Karen Lin

“WandaVision” is the first Marvel television show to premiere on Disney+. It was executive-produced by Kevin Feige, the prolific producer behind the Marvel movies of the last decade. The show was not originally supposed to be the first of several Marvel television shows to premiere on the platform. Due to the pandemic, however, other projects were moved around, and “WandaVision” became the show to kick off Feige’s foray into television.

The show follows Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), two characters introduced in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Wanda has telekinetic powers and Vision is a weaponized robot with supernatural intelligence. Not quite the typical all-American couple. In “WandaVision,” though, the two portray stereotypical couples from sitcoms throughout the history of television. From a housewife and working husband in the 1950s to new parents having twins in the 1970s, Wanda and Vision travel through time on television.

As the show continues, the audience learns that there are two worlds in “WandaVision.” Wanda and Vision live in a town called Westview, surrounded by an impenetrable red forcefield. Outside of the forcefield, though, is modernity. The fictional government agency S.W.O.R.D. has a base set up at the perimeter. Scientists at the base are trying to figure out how the forcefield, which they call “The Anomaly,” operates. In the fourth episode, the audience learns that the forcefield is a hex created by Wanda around the actual Westview in New Jersey, and that the extras seen in the sitcoms are all people who populated the town before the hex was created. 

Wanda and Vision represent two powerful but different categories: magic and science. Wanda is the only known being that is able to spontaneously create new objects with magic, and Vision was crafted to be the optimal technological product. Their differences bring them together as a couple, but also attract enemies. The main antagonist of the show is Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), a powerful witch who hides in early episodes by playing Agnes, Wanda’s nosy neighbor. At the end of Episode 7, though, Agatha reveals her true power to Wanda. Agatha’s goal is to understand Wanda’s power and steal it so that she can be the most powerful witch in the world.

There is also a villain outside of the bubble: S.W.O.R.D. Director Hayward (Josh Stamberg). Hayward’s goal is to steal Vision from the bubble and weaponize his technology. Hayward attempts to frame Wanda as an evil force, when in reality, he was the one who traumatized Wanda into creating the hex.

Until the final episode of the series, I was ready to give “WandaVision” a glowing review. The first three episodes are captivating and funny, providing enough mystery and intrigue mixed with the humor of classic sitcoms. Wanda and Vision’s powers mix remarkably well with their setting, and Agnes injects punch into every scene she’s in. The fourth episode’s revelation of the separation between interior and exterior sets up how the show will climax, introducing more key players into the mix while not giving away how the story will end.

Episodes 5 through 7 blend the sitcom format with events outside of the bubble; it’s a complicated balance to manage, but the show still has a certain magic in these moments. Every actor on screen has a clear motivation, and they all execute these motivations brilliantly. The trio of Monica Rambeau, Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis, played by Teyonah Parris, Randall Park and Kat Dennings respectively, are standouts. Park and Dennings have sitcom experience, with Park starring in “Fresh Off the Boat” and Dennings starring in “2 Broke Girls.” They give WandaVision an authentic television feel, a term often used negatively. Here, though, they ground the show, and remind the audience that this is not a six-hour version of a Marvel movie. This is a different medium entirely, with different storytelling conventions. 

Elizabeth Olsen is truly incomparable. She blends in perfectly with each sitcom, particularly in the black-and-white era. Much credit should be given to the hair and costuming departments, which capture the essence of the 1950s while still giving Wanda an otherworldly feel. A true highlight comes in the seventh episode, where Wanda essentially transforms into a red-haired Julie Bowen, giving a performance that would fit in any “Modern Family” episode. In addition to being an excellent comedian, Olsen also proves to be a dynamic dramatic actress. Wanda is in an unfortunate position. Because of her powers, the people around her fear her, but because of her grief and vulnerability, Agatha Harkness takes advantage of her. Hahn and Olsen are a matchup for the ages, both giving fantastic performances in their interactions.

One of the best parts about watching “WandaVision” was observing the fan theories posted online. New and old fans alike researched theories about the show’s characters, trying to figure out where “WandaVision” was going next. With a week between every episode, fans had time to dream big. There were theories that Mephisto, one of the greatest villains in the Marvel comics, would be introduced in the show, as well as theories that the Fantastic Four or the X-Men would make appearances. These theories had never really existed with the movie format. Sure, there was speculation about what would happen in every Marvel movie, but fans couldn’t exactly pause in the middle of the film to research the comics. This theorization climaxed in the lead-up to the finale. Fans expectantly waited for the conclusion to the show they had obsessed over for two months. Unfortunately, the finale left much to be desired.

The finale of “WandaVision” loses much of the charm of the previous episodes. It returns to the Marvel formula of a final action sequence to conclude the story. Wanda and Agatha shoot magic energy at each other, jostling for dominance in the sky above Westview. S.W.O.R.D. create their own Vision-like robot, also played by Paul Bettany; this S.W.O.R.D. creation and Vision fight and destroy various buildings in Westview. The battles end with Wanda being transformed into the Scarlet Witch, complete with a sleek new costume and wavy hair; however, the paradise she created is turned to rubble. It’s a jaw-dropping image, but when the rest of the story being told in “WandaVision” feels so antithetical to the rest of Marvel’s output, a more traditional superhero ending feels hollow.

But there are still brief moments of humanity in the episode. Wanda ends up taking down her hex over Westview, in the process killing her children that she created with her powers. She also loses Vision in this moment, as it is revealed that the Vision the audience sees throughout “WandaVision” was also created with Wanda’s powers. It’s an emotionally stirring moment that shows how much Wanda’s personality has evolved. She has processed her tremendous grief, leaving her cleansed and almost whole. However, her circumstances are exactly the same as they were before the show — no partner, no family and little control over her powers. The difference now is that she has the knowledge of what she could be: the Scarlet Witch. However, the audience will not see the true potential of the Scarlet Witch’s powers until she appears in the Marvel movies.

It is unclear what Marvel wanted from “WandaVision.” There are elements of the show that break the Marvel mold, and these are the elements that resonated with viewers. The campiness of the sitcom format. The theme songs that introduced each new episode. Elizabeth Olsen’s acting prowess. Kathryn Hahn’s genius. The strength of Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau. By the end of the show, though, nothing feels concluded. Hahn is defeated but kept on ice for the future. Vision is dead, but the possibility of his return is left open. Wanda has the knowledge that she is the Scarlet Witch, but she doesn’t really know what that means yet. In the end, “WandaVision” feels like the most interesting possible path to get Wanda her full power set. However, the show introduced, and then didn’t follow through on, elements that were more interesting to viewers. In the future, Marvel Television needs to figure out whether they want to make episodic superhero movies or stories that warrant the television format. “WandaVision” feels stuck in the middle.

Camden Rider | camden.rider@yale.edu