Perhaps one of WandaVision’s most reoccuring feats is episode’s decision to operate as a slow burner for the most part, only for its overarching narrative and design to accelerate during each instalment’s climactic moment. The shift in direction and expansion of depth each story offers during these closing segments is impressive, especially considering just how balanced the whole thing feels. Last week was no exception to this rule; ticking along at a breezy pace for the most part, before ending on a universe-shattering cliffhanger.
This week, rapid climactic plot progression takes something of a backseat, opting instead to ease off the gas a touch. There are a few shifts forward, yet for the most part, chapter six ends without triggering any vast game changers or significant moments to leave jaws hanging for seven days. Sure, Woo, Darcy and Rambeau find themselves cast out by Hayward; Tommy and Billy Maximoff develop their own superhuman abilities; Vision almost dies after fleeing WestView; Rambeau learns that her DNA is gradually mutating in thanks to her exposure to the anomaly; and Darcy finds herself sucked into Wanda’s reality as the credits approach. The plot certainly moves, only the scale in which it progresses isn’t major in comparison to earlier instalments. We don’t end with some vast revelation, merely a handful of hints to take us into the final three parts. This all feels very much like the calm before the storm.
In fairness, considering just how vast the early cliffhangers have been, to criticise episode six’s inability to capture the madness of earlier show-stopping moments is out of proportion. Thus far, this project has proven to be colossal in its scale. Just because one of the six so-far instalments doesn’t throw in a reality bending or franchise-merging revelation doesn’t exactly warrant such an episode useless or uneventful. It can’t collapse its own narrative and reinvent itself every week, after all. Be as that may be, episode six seldom feels as if it’s offering revolutionary or new in comparison to preceding chapters. Whereas it is unfair to call it a failure for this, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this one feels a touch less eventful or memorable as a result; or at least it doesn’t at the time of watching. Much of the parts in play this week are all continuations of what we’ve seen already. Pietro is back, albeit he’s plucked straight from an X-Men timeline; Vision is trying to find a way out of an hallucinogenic prison he’s now aware of; and the outside world are desperately fighting to penetrate and undo whatever nightmare Wanda appears to be crafting with her powers.
Perhaps the most and only truly refreshing aspect of All-New Halloween Spooktacular! is the new skin Wanda has applied to her sitcom realm. We’re now in the early-00s. The theme of the week is a straight up riff on Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006). The creative team have once again done an outstanding job of recreating the aesthetic of that era and sub-branch of the sitcom genre, serving up an episode that hits all the right beats and tones. Production wise, it achieves what it’s going for, creating a world and style that audiences will be familiar with if they grew up during this era. This is of very little surprise. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, those working behind the scenes have managed to master the genres they’re paying homage to. Regardless of which decade they’re working with, the fastidiousness and commitment has been next to none. Each episode has successfully whisked us back to an earlier decade of American entertainment on a level contemporary television seldom manages to achieve. In this respect, episode six does not disappoint in the slightest.
As for the narrative of the episode, it primarily relies on a tension that doesn’t have the same kind of explosive payoff as we’ve been used to in prior instalments. Again, this isn’t a problem, however it is noticeable in comparison to surrounding chapters. Perhaps this is down to audience desensitisation. We’re so accustomed to the shifts in reality now, switching between sitcom world and MCU land doesn’t feel as mind bending as it did two weeks ago. Likewise, seeing that Vision is now aware of his wife’s skullduggery doesn’t come across as the watershed moment we’ve all been waiting for. His acknowledgement that something isn’t right has been building for several weeks, and came to a head last week. This one is all about laying breadcrumbs and allowing recent plot developments freedom to interact with the story’s wider landscape. It’s all perfectly executed, only arguably not as grandiose. All-New Halloween Spooktacular! takes all of the revelations and plot progressions already established and kind of lets them meander for a good 38-minutes. This also applies for the introduction of Pietro. After his introduction last week, it finally became clear that Marvel Studios were beginning their ascent into multiverse territory. Their goal to marry up varying timelines established via differing studios is now coming into fruition. This week follows directly on from that cliffhanger, choosing not to directly address the fact that this is a version of Wanda’s brother who once battled alongside Wolverine and the other members of Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters; not the guy murdered by Ultron several years prior. Aside from a couple of hints that his past doesn’t sync up with Wanda’s, not to mention him admitting he’s aware of what Wanda is up to, there is no attempt to further venture down the rabbit hole of alternative realities.
Perhaps all of this is what is needed. Constantly triggering narrative collapses and reshaping the nature of a story only goes so far before running the risk of stretching itself to permanent breaking point. As limited a run as this mini series may be, it isn’t obliged to reinvent the wheel on a constant basis. If WandaVision wishes to slow itself down a touch for one episode, then why not. After the previous five chapters, dropping the mileage can certainly be forgiven. We’re fast approaching an end point for this show, so to cool down after much chaos makes sense. We’re fast approaching the endgame of its run. Let it catch its breath. Taking a breather might do us all a bit of good, even if the sudden reduction in its madness does come across as a tad dispiriting on its first watch.
Overall, All-New Halloween Spooktacular! feels a tad less eventful, twist-driven and game-changing than other episodes of WandaVision to date. As opposed to thrusting the narrative forward, it allows the varying ingredients to simmer in a stew of its own concoction. Considering its preceding instalments have all been about developing and refashioning the nature of what this story is all about, some will no doubt feel taken aback by such a sudden switch in execution. Nevertheless, all of this is equally well executed, not to mention a much needed break from the rapid acceleration audiences have become accustomed to. It feels as though Marvel Studios has grown confident enough to assume all those still tuning in are going to stick around until the end now; not feeling the need to drop a news-generating revelations in at the end to keep bums in seats. It knows we’re all coming back next week, so why not easy off the gas pedal.
A solid, if somewhat subtler attempt than usual.