There’s a valid reason for Disney+ to air the first two episodes of WandaVision back-to-back. Both instalments work hand-in-hand to both fabricate and demolish a facade of its own making. Whereas episode one was all about trying to sell the deception of a pseudo-1950s sitcom, episode two is all about the gradual and inevitable demise of such a fib.
As previously discussed, WandaVision’s debut utilised the standard mechanics of a pilot episode to sell us an introduction that would inevitably fall apart. Part one proved to be a success; so much so that any hints of something amiss beneath its surface felt as though we were being nudged from a slumber we’d just fallen into. Whereas creator/writer Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman successfully maintained the illusion during part one, part two functions as an act of sabotaging such a mirage. This time around, the show feels as though it’s engaged in an intentional tug-of-war with itself; an internal battle between the faux-sitcom and the show’s wider intentions.
Episode two starts where episode one ended. Wanda and Vision are still living in a black-and-white 50s suburban America; one ruled by hammy jokes, homes shaped like studio sets and dominated by tacky canned laughter tracks. The general layout and execution is as it was before. Except something’s different this time around. The illusion, it would appear, is starting to crack.
Prior to the show’s (fake) title sequence, Wanda and Vision are awoken in the middle of the night by a violent thudding sound. Is it an explosion? Has something fallen from the sky? Whatever it is, it’s a diegetic sound far clearer and more intense than any audio effect a television network from the 1950s could conjure up for a sitcom. In short, it’s coming from beyond the confines of this manufactured environment. The sound carries depth, clarity, and wouldn’t feel out of place in the most contemporary of blockbusters. This thunderous thud will return toward the end of the episode, moments before an external intruder invades the fraudulent sitcom space donning a beekeeper’s suit. At the start of the episode, however, it’s hand waved as yet another integrated part of the sitcom world. In similar fashion to episode one, the intruding truth is hastily restructured into yet another punchline. The sequence ends revealing the explosive boom to be nothing more than a branch knocking against their window. Oh, haha, false alarm, nothing to see here guys! Except it isn’t. The sound is too modern, too loud, too clear to be merely another zinger to a good old fashioned clichéd jape. We are being lied to, and this time, they’re making us more aware of this fact with a boisterous sound effect. It is the pounding blast of something beyond the illusion at the forefront of this series.
Following the title sequence, another giveaway is thrown at us. Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) wardrobe has completely transformed from the last time we saw her. While initially she wore billowing floral dresses; large pearl necklaces; and sported a voluminous head of perfectly curled hair, all of that has been switched out for cropped trousers; figure-hugging tops; lower heeled shoes; minimal jewelry; and a more commonplace haircut. Even her mannerisms have relaxed somewhat. Before she skipped and dashed about the place delivering her lines as if she was the star in a classical Hollywood romp. Now, the volume has been lowered somewhat. At first, this change goes almost unnoticed. Wanda discusses the upcoming talent show with Vision (Paul Bettany), and for all we know, this is just her around-the-house loungewear. But then she leaves home, and it soon becomes clear that she’s the only one dressed like this. The remaining women in her neighbourhood sport the same periodic attire we saw them in last time around. Even neighbour Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) brings it up in conversation, mentioning how important it is for her to fit in if she wants to be accepted by snooty neighbourhood watch leader, Dottie (Emma Caulfield Ford). It’s as if Wanda has shifted a decade or two into the future, while the rest of her town are trapped in the 50s.
Perhaps the biggest clue that the pilot’s illusion is crumbling relates to this episode’s colour palette. Instead of sticking primarily to the black-and-white filter from start to finish, colour starts to make its way into the mix. Hues of red, green and blue subtly bleed into the picture throughout; signalling the three combinations used to produce colour television. These winking hints ooze in and out of the episode continuously, and are punctuated by more blatant explosions of colour regularly throughout. A red and yellow helicopter, a deep red slither of blood from a cut hand, and the final chromatic eruption consuming the entirety of Wanda and Vision’s living room during the final sequence. The greyscale tone is the filter working to support the illusion of the pseudo-sitcom, whereas the colour is the exposure of such lies. It is used to visually represent the tug-of-war happening at the centre of this story. The subtle hues and the pigment-rich objects represent the failing lie, whereas the final moment of total chromaticity illustrates its failure to maintain such falsehoods.
The illusion is crumbling, the fantasy peeling away before our very eyes. It’s happening on a narrative level as well as a visual too. Wanda staring in bewilderment at the toy helicopter in her front yard, the radio asking Wanda “who’s doing this to you?”, and Dottie expressing a moment of utmost confused horror as she realises she shouldn’t be in this place. Episode one establishes a status quo, whereas episode two eradicates it. The final result makes for a spine-chilling watch, in which we realise the roster of characters occupying this world are becoming aware that they are trapped inside an artificial reality. We saw flickers of this in episode one – after Mrs. Hart pleads with Wanda to stop her husband from choking – only now it’s become evermore clear that these people are prisoners of this reality.
What’s fun about this episode’s is its decision to have the primary plot function as a metatexual metaphor for of all this. The central story concerns Wanda and Vision putting on a magic show for their local community; one they are determined to present as a staged performance donning zero supernatural wizardry. Before they are set to go onstage, Vision finds himself in a bit of a sticky situation after a wad of gum tangles up his inner circuitry. Once it’s time to head on stage, Vision’s faulty wiring forces him to lose inhibition. He bumps into objects and doesn’t seem to care that he’s outing his supernatural powers to the local community. Wanda is left to clear up the mess he causes, fooling the community into thinking Vision’s ability to fly, lift heavy objects and become hollow are all the works of smoke and mirrors. With each revealing mishap, the audience appear to grow more suspicious, making it evermore difficult for Wanda to conceal the truth of what’s really going on. What’s most interesting about this scene, is it’s essentially a metaphor for episode’s one and two of the series. Even though we as an audience know none of what’s happening is quite right, the show works effortlessly to fool us into thinking there’s nothing to see here. Episode one managed to trick us into thinking every strange moment or “glitch in the system” was an intentional setup to a good old fashioned jape. Episode two does the same too, only the truth is getting harder to conceal now. The show may well be going “oh haha, it’s a joke” whenever something unusual happens, except we’re not quite buying into it now. In addition to being another moment in which our protagonists try to fit in with their new community, the magic show sequence is a fast-tracked allegory for everything we’ve seen so far.
Episode two’s appeal lies in the fact that it’s playing a very visible game of tug-of-war with itself; one it’s deliberately losing to shift viewers into the next phase of the series. The sitcom angle fights to maintain its relevance, keeping audiences under its illusion for as long as it possibly can. The corny jokes, the traditional setup, the phoney laugh-track. It strives to prop the illusion up; dishing out plenty of high jinks to distract us from the bigger picture. Only the lie grows all the more difficult to maintain. Something weird and dangerous exists under the surface of all this, and chapter two edges up to the periphery of such truths. All of this is completely intentional of course, which makes for an all the more extraordinary experience.
The final result is a marvellous and strange 34-minute chunk of television with a transformative climax. Whereas episode one is like drifting off into the first phase of sleep, episode two is your brain realising mid-slumber that the visions you’re experiencing aren’t real and consequently shifting into something more surreal.
Just two chapters in and WandaVision is already proving to be a real treat. It’s weird, smart and caked in mystery. Who knows what the final product will look like. So far, however, this is ticking a lot of the right boxes. Keep them coming.