After three episodes that held to a rigid but intriguing formula, WandaVision’s fourth chapter is a dramatic departure from what we’ve seen so far, a more conventional drama that investigates the show-within-a-show from without. Utilizing the familiar tone of a Marvel movie (though mostly sans action), “We Interrupt This Program” draws back the curtain for viewers who hadn’t already pieced together the mystery, but doesn’t add much to it, focusing instead on the grander Marvel Universe outside. While an episode like this isn’t unexpected, and is probably necessary to make the series comprehensible in the long run, taking a break from the show’s central gimmick so soon is a bit of a disappointment. Until now, WandaVision has separated itself from the rest of the Marvel Studios oeuvre by not holding the audience’s hand, but now we’re getting the full guided tour when wandering around for a bit longer might have been more fun.
In Medias Resurrection
“We Interrupt This Program” opens as the body of Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) reassembles from cosmic dust and she awakens in a hospital room, where she believes she’s simply dozed off. The majority of viewers who are familiar with the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are ahead of her from the get-go, and understand that Monica must have been among the 50% of all life in the universe who was snapped out of existence by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, and is now coming back to life during the climax of Endgame. Monica is quickly informed not only that she’s been (accurately) presumed dead for the past five years, but that her mother has died of cancer during her absence.
In the most recent MCU film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, the return of the half of the population who were dusted by the Snap is only depicted briefly and is played for laughs, given the comical nickname “the Blip.” Here, we get a more earnest depiction of what it might be like for billions of people to suddenly reappear wherever they were when they died, without any idea that they were even dead. The scene of the reverse rapture in the hospital is tense, panicky, and as unsettling as the disappearances had been. In the long term, this is a miracle, a universally joyful event, but in the short term, half of everyone on Earth or elsewhere has just missed five years of history, and the other half is about to be faced with the people they’ve had to mourn and move on from. Monica learning of her mother’s death is just a taste of the collective trauma that the Blip would cause.
While it’s par for the course considering this is a Marvel Studios production, I pity anyone who put on WandaVision because they were curious about this quirky not-sitcom everyone’s been talking about but who hasn’t seen the Avengers films that led up to it. The nature of the Snap and the Blip are not explained at all in this episode and it’s fair to assume that they won’t be later, either, since the window to explain it to a character who missed that whole thing has now closed. Granted, it’s not too presumptuous to assume that viewers have at least a passing familiarity with the events of the highest-grossing film of all time, and storytellers can now count on the audience’s access to thorough explainer articles so that they don’t have to spend expensive screentime boring the portion of the audience that has seen all the films with information they already know. And, hell, we love our explainers, but on a show that is preoccupied with the way television has changed over the years, it’s notable that this kind of omission of exposition would never happen on a series made ten years ago.
Agent of S.P.A.C.E. (Seeding Plots Ahead of Cinematic Extension)
After the compelling teaser in the hospital, I expected that the episode might resume something close to the rhythm of earlier episodes, perhaps bouncing back and forth between a sitcom pastiche and the people observing it. Instead, the entire episode is told from a “real world” perspective, as we catch up on the events of the series so far from the point of view of characters who are not trapped in Westview, NJ.
Our main focus is on Captain Rambeau as she tries to pick up her professional life where she left off. Three weeks after returning to the land of the living, Rambeau returns to her job at the Sentient Weapons Observation Response Division, or S.W.O.R.D.. In Marvel Comics lore, S.W.O.R.D. is S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sister organization, concerned with extraterrestrial threats to Earth, and that seems to be the implication here as well. There are only hints at what Rambeau’s duties were at S.W.O.R.D. before the Snap, but given that her new boss, Acting Director Hayward (Josh Stamberg, The Affair) informs her that she’s limited to “terrestrial missions” for the time being, one supposes that Captain Rambeau is accustomed to working in space.
Monica Rambeau is a legacy at S.W.O.R.D.. Director Hayward says that Monica’s late mother, Maria, “built this place,” and that Monica grew up here. We last saw the Rambeaus in Captain Marvel, set in the 1990s, when Monica was just a child and Maria was reunited with her best friend and fellow test pilot Captain Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel. Apparently, after their extraterrestrial encounter with the Skrulls and the Kree, Maria got busy developing S.W.O.R.D. as a countermeasure to alien invasion, and Monica spent her adolescence on base before becoming an agent herself. This backstory is also only alluded to in this episode, but that’s fine, since WandaVision doesn’t seem to have anything to do with space aliens. (So far.)
Rambeau finds that things have changed at the office while she’s been gone, and that there’s a new focus on unmanned missions. S.W.O.R.D. is concerned with “Sentient Weapons,” and while WandaVision doesn’t seem to have any interest in alien worlds, it does star two characters that could be considered living weapons. Wanda Maximoff’s powers are the result of a military experiment, and Vision is a synthetic being manufactured by Ultron — an advanced militant A.I. — to be his next body. Were this not a Marvel Cinematic Universe product, I would assume this connection was seeded deliberately for a late-series twist (S.W.O.R.D. is actually behind it all and trying to capture and exploit Wanda or Vision!) but since this is an MCU story, it’s just as likely that this is only table-setting for Captain Marvel 2, which will also feature Monica Rambeau.
Most People From New Jersey Would Love to Forget Their Hometown
Captain Rambeau is assigned to assist FBI Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park, reprising his role from Ant-Man & the Wasp) on an unusual missing persons case. Someone in the Witness Protection Program has disappeared, but more than that, his friends and family have also forgotten that he exists. The protectee has been residing in Westview, NJ, a town that has also been forgotten by the neighboring towns — two local cops flatly deny the existence of Westview while standing in front of a large “Welcome to Westview” sign that they refuse to acknowledge. Upon closer inspection, Rambeau encounters a strange energy field that is surrounding the town and giving off bad vibes, and when she touches it, she’s pulled inside and vanishes, becoming the “Geraldine” seen in earlier episodes.
S.W.O.R.D. mobilizes the entire US military and intelligence community to investigate the missing suburb, including astrophysicist Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings, who originated the role in Thor). Dr. Lewis is the first to detect that the bubble surrounding Westview is broadcasting a strange television series starring Wanda Maximoff and the deceased Avenger Vision, with the rest of the townsfolk playing roles in a bizarre fantasy. The bulk of the episode follows Lewis, Woo, and S.W.O.R.D.’s investigation as they basically watch the first three episodes of the show and get caught up on the information that the audience has already received, while also providing explanations for some of the times when reality has briefly asserted itself (the drone, the beekeeper, the radio transmission.)
There are few surprises here, and the episode ends on the same beat as the previous one, with Rambeau being ejected from Westview by Wanda as an unwelcome intruder, though we now get the complete scene and without the veil of the sitcom illusion. Rambeau closes the episode with the revelation that Wanda is behind the phenomenon, which isn’t a terribly compelling beat to end with since we more or less knew that already at the end of the last episode.
“We Interrupt This Program” is the least intriguing episode of WandaVision so far, not only because it abandons the unique structure of the show, but because it spoonfeeds answers to a number of lingering questions while not raising enough new questions. The strongest section of the episode is the opening third, which is dedicated to developing Monica Rambeau, but when she disappears from the story we’re left with Darcy Lewis and Jimmy Woo, two comic relief side characters imported from the movies who, so far, still feel like comic relief side characters even with larger roles. The brief time we spend back inside Westview is properly eerie — Wanda looking back and seeing Vision’s dead face with his head busted open is very effective — but mostly it just made me crave another sitcom episode with escalating bizarre moments, like we’ve been getting. (Happily, we should be getting more of that next week, though we’ll have to be splitting our time between the illusion and the real world.)
WandaVision hasn’t felt much like any Marvel movie until “We Interrupt This Program,” which most closely resembles the first act of Thor: The Dark World. (You know, the worst one?) When the series is finished, I may look back and decide that this was the right time for a full-on detour from the gradual escalation of WandaVision’s central conceit. But for the moment, this chapter left me hungry for the flavor of weirdness that captured my attention in the show’s opening act.