WandaVision is a kind of reality TV, and a rebuke to it

  • "If WandaVision gets meta about its superhero genre, it also gets meta about its medium," says Stephanie Burt. "The show is a kind of reality TV, and a rebuke to it. Wanda scripts the show’s events, or tries. And its stage sets, cameras, and broadcast schedules (the people at SWORD learn what’s happening in Westview because a perky, nerdy scientist named Darcy Lewis, played by Kat Dennings, learns when to tune in) reinforce the work of the sociologist Erving Goffman, who argued that we all live as if we were on set, anyway. Our everyday lives have 'front stage' and 'backstage' areas, places where we perform for our housemates and officemates, and places where we recover and learn our lines. This paradigm makes Wanda the showrunner, the nearly omnipotent creator by whose word plots swerve, sets rise, and supporting characters vanish or return. She defeats Agatha Harkness—a literal wicked witch—by recasting her as the nosy suburban neighbor, in Westview, that she once pretended to be. ('I’ll give you the role you chose,' Wanda tells her.) The series changes archetype from episode to episode, at Wanda’s only partly conscious whim. It’s literally, and punningly, her attempt to keep her vision in place. And—as with actual showrunners who tussle with networks, and budgets, and actors—she discovers that even she can’t make everything right."


    • What WandaVision gets right and wrong about female superheroes: "WandaVision is the first time in the Marvel franchise that we see the extent of Wanda’s power," says Maya Phillips. "Although she is a historically powerful hero in comic book lore (in some versions, she’s even identified as the daughter of the mighty X-Men antagonist Magneto), Wanda was introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron as a villain, a foot soldier to James Spader’s smooth-talking artificial intelligence, Ultron. And yet her powers were vague and unstable: She occasionally created illusions and manipulated minds, but mostly she shot vague blasts of red light, especially as she eased her way into a permanent place at the Avengers’ table. This was a watered down representation of a formidable hero. But why? Some of the reasons are practical: narrative convenience and the difficulty of visually rendering her complex powers. Wanda’s abilities, unlike those of many of the Avengers, require more than a few camera shots in the middle of a battle to unpack. In a franchise — and genre — known to profit from showy fight scenes, a few red blasts of light, though paltry, are more visually appealing and simpler to execute than abilities that bend reality and challenge consciousness. But the more frustrating reason is wrapped up with the aims of the franchise, which are more about longevity than they are about narrative logic. Wanda and Captain Marvel, the only other female Avenger to helm her own property so far, are the two members of the team who could have defeated the big bad of the last two Avengers films, Thanos. Because of that, the films clumsily maneuvered around these heroes, downplaying their powers or making them unavailable so that the story could continue. It wouldn’t be so egregious if these powerful heroes weren’t also women."
    • The show’s decision to let Wanda off the hook for the pain she caused is baffling: "I tuned in to WandaVision each week because I loved the way the show wanted to explore things like our relationship to television, the power of escapism, and the wonder that is Kathryn Hahn," says Alex Abad-Santos. "It simultaneously existed within and pushed against the boundaries of the very rigid Marvel machine. But most of all, it took a character who is so criminally minimized in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wanda Maximoff, and gave her the space to tell a story about grief and loss, stasis and movement. In Wanda’s case, she manifests her grief through recreating the old television shows she once watched with her family. That WandaVision debuted after a year of social distancing and isolation made it even more emotionally resonant. So much of the series is focused on what it means to mourn, on how we persevere, and on the desperation humans feel to avoid the pain that accompanies grief. But surprisingly, in its spectacle-driven finale, the show flexed emotional amnesia, trading away its exploration of humanity to complete its mission of (literally) empowering its heroine and laying the foundation for the next chapter of the MCU. In doing so, WandaVision attempted to give us a hero to cheer for and, at the same time, ultimately deprived Wanda of the growth necessary to get there."
    • Did creator Jac Schaeffer ever entertain any other possible endings for Wanda and Vision's story?: "The emotional arc of it was always what it was," she says. "It was always moving toward a place of acceptance, and it was always going to go toward this big goodbye, and she would also say goodbye to the children. Those scenes were written very early and stayed pretty much as is. Almost everything else shifted. We knew there would be the big Vision-on-Vision battle, and the big Agatha versus Wanda battle, and we knew we had to service all these other characters. But there were many, many iterations of it through production — and then again more revisions during the COVID hiatus that we had."
    • Director Matt Shakman on the most difficult episode and complaints the finale excused Wanda's evil actions: "When we were getting into (WandaVision) Episode Three, with The Brady Bunch, that’s tricky, because we were trying to create something that had integrity on its own and wasn’t just copying The Brady Bunch of that era, but had its own language, too," says director Matt Shakman. "The Seventies are really easy to self-parody, and it was like trying to figure out how do we not go too far with bell bottoms and sideburns. I’m a child of the Eighties, was a sitcom actor in the Eighties, so I know that era really well. I didn’t work on Malcolm, but I almost got hired on Malcolm, and I worked on a lot of Malcolm knock-offs like Oliver Beene. I understood exactly what the zany subjective camera was. And then Modern Family, I’ve done a little of the interview docu-stuff as well." Shakman also pushed back against claims the finale condoned Wanda’s villainous behavior. “I don’t think we’re letting Wanda off the hook. She realizes in that final episode what she’s done,” Shakman said. “She’s brought to that moment by Agatha — ‘Are you a hero? Are you a villain? Heroes don’t torture people’ — and she tries to let them go in that moment, but realizes that she’s not fully able to say goodbye to her family yet. So the crisis at the middle of the episode is important to her story, that she is ultimately moving towards accepting the loss of Vision and her family.”
    • Elizabeth Olsen also thought Evan Peters' WandaVision casting was a Disney-Fox crossover
    • WandaVision writers answer all burning questions
    • Check out an illustrator's comic book take on each WandaVision episode

    TOPICS: WandaVision, Disney+, Elizabeth Olsen, Jac Schaeffer, Matt Shakman, Marvel

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