Monday, April 19, 2021

WandaVision 1x04 Review: “We Interrupt This Program” (Monica Takes Center Stage) [Guest Poster: Hannah E.]

“We Interrupt This Program”
Original Airdate: January 29, 2021

WandaVision takes a break from sitcoms and flashes back to catch us up on life outside of Westview.

The opening scene of “We Interrupt This Program” is breathtaking. The camera follows Monica Rambeau as she reforms from dust — one of the billions lost to Thanos’ snap in Infinity War — and makes her way through chaos inside the hospital, desperately searching for her mom only to learn she’s been dead for years. Spiderman: Far From Home is the only other Marvel property to take place after the Blip, and the tone of that series required the Blip be used mostly as a funny joke. WandaVision is the first time the MCU has acknowledged how utterly terrifying the experience must have been for everyone involved. A hospital was perfectly fine one moment and overrun the next. Monica’s mom was alive one moment and dead the next.

The whole first half of this episode really shines by letting Monica’s story take center stage. Losing her mom wasn’t the only thing she lost in the Snap; when she tries to go back to work, the staff doesn’t even recognize her. Her security pass hasn’t been reinstated, and protocols put in place for disappearing SWORD agents means that she’s not allowed to return to space. Instead she’s stuck running errands for the new director, Tyler Hayward, who not only replaced her mom but also got the promotion that should’ve been hers.

The particular errand Hayward asks her to run is our gateway into Westview. The FBI has a witness that’s gone missing and need a drone to help them scout the town. Quickly upon arriving, Monica realizes this is no ordinary case. The whole scene of her encountering the Hex for the first time is so well done. Unlike Jimmy Woo, she doesn’t have the feeling that Westview wants her to leave; instead, it calls to her. Monica almost can’t help but put her hand against the boundary. Wanda’s subconscious created Westview as a way to ease her grief and the town reaches out to that same impulse in Monica who is currently grieving the loss of her mother. 

The second half of the episode pivots to introduce us to the recurring set of the SWORD base outside of Westview. Jimmy and Darcy become our windows into each new discovery as the show replays events inside Westview that we’ve already seen, but this time from a new angle. We learn it was Monica’s drone that turned into the toy helicopter, Jimmy’s voice in the radio, and the beekeeper from “Don’t Touch That Dial” was a SWORD agent in a hazmat suit. We also learn that the WandaVision we’ve been watching also exists as a show called WandaVision within this universe. Not only is Wanda creating a sitcom world around her, she’s airing (and censoring) a broadcast. 

The framing of this part of the episode is crucial. A lot of people have a problem with how Monica was used at the end of the finale because they view her as a stand-in character for the audience — meaning whatever she feels is code for how the writers want us to feel. But I don’t think that’s true. The writers deliberately create Darcy as the audience stand-in. They do it in a really subtle and sneaky way — literally having her become an audience member watching WandaVision and saying all the things we’ve been thinking during the first three episodes. She’s so engrossed in the show that she calls the townspeople “characters” and has to be reminded by Jimmy that they’re real people. 

Structuring plot reveals around Darcy and Jimmy at the SWORD base is also a pretty clever way for the show to dump tons of exposition on the audience. The writers of the show were definitely more focused on character than plot, but at some point they were always going to have to do a lot of plot-related heavy lifting. Giving us two characters in Darcy and Jimmy — who are as in the dark as we are and therefore ask the same questions — gives the show a shortcut to get the information across. Some of the exposition is a little clunky at points, as the show holds the audience’s hand for a lot of it, but that’s a side effect of Marvel trying to appeal to such a broad age range.  


We only get one new scene inside Westview, but it absolutely delivers. Wanda censors the broadcast so Darcy and Jimmy can’t see, but we finally get to see a Westview not under Wanda’s control. It picks up right where last week’s Wanda and Monica scene cut off, after Monica (still as Geraldine) says that Pietro was killed by Ultron. Wanda’s reaction is downright sinister; she slowly stalks Monica across the room, demanding answers. When Monica can’t give them, Wanda sends her flying through the wall, all the way across town and out of Westview.

When they cast Elizabeth Olsen to play Wanda, they were sitting on a powder keg of talent. The movies have given her a couple decent set pieces to chew on, but she’s mostly been a minor character tossed around like a plot device to drive action for more important Avengers. This is the first scene in the MCU that’s really let Olsen use her full range as she switches from the hammy style of the 1970s to the quiet sadness of remembering Pietro to the anger of realizing Monica is really a SWORD agent. Finally, the subtle terror on Wanda’s face as she stares at her hands, stunned at what she’s done. She quickly repairs the wall, covering any evidence that Monica was ever there.

When Vision comes back inside, for just a moment Wanda sees the version of him from the end of Infinity War — lifeless and drained of all color, gaping hole in his head where Thanos ripped the stone from his forehead. Showrunner Jac Schaeffer said her goal was for that moment to feel as impactful to the audience as the big CGI battles at the end of Marvel movies, and she more than succeeded. You really feel Wanda’s horror as she looks upon the face of her dead husband. 

The horror of that moment carries forward to Wanda and Vision’s conversation. Vision says they could leave Westview and go wherever they want. But Wanda knows they can’t; this is their home now because it has to be their home. There is literally no life for them outside of this town. Then the cutaway to Monica lying on the ground outside of the Hex, saying: “It’s Wanda. It’s all Wanda” is downright ominous.

"Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix kicks in over the episode’s last shot of Wanda and Vision sitting down on the couch to watch TV. The aspect ratio switches back to 4:3, letting us know Wanda is back in control of the situation. That suddenly seems like a terrifying prospect.

Odds and Ends:

  • In case it wasn’t obvious already, I am a huge Elizabeth Olsen fan. If you haven’t seen her in the movie Martha Marcy May Marlene or the TV show Sorry For Your Loss (the best TV show no one knows exists), go watch those right now.
  • So much of this show’s interpretation of Wanda comes down to what Elizabeth Olsen was bringing to the performance because it definitely was not in the scripts of Age of Ultron, Civil War, or Infinity War. One of the few moments that feels truly unique to Wanda in the movies is her reaction to being blipped out of existence. Every other character we see is terrified, struggling to hang on; but as Wanda turns to dust, she just looks relieved. That moment was not in the script — Elizabeth Olsen made that choice on set because she felt like that’s how the character would feel. During a Comic Con panel, Olsen said the Russos basically let her and Paul Bettany have control over their characters because the Russos figured they knew them best. That speaks to both the movie’s complete disinterest in Wanda and Vision, but also the tremendous talent and commitment Olsen and Bettany were bringing to rather thankless roles. 
  • SWORD stands for “Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division” which is a slight change from the comic’s acronym of “Sentient World Observation Response Division.”
  • I love Monica’s story in this episode, but unfortunately it kind of goes downhill from here. I think it’s pretty clear Jac Schaeffer was most interested in telling the story of Wanda and Vision, and Marvel saddled her with the introduction of two other new superheroes — one of those being Monica. You can just tell the writers’ hearts weren’t in that part of the show, which is unfortunate. 
  • I’ve been on a crash course of all things MCU in the past two months watching WandaVision, but I have not seen the first two Thor or Ant-Man movies, so Darcy and Jimmy Woo are brand new characters to me.
  • I have seen Captain Marvel, and it was a nice choice to play audio from that film over the opening scene, to really make it clear that Monica is the same character we saw as a child in 1995.
  • A lot of people expected Jimmy’s missing person to become a plot point, but in hindsight it’s clear that was just a plot device. People in Witness Protection have to check in with their handlers, and of course no one can check in with their real life under Wanda’s mind control. Unfortunate for Wanda that this sleepy little town of 3,000 also happened to be fostering an FBI hideaway. In an interview, Jac Schaeffer said she was not allowed to answer questions about it though, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI informant is somehow introduced in a later show or movie.
  • When Monica touches it, we get to see the fabric of Wanda’s boundary. The visual design is meant to mimic the look of TV static through the ages, which is a really nice touch. The set design for this show went many, many steps above and beyond.
  • We see Monica break through three walls before finally breaking through the Hex itself, meaning she broke the fourth wall to get back to reality. Wink, wink. 
  • Wanda kicking Monica out of the Hex marks her progress from denial to anger as she makes her way through the five stages of grief.
  • This show has a really thoughtful take on feminism, but there was definitely a blind spot in the writer’s room when it came to race. I don’t think anyone realized the racial implications of a white woman calling a Black woman an “outsider” and kicking her out of her home, currently designed to look like the 1970s. There’s one other scene of a similar nature that takes place in the finale. I don’t think anyone had malicious intent in their portrayal of Monica, but they end up sidelining one of the show’s (and the MCU’s) only Black superheroes while also not writing her identity into the character. 


Post a Comment