WandaVision “Now in Color” Review
After the joyous first two episodes of WandaVision, I found myself surprisingly engaged with the show’s strange setting, and the (admittedly self-serving) nostalgic reverence for classic comedic forms. However, as I noted in my initial review, the MCU’s ever-lurking presence on the show’s fringes made it all feel like it wasn’t meant to last – a sentiment that becomes markedly more observable in “Now in Color,” an episode frustratingly hindered by the aforementioned Big Fat Cinematic Universe making its presence very known, via a series of symbols, wink wink dialogue, and a near-abandoning of the most fun aspects of its premise.
It’s pretty apparent about five minutes into “Now in Color” the tone established in the first two episodes was not going to last; the slow peeling away of the outer layers of whatever strange universe WandaVision takes place (after this episode, my best guess would be some construct Wanda’s built herself outside reality following the events of Avengers: Endgame?) is accelerated in “Now in Color,” to the point it almost feels impatient to shed itself of its unique premise, eager to hastily reintegrate itself back into the elaborate MCU.
The most obvious visual metaphor for this is how Wanda’s pregnancy comes to fruition in the matter of a day in her world (or Vision abandoning and pretense and super-speeding the doctor to his house); this show is so horny to start connecting itself to Doctor Strange (as it has already publicly announced), it quickly abandons the slow burn of episodes one and two. This essentially turns “Now in Color” into a much less satisfying episode of Legion‘s first season – which is not a good look, either for WandaVision‘s ambitions to tell a meaningful story, or for the MCU itself.
With the mystery of What’s Going On taking central focus in this episode, the strange, unrealistic haven of suburban happiness Wanda and Vision are living in almost immediately takes a backseat to the Reddit-friendly breadcrumbs. Once “Now in Color” hits its second act, the laugh track slowly fades away, the shot-blocking becomes more modern, and WandaVision just about abandons any pretense of being anything other than a brief thought experiment into unbridled creativity.
As that façade peels away in the back half of the episode, WandaVision equally loses Vision in the narrative; and with Paul Bettany channeling the most Americana Dad sitcom performances in television history, it is a fucking shame to see it be wasted as this show begins to be a desperate drip-feed of clues and liner notes for Phase 4 of the cinematic universe. Yes, this was inevitable, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing; Bettany’s been an absolute delight in these first three episodes, fully engaged with the staccato dialogue and physical performances that defined that era of television.
The shift in tone that occurs in the span of 25 minutes is rather shocking; both to the audience, and to the show itself, upending any kind of momentum WandaVision had built as a fourth-wall bending satire of American network television in the 20th century (a trend that appears to be continuing in future episodes, at least superficially). But the intense focus on why this is happening to Wanda, and just what exactly it all means – from Geraldine’s necklace and her presence in the closing shot of the episode to the strange connotations around Agnes and who her husband actually might be, saps any of the creative energy out of the room, the overwhelming, life-sucking gravity of the MCU pulling all the air out of the room.
Ultimately (Ultron-imately?), this series appears to be about Wanda and her trauma; losing her brother, losing Vision (who, as we may forget, was still dead as of Endgame), and trying to build a place of peace for herself after seeing her dream life slip away. Which means this show really isn’t about Vision, or its setting, or Wanda’s attempts to build a new life; it is a mystery box, one where Marvel can toss in C-list characters, cutting short the potential of the series’ premise by insisting its presence as an integral part of this new era of Marvel ‘entertainment’.
The first five minutes of “Now in Color” is perhaps the pinnacle of what WandaVision could be (that, and the magic act scene in episode two): a series that takes two established Marvel characters, and drops them into a world of their own, building a throughline between iconic entertainment of the past and present. Marvel movies and classic sitcoms are no so different, after all: both are genres build on an established format, one whose safety and predictability ensure the comfort (and general attention) of wider audiences.
With WandaVision, Marvel had a grand opportunity to reflect on that legacy, and have a really fun series with two characters who’ve never been untethered from the larger machinations of the Infinity Gauntlet Saga; though knowing this from the get-go makes it hard to feel tricked or deceived, seeing it actively deprive itself of that potential in deference of universe continuity is still an abject bummer. There’s still hope for WandaVision to wring some meaning out of this whole experiment, but time remains to be seen – and things like hiding Geraldine’s one important line of dialogue off screen is not a promising sign for what’s to come.
(Did I mention the opening theme this week slapped? because it fucking slapped)