As expected, the more time WandaVision spends outside of its alternate-reality bubble, and gets back to advancing the ongoing storyline of the MCU, the less it feels like something completely new and unexpected.
To be clear: it’s still an outstanding show. Its shifts between realities, characters, and modes of storytelling are all excellently paced and executed. Even as it gets closer to providing more of the action-movie moments that MCU fans expect from a tentpole, big-budget TV series, those moments are tense and memorable.
Except those moments work like the rest of the MCU does, while the series up until now has felt like something different. In particular, they left me with the feeling that I was perfectly in sync with what was happening on screen, without having to suspend my disbelief about anything. That sounds odd, considering it’s a show about alternate reality bubbles and super heroes and synthezoids with powers gifted to them via the infinity stones, but I’m talking about suspending my disbelief in the show itself, not its content.
For instance: now, I’m back to second-guessing not just the motives of certain characters, but second-guessing whether I’m supposed to be second-guessing them. I mean, everybody could tell SWORD director guy was suspicious, and they even have our most sympathetic characters call it out. But now I can’t tell if the show itself was trying to hide it. It seems like a missed opportunity for a little bit more depth in a series that’s otherwise been able to give sitcom-style conflicts an underlying tension and dread unlike anything we’ve seen before. There was potential to set up a more interesting relationship between the director and Our Heroes, but instead they just seem to be repeating story beats from Captain America: Civil War.
But there were two moments in this episode that worked brilliantly, a reminder that this series is doing more to push the limits of conventional storytelling not just past what we’ve seen in the rest of the MCU, but in television as a whole. Neither of them are the “big spoiler moments” of the episode — or the amazing pictures of Vision over the opening credits — but they are spoiler-adjacent, so I’d recommend not reading on until you’ve seen all five episodes.
The first was near the beginning of the episode, when Agnes breaks character and asks Wanda if they’re going to do a second take. Vision has just objected to the idea of letting Agnes babysit, and it becomes clear that until now, Wanda has been rewinding time or altering reality when things haven’t gone her way.
Second was towards the end of the episode, when Wanda tried to roll end credits to get out of an argument, and the credits continued playing over crucial dialogue.
I love both of these moments for the same reason: I was surprised how deeply uncomfortable they made me. Which, I believe, is exactly how it was intended to work. They’re the perfect example of feeling like I’m in sync with the show. Pointing a missile at Wanda and her children and yelling “take the shot!” while dramatic music plays? Staging a stand-off with a dozen sniper rifle laser targets ready to make a killing shot? Barely registered with me. But disrupting and subverting the natural rhythm of well-known sitcoms? They had my heart racing and had me wanting to crawl out of my own skin.
That suggests that WandaVision has used its own format to swap realities: the deliberately over-the-top and artificial, self-referential TV reality hits me 0n a personal level and feels more directly relatable than the moments set in the “real” world of the MCU. The meta-text isn’t distancing, but somehow makes it more real. I’ve never been in a stand-off against a super-hero or a group of special forces snipers, but I intimately know what it feels like to have a conversation go awkwardly dead and left cringingly wondering how to revive it. And I completely know what it feels like to be so eager for an argument to be over that I’d do just about anything to escape it.
This episode was confirmation for me that WandaVision is using its format as more than just a stylistic stunt. The thing that makes me a little uneasy as a fan is wondering whether it’ll leave everything else in the MCU feeling smaller and simpler as a result.