• Joel Ryan

Weird and Oddly Wonderful: "Wandavision" Reactions and Takeaways

Updated: a day ago


Anyone who knows me or has read my work over the last couple of years will probably tell you that I have become a fairly outspoken fan of most things coming out of Marvel Studios these days… most things.


Let me be clear. I am not a diehard comic book fan by any means. I don’t worship Kevin Feige. And I have no problem being critical of bad writing from the people entrusted with telling these stories and bringing these characters to life.


I simply appreciate impactful storytelling, competent, patient storytellers, and great writing that manages character and world-building effectively.

Like any culture, our heroes, whether real or fictional, reveal something about the things we value and choose to pass on to future generations. They create the culture as much as they help define it.


Comic books and costumed superheroes have become a much bigger part of our modern mythology than we probably realize.


What Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel Studios have created in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is arguably one of the most important chapters still being written in the history of cinema, not to mention pop culture, and yes, what happens in pop culture does inevitably influence what becomes public policy.


This leads me to Marvel Studios’ newest phase and the next chapter in the MCU:


Wandavision


SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t seen Wandavision on Disney+ and don’t want any story details spoiled, turn away now. Though if I could borrow some of Wanda’s power to “persuade” you to like, subscribe, comment, or share this post when you’re done, I might be willing to don the scarlet cape and crown to do so. All in good time I suppose. Let’s keep going.


The nine-episode MCU/Disney+ series that premiered on Disney plus earlier this year and concluded last week, follows the events of Avengers: Endgame by taking us into the mind-bending, reality-warping world of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), arguably one of the weirdest and most powerful "heroes" (I use that word in quotation marks) in the Avengers lineup. And, yes, the debate over who’s the most the powerful Avenger is discussed in the series. Thank you, Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Agent Woo (Randall Park), who I might add, are perfect additions to this already eclectic cast.


As the rest of the world recovers from the cataclysmic events of the Infinity War and multiple “Snaps”, Wanda also struggles to work through her own recent (and past) trauma, loss, and grief, using her power to construct an alternate reality in the style of her favorite sitcoms, in which she can finally have a normal, ideal life with Vision (Paul Bettany) she’s always wanted.


But, as we now know, the road to hell is often paved with the best intentions, and Wanda’s twisted version/vision of reality that she controls with a scarlet fist has dire consequences for those trapped as characters in her “perfect” American sitcom. Though I'm pretty sure she's the only one who feels it's actually perfect.


These events, along with Wanda’s inability to let go, threaten to make Wanda the villain of her own story, which she quickly becomes.


But now to my confession of the day.


When Disney and Marvel Studios announced that Wandavision would be one of their first series coming to Disney+, I couldn’t have been the only one who wondered if this series was going to be ridiculous or amazing.


We'd heard for years about the potential of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, and maybe even Loki getting their own Disney+ series, but Wanda and Vision in their own through-the-decades-sitcom? How was that going to work, especially given Vision’s un "timely" demise in Avengers: Infinity War? Would MCU fans be willing to explore the more magical, mystical storylines of the comics and follow some of the weirder characters into the depths of the MCU without Steve Rogers and Tony Stark to lead the way and keep things grounded?


I can now admit that Wandavision is weird, deeply philosophical in places, often creepy, but oddly wonderful all at the same time.


As Marvel Studios’ first foray into the world of streaming, Feige and company have proven, at least for now, that, in the right hands, there is a multiverse of exciting new stories to be told, worlds to explore, and interesting characters to develop in the post-Cap/Ironman world of the MCU.


You don't always have to play by all the previous rules of the MCU, though you should still respect and acknowledge what has worked in the past. You can try new things and be rewarded when it works.


So whether you are a casual fan, a comic book aficionado, or just a committed storyteller developing your craft, here are my initial reactions and takeaways from Wandavision.


Trust Has to be Earned


Unfortunately, it took a total of two whole episodes for Wandavision viewers, like everything else in life it seems, to become intensely (and vocally) divided about the series.


While some (myself among them) were entertained by the campy, trope-inspired Wandavision-best-of-sitcom, others quickly decried Wandavision as the dumbest series on Disney+ and worst thing to come out of the MCU since Mickey Rourke slapped on a bunch of prison tattoos and a bad Russian accent in Ironman 2. By the way, if you haven’t already checked out my recap and analysis of Ironman 2, you can do so here.


Sadly, what many in this group struggled to accept (perhaps understandably), and I do believe it was a minority of Wandavision viewers, is that it was only a matter of time before the writers paid off what they were setting up. It just came a few episodes in.


Director Matt Shakman and the writing team, led by showrunner Jac Schaeffer, did what many storytellers forget or fail to do altogether. They made a promise to their audience and didn’t wait until the final episode to keep it. They returned their audience’s investment in the oddity of Wandavision’s premise and magic like payments in the form of answers and small reveals and gave us just enough to keep us coming back for more.


As an audience, we do want to know what’s inside the mystery box, and it’s up to the magician to determine when is the proper time to pull the rabbit from the hat.


In many ways, the writers of Wandavision were always the Wanda Maximoff of their own story. How meta!


But this is true for all storytellers, who must also shape the world for their characters to inhabit and choose what parts of that world they want to broadcast for their viewers.


How controlling or tyrannical they become is up to them, though I always hope they are more benevolent with their characters and audience than Wanda was with the citizens of Westview.


Now it’s doubtful that Marvel could have pulled off something as unique and downright weird as Wandavision in the first few phases of the MCU. But twenty films, a universe of established heroes and villains, and the triumph of the Infinity Saga later, and they’ve earned enough trust to push the boundaries of our disbelief just a little bit more.


Whether you love Wandavision or hate it, patience and respect for both the story and audience have afforded Marvel Studios and showrunners the opportunity to take bigger risks.


In this instance, the mysteries of Wandavision’s world unravel more than they unfold. Sometimes we know more than the characters; sometimes the characters know more than us. This is the case with Wanda Maximoff. However, the one person who we have to trust knows what’s going on and is in full control is the storyteller.


Spectacle or Character? How About Both?


Like Wanda Maximoff, Jac Schaeffer, Adam Shakman, Kevin Feige, and the writers definitely weren’t afraid to bend and even break the rules with each episode of Wandavision and have fun doing it.


From each episode's unique sitcom-inspired theme song written by Disney duo Robert and Kristen Andersen-Lopez, to the MANY easter eggs, sitcom tropes, and fan theories sparked by numerous plot twists, lines of dialogue, and character arrivals, Wandavision embraces its own oddity while still keeping ties to the past and future of the MCU. Heck, they even decided to shoot the first few episodes in front of a live studio audience to stay true to form and because, well, why not?


In the past, Marvel Studios has been accused of being too formulaic with their feature films. It’s also not a stretch to say that most MCU films thrive on big budget spectacle. And I don't think that's a bad thing.


However, with multiple miniseries in the works, not only have they given themselves more time and space to explore even more intricate storylines and go deeper into individual character arcs, something that’s really hard to do with the ensemble nature of the bigger Avengers team ups, they now have the freedom to test the waters, invite new creative vision into the room, and see how far down the rabbit hole they and their viewers are willing to go.


The MCU is always at its best when it allows its storytellers to play with universal themes, new but well-defined worlds, and genre-blending storylines. There’s a reason why Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are some of the most consistent fan favorites.


Any proof we needed that Wandavision was going to be wildly different that anything we had seen before and, in a way, the MCU’s own experiment with the mystical and magical can be found in the genre description for the show in the Disney+ menu.


Romance, Mystery, Drama, Science Fiction, Superhero, Sitcom


That’s a lot of genres to be combining into one series, and there are even more we could probably add, but if there’s one character perfectly situated to handle it, it’s Wanda Maximoff.


Because the later storylines involving Wanda in the MCU are often brief and focused more on Wanda’s telekinetic powers, it’s easy to forget that Wanda Maximoff was first introduced as an antagonist to The Avengers with her mind-meddling, reality-distorting abilities in Avengers: Age of Ultron.


Have we already forgotten how thoroughly Wanda tore the Avengers apart with just a sprinkle of magic and a flick of her fingers?


That power, unfortunately for the citizens of Westview, reaches new levels in Wandavision.


Wanda Maximoff is a remarkably powerful and often disturbed individual, and we get further clues about the true source of her power in Wandavision (Hint: it wasn’t just the Mind Stone that gave rise to the Scarlet Witch).


Regardless, the scope of her power has always been subdued, in part, because Wanda has always tried to keep it under control. It was also Wanda’s power that caused enough collateral damage to prompt the Avengers-splitting Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War. Now will she be held accountable for her actions in Wandavision, which many would argue are markedly worse? We'll have to wait and see.


Wanda has always wanted to blend in, keep her powers in check, and have a normal life because she wants to do the right thing and be part of something. But what happens when you take all that away? How much trauma can one person take before they begin to crack? How much “restraint” or control can Wanda have when she has nothing left to fight for, no home to go back to, and no one to guide or comfort her in her grief?


-Tony Stark’s weapons took her parents.

-Hydra took her freedom.

-Ultron took her brother.

-Thanos took the love of her life… twice!


And now there are others wanting take her power for their own. Enter Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn). And yes, it was Agatha all along.


But just because our heroes are part of the Avengers doesn’t mean they don’t also struggle, grieve, or occasionally lose their way.


From Thor’s compulsive eating to Hawkeye’s turn as Ronin, every Avenger has reacted to the traumatic events of the MCU in their own way. Wanda has hers in Wandavision.


Unfortunately, her grief goes far beyond self-harm.


Wanda's “chaos magic” expands to negatively impact others in the world she has created. And as her control of her reality begins to slip, her lapses become even more frightening, reminiscent of the kind of world unraveling found in similarly haunting movies like Get Out, The Truman Show, and even Pleasantville at times.


In the end, Marvel Studios took full advantage of the time they had to explore Wanda’s backstory and emotions that we haven’t always seen in previous films. This has always been a strength of narrative television, and now with modern television and streaming services gaining the budget and resources to rival most theatrical releases (which we all hope return in the near future), it’s probable that we’ve entered a new era of storytelling in which cinematic spectacle and strong character writing can be combined to create something truly special for the small screen.


Of course, numerous fan theories involving an MCU multiverse, Pietro’s return, X-Men crossovers, Mephisto, and a Dr. Strange cameo never came to fruition, but it didn’t really matter. We didn’t need them because Wandavision had enough magic, mystery, and dare I say heart-wrenching moments to hold its own.


Wandavision still sets up and foreshadows future storylines for the MCU, including Wanda’s inevitable encounter with the Sorcerer Supreme in Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Monica Rambeau’s future in Captain Marvel 2 and perhaps thee Secret Invasion, and the return of Vision in some capacity in the MCU. But at its core, Wandavision is proof of what can happen when great characters lead the way, great actors get cast in the right roles, and great storytellers respect the fans, the process, and the stories they are entrusted with.


Wanda Maximoff may not be a clean-cut-Captain-America hero. She's a troubled child who's been manipulated, feared, and cast aside her entire life. She's still figuring out her power and battling her own demons, much like Elsa in Frozen. That might not be the best thing either.


Good natured? Perhaps, but she is also deeply flawed, irresponsible, and selfish at times, to the detriment of herself and others.


Will Wanda be held accountable for all she's done to the poor people of Westview, who she imprisoned in her own twisted sitcom reality? It's hard to know, but one thing is for certain, The Scarlet Witch should be a major force in the future of the MCU. Whether that force is good or bad remains to be seen, though after Wandavision, I'm leaning more towards a darker future for Wanda Maximoff.


But in the end, my hat is off to Marvel Studios, Jac Schaeffer, Adam Shakman, and especially Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathyrn Hahn, and the rest of the incredible cast for their work in Wandavision.


It's a weird and sometimes wonderful first entry into the MCU world of streaming and the post-Endgame era of storytelling.


Will we get a second season? Probably not. This might be a one-off story and impossible-to-repeat format, and that’s probably for the best; but would I sit down to watch another miniseries involving Scarlet Witch and Vision? You better believe it.


Wanda may have had to say goodbye to Vision… again, but let’s hope that the success of Wandavision and development of these characters give us all the chance to say hello once more.

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