Friday, February 26, 2021

Wanda's Old TV

A somewhat disappointing new WandaVision last night for those hoping for new revelations but kind of an interesting one for those of us who spend too much time thinking about TV and movies.

First we get a brief peek into the backstory of Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) and I was reminded of how Peter Jackson expressed his dislike for wizards shooting electric bolts from their hands when he decided to make the fight between Gandalf and Saruman more telekinetic. And watching Agatha have an energy bolt fight with the witches who'd condemned her to die I thought, yeah, that is kind of boring. But I guess there wasn't much time to build up atmosphere and mood.

Most of the episode involves Agatha taking Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) on a tour of her past, including her childhood in the fictional Sokovia when she and her brother were played by typically lousy, weirdly manic American child actors.

I think it may be more of a problem with how they were directed, though. I don't think the director has spent much time watching children.

The family learns English by watching sitcoms. As an English language teacher myself, I couldn't fail to see the artifice in the scene--the fluent ease with which the whole family chats in English about learning English. Watching television is a good way to practice the language you're learning, especially if it's without subtitles, though it's better to use children's television before moving on to something as sophisticated as the fast paced, colloquial dialogue of sitcoms. But I guess that's a technical detail I shouldn't get too nitpicky about.

A more interesting point one may wonder about is whether or not Wanda compulsively turning to mediocre, particularly escapist television to deal with trauma is the reason she has few apparent compunctions about kidnapping a whole community to serve her emotional needs. The end of this episode reveals the reason the local Vision (Paul Bettany) seems to have an ingrained sitcom personality; he was never the real Vision but Wanda's spontaneously created version, a mixture of her impressions of the real Vision and maybe Dick Van Dyke. So when Kat Denning--and the rest of us at home--were adoring the great chemistry between the two, we were actually watching Wanda's masturbatory fantasy, not unlike Mulholland Drive. The show seems generally pro-sitcom, though, so I suspect the final episode will reveal Wanda had somehow recreated the real Vision and the one being resurrected by SWORD with science, sans infinity stone, is a monster. Which is a less interesting, and less humanist, ending, in my opinion. But maybe audiences have stopped feeling sympathy for Frankenstein's monster.

I liked the episode's more complex take on the SWORD director guy (Josh Stamberg) than previous episodes, though. He has a point when he tells Wanda they can't simply put an expensive and dangerous weapon like Vision in the ground just to satisfy her need for a funeral. It wasn't sensitive of him to show her Vision being dismantled without warning but autopsies aren't so strange.

Agatha takes credit for making Pietro not look like the one Wanda remembers. It would be disappointing to learn Evan Peters' casting has nothing to do with the Bryan Singer X-Men universe, hopefully there'll be another twist on that in the final episode.

WandaVision is available on Disney+.

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