WANDAVISION Season 1 Review; "A Beautiful Exploration Of Love And Loss Mixed With Blockbuster Visuals"
WandaVision wrapped up it's first (and likely final season) on Disney+ today, and we're now reviewing all nine episodes of the game-changing MCU series. Be warned, as major SPOILERS do follow from here...
WandaVision wasn’t supposed to be Marvel Studios’ first TV series, but COVID-19 meant that it ended up hitting Disney+ before The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. As it turns out, the streamer couldn’t have chosen a better show to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the small screen with than one which lovingly homages some of the greatest American sitcoms ever made. However, we soon learned that there was more to this than “parodies” of The Dick Van Dyke Show and Malcolm in the Middle. A beautiful, poignant exploration of grief and what it means to lose the person who means the most to you, WandaVision proved to be an essential chapter in the MCU tapestry.
Kicking off with a two-part premiere, we followed Wanda Maximoff and Vision as they found themselves living an idyllic life in 1950s and 1960s-style sitcoms. There were plenty of clues that not all was right in the town of Westview (many of which we now know to be red herrings), and despite surprisingly short runtimes, these love letters to the classic shows they drew inspiration from were really something special. Marvel Studios seemingly realised that they needed to do something more to keep fans on the hook, though, and “Now in Color” took us into the 1970s, while also revealing that Wanda had more control over events than we first suspected. After throwing “Geraldine” - who we’d later come to know as Monica Rambeau - out of the town, a flashback episode shed some light on S.W.O.R.D., The Blip, and how those outside the “Hex” were seeing these sitcoms play out. We definitely missed them around this halfway point, but an episode to introduce the players working to figure out what was happening was essential.
As we moved into the second half of the season, we faced a shocker of an episode in the 1980s/1990s which saw Vision question his surroundings and Wanda get the shock of her life when a “recast” Pietro Maximoff showed up on her doorstep (played by a scene-stealing Evan Peters). Quicksilver received his fair share of the spotlight in "All-New Halloween Spooktacular!" as did the now superpowered twins. Comic accurate costumes aside, this instalment managed to perfectly balance an early 2000s sitcom with the deeper mystery at play, as well as what was happening out in the “real” world. Our final sitcom experience came in a Modern Family-inspired effort which was perhaps the show’s weakest episode. The concept worked well enough, but without a larger cast of supporting characters - can you imagine Ultron actor James Spader playing the “dad” who lives across the street? - it fell flat. On the plus side, a last-minute reveal about Agatha Harkness which was accompanied by one heck of a catchy tune went some way in making up for that.
The final two episodes played out more along the lines of a classic Marvel Studios movie, but WandaVision didn’t suffer because of that. Instead, they proved that the big budget feel of the MCU works just as well on the small screen as it does the big one, and there were heaps of twists, fan-pleasing moments, and jaw-dropping reveals in these lengthier instalments to make this series worth the price of admission. Not everyone will be happy with how things played out, of course, especially as the show dropped a lot of big hints and red herrings along the way, but didn’t pay the majority of them off. There was no Mephisto, no Professor X, and not even a cameo from Doctor Strange. Now, getting your hopes up over fan theories is never a good idea, and it turns out Marvel Studios simply wasn’t telling that kind of story. It’s admittedly a shame that the Agnes/Agatha Harkness twist was easy to telegraph even before the trailers for the series were released, but for non-fans, that’s a moment which likely did surprise.
Rather than introducing the MCU’s next big bad or introducing the concept of mutants, WandaVision was a six-hour character study, taking Wanda Maximoff from reluctant Avenger to the Scarlet Witch. Along the way, she went a long way in overcoming her grief following the loss of Vision; sure, it’s not normal to trap an entire town in your dream reality to get over the love of your life, but this was a path Wanda needed to head down in order to become a key player in Phase 4. Had this show not happened, Wanda’s pain would have been glossed over in a handful of scenes in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but we instead got to learn more about what that loss did to her, and just how important Vision was in the hero's life (given the nature of their movies, most of their romance took place off screen). There were plenty of fantastic supporting turns in WandaVision, of course, but the real reason it worked as well as it did is simple: Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany.
While the latter is likely to be overlooked due to just how damn great Olsen was each week, they both turned in potentially career-best performances, with a chemistry that is nothing short of electrifying. Bettany effortlessly portrayed a goofy sitcom dad, but never faltered when it came to making us believe in a “man” terrified by not knowing his past and failing to understand his surroundings. Olsen, meanwhile, was flawless, and it really will be a crime if she doesn’t win some major awards this time next year. Throw in star making work from Kathryn Hahn and Teyonah Parris, as well as memorable supporting turns from Randall Park and Kat Dennings, and this ensemble never faltered (Josh Stamberg deserves a special mention for his hateful take on Director Hayward too). We just wish we’d got to spend more time with Peters, especially in those final two episodes. That’s a minor flaw, though, and WandaVision rarely made mistakes. There will be some fans who simply can’t get over the fact Reed Richards wasn’t Monica’s aerospace engineer friend and that Mephisto didn’t appear to try and claim the souls of Tommy and Billy, but put those arguably unrealistic expectations aside, and we’re sure you’ll agree that the series delivered exactly what it set out to do.
Perhaps the biggest winners to come out of the show, however, will be director Matt Shakman and showrunner Jac Schaeffer; what they do next should be unmissable.
A beautiful exploration of love and loss mixed with blockbuster visuals makes WandaVision an absolute winner for the expansion of the MCU on television, and it shouldn’t take a magic trick to ensure Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany walk away with their fair share of prizes come award season.