This article contains minor spoilers for WandaVision’s premise and the whole of Netflix’s Daredevil.
Marvel’s latest addition to their universe is the wonderfully wacky WandaVision, a Twilight zone esque spin on the classic American sitcom, featuring our wholesome superhero odd couple, Wanda and Vision.
Episodes are part of an anthology, where each episode we inhabit an old-timey sitcom aesthetic. The first three episodes are set like a 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s style sitcom respectively, jumping decades each episode. The story so far is that something isn’t quite right in this idyllic suburbia. Vision is supposed to be dead, the MCU isn’t supposed to be a sitcom. What the hell is going on?
Based on the trailer, it’s exactly what I thought it would be. A deceptive lure into sweet, homely American nostalgia, so that it could rip the tone from right out under me, and make my skin crawl with these off-beat, creepy moments. Somewhere in Maine, Stephen King received a royalty check for just that sentence.
This tone shift is executed brilliantly, and the potential of this concept is something I think about a lot. This Truman Show paranoia of “reality isn’t reality”. Compound that feeling with the comedy turned horror aspect from Get Out, and voila. They’ve rendered this David Lynch concept with the competency and high production value I’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios. Brilliant.
As of this writing, we’re only on episode four, but I’m beyond excited to watch it week by week and let my mind run wild with speculation. And then after that, I’ll be good. I’ll know what happens.
And I’ll be content never watching it again.
Granted, the Marvel properties have never been films that entice a re-watch because of their profound messages. Not to say that they’re vapid, just intended for mass appeal. The true definition of Popcorn Material.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a place for prestige and popcorn in our culture. Take me for example, I run a wanky film analysis podcast where we discuss philosophy and subtext. On the other hand, I’ve also seen every Marvel film at least twice, Infinity War at least 6 times, all of their ABC peripheral shows Agents of Shield and Agent Carter, and I’m currently close to finishing the entire Netflix Marvel library.
I love this shit, and I feel like it loves me back. The amount these shows and movies reward my investment, via references and connecting threads, is unlike anything else. The thrill of intertextual currency is cheap and easy, I know, but Marvel does it right. It’s in service of an ever-growing story, and you can see just how potent this intertextuality is when Thanos arrives and literally beats the quips out of the MCU. Infinity War has gravitas because of its prior context. Justice League and its ilk can only watch and imitate. I’ve never felt more symbiosis with a company than I have with Marvel Studios (or Kevin Fiege, who can say).
The mystery of WandaVision is absorbing. In episode four we finally get some answers about what the absolute hell is going on. Turns out Wanda has sealed off this remote town and its inhabitants in order to create a bubble sitcom reality, most likely to repress her trauma from losing Vision, twice. Which is fair enough, killing your boyfriend only to have him come back to receive a more brutal death would send anyone spiralling. To my enjoyment, but not to my surprise, it was exactly what I wanted. So why doesn’t it deserve a re-watch?
The story we watch is a sitcom. Just a plain old sitcom. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. You need the majority of the first few episodes to commit to that banal diegesis, in order to make those surreal, Lynchian, delusion breaking moments all the creepier.
It’s a beautiful experience the first time, but the mystery is the substance. And once that’s revealed, it has no more cards to show. And that’s a shame.
Mystery stories in general don’t have to be dependent on the twist, just look at Alan Moore’s Watchmen. The fact that Adrien Veidt is the mastermind behind the superhero killings doesn’t supplement the detective story at its forefront. What brings us back in the end is the nuance. Watching the puzzle unfold and the pieces fall into place is the joy, not the revelation. WandaVision is interesting, but it doesn’t make me pause.
Now compare WandaVision to another marvel show like …. Oh, let’s say…. Daredevil. Just as a random pick.
Now this goddamn masterpiece I’ve seen all three seasons twice, and I have to resist the urge every day not to start it over again. The show rivals the depth and complexity of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It’s an existential chess game played with bloody fisticuffs. After the ending, I needed time and contemplation to render the scope of Daredevil’s exploration. It’s deep, guys. Like, 3am stoner deep.
WandaVision on the other hand, I get it. I’ll tune in every week to see some familiar faces and cool VFX, but the only thing it makes me think about is … well this article, pretty much. It’s event TV, it’s comfortable.
I’m glad the MCU has this range of stories within its canon. I wouldn’t want WandaVision to be anything other than what it is. Popcorn material like WandaVision compliments the richness of deeper shows like Daredevil, and vice versa. The MCU in its entirety as a pastiche of tones and concepts is cool, if not a bit problematic.
Marvel has an obligation to
Disney the masses, I get it. I know plenty of people that love this stuff that wouldn’t like to see anything more difficult. Should we then, be content with the baby steps of Marvel ever slightly cracking the mould? It’s better than nothing, but far from ambitious, and that’s a safe line for Marvel to be straddling.
With some weird looking stuff on the horizon like that new Doctor Strange movie, and the possibility of the previous Spider-Men coming back into the fold, it’s a good time to be a Marvel fan, and a hopeful time to be a fan of good stories.
WandaVision is what it is. Our culture can aspire to more.