WandaVision and the Creative Tether of the MCU

This weekend, like a lot of people, I finished the first (only?) season of Marvel’s WandaVision TV show. I didn’t expect to have strong opinions about the show – I’m someone who normally watches all of the MCU films as they come out, but doesn’t really give them a ton of thought afterwards. Sure, this show has a really interesting premise and style, but it will probably be more of the same… right? Well the show really surprised me and grabbed my interest, and I have a lot of thoughts about its finale. [Spoilers] are ahead.

I want to start with the parts of WandaVision that really hooked me from the get-go. The execution of the sitcom premise is truly brilliant. Each of the six episodes that revolve around a sitcom era and its associated tropes were extremely lovingly crafted. I was consistently impressed with how much the show was willing to “commit to the bit.” Each sitcom episode didn’t just have the trappings of the sitcom genre it was aping, but actually felt like an episode straight out of those genres – complete with plot structure, comedic sensibilities, and punchlines. This is particularly true in the early season; if an episode is about antics surrounding a town talent show, then that talent show is the central conflict of the episode. WandaVision works really well as a romance as well, especially while Wanda and Vision are both somewhat in the dark as to what is happening and what came before. The show is at its best when it’s not worried about the “mystery,” but instead just having fun with the characters and settings it has created.

That said, the mystery is fairly compelling as well. The 10 to 20% of the sitcom episodes devoted to expanding on how Westview got to its ever-shifting state is fairly interesting and frequently downright creepy. The show treads into some very dark territory (by MCU standards) as it reveals that the townsfolk are aware of their mind prisons as they’re forced to play out their roles. Even the mid-season episode that exclusively tackles the outside world maintains the fun energy of the show thanks to the comedic stylings of Kat Dennings, Randall Park, and Teyonah Parris. The most important component is that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously… at least until the final two episodes.

Once the truth about Agatha is revealed, the fun is over. Suddenly the show isn’t about recreating sitcoms anymore, but is exclusively about the mystery and tying everything back to the MCU monolith. Unfortunately with this turn towards the self-serious also comes a penchant for the generic. Questions about how Wanda recreated Westview are answered, and each answer is more boring than the last. Wanda is revealed to be the “Scarlet Witch” who uses “chaos magic.” The town was engulfed and became a sitcom due to her grief. Also she watched a lot of sitcoms growing up, and it was a comfort for her, hence the choice of venue. These are answers that feel obvious from the very first episode. Sure, I didn’t know the significance of “chaos magic” in episode one, but does it really matter? She’s been using magic, it hasn’t been totally under her control – its name hardly matters. The problem isn’t that these answers are unsatisfying, it’s that all of the show’s energy comes screeching to a halt in favor of such mundane explanations.

The finale episode is arguably even worse, as the show devolves into a generic MCU fight scene. Both Wanda and Vision are given carbon copies of themselves to fight (Vision in particular gains a foil out of nowhere). We get around 20 minutes of CGI characters throwing CGI energy blasts at each other, and the villains are defeated. I understand that this is an MCU show and that villains and a fight are expected, but is it too much to ask for the visual style of the fight to somehow be tied into the sitcom that we’ve been watching? The show has done such a good job of imitating old television, and it’s such a missed opportunity to show us a standard modern CGI fight rather than leaning into that strength. To the show’s credit, we do get some clean up after the fight, as Wanda must say goodbye to her self-created family. Unfortunately, by this point I found the final goodbye to be fairly tacked on and mostly without consequence rather than the emotional core it was meant to be. This is further underlined by the final minutes and post-credit sequences that set up the spinoffs and sequels.

Ultimately I enjoyed the first seven episodes of WandaVision enough to make those last two episodes completely worth it; it is, by far, the most creative endeavor birthed from the MCU. I admittedly may be overly harsh on the ending, largely because it points to a greater problem going forward for Disney’s MCU plans. I was excited about this show because it was the most “weird” entry of the oncoming MCU TV shows. The premise demanded a deviation from the formula in a way we haven’t seen before from these films, and for a long time, it exceeded my expectations on how far that premise would be pushed. My concern, however, is that if even the most creative and unique of these entries has an ending less inventive than Thor: The Dark World, then what does that say about the coming tidal wave of MCU content? I’m left with the same suspicion I had before WandaVision aired: it’ll all be more of the same.

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