Growing up, I was admittedly a comic book nerd, although I gravitated toward the X-Men and Batman titles more than the Avengers. In my adult years I’ve enjoyed as well as endured a growing array of comic book movie and television show adaptations. And while the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly has its fundamental flaws, overall I’ve appreciated the tone of the movies, although the last few have sadly fallen relatively flat for me. Because of the flagging quality, I wasn’t expecting much when WandaVision finally arrived on Disney+. The previews made it look odd and quirky, nothing like the MCU movies, and I figured since I wasn’t paying a price for admission at the theater to see it, why not give the series a whirl?
(Warning: I will be dropping spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the series all the way through, I might ruin some surprises.)
I’ll admit, the first two episodes were difficult for me to get through. I read the internet criticisms written by journalists who argued anyone who didn’t instantly fall in love with episodes one and two had zero knowledge of classic television sitcoms. Despite what they conjectured, I actually did grow up watching Bewitched, Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver, and others. The production team absolutely struck the tone of those bygone productions with amazing accuracy down to the smallest set pieces, which was definitely impressive. But when it came to the storytelling aspect, something I always focus on, I was less than impressed. Quite frankly, the pacing was painfully slow in those first two episodes. Sure, later we learn there’s a reason for the slow burn, although I still can’t help but feel those episodes could’ve been consolidated into one without losing anything essential.
Then episode three started to get interesting as the intrigue and mystery of the situation increased. The series began hooking me, but then episode four came along and provided an info dump coupled with narrative hand holding, treating me as if I’m too dumb to follow bread crumbs and figure out a mystery. Then in episode five we were back to intrigue and clues left here and there. The rest of the season was more of the same oscillation between slowly leaking out clues and hand-holding info dumps, and that I think is one of the biggest issues I have with WandaVision: the pacing is uneven.
The uneven pacing and narrative hand holding really annoyed me since underneath that was a compelling story of a woman in severe grief after killing the man she loved to save half the universe, only to see that sacrifice undone and the man murdered by a heartless foe. This has been one thing woefully missing in the crowded roster of the MCU movies for most of the heroes, Wanda included: real character arcs. To see a director slow down and take a break from blindingly quick CGI-infused action sequences to explore something more profound was refreshing, giving me hope for the future of the MCU (we’ll see if that hope is truly warranted or not). Wanda was finally portrayed as multi-layered. She isn’t some angelic heroine nor is she a nefarious villain. She’s a real human with complex emotions and relatable motives.
However, when it comes to character arcs it’s pretty much just Wanda who has a fully-developed one in the series. Vision is the next closest thing we get, while other characters in the series are flat, unchanging, and seem like window dressing or side shows, carrying on that MCU tradition.
Plenty of nods to comic book and MCU fans are sprinkled throughout WandaVision, but most of it is done subtly the way fan servicing should be treated for the most part. Among them are the ridiculous costumes Wanda and Vision wore in the comics, the return of Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis from the Ant Man and Thor movies respectively, and the first X-Men carryover character, Quicksilver (although it’s not like how you might have expected).
I am disappointed in the big bad villain for WandaVision since she falls into the same trap as most other MCU villains. She’s too much like Wanda abilities-wise (oh wow, another witch, how about that?) and she’s quite the flat character with unclear motives other than she’s bad and does bad things because she’s bad. Not only that, she’s tucked away so securely for the majority of the season pretty much nobody could guess she’s the villain, some more bread crumbs hinting at it would’ve helped, and when she’s revealed there’s more of that annoying, condescending hand holding to help the audience understand what she’s done.
When it comes to pacing and not overexplaining things, WandaVision showrunners could learn a lot from the team behind the Legion television series. Sure, it was weird and trippy at times (okay, like most of the time) but it was loaded with bread crumbs and didn’t hold the audience’s hand, making the final-episode reveal of the big bad in season one absolutely pitch-perfect. I feel like WandaVision could have stuck a similar landing and really wowed viewers as they had an epiphany, but instead it stumbled and almost fell flat. Wanda’s character arc combined with the production team absolutely nailing the tone of several decades of sitcoms helped balance out those writing foibles, making the show worth watching, although I’m not so sure I’d go for round two of season one.
Update: I wrongly thought episode 8 was the finale of WandaVision since I didn’t look that up. However, after watching episode 9 I stand by my earlier comments, especially considering that episode was almost a throw-away with hardly anything of significance disclosed (Wanda is the Scarlet Witch? Like anyone didn’t know that). In fact, it slips into the MCU trope of a CGI-heavy fight scene between the hero and villain, with both seemingly impervious to damage, which absolutely dominated the narrative. So instead of a cliff hanger we got a long, drawn-out, and quite frankly overall irrelevant resolution to the series.
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