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WandaVision's finale was the equivalent of losing a game of chicken

  • In the end, the critically acclaimed Disney+ Marvel series choked, going from digging into difficult and complex emotions to running away from them, says Karen Han. "After weeks of anticipation, the WandaVision finale landed with a bit of a thud," says Han. "The problem wasn’t just that the series' last episode devolved mostly into fights, where the lead-up to it had been uncommonly thoughtful about grief in a cinematic universe with little room for reflection. Rather, the finale seemed to build to an inescapable, almost unbearable conclusion, only to lose at its own game. The emotional complexity that made the show so engaging wasn’t completely obscured, but it was hard to find amid the sea of red, purple, and blue laser beams that flew around the screen." Han adds: "WandaVision proved to be an unexpectedly complex show, but that doesn’t make its backpedaling any easier to stomach. If anything, it’s harder not to be let down by the show’s ultimate refusal to reckon with the full emotional scope of the story it seemed to be telling. A show about lasting emotional scars ended up covering them over. It’s the TV equivalent of losing a game of chicken, rushing towards a difficult but satisfying ending, only to swerve at the last minute in the name of setting up the next few Marvel properties."


    • Too much of WandaVision's "The Series Finale" felt obligatory: The MCU-style ending was "a bit for good and more for ill," says Alan Sepinwall, adding: "With a few exceptions — mostly the four Avengers films, plus the first Ant-Man — the final fight scene is almost never what you walk out of an MCU film thinking about. And that’s unfortunately the case here. 'The Series Finale' is … fine? It looks good, and it has some nice emotional moments. But where so much of the series leading to this point felt like a passion project for all involved, too much of the conclusion felt obligatory, as if the mandate was to return to formula and ensure that Wanda and Monica Rambeau are ready for their upcoming appearances in, respectively, the next Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel movies."
    • WandaVision's memorable finale line is "painfully boring" in the context of the MCU: "It’s the kind of line that’s meant to be hopeful, and sweetly tragic," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "In real life, or even in a fictional world other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s a line that makes you burst into tears. The audience knows, and the characters know, that the hope of saying hello again only exists in a great, unknown afterlife. To at least some extent, the line plays that way in WandaVision, too, and that’s a testament to how effective the series has been at dismantling much of Marvel’s typical character-development strategies and rebuilding them around a different genre....In the context of the MCU, that empty but nice enough goodbye/hello line plays very differently. It’s achingly hopeful in reality and in the sitcom reality simulacrum. But in the Marvel Universe, it’s just painfully boring. This is a genre where characters who die come back, where Thanos snapping his fingers ultimately means very little, and in the specific context of Wanda and Vision, where all the groundwork is already well-established that, yeah, duh, absolutely, we will be seeing both these characters again."
    • WandaVision finale was a five-ring circus of pointless showdowns: "WandaVision couldn't follow through on its sharpest instincts," says Darren Franich. "I know, I know: This is supposed to be a superhero show, and some viewers tired of the sitcom schtick. At least the parody was a style. Episode 4 went outside the bubble, and WandaVision never recovered. Comic relief characters from two of Marvel's worst movies yammered about firewalls and Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation and the decay signature of vibranium. S.W.O.R.D. is just S.H.I.E.L.D. except more boring and just as corrupt. (Stop me if you heard this twist from Marvel in 2014: The top-secret agency is Not To Be Trusted.) Every scene in the high-security compound looked like any old network procedural where screens solve plot problems for bantering keyboard-typers. Josh Stamberg played the He-Man version of bureaucratic corruption, the megafranchise's worst villain since Ant-Man's Evil Business Scientist."
    • WandaVision's endgame could have benefited from fully embracing what made this series exciting in the first place: "By Friday's good but not mind-blowing final episode, appropriately titled 'The Series Finale,' the show has almost completely ditched the sitcom-inspired premise of its disorienting early episodes, instead providing the kind of action-driven climactic battle that might feature in a Scarlet Witch-centered summer blockbuster," says Brendan Morrow. "That's all well and good, but for a series that started off offering such a change of pace for Marvel, it was an ending that felt a little too in line with what we've seen before in the franchise, something WandaVision allowed to seep into its reality a bit more often than it should have as it progressed. Indeed, when WandaVision premiered in January, the idea of exploring grief by cycling through sitcom history and slowly teasing out a mystery as to the true nature of this reality was compelling and unique, and especially impressive was the way the show completely submerged us into Wanda's fake sitcom world. So it was a surprising choice when the bit was broken only four episodes in with 'We Interrupt This Program,' an outing set entirely outside of Wanda's 'hex' that walked viewers through what's been going on so far, lest they need to put those pieces together themselves."
    • It's unlikely that WandaVision could ever have been successful without Elizabeth Olsen's indelible central performance: "Asked to be a sitcom wife, a sitcom mom, a superhero, a witch, a legend, and a woman whose grief was so overwhelming that she broke the whole world, she never wavered," says Linda Holmes. "That's what allows her to carry off those cute, quotable Marvel lines without tearing the audience completely away from the story. (Lines like 'Boys, handle the military. Mommy will be right back.')"
    • By the end, WandaVision mostly felt like bridge content: "When Elizabeth Olsen, who plays titular witch Wanda on WandaVision, was on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show this week, she mentioned that she was in London filming the Dr. Strange sequel," says Richard Lawson. "She told Fallon that her TV series, which debuted its final episode on Friday, 'is a complete tee-up for my character.' Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given how synergistic and ever-scaling Marvel’s grand project is. But it was still kind of a bummer to hear that a whole nine-episode series has been mere tee-up. It certainly felt that way while watching the finale, a hash of aerial magic-fights and the dutiful driving home of themes...So, yes, in the most literal of senses, WandaVision was a complete mini-series with a concluded arc. But it still mostly felt like bridge content there at the end, tethering Avengers: Endgame to this upcoming Dr. Strange sequel and whatever else lies ahead..."
    • Refusing to play only to Marvel fans is what made WandaVision great: "WandaVision could easily have succeeded by playing to the insider baseball culture of Marvel enthusiasts or even by stoking the enthusiasm of the franchise’s more casual moviegoing fans," says Lorraine Ali. "But the series chose instead to take big risks with a crazy premise and as a result ended up with a creative win that hits the mark on several fronts, including the way in which it renders the experience of grief. WandaVision captures the essence of loss, and that counts for a lot in the middle of a pandemic that’s taken so many loved ones."
    • How do we define "Prestige Television" in the aftermath of WandaVision?: "Prestige Television was a term that meant to highlight how television had become 'elevated' due to cable television shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and others during the late ’90s early 2000s, among the slow burnout of sitcom television," says Princess Weekes. "Yet, with television evolving constantly due to streaming, and with movie stars coming to the medium in order to tell more compelling stories (especially older actresses), it becomes clear that 'prestige television' has expanded heavily. And now there is WandaVision delivering one more turn of the screw. Now, I realize that Marvel movies being up for awards has been played as a joke. But considering two actors have won Oscars for playing the Joker, and Black Panther was acknowledged by the industry so much it got backlash for it, I think it’s important to recognize that comic book content is part of the industry...WandaVision has a few things I hope we can consider pretty universal: It is very well made and very well acted. Elizabeth Olsen has been killing it this season and moving between decades of acting varieties seamlessly. At so many points could her acting have been stilted for forced, but it has been excellently handled because of her own talent. That shouldn’t be reduced because it’s a Disney+ Marvel show, because that’s gonna be where a lot of talented people are heading. Plus, for me, what 'Prestige Television' means at its core is a program that sucks in people all over and makes watching each episode an event. That is a unique and special thing. There is a reason people still talk about the huge numbers of Americans who tuned into to watch the M*A*S*H finale, because it gives a sense of how big that show was."
    • The only lesson WandaVision seems to have taken from the medium of television is the pleasure of formula: "That even though the sitcoms of the past said things in ways that look terribly inventive now, they did so in a way that, repetitiously, gave the audience what they want," says Daniel D'Addario. "Marvel came an awfully long way to learn something that its filmmakers already knew." D'Addario adds: "Perhaps WandaVision’s shift into the familiar could not have been avoided: A show that had been skittering throughout genre and time ultimately cannot escape a very recognizable world. The show’s fourth episode, the first to look beyond Wanda’s created worlds, feels all the more deflating for the noisy bustle and burble of S.W.O.R.D.’s offices. The studio’s own style of storytelling, with its perpetual breathless urgency only emphasizing the degree to which little is ever, moment-to-moment, at stake, is just another way for the show to delay the facts of the case. Even as viewers likely have at least a workable beginning understanding of what Wanda, and what WandaVision, are up to — and even as pieced-together bits of TV history were building to something more than the sum of their parts — the show leans back on what it knows we want, obscuring the sort of painful truths it was trying to communicate more artfully. Put in other terms: Was it really that hard to understand what the show was doing that we needed to stretch out a slow-walked reveal, executed without much in the way of flair?"
    • What made WandaVision feel so singular is the fact that it was strangely undefinable and uncategorizable: "It was neither sitcom nor drama; it was both a self-contained project and the gateway to the next phase of a larger franchise," says Shirley Li. "That ambiguity meant that viewers had seemingly endless material to discuss: Some critics focused on the storytelling, while others concentrated on discussing the state of television and film, an impulse that may have been egged on by WandaVision being an extended homage to sitcoms and TV history. It was intentionally meta and experimental, an 'in-between' work that, with its weekly rollout, operated as neither traditional TV nor a bingeable streaming series."
    • Creator and episode writer Jac Schaeffer deserves credit for executing that farewell with grace and power
    • WandaVision fans have mixed feelings over Pietro being the subject of a crude joke
    • A Season 2 remains a possibility even after "The Series Finale": "I’ve been at Marvel too long to say a definite ‘No’ to anything as far as a second season of WandaVision," Marvel boss Kevin Feige said recently.
    • Randall Park and Kat Dennings star in a PSA urging WandaVision fans to not spoil the ending
    • Did the WandaVision finale deliver the big cameo that Elizabeth Olsen teased?
    • WandaVision fans used virtual watch parties to connect amid the pandemic
    • Paul Bettany on his cameo teaser: “It was very funny because I started a rumor myself"
    • Here are all the Easter eggs you might have missed
    • WandaVision series finale burning questions, answered

    TOPICS: WandaVision, Disney+, Elizabeth Olsen, Jac Schaeffer, Kat Dennings, Paul Bettany, Randall Park, Marvel

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