As On a Very Special Episode… opens, an air of worry hangs in the air. This week, we find ourselves in yet another sitcom of Wanda’s making, only now we’ve been whisked forward to the 1980s. Large haircuts, synth music, neon leggings and checkered shirts dominate the environment. The sequence sets up another scenario for Wanda and Vision to tackle; managing their days as new parents. After nosey neighbour, Agnes, slips up and asks the pair whether they want to “take it from the top”, Vision clocks onto to the falseness surrounding his daily life. In similar fashion to prior episodes, Wanda thrusts him back into the “plot” by creating a diversion. She accelerates the growth of their newborns – Billy and Tommy – into young boys.
The lingering worry mentioned above relates to the possibility that WandaVision’s fifth episode is going to retread familiar ground. While the first three episodes followed a similar structure – a time-shifting, faux-sitcom attempting to maintain its illusion – each instalment progressed the story to another level. This progression led into episode four, We Interrupt This Program, which bridged Wanda’s mirage up with the wider MCU landscape. The thought of chapter five returning to being about Vision getting habitually duped by Wanda risked trapping the series in a form of narrative stasis. Fortunately, as the opening sequence comes to a close, such concern quickly fades, as we are whisked back to the world of Monica Rambeau, Jimmy Woo and Dr. Darcy Lewis. On a Very Special Episode… behaves very much as a direct extension to the previous chapter, in the sense that it focuses on Wanda attempting to cocoon her subjects while members of the outside world attempt to infiltrate and understand what she’s doing.
The main difference here, however, is its decision to jump simultaneously between realities throughout its runtime. As a result, the shape of this episode differs considerably from its predecessors; interlocking the two realities and consequently transforming them into something we haven’t quite seen before. Whereas the sitcom environment functioned as a seemingly quirky visual experiment on behalf of Disney+ several episodes prior, this week it’s depicted almost as a nightmarish hell scape; a space in which its subjects are entrapped amidst a reality that’s been distorted into something impossible. Places have been twisted into sets, people have been remoulded into extras, and memories have been compacted so their owners can operate as Wanda’s puppets. As for the world beyond the periphery of Wanda’s sub-reality, while it previously functioned as a space where exposition and franchise building occurred, now it operates as the primary point for this show’s protagonists. Rambeau, Woo and Lewis all serve as the moral centre to the story; trying to stop their superiors from declaring all out war on the planet’s strongest Avenger, while also working to free the people entrapped inside Wanda’s kaleidoscope of lies.
For the duration of On a Very Special Episode… Rambeau, Woo and Lewis (and by extension, the audience at home) continue to learn more about how Wanda is using her powers to pervert the structures of reality. With every new nugget of information they obtain and devour, they use their newly consumed knowledge to fight back; figuring out ways to break into Wanda’s world without her powers rewriting whatever foreign entity they utilise. As the story progresses, information is drip fed to both protagonists and viewers; offering insight into the mechanics and back story of everything that’s unfolding. Early on, it is revealed that prior to the events of this series, Wanda kidnapped Vision’s corpse from S.W.O.R.D headquarters and found away to reanimate him. Shortly thereafter, she took the town of WestView hostage, used her powers to rewrite the foundations of its reality, transformed its 1000+ residents into puppets, and created a surreal illusion for her and her reanimated lover to exist within. By the time the episode has reached its climax, both the protagonists existing outside the anomaly and the audience understand more about the show’s central mystery than we did 41-minutes prior. While we may not fully know the hows and whys of Wanda’s actions, an image of clarity is now beginning to formulate before us. Except there are four more episodes to come beyond this point. Surely with so much screen time still to play out, many more mysteries lie ahead. Undoubtedly so, and the climax to On a Very Special Episode… lays down a liberal handful of breadcrumbs to keep audiences coming back for more during subsequent weeks.
As the story approaches its endpoint, Wanda finds herself cornered. Not only is her distorted environment under threat from the outside world, she finds herself battling individuals from within too; most notably, her husband. The endless glitches and invading forces have been enough for Vision to realise he’s been lied to. He knows his memory has been repressed, that the world around him doesn’t quite add up, and that his entire life is built upon some sort of contorted fantasy composed by his wife. Wanda tries her usual tricks, only Vision fights back, pushing her to confess to her lies. During these moments, we see the two realities physically battle for screen time; the sitcom and the MCU wrestle to dominate the optical forefront of WandaVision. As Vision lashes out, the glossy, 4-K shine bleeds into view. As Wanda kicks back, the corny credits and canned laughter retaliates. The tug of war between sitcom and formulaic franchise was present throughout earlier episodes, only here it’s more explicit than ever. Two realities give it their all, brawling to eradicate and consume one another While it looks as though Vision – and by extension, the MCU – are destined to win this game of ocular combat, Wanda reveals that she has one one final trick up her sleeve. Another distraction, it would seem, only this time, it’s a far grander plot twist, one capable of distracting Vision, Rambeau, Woo, Lewis and even the audience at home. She throws her formerly deceased brother, Pietro Maximoff, into the roster of sitcom characters. Except it’s not the Pietro from Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), but the version from X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).
For most watching, it’s apparent that while the X-Men series are indeed apart of the Marvel comics lineup, the cinematic lineup of X-Men films belonged to Fox Studios prior to its Disney buyout. Therefore, all the stories, characters and events depicted in that series belonged to a separate canonical timeline to that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Day’s of Future Past did not operate within the same fictional reality as Age of Ultron; both existing in detached fictional spaces. In Age of Ultron, Pietro was played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whereas in Day’s of Future Past he was played by Evan’s Peters. Both were entirely separate interpretations of the character; possessing unique backstories and fates. Taylor-Johnson’s version perished in Age of Ultron, whereas Peters’ version lived on to see another day. Only now the Peters’ version is here, slap bang in the midst of Wanda’s faux reality; a reality that last week was firmly fastened up to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe canon In the midst of two realities dualling to dominate WestView, a third has thrown itself into the mix. Last week we bore witness to the MCU interlinking with Wanda’s reality, this week it’s time for the X-Men universe to attempt a similar maneuver. The strange just got stranger, the impossible becoming evermore unthinkable. Wanda’s realm is no longer some sort of sub-reality perched within the MCU, but a gateway between two separate franchises; a hub that allows two timelines to interact.
It is perhaps important to note that various reboots and timelines interacting with one another isn’t exclusive to this show. Warner Brothers have been marrying up multiple versions of their varying DC adaptations for some time; most notably via their strand of shows united under the Arrowverse franchise. While interlinking adaptations may not be new to onscreen superhero projects, what’s so striking about this particular franchise crossover lies in its scale. What Disney is doing here is creating a synergised cinematic universe which interlinks with various other multi-billion dollar franchises that were established and ran by studio’s who operated independently from their current strand of blockbuster movies. The X-Men series has been cinematic juggernaut (no pun intended) with varying levels of success for over 22-years. It predates the MCU a solid decade and has been producing content long before Marvel Studios was even considered a marketable property within the box office realm. Disney spent many years weaving together their strand of internally produced features. Now, partly thanks to their acquisition of 20th Century Fox, they appear to be widening their scope to properties beyond their own making.
What’s more, it seems likely that their grandiose vision (again, no pun intended) is set to stem beyond the interlinking of one independent Marvel timeline. For quite some time, rumours have been rife about Spider-Man: Homecoming 3’s decision to incorporate Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s versions of Peter Parker into its production, not to mention the inclusion of several villains from both of those adaptations. With various actors letting slip of their involvement in Homecoming’s third chapter, not to mention Kevin Feige’s tightlipped refusal to debunk such mutterings, the likelihood of a Spider-verse feature threading two non-Disney Spider-Man lineups into the MCU timeline has been expanding at a rapid pace After Marvel Studios’ success in pulling off one of the largest cinematic crossovers of all time with Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), it was little surprise learning that their next challenge may well be to attempt a similar move on a multi-studio scale. WandaVision’s fifth chapter could be considered confirmation of this.
Whereas the opening of On a Very Special Episode… flirted with the possibility of giving us something repetitive, it closes by giving us the total opposite. Instead we got a story in which two worlds went to war with one another; ending in the walls of both realms crumbling before our eyes. This chapter started with two realms engaged in war, by the end, they were at one another’s throats, causing a rip in time that will reshape the future of the MCU for many years to come.
Get ready for a multiverse of madness, because WandaVision just opened up a gate of endless possibility.