WandaVision Goes Even More Meta in “A Very Special Episode…”
Time for a review of the latest episode of WandaVision: “A Very Special Episode…” Since I keep taking too long to finish these, I’m going to try to do a bit less verbose in my recapping and focus on reviewing. And before we get into that, I want to mention up front that while I thus far love this show playing on Disney+, it is still unfortunate that the Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.
This week’s episode continues the trend seen in the first three where Wanda, Vision, and the town of Westview moves through the decades with styles, decor, and so forth evoking sitcoms of a particular era. This episode has moved into the 80s, and while i recognized the styles and at least the homages during the opening sequence to Family Ties, but I have to confess that while I am familiar with a lot of the sitcoms of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, I didn’t watch much TV during the 1980s1. So I probably missed a bunch of subtle stuff in this one.
This episode moved back and forth between the viewpoint of Wanda and Vision inside the reality bubble, and the scientists and agents outside. With some direct interaction that did not go very well. It was interesting, it was intense in places, and the mystery managed to deepen some more. I don’t think I can say more without spoilers, so if you don’t want to read those, stop now!
Seriously, spoilers ahead!
Okay, you’re on your own now!
So far all of the titles of the episodes have been phrases associated with television, specifically phrases you might hear an announcer speak in a promo or at a commercial break, and so forth. This week’s title continues that trend. “A Very Special Episode” was a phrase usually used to describe an episode of a sitcom which tackled a difficult or controversial social issue. They were often quite awkward, because they amounted to being a stern lecture instead of the lighthearted nature of the show’s usual tone. Cringeworthy barely begins to describe it. I associated this phrase with shows in the 1990s, rather than the 80s. But according to Wikipedia, the use of the phrase peaked in the 1980s. Tt makes sense they would use the phrase for the 80s show.
The show begins with Wanda and Vision, now in a set that made me think of Family Ties and Who’s the Boss, struggling as new parents that can’t get the babies to stop crying and go to sleep. They try various means that comedically fail, until neighbor Agnes shows up in extremely 80s clothes and hair, offering to help. Things get awkward when Vision objects and Agnes says and does some things which indicate that she is aware that she is merely playing a role in a storyline that Wanda is directing.
Wanda is confused by this but not nearly as much as Vision is. I think that Wanda was probably more confused that Agnes is aware of the role she is playing, whereas Vision is continuing to grow more and more worried about the fact that he can’t remember his life before episode one.
There is a bit more comedy2, and the babies suddenly age up to about five years old, which Agnes takes in stride more or less3.
Meanwhile the S.W.O.R.D. agents are still trying to figure out what’s going on. Monica Rambeau has undergone a bunch of tests and has been debriefed. The Director of S.W.O.R.D. clearly is only open to thinking of this as a terrorist situation where Wanda is a villain to be defeated. Agent Woo, Dr. Lewis, and Capt. Rambeau are not quite so sure. The deduce more things about the energy field and how it behaves, as well as figuring out that the clothes Monica was wearing as Geraldine when she was ejected from the bubble were made from the clothes she had been wearing when she went in. Wanda is creating things out of nothing, but tansforming the materials inside to suit the needs of the show.
Inside the bubble the boys find a puppy and want to adopt it. Wanda isn’t sure that’s a good idea, even when Agnes shows up with a doghouse and a bunch of dog toys. When Vision and Wanda suggest that the boys aren’t old enough to take care of a puppy, they look at each other and age themselves up to 10 years old.
Vision spent part of the day at the office helping install new computers at everyone’s work station. Somehow an email from the Director of S.W.O.R.D. to all the gents appears on the screen. Vision discovers that he can “wake up” the person who is playing the role of Norm, who proceeds to beg Vision to “make her stop!” so he can check on his family and go back to his life.
Back at the house there is a conversation between Wanda and the boys where the boys point out the contradiction between the fact that when the day began it was Saturday, so Dad shouldn’t be at the office, whereas Wanda insists it’s Monday, before admitting that Vision needed to be distracted. This is interrupted by the puppy getting very upset about something, and Wanda realizing something is wrong. When she goes out to investigate, we see that a drone is flying over the city.
Monica, Jimmy Woo, and Dr. Lewis theorized that if something penetrated the forcefield that wouldn’t be out of place, that it might not be transformed. So they dug up a 1980s drone and Rambeau flew it in. Once she can see Wanda standing in here yard, Monica attempts to talk to Wanda through a loudspeaker on the drone. Wanda is clearly unhappy about this, and does something to begin interfering Monica’s control of the drone. This causes the Director to order another person in the control room to “take the shot.” Monica barely has time to start getting incensed that the Director put a weapon in the drone without telling her before they lose contact with the drone and alarms start going off.
Wanda walks out of the forcefield, holding what appears to be the smoldering remains of the drone. Her clothes look more like something we had last seen her wearing in the last Avengers movies, and her Sokovian accent has somewhat come back. There is a back and forth where the Director is being threatening, Wanda is trying to warn everyone off, while Monica is trying to deescalate and reason with Wanda. Wanda demonstrates very clearly that she could easily kill the Director and is chosing not to as she walks back into the bubble4.
Inside Westview, it is a bright sunny day (it was nighttime outside the forcefield). The puppy ran away during the drone incident, so Wanda and the boys are looking for him. Unfortunately, the puppy has died, having eaten azalea leaves in Agnes’ yard5. The conversation that follows is a weird combination of what you might expect from one of those older sitcom’s Very Special Episode that was intended to help kids understand death. But it gets weird because the boys are certain that Wanda could bring the puppy back to life if she wanted to (and Agnes asks if they’re right). The boys look as if they are going to try to age themselves up again, but Wanda stops them and tries to explain why running away from bad feelings is wrong, and that there are some rules in life that can’t be broken6.
Later, Vision and Wanda have a sombre conversation about how the boys are reacting to the puppy’s death. Vision confronts Wanda about the townspeople being under some kind of mind control. It begins to look as if they are going to have a superhero throwdown fight. Wanda essentially admits that she could manipulate Vision’s mind so he stops worrying about this, but she also denies that she’s setting things up. Then they are interrupted by the doorbell ringing. Vision asserts that Wanda had engineered the interruption to sideline their argument. She insists it isn’t here.
The doorbell keeps ringing.
Wanda answers, and they frame the shot for a couple of minutes so you can’t see who it is until Wanda breath’s out a questioning, “Pietro?” Then the camera turns around to reveal Evan Peters, the actor who portrayed the character of Pietro/Quicksilver in 20th Century Fox’s X-man movies back before Disney acquired the Fox library and brought the X-men/Mutant rights back into the some company that owns most of the rest of Marvel Comics characters.
He indicates that he is, indeed, her long lost brother. Vision asks who this is. Wanda and the new Pietro hug. Outside of Westview, Dr. Lewis gasps “Wanda recast Pietro?”, and then Pietro gestures toward Vision and asks “Who’s the popsicle?” The end credits roll before they finish the discussion.
That last minute before the credits takes a lot of unpacking.
In previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, Wanda’s twin brother Pietro (known in the comic books as Quicksilver) was played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and was killed by Ultron (as Geraldine/Monica suddenly remembered two episodes ago). However, because Marvel Comics, long before they founded Marvel Studios, had licenses the X-Men and all of the Marvel Comics Mutants to Fox studios or moves, Quicksilver appeared in three Fox X-Men movies, played by another actor, Evan Peters. It has long be speculated that part of the reason Marvel killed Quicksilver so quickly after introducing him was because the Fox version of the character was both very prominent in those films and was a big fan favorite.Since then, Disney has bought 20th Century Fox7, so Marvel has the rights to all the mutants again. Presumably we will start seeing more of those characters in the future.
I see a few possibilities here:
- Since Marvel peeps have already said that this series leads directly into the next Dr Strange movie: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and in the comics Wanda has some special powers in regards to alternate universes/timelines, it’s possible that her grief over her dead brother (who was mentioned earlier in this episode in addition to episode three) caused her powers to subconsciously pull an alternate universe Pietro who isn’t dead into her pocket reality.
- On the other hand, the moments when she was reminded of Pietro in this episode came from the twins, and we still don’t know how they fit into everything. It is possible that someone else is doing some mind manipulation in Westview, and they put the idea into Wanda’s head so she would accept the new Pietro when he shows up. Which would imply he isn’t who he seems.
- He could be a random Westview inhabitant that Wanda (perhaps subconsciously) cast to fill the role of Pietro, and the showrunners chose Evan Peters to play him as a big red herring for the viewers8.
There are a few reasons I don’t think the last one is the answer. A review I read elseweb asked why this Pietro used the particular figures of speech and the definitely not-Sokovian accent, and I think that’s a clue. Quicksilver in the Fox movies grew up in New Jersey, as I recall, and he had a slight accent there and was wise-cracking all the time. The lines felt to me very much in character for that Quicksilver.
I also think that when Wanda told Vision that she doesn’t remember how the whole Westview thing started, she was being truthful. Similarly, I think she meant it when she said that she didn’t cause the doorbell to ring at the moment as a means to interrupt the argument. As I said about Monica’s final line in the previous episode, “It’s Wanda. It’s all Wanda.” I think Monica is wrong. It’s Wanda’s power that doing this and certainly she’s directing things at the moment, yes. But it is still very possible that she was tricked or pushed or otherwise manipulated into expressing her grief in this way. There are a lot of possibilities among characters connected to Wanda’s storylines in the Marvel comics that could pull that off.
There are still four episodes to go, and the writer’s have shown they’re good at guess what we’re going to guess, so they may well have misled me into this conclusion.
I really liked the episode, though I have to admit this one may be harder to follow if you don’t know all that stuff from the movies and the comics. So this episode may not hold together as well for a lot of other people. I mean, I should admit that at the moment the puppy died I thought the episode was completely going off the rails. Right up until Wanda had to talk the twins out of using their powers to run from their grief. I think the audience was supposed to notice the contradiction between what Wanda was telling her sons, and what she has been doing to Westview. I think we’re supposed to start wondering whether Wanda is just very deep in denial, or if something else is manipulating her and preventing her from seeing the implications of what she’s doing.
But that’s a guess. And if an outside force manipulating her is not revealed in the subsequent episodes, I’m have to revise my opinion of this episode drastically.
Only one way to find out! I got tune in next week!
You might find these reviews useful:
1. For much of the decade I was working multiple jobs while attending college, often part-time. For a chunk of that I was living with relatives. So I had almost no free time, often didn’t have access to a television, and so on.
2. I think the jokes about using liquor to quiet the babies and so forth might have been direct references to some of those very special episodes I didn’t manage to see in the 80s.
3. With a heavy does of alcohol.
4. In an earlier scene Dr. Lewis and Agent Woo had agreed that the Director is an asshole, and he proved that quite thoroughly in these two scenes.
5. I did not know that azalea plants were toxic to dogs until I looked it up after seeing this scene. Wow.
6. Which seems a bit hypocritical, since it seems more and more likely that the whole Westview reality bubble is how Wanda is processing her grief over Vision’s death in Avengers Infinity War.
7. The movie and TV production business, not Fox News.
8. This may be the most meta part of the episode. It’s impossible for some of us to speculate about why Pietro showed up at the end of this episode without also wondering why this actor was cast as him9 rather than the actor who had played the character in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
9. And Dr. Lewis even pointed it out, so folks not familiar with the other movies and the comics will at least know that this Pietro is somewhat different from Wanda’s brother referenced previously in this episode and episode three10.
10. Another reason that I don’t think it is just meant as a red herring or an Easter Egg for the diehard fans. It is important to the plot.