Thursday, April 8, 2021

WandaVision 1x03 Review: "Now in Color" (Breaking Character) [Guest Poster: Hannah E.]


"Now in Color"
Original Airdate: January 22, 2021

Westview moves from the 60s to the 70s as Wanda goes from her first to her third trimester and we get our first glimpse of the outside world in episode three of WandaVision.

THIS WEEK IN SITCOMS

You can really tell the cast was having an absolute blast filming this week’s episode. Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany have had to play exclusively dramatic scenes as Wanda and Vision, and getting to do the un-self aware overacting of the 1970s must have been a real treat. But Teyonah Parris steals the show in her scene, perfectly recreating the way white writers scripted the Black best friend in old sitcoms. Her performance is made even more impressive in the moments when she drops the character, letting the real Monica break through the fa├žade of Geraldine; her voice and cadence changes completely but she also does it subtly enough that it doesn’t stand out until re-watch. 

Three episodes in and the show has also really found its stride in adapting Wanda and Vision’s characters to the archetypes of the era: overprotective and dorky dad Vision is the most at home that character has ever felt. I’ll say this every week, but someone in Hollywood really needs to get on building a sitcom around Paul Bettany because he was born to star in one. 

Wanda’s pregnancy gave the writers a chance to do so many classic sitcom tropes all in one go: accelerated pregnancies and labors, nesting mom and overprotective dad, and the “doctor’s going out of town!” gag. The one they make the most of use as a running gag is increasingly ridiculous ways for Wanda to hide her pregnancy. Jackets, raincoats, fruit, and potted plants all take a turn hiding the baby bump.

Having a third episode take place entirely in the style of a sitcom gives the show a chance to shine at what Marvel has always done best: explore what it means to be a superpowered person living a normal life. I think the Marvel movies that try to make broad statements on morality or society end up punching above their weight class, but the one thing the MCU has always done so well is let its characters simply be characters — think Steve’s list of things to catch up on after coming out of the ice, Peter trying to be Spiderman and make it to class on time, or Bruce Banner’s arc in Thor: Ragnarok trying to be taken seriously as a doctor instead of Hulk. So getting to explore how two superheroes would attempt to be normal parents is really fun; watching them do normal things like decorate a nursery or read parenting books become entertaining as you watch them use their powers to adapt — Vision speedreading and Wanda telekinetically assembling the crib. I especially love the detail of Vision starting to fly when he gets stressed. It’s a short beat, but it goes such a long way in (pun-intended) grounding the character. 

BREAKING CHARACTER

On the surface, this episode is the definition of shenanigans — between the absurdly fast pregnancy, Wanda’s powers going wacky and flooding the neighborhood, and the literal stork wandering around, it seems like pure fluff. But the writers do such a good job slowly ramping up the feeling that something is wrong. They manage to thread the signs throughout without overdoing it by always pairing something ominous with a punchline. Vision’s unsettling conversation with Herb is backed up against Wanda jumping another few months in her pregnancy, Wanda rewinding time is right before her water breaks, and Geraldine breaking character and speaking like Monica happens right before Wanda’s labor begins in earnest. The sitcom plot keeps your brain too busy to focus on all the hints that something is wrong, but you’re left with the ominous feeling that something’s coming. Wanda’s powers going haywire has the same effect: her completely losing control of her magic makes the whole world feel like it’s coming off the rails because it is.

The show also utilizes the canned laugh track to make already creepy moments even creepier. As Vision sees the doctor out, the man laments how impossible it is to escape; the line delivery already makes it sound like a cry for help but the way the audience laughs further heightens the contradiction. We know the line isn’t funny, so the audience laughing just adds to the feeling that something is wrong. 

The character work for Geraldine (Monica) and Agnes in this episode is fascinating on re-watch. Subconsciously, Wanda scripted Geraldine to be there and help her with the birth and watching for the first time, that seems like a throwaway detail. But knowing who Geraldine really is and the connection she shares with Wanda in their grief, it’s clear that Wanda is reaching out for help. During labor, when Wanda says she can’t do it, Geraldine is there to tell her to keep pushing. Wanda knew she was about to go through something difficult, and her mind subconsciously reached out to the one person in town who could help her through it. 

And the first time I watched this episode, I thought Agnes warning Vision about Geraldine was a side effect of Wanda’s subconscious realizing that Geraldine was an outsider. But knowing Agnes is really Agatha, it’s clear that her motivation was to get Wanda to kick Monica out of the Hex. In the first two episodes, Wanda always went to Agnes for help when there was a crisis. But after meeting Geraldine, Wanda doesn’t reach out to Agnes for help with the pregnancy and instead turns to her new best friend. Agatha’s whole plan depended on getting close to Wanda and if Monica replaced her character in the script, everything would fall apart. So Agatha went about engineering a way to get rid of Monica without breaking character herself.

The final scene of the episode is Monica getting kicked out of the Hex, which is also the first time we return to a “normal” MCU aspect ratio. So far the show had been shot in 4:3 to honor the way television was shot throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It really shows how the crew went above and beyond to recreate the sitcoms they were playing off of, and gives the writers a quick and easy way to clue the audience in to when they’re seeing Wanda’s false reality and when they’re seeing the real world. 

WANDA'S MAGIC

All of these episodes do such a good job quietly establishing the rules for Wanda’s magic. It takes center stage in this episode as she loses control during her contractions, which serves to highlight two things. First, that whenever Wanda is at a heightened point of emotion, her powers grow stronger. And second, that Wanda has next to no control over her powers in certain situations. She accidentally creates life when she’s excited (the butterflies) or stressed (the stork). And when she’s in labor, she can’t control the power going out or the rain as her water breaks. All of this lays the groundwork for the reveal of how Wanda really created the Hex — accidentally, out of pure emotion. 

This episode also goes out of its way to show that whatever living things Wanda creates really are alive, independent of her control. She can use her magic to manipulate everything else, but has no control over the butterflies or the stork, and has to sit by helplessly as it wanders through her house. I’ve seen some people downplay the sacrifice Wanda makes at the end of the series, losing her two children, because “they aren’t real kids” but the show goes above and beyond to show that they very much are. 

Odds and Ends:

  • In the comics, Tommy and Billy are named after the two people whose personalities combined to create Vision. I really like how the writers incorporate Wanda and Vision’s character into their name choices here, though; Wanda picks Tommy because it sounds quintessentially American to her and she’s desperate to fit in, and Vision picks Billy after William Shakespeare.
  • Vision quotes Shakespeare’s, “All the world’s a stage. All the men and women, merely players.” He has no idea how right he is.
  • “I can’t wait to be a proud PAPA-ya!” Oh Vision, how I adore you.
  • This week’s commercial is for Hydra Soak, referencing the time Wanda spent as a volunteer for Hydra before Age of Ultron. “Find the Goddess within” is Wanda’s subconscious remembering the vision of Scarlet Witch she saw in the Time Stone.
  • Geraldine’s story of working as the secretary for an ad man is a fun reference to Teyonah Parris’ role in Mad Men, where she played Dawn, Don Draper’s secretary. She was criminally underused in that series, and I’m so excited to see her finally getting mainstream attention.
  • Kathryn Hahn is only in this episode for one scene, but man is she good in it. She plays Agnes’ panic staring at Herb so well, but can immediately switch gears back to sitcom to deliver the best wink in TV history. 

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