The MCU’s first real leap onto the small screen is about as bold as you can get. ‘Strange’ is one way to describe the essence of the show that is WandaVision – ‘weird’, ‘mysterious’ and ‘intriguing’ being the others. Injecting a dose of classic sitcom style into the MCU produces some quite crazy results – some that turn out great, and some that are just okay.
When WandaVision kicks off looking and feeling exactly like an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, with hardly a presence of the wider MCU, it’s clear that this is going to be like nothing you’ve ever seen before – both in and out of the MCU. The idea to style each episode after a different era of sitcom is a creative choice so risky, it had the potential to drive the series into the ground by turning away anyone who isn’t a die-hard MCU fan. There is definitely some charm in the sitcom storylines, and the attention to detail that has gone into recreating the sitcoms of past decades is mind-blowing, but the hook early on is the question of why and how any of this is happening. Being a mystery at heart, these answers are what keep people tuning in for the first few episodes, despite seemingly almost nothing of consequence happening. As answers come in and hidden details come to light, the tension ramps up towards what is billed to be a massive finale. However, as the series progresses it creates a major shift in its identity from where it began to where it ended.
The sitcom styling really does work with giving each episode its own unique feel – and once it gets through 2 or 3 episodes the risky move becomes part of what brings people back – seeing how they pull of the 80s, 90s and so on. So when the inevitable shift happens late in the season, leaving the sitcom styling behind for a more traditional MCU-like showing, it creates an odd tonal divide that, in hindsight, doesn’t blend well. In the moment, the transition is smooth and gradual, whereas when looking at the overall picture it feels like it was two different shows. Additionally, the placement of the penultimate episode is odd – really cutting down the pace rather than building it up as it heads into the finale. Nevertheless, it’s a thoroughly entertaining season of events that culminates in a finale that delivers in a massive way – both in terms of ending this series and setting up big things in Phase 4 of the MCU. There are a number of big moments, none of which I can mention here, that really elevate the series a tonne.
In a way, the sitcom styling of the series is just a backdrop to the relationship between Wanda and Vision and how they both deal with and come to terms with what just happened in their dealings with Thanos. It’s an exploration of grief, love, family and the things we do in desperation – and it’s perfectly executed over the course of the series. Their bond goes through plenty of ups and downs through the series, and it all comes to an emotionally resonant close. Yes, there are a number of other subplots and character arcs that span the entire series and are important for the MCU going forward, but they’re not the focus here. For instance, I’d have loved to see more of Monica Rambeau’s story but this isn’t the place for that. This is Wanda and Vision’s story and it never loses sight of that.
Speaking of Wanda and Vision, this series has given both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany more time to shine than they’ve seen in the MCU to this point. They are both incredible through every single scene, really going deep into their characters and effectively displaying the emotional weight of what they’re going through. Elizabeth Olsen is mesmerising in each of the sitcom settings, transforming herself in various ways across each episode to blend in with the decade being explored. In a way, you could say that she plays at least 7 roles through this entire series. Yes, it’s all Wanda, but there are nuances to the way she acts in each episode that make it feel fresh each time. Accompanying them, Kathryn Hahn and Teyonah Parris add to the highlight reel whenever they’re on screen, each building strong characters that have some pretty memorable interactions with Elizabeth and Paul. Josh Stamberg plays Director Howard and does so quite well, it’s just a shame the writing of that character seems to have been half-assed compared to the depth of many others in here.
In the end, WandaVision is a weird combination of genres like nothing I’ve ever seen before – combining an MCU film with a mystery thriller and giving it the sitcom treatment. Weirdly enough, it works – the sitcom settings are fun and the little bits of mystery weaved throughout do well with tying things together. Arguably there are a couple of small loose ends through the season, but the main arc does come to a largely satisfying conclusion in the finale. On top of that, it sets up the direction we can expect to see Phase 4 of the MCU head in over the next few years. There are elements of the series that can be picked apart, but considering the risk taken with setting this all up and executing it with such a deft tough – I can’t really hold much against the show. It’s strange, mysterious and a great leap into TV for the MCU.