not exist in a literal physical space.
Bolstering my theory that Westview’s sitcom reality is a product of Wanda’s traumatized mind is the eerie moment when Vision (Paul Bettany) returns after Monica’s been thrown out of town. Wanda briefly sees his deceased face from Infinity War. She gasps in horror, as did I. His gruesome, tragic death hits even harder after seeing a funny, lovable Vision over the past three episodes. Vision declares that they don’t have to stay in Westview. They could go wherever they want. Wanda breaks our hearts when she says, “No, we can’t. This is our home,” but she’s also terrifying as she assures Vision that she “has everything under control.”
Outside Westview, a stunned Monica agrees: “It’s Wanda,” she tells Darcy and Jimmy. “It’s all Wanda.” But did the Scarlet Witch have help from an even greater power? Tune in next week.
- It’s almost cliche to suspect the new boss, but Hayward is either reckless or stupid. Jimmy warns him that there’s no reason to suspect the energy barrier doesn’t extend beneath the surface of the town, but he still sends the poor “beekeeper” to what looks like his death. Unlike Monica, he never returns to our world.
- Jimmy is also curious about all the hexagons. It’s a little on the nose but I think it’s an allusion to the Scarlet Witch’s comic book “hex” powers.
- Darcy and Jimmy genuinely enjoying watching WandaVision, which is adorably in character for both of them.
- Darcy was the unseen person watching WandaVision at the end of “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience.” Jimmy and Darcy tried to contact Wanda through Dottie’s radio in “Don’t Touch That Dial.”
- When Monica meets Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) in “Don’t Touch That Dial,” she hesitates when introducing herself, as if she’s coming up with “Geraldine” on the spot. There are other moments in “Now In Color” where Monica seems to resist Westview’s effects.
- Westview’s population is 3,892 people. It’s definitely a small town, but there’s no reason why the residents should suspect “Geraldine” doesn’t actually live there.
- The neighborhood watch group was clearly uncomfortable when Vision showed up for their meeting in “Don’t Touch That Dial.” I wonder if they can sense something is “wrong” about him.
- It seems weird that Jimmy doesn’t identify his missing witness among the “cast” of WandaVision.
- Women are the driving force of this show, and that’s awesome.
- I’m obviously a Prisoner fan, and the “Once Upon A Village” podcast has proven fun quarantine listening.