WandaVision Episode 5 “On a Very Special Episode…” Review

Last week’s WandaVision broke from the format of the series up to that point, taking us out of the sitcom artifice and dropping us into a more familiar Marvel Studios production. At the time, I was disappointed that the curtain had been drawn so early, that we were seemingly giving away a lot of the mystery of the show for free. Plenty of viewers and critics were of the opposite opinion and were happy to have answers and a closer tie-in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large. After seeing this week’s episode, my harsh position on last week’s has softened somewhat, as we now enter a new phase of the series that can satisfy both camps. Now alternating between the television fantasy world and the effort to understand it from outside, WandaVision’s new status quo immediately delivers the show’s most engaging episode, with more intriguing developments teased for the remaining four chapters.

Growing Pains

This episode’s sitcom riff takes us into the 1980s, and I don’t think it’s an accident that creator Jac Schaeffer chose this as the point when events inside the Hex (as Dr. Darcy Lewis has dubbed it) turn from comedic to dramatic. It’d be hard to do a genuinely funny homage to the kind of toothless Reagan-era family sitcom that The Simpsons was created to react against. Instead, as the title “On a Very Special Episode…” suggests, this chapter is about the characters learning some hard lessons, as Wanda’s control over her fantasy world is tested and Vision regains a sense of real consciousness.

Wanda gave birth to twin sons Tommy and Billy back in “Now in Color!” and, true to television, they are immediately aged up to an age convenient for the story. Notably, it’s not Wanda who transforms the infants into precocious five-year-olds, in fact they seem to do it themselves. The twins are apparently immune to Wanda’s magical influence and have their own reality-bending power, though so far they only seem able to use it on their own bodies. When told that they can’t keep a pet until they reach age ten, Tommy and Billy immediately agree to call their parents’ bluffs and just become ten-year-olds (now portrayed by Jett Klyne and Julian Hilliard, respectively). When grieving the sudden death of their new puppy, the twins seem poised to age up again just to escape the pain of grief, which forces Wanda to teach the flatly hypocritical lesson, “You can’t run from your problems…You can’t raise the dead.”

This teaching moment comes at an interesting time for Wanda, who earlier in the episode demonstrates a new brashness about the use of her powers. Perhaps she feels more confident that she can maintain control after banishing the intruder “Geraldine,” and no longer feels the need to hide her true nature from the populace over which she asserts near-total control anyway. Why be afraid? Who can hurt her here, where she’s essentially god? But some part of Wanda, the hero we know from the films, obviously knows that what she’s doing is wrong, and now that she’s a parent, she’s going to have to consider the example she’s setting. She’s not ready to confront that yet, but the cracks are forming.

WandaVision

Talk About a “Post-Credits Scene”

After beginning to see the seams in Westview’s altered reality, this week Vision finally catches on to the fact that their world is false and that Wanda is responsible for the illusion. Wanda’s ability to directly influence Vision’s behavior seems to have diminished, and she’s now forced to take more roundabout measures to keep him from learning the truth, like sending him away to the office on what used to be a Saturday. This doesn’t work, however, as Computational Services has just received a state-of-the-art, early internet-connected computer that intercepts an email about the anomaly from S.W.O.R.D., which is read aloud in terrifying Borg-like unison by his coworkers. This leads Vision to free Norm (Asif Ali) from Wanda’s spell, and Norm confirms that Wanda has been overwriting the personalities of the townspeople and crushing their will with overwhelming pain. Vision then makes the questionable decision of returning Norm to Wanda’s control before going home to confront her.

When Vision reveals what he knows, Wanda attempts to shrug it off and end the episode, summoning a final clip of canned laughter and rolling the credits, but Vision pushes past it, beginning the series’ most dramatic scene underneath a scroll of yellow text like this was Too Many Cooks. As the credits are dismissed, Vision pleads with Wanda to drop the act and explain what’s going on — why she’s brainwashing their neighbors, why he doesn’t remember his past, why there are no other children in town. Wanda denies that she’s in control of everything (which I read as a lie) and says she doesn’t know how this all started (which I actually do believe), while Vision tries to appeal to her conscience. It’s the show’s best scene so far, with strong performances from leads Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany. But it’s too soon to resolve this conflict, and a distraction soon offers itself in the form of a visitor, a shocking surprise even to Wanda — the arrival of her brother Pietro (Evan Peters, and oh we will get to that).

“On a Very Special Episode…” also features the best of the series’ fake commercials so far, providing more context as to why this illusion exists. It’s an ad for Lagos brand paper towels, and as the episode helpfully reminds us a few scenes earlier, Lagos is the site of one of Wanda’s most tragic and public failures, when she diverted an exploding suicide bomber out of a crowd of people but into a populated building, resulting in eleven deaths. The brand name is revealed as we see an image of the towels soaking up red liquid, ominously implying the blood on her own hands. The brand’s slogan, “For when you make a mess you didn’t mean to,” is a cutesy turn of phrase that belies something much heavier and darker, which is exactly what this whole TV fantasy has been from the beginning. It also clarifies something important — this isn’t just about Vision. Before Vision’s death, Wanda had already lost her parents, then her brother, and then taken responsibility for a deadly accident that also led to the dissolution of her new surrogate family in the Avengers. It’s more than any one person could handle, and she’s simply had enough.

WandaVision

The Woo & Lewis Podcast

For the first time, the story in Westview is broken up by concurrent scenes from the S.W.O.R.D. investigation into what they’re calling “the Hex,” the hexagonal-shaped anomaly that surrounds the town. (Somehow this “Hex” is going to be how Wanda gets the name Scarlet Witch.) We pick up with Captain Monica Rambeau (Teyona Parris) after her ejection from the Hex, where she explains how Wanda’s brainwashing feels to those inside. She describes it as being weighed down by grief, and we can infer that this is the pain that Norm explains to Vision later in the episode. This is most likely Wanda’s own anguish being transplanted into her victims so that she can move on without it. While this is a harrowing experience, Rambeau remains convinced that Wanda isn’t doing this maliciously and still wants to help her, but her superior at S.W.O.R.D., Acting Director Hayward (Josh Stamberg) doesn’t see it that way. Hayward goes so far as to withhold from her his own plans to subdue Wanda, which naturally do not work and only serve to provoke Wanda out of the Hex to deliver some threats before returning home.

The S.W.O.R.D. subplot delivers us some new information this week, showing us how Wanda stole Vision’s body from one of their facilities weeks earlier. Hayward tells the team that Wanda took Vision’s body in violation of his own living will, to which Agent Woo (Randal Park) replies “He didn’t want to be anybody’s weapon.” Hayward blows right past this, but Woo is almost certainly correct if he’s implying that the last place Vision would want his body delivered would be the Sentient Weapons Observation and Response Division. Woo’s intention with this line is a little ambiguous, but the camera lingers on Rambeau for a moment after she hears it, perhaps considering the possibility that S.W.O.R.D. was up to no good with Vision’s remains and that this story began with Wanda putting a stop to it.

This, however, brings to mind a pet peeve of mine: It makes sense for Rambeau, Woo, and Dr. Lewis (Kat Dennings) to discuss the events of WandaVision as if they’re watching it because they are watching it, but why do they talk about the characters and events of the films as if they’ve seen them? How does Jimmy Woo know what Vision would want? As far as we know, they never met! To a lesser extent, while the team’s recollection of Wanda’s role in the final battle with Thanos allows for a moment to consider Rambeau’s personal connection to Captain Marvel, it sounds like a debate that fans would have after watching the movie, conducted by three characters who were not there. You can handwave this by imagining that there’s satellite footage of the climax to Endgame that experts like them would have studied, but it sometimes reads that, since Woo and Lewis are basically just audience surrogates, they just naturally know everything we know. (Rambeau, at least, has more to offer as a character and has her own story going on.)

Previously:

WandaVision

It’s Confusing Because They Were Both in Kick-Ass

After a week off, the Comic Book Wiseass section of our WandaVision reviews now returns, so anyone who doesn’t want to discuss information from outside the text that we’ve been given so far on the show should back out now. Today I’ll be going into this episode’s implications on the upcoming Marvel Studios slate, some comics history, and a recent quote from star Elizabeth Olsen that isn’t a spoiler exactly, but does open up discussion a lot in light of this episodes’ final twist.

When Pietro Maximoff arrives at his sister’s door, he’s portrayed not by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who played the MCU’s version of Pietro in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but by Evan Peters, who played the (much better-liked) Fox version of Pietro who debuted around the same time in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Any ambiguity about this being a non-diegetic casting change is removed by Darcy Lewis helpfully pointing out that she also notices that this is not the same guy. While it could be that this Pietro is actually just another Westview townsperson being refitted into a character by Wanda’s subconscious, making the casting of Peters into just a misleading gag for fans, it’s more likely that we’ve just gotten our first overt sign that Marvel Studios will be integrating elements of Fox’s X-Men films into their MCU now that they’re both under the same corporate umbrella.

This past week, when asked by TVLine whether or not WandaVision would “have its own ‘Luke Skywalker moment’” a la The Mandalorian, Elizabeth Olsen answered “Yes,” which has led to all sorts of wild internet speculation. Since most of those headlines leave out the fact that this was a brief response to a leading question rather than something she volunteered, expectations have been high for an equally grand cameo (though I’d argue that no character from the MCU would have the same impact since the franchise hasn’t been around for that long). This reveal of the Fox Pietro may well be the surprise to which she referred. But, if this is indeed the first sign that the barrier between the established X-Men franchise and the MCU is now permeable, that opens the door to an appearance by more iconic members of that cast, such as Professor X (more likely James McAvoy than Patrick Stewart) or Wolverine (please no we’ve had enough). Consider that Wanda’s next announced MCU appearance will be in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and this seems even more probable.

Let’s also take a moment to discuss Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), who played a more prominent role in this week’s episode as the twins’ would-be babysitter. Fans have speculated for some time that Agnes is, in fact, the character Agatha Harkness from Marvel Comics mythology. Introduced in 1970 in Fantastic Four (another former Fox holding that’s back with Marvel) Agatha is an old-school witch dating back to at least the Salem Witch trials who briefly becomes Wanda’s mentor in magic. Agatha’s magic is part of the equation that allows Wanda to impregnate herself with the twins Tommy and Bobby, but she’s also the person who eventually reveals them to be unreal and wipes Wanda’s memory of them ever having existed. When Wanda realizes, much later, what Agatha has done, she kills her.

The only evidence so far that Agnes is actually Agatha is the fact that they have a similar name and that she wears a witch costume in the series trailer, but Marvel fans have a habit of being right about things like this and the character could potentially fit really well into this story. Personally, I’m less interested in a third party being involved in Wanda’s predicament — this story is, and should be, hers. But there are still four episodes to go and new wrinkles to be explored, and while I still view last week’s detour as something of a stutter-step, WandaVision now seems to be opening up in some exciting ways.

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