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  • Joel Ryan

It's Okay to be Weird: You Just Have to Earn It: "Wandavision" Reactions and Writing Takeaways


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

Let me be clear. I have never been a diehard comic book fan, nor do I worship Kevin Feige or the powers that be at Marvel Studios or Disney. And I certainly have no problem being critical of bad writing.


I appreciate good storytelling and patient storytellers who aren’t afraid to take risks, put their characters first, and reward fans for their investment. For the most part, I believe Marvel Studios has done an effective job in all three areas.


This leads me to Marvel Studios’ newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first foray into the world of streaming media:


Wandavision


SPOILERS AHEAD


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 put that word in quotation marks) in the Avengers.


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


Unfortunately, as we all know, the road to hell is often paved with the best intentions; and most attempts at trying to become the god of our own universe do end in disaster. The same is true for Wanda Maximoff.

To no one’s surprise, Wanda’s simulation of reality has severe consequences on the real citizens of Westview trapped as characters in her “perfect” American sitcom.

I emphasize the word simulation here because that is exactly what Wandavision is. A simulation of reality, not reality itself. And to anyone who wants to argue that we "create" our own reality, I'd point to the chaos of Wanda's controlling ideology as a cautionary tale to that kind of thinking.

For this reason, Wanda's vision, along with her struggle to come to terms with her own loss and grief, threaten to make Wanda the villain of her own story, which she certainly becomes.


At its core, Wandavision is weird, deeply philosophical, dark, and at times wonderful.


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


Trust Has to be Earned


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


While some (myself among them) were entertained by the often campy, trope-inspired Wandavision-best-of-sitcom format, 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 in Ironman 2.


Director Matt Shakman and the writing team, led by showrunner Jac Schaeffer, however, did what many storytellers forget or fail to do altogether. They returned their audience’s investment in the oddity of Wandavision’s sitcom format like payments in the form of answers and small reveals. For some, those answers came too late.


As an audience, we do want to know what’s inside the mystery box, and it’s up to the magician to determine when it’s the right time to pull the rabbit from the hat. For some, Episode 3 was too late. For others, myself among them, trust had been built to keep me on board.


In many ways, the writers of Wandavision were always the Wanda Maximoff of their own story. But this is true for all storytellers, who must shape the world for their characters to inhabit and choose what parts of that world they want to broadcast or edit out.


Now it’s doubtful that Marvel could have pulled off something as experimental as Wandavision in the first few phases of the MCU. But twenty films and a universe of established heroes and villains 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, credibility, and respect for both their story and audience have afforded Marvel Studios and their showrunners the opportunity to try new things and take bigger risks.


The takeaway here is, it’s okay to be weird; something you just have to earn.

Spectacle or Character? How About Both?

Like Wanda Maximoff, the writers of Wandavision definitely weren’t afraid to bend and even break the rules and have fun doing it.

From each episode's sitcom-inspired theme song (written by Disney duo Robert and Kristen Andersen-Lopez), to the MANY easter eggs, sitcom tropes, and fan theories Wandavision embraces its own oddity while still keeping ties to the past and future of the MCU.

In the past, Marvel Studios has been accused of being formulaic with their feature films. It’s also not a stretch to say that most MCU films thrive on big budget spectacle.


However, with multiple miniseries in the works, not only have they given themselves more time and space to explore more intricate storylines and go deeper into individual supporting character's 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.

Of course, any proof we needed that Wandavision was going to be wildly different than anything we had seen before can be found in the genre description in the Disney+ menu.


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


That’s a lot of genres to be combining into one, but if there’s one character perfectly situated to handle it, it’s Wanda Maximoff.


Hero or Villain?

Because previous storylines involving Wanda in the MCU tended to focus 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.


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


However, the scope of her power has always been subdued, in part, because Wanda and the Avengers have always tried to keep it under control.


Since her parents' death, Wanda has always tried to blend in, keep her powers in check, and have a normal life because she wants to do the right thing and find a family to replace the one she's lost.


But what happens when you take all that away? How much trauma can one person endure before they begin to crack? How much “restraint” or control will Wanda have when she has nothing left to fight for, no home to go back to, and no one to provide moral guidance and direction?


-Tony Stark’s weapons took her parents.

-Hydra took her freedom.

-Ultron took her brother.

-Thanos took the love of her life… twice!

-Clint Barton (Hawkeye), a former mentor, has retired.

-Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no longer the moral compass and leader of The Avengers.

And now there are others eager to manipulate her power for personal gain. Enter Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn).


Just because our "heroes" are part of the Avengers doesn’t mean they always act like heroes. They make mistakes, struggle, grieve, and occasionally lose their way.

Unfortunately, Wanda's grief goes far beyond just self-harm. Her attempts at controlling her reality prove that she is actually not in control at all. Wanda's “chaos magic” dramatically affects others and not for the better.


As her control of her reality begins to slip, her lapses become even more frightening, reminiscent of the kind of world unraveling found in similar distorted realities like Get Out, The Truman Show, and at times even Pleasantville.

A Much Darker Universe


There's also the question of Wandavision's treatment of witchcraft and the occult.


Marvel Studios had previously tried to limit Wanda's power to her telekinetic abilities and connection to the Mind Stone. The MCU, thus far, has focused on Wanda Maximoff, not the Scarlett Witch.

Now that we've entered a post-Endgame world without Steve Rogers or Tony Stark to keep us on the ground, I fear the gloves are off when it comes to the darker, more mystical dabblings of the MCU.

We'll know if this is the road Wanda Maximoff goes down when Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is released next year.

Wandavision might have worked just as well, if not better, without the later episodes and descent into darker subject matter. There's enough substance in Wanda's reality bending simulation, supporting cast, and the relationship between Wanda and Vision to keep the story move than alive and interesting.

And yet, later episodes aside, I do believe Marvel Studios took full advantage of the time they had to explore Wanda’s character 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, 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 spectacular for the small screen.

Of course, numerous fan theories involving an MCU multiverse, Quicksilver's return, X-Men crossovers, Mephisto, and a Dr. Strange cameo never came to fruition... but they didn’t need to. The series has enough mystery and dare I say heart-wrenching moments to hold its own.


Like all MCU stories, Wandavision still foreshadows future storylines and characters for the MCU, including Wanda’s inevitable encounter with the Sorcerer Supreme (Dr. Strange), Monica Rambeau’s future in The Marvels, Loki's multiverse, and the return of Vision in some capacity.


Wanda Maximoff may not be a clean-cut-hero. She may not be a hero at all. She's a troubled child who's been manipulated and cast aside her entire life. In many ways she's still figuring out her power and battling her own fear. Unfortunately, that might not be the best thing for anyone involved, including Wanda.


Will Wanda be held accountable for all she's done to the poor people of Westview? It's hard to know, but one thing is for certain, the Scarlet Witch should be a major force in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whether that force is good or bad remains to be seen, though after Wandavision, I'm sensing a much darker future is in store for Wanda Maximoff.


Will we get a second season? Probably not. This might be a one-off series, impossible-to-repeat, and that’s probably for the best. But while Wanda may have had to say goodbye to Vision… again, let’s hope that the success of Wandavision and development of these characters give us all the chance to say hello once more.


We'll see where things go from here. I’d expect to see more from Wanda Maximoff when Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness hits theaters next year. I’ll be there to cover it when it does.

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Now get back to writing!

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