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WandaVision's ambition as a mystery-box show seems out of place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

  • "Move beyond the series’ (excellent, charismatic, and legitimately funny) mimicry of classic sitcom tropes, and it’s pretty clearly the Marvel version of a mystery-box show, with lead characters trapped—to varying degrees of awareness—in a sort of epiphanic, invisible prison," says William Hughes of Marvel's WandaVision. "It’s Lost, but in soothing Brady Bunch color tones. Westworld with a laugh track. The Prisoner, if No. 6 was trapped in Dick Van Dyke’s kitchen. It’s a fantastic premise, honestly, one informed by Wanda Maximoff and Vision’s complicated comic book history, as well as 70 years of beloved sitcom sandboxes for the show’s cast and crew to play in. But it also sits in direct opposition to the MCU ethos, which can tolerate a mystery for exactly as long as it takes its antsiest audience member to start to squirm. To withhold information—to withhold anything—is counter to what turned these films into a pop culture institution, and that necessity to provide gives WandaVision the sense of a show being pulled in even more directions than its already bifurcated premise might suggest. Black-and-white trappings or no, WandaVision exists fully within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in the MCU, even the subtlety must arrive in capital letters." Hughes adds: "Part of the genius of the Marvel films is the universality with which they can be read. Hundreds of millions of people can go see an Avengers movie and walk away with almost identical comprehension of what happened on the screen, for all the chaos of the battles and the dozens of named characters fighting it out. (To the point that, when the films do indulge in a bit of rare ambiguity, as with the time-tossed epilogue of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the debates that crop up online can be immediate and fierce.) The franchise’s clarity is a virtue, but not, necessarily, when there’s a mystery afoot. WandaVision understands that it must, by the strictures of its genre, hide, obfuscate, and tease—but consistently does so by shouting, 'Clue! Go Google this clue!' at the top of its lungs. It’s as subtle as a bunch of magic rocks shoved into a golden mitten; worse, these intrusions often distract from the legitimately wonderful work its leads are doing in their homage to classic comedy styles. None of this makes WandaVision a bad show, really, even a little...But it does make for a lousy mystery. Lost, the show that helped codify this genre in modern TV, took a lot of flack over the years for not knowing where it was going for pretty much most of its running time. WandaVision has the opposite problem: You can almost imagine the spreadsheet it’s pulling its meta-plot elements from, algorithmically sprinkling a few details into the mix every week to keep the audience content."


    • How the 1980s syndicated sitcom Out of This World inspired WandaVision: "Out of this World premiered in 1987," says Mike Ryan of the Maureen Flannigan-led sitcom that lasted four seasons. "It was a weird show that aired during weird parts of the day, which differed depending where you lived. In 1987, NBC-owned stations tried starting prime time a half-hour early and Out of This World was part of this one-season experiment. After, it continued on in syndication for three more seasons. The plot was about a 13-year-old girl named Evie who learns that her father is an alien, so, being half-alien, she has alien powers that get he into a lot of wacky situations. In retrospect, it was a very weird show. And in retrospect, yes, it makes total sense how a show like that could have at least some influence on a show like WandaVision." Head writer Jac Schaeffer says she was particularly inspired by the pilot of Out of This World, when Evie obtains her powers. "It’s really a really weird moment," says Schaeffer. "You’re in this silly little sitcom and everything is very twee and unexpected. And then I think she’s holding something. I want to go back and look at it. She’s holding cards or something, and she suddenly drops them and then puts her hands together, and it’s really weird and creepy. And that was a big influence on me, with the rupture of the sitcom tone." So what from Out of this World did Schaeffer put in WandaVision? "Just that everything could be so canned," she says. "And then also, and this is me projecting, but when she got her powers, it was her birthday and I think it was her 12th or 13th birthday? So there was a kind of a subversive, reaching puberty thing that I sort of put on it. And so there was a psychological element to it. So, yeah, all of that is part of the fabric of the weirdness of WandaVision, from the role that I had in it."
    • Kathryn Hahn says the truth of her character may not be what fans are expecting: “I can safely say that there are so many levels of surprises, and so many layers, that people will not see coming,” she teases. “I am just so excited for fans — and people that are new to this world — to go on the ride. It’s just a real, multi-level trip, and I’m so excited for people to go on the journey.”
    • Emma Caulfield is happy to work on a show with a script she loves: "You know, you get a lot of bad scripts, and you end up doing projects you don’t want to do because you’ve got a mortgage, or you’ve set up a certain way of living and you have to keep going," she says. "With WandaVision, it felt like a chance to something that I love, and somebody that made me excited."
    • Caulfield admits she didn't get a potential Buffy reference until it was pointed out to her
    • Dear Marvel Studios: Please avoid this WandaVision trope hinted at in Episode 4
    • Why WandaVision brought in Randall Park and Kat Dennings from the MCU

    TOPICS: WandaVision, Disney+, Emma Caulfield, Kat Dennings, Kathryn Hahn, Randall Park, Marvel