(Photo by ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.)
While all the publicity material surrounding WandaVision taught us to expect the show to stay encased in the comforting and nostalgic boxy frame of 20th Century television, the fourth episode of the series pulled back on that expectation as it returned us to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the widescreen frame.
Spoiler Alert: This feature reveals details from WandaVision episode 4 “We Interrupt This Program.” Stop here if you have not watched the episode.
In technical speak, the dimensions of the film and television frame are known as the aspect ratio. For most of television’s existence, that ratio was 1.33:1 — that is, the width of the frame was 1.33 times its height — which it inherited from the film standard of the day. To compete with television, film experimented with wider aspect ratios and 2.35:1 became the standard for the grandest spectacles, like Marvel Studios’ films.
That difference is a key feature as more of WandaVision’s secrets are revealed and, thankful, the fourth episode offered a few answers to our questions. So let’s dive in and discuss what life looks like right now in the widescreen world of the MCU.
Perhaps the cruelest twist in the series so far concerns Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). As it turn out, she was turned to dust in the Blip — Marvel’s in-universe name for the event we used to call The Snap — and returned five years later to learn her mother, Maria, died despite having a successful operation to mitigate her cancer just as the Avengers were fighting Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.
All of that info is meaningful for a key reason outside of WandaVision. In all of this, it seems Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) never came back to check in on Maria and Monica, who were played by Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar, respectively, in Captain Marvel. Although, since we know Maria did not disappear, it is possible Carol was there for her in the end. It is also possible this will be a point of contention between Carol and Monica in Captain Marvel 2.
We also learned S.W.O.R.D. — which stands for Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division in the MCU — was Maria’s creation and in operation for far longer than we first guessed. Director Tyler Hayward’s (Josh Stamberg) comment that Monica grew up at S.W.O.R.D. suggests it could have been around since the 1990s. Also, his reference to losing candidates for spaceflight and grounding Maria leaves us to believe S.W.O.R.D. has some sort of stable presence in Earth orbit, which would be consistent with the S.W.O.R.D. of the comics.
But it also leaves us wondering about Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the armada he’s building in space. Is it part of S.W.O.R.D.? We always assumed that to be the case, but considering the details presented in this episode, it is possible his team and S.W.O.R.D. are independent of each other. Then again, Maria and Nick met during the events of Captain Marvel, and it is still possible he was involved with S.W.O.R.D. in some capacity — the overwrought acronym ties the organization to S.H.I.E.L.D. and, perhaps, he went to Monica for help after the events of Captain American: The Winter Soldier.
But Nick Fury’s role in S.W.O.R.D. is a question for another day.
(Photo by © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
With revealing Monica as a missing person after the Blip, episode 4 also established WandaVision‘s place in the Phase 4 timeline. Although Marvel timelines always slide to some extent, both this series and Spider-Man: Far From Home take place in 2023 — five years after the events of Infinity War. But where Far From Home takes place some months after the defeat of Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision is occurring just three weeks later per Hayward’s mention of Monica being the first missing S.W.O.R.D. agent to return to work.
This is key as it means Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) emotions are still very raw. Like Monica, she turned to dust after Thanos snapped his finger and returned after the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) undid the Blip five years later. As in the scene of Monica’s return, we’re going to assume Wanda returned with the same thought she had as she turned to dust: Vision (Paul Bettany) is dead. Though she tried to channel that grief into fighting Thanos, it is easy to assume that pain is nowhere near healed less than a month later.
Considering WandaVision was originally set to be the second Disney+ series after The Falcon and the Winter Solider and the theatrical debut of Black Widow, it will be interesting to see how events in those projects slot into the timeline. Yes, Black Widow is supposed to be set before Infinity War, but we still suspect the film may also feature a scene set on Vormir, the home of the Soul Stone.
(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)
Coming back to Wanda’s grief, episode 4 also seemingly confirmed what we’ve suspected since the program was first announced: This is all Wanda’s doing. Of course, the show could still be playing with fan expectations — see also the fan theories about Agatha Harkness and Mephisto — but we’ve always been inclined to believe Wanda’s ability to alter reality and her profound sadness would factor into the story.
This week’s evidence for our interpretation includes Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) discovering the energy field surrounding Westview is utilizing cosmic microwave background radiation left over from the Big Bang. Recall the Infinity Stones were made at that time, and though Thanos claimed he destroyed them, the elemental energy they contained cannot be undone. The distinctive red glow of Wanda’s powers suggests a tie to the Aether, the miasmic form of the Reality Stone, even though her powers were created thanks to Hydra experimentation with the Mind Stone. Is it possible the Aether found a new host in Wanda?
Also, it is worth noting, the last time we saw Darcy was in Thor: The Dark World, a film entirely revolving around the Aether.
Of course, any ties Wanda might have to the Reality Stone only give us the how. Monica’s experience in Westview cements Wanda as the who behind all of this. As seen in episode 4, Wanda accomplishes a lot in the strange edits during previous episodes. The clearest example being the missing moments before and after Wanda ejects Monica from town. Their conversation goes on longer than we saw last week, and Wanda has to use a lot of energy to fix the house. So much energy, in fact, that Vision appears to her as a corpse when he first walks back into the house. The implication: Wanda is literally animating his carcass.
The why of it all is still missing, but we think Wanda’s inability to process her grief has a lot to do with it, and we may still find she never properly grieved for her brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Avengers: Age of Ultron).
Darcy’s discovery of the WandaVision signal in the elemental radiation also confirmed something we came to believe: the people of Westview are real; in fact, most are New Jersey residents. Between the airing of episodes 1 and 2 — although it seems there may be more episodes of WandaVision within the MCU than we get to see — FBI Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and the team identifies the people playing the Harts, Herb, and a few others. Notably, though, they do not identify Dottie (Emma Caufield) or Agnes (Kathryn Hahn). Nevertheless, learning that most of the WandaVision cast exists in the proper MCU is meaningful. If we assume Wanda is doing all of this, then she assembled the citizens of Westview for a reason. But it leads to a question: are they all as dead as Vision?
Early in the episode, Jimmy tells Monica he came to New Jersey on the trail of a missing person none of his known associates remember ever knowing. Somehow, it led Jimmy to Westview, a town which exists on the map and has its own ramp off the Interstate, but the local sheriff says isn’t real. Is Jimmy’s missing person dead or has reality warped around them? In fact, who is Jimmy’s missing person? Considering he’s stationed in the San Francisco area, it might be someone we know either from Westview or the wider MCU.
By her omission earlier, Agnes would be a likely suspect.
Meanwhile, there is the uncertainty surrounding Westview. As Jimmy himself asked, is it an intrusion from another reality or all just part of Wanda’s elaborate fantasy? The land in New Jersey is absolutely real, but the rest is a giant question mark. Well, a question mark shaped like a hexagon anyway.
Coming back to the others, we don’t yet know their status outside of Westview. Are they all missing persons or are they all deceased? If the latter, it would suggest Wanda chose these people because their lives, like Vision’s, were cut too short. Or, at least, that would be her perception. It is possible the dead would prefer to stay dead.
As with the changes to the kitchen, WandaVision also makes deliberate use of period music. In the first episode it was The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak,” released in 1958. In the second, The Beach Boys’ “Help Me, Rhonda” (1965), and The Monkee’s “Daydream Believer” (1967) in the third. This week’s song was The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” (1968).
Each appears to be speaking to Wanda’s mental state, as she must recognize she needs help in some small way, shuts down all backtalk by literally altering her reality, and uses an elemental force to turn suburban drudgery into an idyllic afternoon daydream. In this light, the lyrics of “Voodoo Child” are interesting for phrases like “I said I didn’t mean to take up all your sweet time/I’ll give it right back one of these days” and “If I don’t meet you no more in this world then uh/I’ll meet ya on the next one.” Then, of course, there is the fact Wanda’s children have come into existence via some magical means.
There’s also this notable later line: “I don’t take no for an answer.” You have to wonder how Agent Franklin (Zac Henry) feels about that.
From the preview of the rest of the season Disney+ released, it appears we will be back in the sitcom reality before too long. Indeed, it will likely be the Family Ties version of the 2800 set next week, which means some archly 1980s pop song will appear. Anyone care to guess what it will be?