The Marvel Cinematic Universe has pulled off many, many impressive achievements over the past 12 years. It has brought many iconic comic book characters to life; given us so many brilliant, complete character arcs (especially Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Chris Evans’s Captain America); given us some absolutely brilliant films (especially Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and 2012’s The Avengers), and of course, with Avengers: Endgame, created the biggest (and by that, I mean highest-grossing) film of all time. But, with their newest project, WandaVision, they have may have created their finest and crowning achievement.
The television miniseries consisting of 9 episodes (6 of which has already aired), was first announced over two years, with the aim being to branch out the television content for the MCU, and also give a solo project to both Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff/ Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision, two characters extremely underused in the film series. When the series was first announced back in 2018, we all thought it would be a fairly average and possibly cynical cash-grab, with the aim of just setting up future MCU story-lines. However, we didn’t know that the end result would be funny, witty, strange, and in many ways, very revolutionary television.
The series is set three weeks after the end of Avengers: Endgame, in which Wanda has gone mad with grief after Vision’s death, and has created her own reality in the town of Westview. Now, Vision has suddenly come back to life, all the townspeople of Westview have become Wanda’s puppets, and every day of her life plays out like a classic sitcom, in which Wanda and Vision get themselves into lighthearted, sitcom-like scraps, all of which is resolved before the end of the episode. And, there is much more to the show than that, including the return of Wanda’s dead brother, Pietro (with a new face), the arrival of Wanda and Vision’s two twin children, seemingly out of nowhere, and the mysterious life of the townsfolk, especially including Wanda’s meddlesome neighbour, Agnes (played to perfection by Kathryn Hahn).
For the first three episodes of WandaVision, the show plays out just like a regular sitcom. Wanda and Vision have just gotten married, they have moved to a suburban neighbourhood, and all of a sudden, have two babies. The series has a ingenious premise, in which each episode homages sitcoms, but changes decade each time it does so. The first episode is a homage to the 50s sitcom, I Love Lucy, while the second episode plays homage to Betwitched (the 60s) and the third episode is a take on The Brady Bunch (the 70s).
What was so brilliant about the first few episodes is the series’ confidence in knowing the audience would carry on watching. WandaVision is innovative in that it could only really be successful in the way that it has been created – part of a huge film series in which we know that the two main characters have much more to them than meets the eye. Think about how rough these first episodes could of been if it was proper, studio-produced television show – they would of felt forced to reinforce every episode that things are not quite as they seem, while WandaVision never felt the need to do that.
It took until the series’ fourth episode, “We Interrupt This Program” to reveal that there was something else afoot. Sure, we’ve had hints of it (the odd scene of the neighbour choking; the arrival of the “beekeeper” and “Geraldine” being suddenly ejected out of Westview), but it wasn’t until the fourth episode that we suddenly realised that there was a completely different vision (see what I did there) in store for this series. This series introduced a police-procedural like format, in which various characters, including Monica Rambeau (revealed to be “Geraldine” from inside Westview), Jimmy Woo, and Darcy Jennings attempt to solve the mystery of what is happening at Westview.
The following two episodes (and this may even change again in the last three episodes, we don’t know yet) changed the formula once again. In this episode, we return to Wanda, Vision, Agnes, their two kids and later, Pietro inside Westview as they continue to act out sitcom-like fantasies. In the fifth episode, it is 80s/90s sitcoms, like Family Ties or Full House (complete with an out-of-character dramatic “special episode”), while the sixth episode saw them homage early noughties sitcoms, like Malcolm in the Middle. While all this is happening, we cut back and forth from this sitcom fantasy to “the real world”, where Darcy, Rambeau and Woo all try to solve what is really happening.
One of the most wonderful things about the show is that following the end of each episode, we are left with numerous questions and theories about what is really happening. It lives up to modern shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Good Place in that it favours cliff-hanger endings, and raising numerous questions about what is really going on. The series gives us just enough information about what is happening, and answers as many questions as it does raise new mysteries.
However, what is so revolutionary about the series is that while reinforcing a very modern, 21st century style of storytelling, it also embraces a more old-fashioned type of storytelling at the same time. In each episode of Wanda’s sitcom reality, we witness a proper, fully fleshed-out episode of television – one that has a beginning, middle and end. They are written like proper sitcom episodes in that they have some dramatic, character-based moments, while also being actually really funny at the same time (Bettany singing in the first episode was a particular highlight).
We are most definitely living in the golden age of television, and ask anyone nowadays and they’ll tell you that television is pretty much as good as film. However, sometimes, that is not always a good thing. I mean, if television really is as good as film, and vice versa, then ultimately what is the point in having both mediums. Wandavision stands out amongst the crowd as it has to be a television show. There is no way that they could tell this story in a film-based narrative, and that’s what is so ingenius about it.
And, not to mention, it does all of this while being very meta and self-referential about television, film and comic books, and raising intriguing mysteries along the way. It’s honestly one of the most delightfully weird and strange television shows to come out in a long time. And it comes from one of the biggest, most mainstream production companies. It’s a show full of contradictions – it is niche yet mainstream, funny yet dramatic, silly yet with serious, hard-hitting consequences.
In the future, WandaVision will be seen as a show that manages to embraces all different types of storytelling (and does it successfully), but more than that, it may in fact be the MCU’s absolute crowning achievement.