The Marvel Cinematic Universe has spent so much time establishing setting, tone, and atmosphere – that is, what makes this series what it is – that any slight departure can feel like a tremendous breaking of new ground. Thor: Ragnarok brought a comedic tone to Thor, it was considered something new and unique; when Infinity War put greater focus on the antagonist compared to the twenty previous movies, it was lauded for being tremendously different. I feel like this comes from people heaping an excess praise on every slight change that’s made to the formula, to the point where they’re lauded for doing things that aren’t exactly as groundbreaking as fans might suggest. (I won’t go back and read every post, but I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this.) And this isn’t to say that those movies are bad – just that the MCU has a consistent feel and that these movies are still within the bounds of clearly being a part of the franchise.
Now, that being said, WandaVision does feel like something truly different. The first three episodes use the style and visuals of different sitcoms to tell a story that feels like a Twilight Zone-esque horror tale set in a small town where something is very clearly wrong. It’s familiar and homey while also being deeply creepy and unsettling. And sure, the Westview sitcom is only a setting within a setting – and we occasionally get to step outside of the unease of Westview and Wandavision back into the relative comfort of the normal MCU, but the sitcom scenes still give us the chance to do something different.
And at this point in time, it really does seem like the show is trying to do something different. The stakes up to this point haven’t been saving the world, or saving the country, but simply saving a single town. And the threat hasn’t been some world-ending threat, it’s just been Wanda’s powers slightly out of control. The way the viewers are supposed to read this situation is that Wanda is creating the sitcom setting to reanimate her deceased lover, and create it in a happy, ideal life – basically, a sitcom setting. It’s a story of coping with grief and trauma – yes, some of the MCU films have had these loftier themes, like Guardians Vol. 2 and its complex reflections on fatherhood – but WandaVision is one where the comic book superhero elements feel like they’ve taken a backseat to character, and theme.
And it was going along this path for a while, developing the characters and exploring the depth of that concept – but, in the seventh episode, Agnes, one of the neighbor characters, was revealed to really be named Agatha Harkness, who is some kind of witch, presumably with similar abilities to Wanda. Agatha is revealed as the cause of the misadventures Wanda has been experiencing throughout the series.
Part of me is peeved because this isn’t a satisfying development; even if you were familiar with the character beforehand, it doesn’t feel satisfying – at least, not yet. Who is Agatha? What’s her relation to Wanda? Why do we care at all? Until we get answers to these a handful of other questions, we can start caring about Agatha, but for now, this reveal doesn’t mean anything in the context of WandaVision or in the MCU. There was little to nothing to indicate that Agatha was the source of what was happening. The fact that every scene she had had previously in the show is now retconned into some kind of instance of her using her powers to manipulate a certain situation just feels like an instance of the show trying to pull one over on us where it really hasn’t earned it.
I start to worry if I’ve outgrown the MCU, because I feel like the way I want this story to end and the way it will end are two radically different things. If WandaVision for six and three-quarters episodes was about a traumatized woman with out-of-control superpowers using her abilities to create a perfect sitcom-like life for her and her deceased partner, then shouldn’t the logical end point of those plots be closure? But no, Scarlet Witch needs a villain to fight. There’s got to be some kind of confrontation and some kind of new cameo, and big explosions.
Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I’m being overly critical. I’m sure it’ll be good enough, and my ideal version of events is probably too introspective to really have wide appeal. And who knows, maybe they can strike a good balance between big explosions, thrilling cameos, rich themes, and emotional closure.
I’ve been chipping away at this post very slowly since I first watched the seventh episode of WandaVision, but by the time this goes up there will be less than 24 hours to the finale’s premiere. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it on some level, but the big reveal of a clear villain feels unnecessary, and so does some big new cameo. I find that these stories are best when they offer rich themes and develop their characters – it’s best when these stories are really about something.
But also, I know I’ve just spent the past several hundred words ragging on the tropes and problems of the MCU, but I’m very excited to see who this cameo is – Dr. Strange? Reed Richards? Magneto? Dr. Doom? Baymax? Mephisto? My expectations are high for that.