Sticking The Landing

WandaVision is an odd show. Teased as a 50s-style sitcom featuring Wanda and Vision from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was certainly not the sort of thing you’d expect from Marvel Studios’ foray into Disney+ shows, especially when compared to the more conventional shows announced around the same time like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or What If…? Of course, there was the hint that there was something more going on underneath. For starters, Vision died in Infinity War and was notably not brought back in Endgame, so a cheery sitcom with him and Wanda seems a little… odd.

And it is!

The show leans hard into its sitcom inspirations. The set design is par the course for the era, as is the aspect ratio, plot points, and even the commercial in the ad break. This doesn’t play out as a mere riff: the first episode, “Filmed Before A Live Studio Audience,” is a magnificent recreation of I Love Lucy, except for the fact that Ricky Ricardo is a synthezoid.

The simulation is so thorough that a breaking of the illusion creates truly unnerving moments. The climax of the pilot sees Wanda and Vision having dinner with Vision’s boss and his wife, with Wanda and Vision scrambling to make the perfect dining experience. Y’know, sitcom stuff. Then Vision’s boss chokes on his food, his wife barely reacts, and Vision and the audience are thoroughly unnerved. Wanda tells Vision to use his powers to save his boss, and then everything goes back to normal as if nothing had happened, leaving the audience with a very loud question: What on earth is going on?

Wandavision slowly peels back the curtain surrounding its mysteries, revealing little hints and answers as to what’s really going on. Delightfully, many of these answers contain within themselves smaller mysteries too, mysteries that in turn are answered. The penultimate episode introducing a pretty Major Element that ties a lot of things together while keeping some very interesting pieces in play, undoubtedly a fantastic position to be in as you go into the show’s finale. Of course, it’s all a matter of nailing the landing.

There’s little more frustrating in a story than an unsatisfying ending. When we humans get into a story, we invest ourselves into it. We want that investment to pay off — we want to be told that the emotional bandwidth we gave to those characters and that story was worth it. Especially if there’s a mystery or Big Question: You want that pay off!

When we talk about tv shows with big mysteries, the obvious thought is always Lost. A bunch of survivors of an airplane crash on a mysterious island that has polar bears, a hatch, and a smoke monster. As the seasons went on, the number of mysteries upon mysteries seemed overwhelming, but so too did the focus of the show shift. Lost stopped being about the mysteries and shifted towards its characters. The show became about how far these people had grown and the relationships with one another. The finale forewent trying to answer every single question and instead offered closure to its characters’ story. Controversial as it may be, I still believe that Lost made an excellent choice and had a brilliant ending. Was it worth my investment? Unquestionably, and enough that I can forgive it for some of its silliness.

Contrast that to How I Met Your Mother. Its ending reduces much of its nine seasons to an elaborate shaggy dog story. I was invested in the question of how Ted met the kids’ mother, an investment the show encouraged with its framing device and consistent narrative arc. When the show didn’t make good on its promise — nor subvert it interestingly — all we were left with was an ending to the show that would have worked around six seasons earlier. Did the time feel worth it? I’ll be honest, I’m still not sure.

With so many balls in play, I do really hope that WandaVision can tie it all up next week. It doesn’t have to be a perfect bow that answers everything — there is so much fun in some mystery, but it does have to offer the closure that makes it feel like the journey was worth the trip. So far, though, it’s looking up to the challenge. Here’s hoping.

Writer’s Note: WandaVision has the advantage of its end not being the end; the MCU will continue afterwards to tie up other loose ends. That said, having so many excellent pieces set up does not guarantee a good ending (see: Rise of Skywalker or Game of Thrones). But given that this show’s always been playing with a full hand it’s been revealing one card at a time, I’m fairly confident we’re in for a great time.

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