In this post, I’m making the argument that WandaVision is so brilliantly made that it’s made itself spoiler proof, but it’s a working theory, and I don’t want to take any unnecessary chances. Please don’t read it unless you’ve seen WandaVision Episode 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall.”
Choosing the One Thing I Love about the latest episode of WandaVision was easy, because it’s the bit I’ve watched about 10 times by now: the final “reveal.” Somehow it works in all the same ways that the usual intrigue-driven Mystery Story does… but is also not much of a surprise at all. What was revealed wasn’t as important as how it was revealed, and what it means for the series and the rest of the MCU.
My initial reaction was to think, “Of course, we already knew that.” But I quickly realized that I only knew because I’ve been watching all the “easter eggs” and “things you missed” videos after each episode. If I hadn’t, my reaction would’ve been “Who? Should I recognize that name?”
But not for long, because it was immediately followed by the sequence that almost instantly became one of my top 10 moments in any television series, ever. It’s more or less the culmination of the entire series: it uses its own format not only to advance the story but to comment on the story, it’s simultaneously diegetic1I’m guessing, based on the spell VFX and non-diegetic, it’s simultaneously hilarious and creepy, and it re-re-contextualizes everything in the series so far. All in about a minute, and all set to Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s riff on “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family” themes.2They’re not credited explicitly for that song, but I’m guessing it’s them because of how it uses the word “perfidious.” 3Actually, I’m mistaken, and they are credited at the very end. Also: Kathryn Hahn sang the lead in the “It Was ____ All Along” song, which is amazing.
And then: “And I killed Sparky, too!” Just absolutely brilliant.
On Twitter, Glen Weldon said that Kathryn Hahn deserved an Emmy (and a Peabody and a Nobel) for best mugging to the camera, but I seriously believe that she somehow goes through the entire arc of the series with just her facial expressions.
It goes from mock surprise — can you even believe this shocking reveal?! — to campy villainy, through all the decades magically pulling the strings, up to the current episode, in which she seems to be saying “all right, everybody gets it by now, let’s wrap this up.” I love that they made it fun and a little campy, largely because it takes the piss out of so many over-dramatic, self-important “reveals” that movies, TV series, and ambitious but modestly-budgeted video games have attempted over the years.
And like the rest of the series, it’s done in the format of an old reliable TV sitcom gimmick — the opening credits song that sets up the entire premise of the show — but it’s not just a stylistic choice, a parody, or even an homage. It uses the gimmick in the same way the originals did, for the same reasons: it’s fun, catchy, and memorable, and it conveys a ton of exposition in a short amount of time.
The easiest and most shallow take on this show just recognizes that each episode is a riff on a certain decade of television and all its associated gimmickry. A slightly deeper take recognizes that the timeline of the shows corresponds to Wanda’s escapist fantasy breaking down: broad, staged comedy starts to get more complex, tackle different subjects, and get closer to “the real world.” So in other words, it’s kind of like Pleasantville or The Truman Show.4I’ve never actually seen The Truman Show, so I’m just guessing.
Last week, I thought it was clever that they used a genre in which characters were self-aware about the sitcom format to show how more characters were becoming aware that their version of Westview wasn’t real.
But now, I think there’s more to it than that. The most recent episode references the most contemporary trends in TV series — Modern Family and The Office in particular — but they make it pretty clear that it’s not actually getting more “realistic.” In the moment when Vision takes his mic off and flies away mid-interview, and Wanda acknowledges that the person listening to her “confessional” moments isn’t supposed to talk back, WandaVision is implicitly saying that TV isn’t getting more “real,” it’s just trading one set of affectations for another one.
And it doesn’t make any value judgment when it says that, because it’s not a criticism. It feels more inclusive to me, placing the series — and by extension, the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — as part of a larger tradition of storytelling, that encompasses all of TV, movies, and comics.
After all, there are so many different directions they could’ve gone with Agatha Harkness’s reveal. I’m thinking of Lost and Westworld and Christopher Nolan movies, where they suggest that there’s so much weight and gravitas to this revelation. But WandaVision chose to make it fun, in a way that includes both those of us who know the comics and are familiar with the character, and those of us who mostly know just the movies. The MCU is known for its post-credits sequences, which show something that has about half the audience losing their shit, and the other half saying “who is that?!” Now they seem to be acknowledging that being able to name which issue these characters first appeared in, isn’t a pre-requisite for getting the most out of their stories.
Giving it the feel of The Munsters is a fantastic way to acknowledge that they’re bringing a full-on witch into the MCU. The shift from Modern Family to Silence of the Lambs to straight-up gothic horror, complete with Evil Glowing Tome, would’ve seemed like an odd left turn had the series not completely earned it by this point. I’m still a little amazed that it even exists, and it survived exec meetings, after seeing first-hand the mood-killing stink face that small-minded people get when they hear something that’s “too weird.” This show has been a genre mash-up since scene one, and it still makes me indescribably happy to see how they’ve not just pulled it off, but made it a hit.
This episode was just full of fantastic moments, like the aforementioned creepy Silence of the Lambs-like scene, the fake-out after the trailer had made it look like the truck would be able to drive directly into the barrier, the once-again pitch-perfect commercial break for Nexus antidepressants, the way characters looking to the camera read not as mugging but had an undercurrent of desperation, and Monica’s three-point superhero landing. Really, everything about this genre mash-up of a show that made it possible for an episode with a catchy theme song to also have a moment like the one where Monica gained her powers.
PS: I totally think the mailman is Doctor Strange incognito. I’m calling it now.