All-New Halloween Spooktacular!
Photo: Marvel Studios
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking with Vulture visionaries Kathryn VanArendonk and Rebecca Alter about what we want out of WandaVision. It was an enlightening chat, to say the least, and one that I’m thinking about a great deal as I put finger to keyboard after watching the series’ sixth episode. I had concluded that the main thing keeping me interested in the show was last week’s Evan Peters reveal, which implied some degree of multiversal madness in the merry Marvel manner. I couldn’t quite connect with the show the way my two colleagues were, it seemed. They liked the subtle weirdness of subverting sitcom tropes and the emotional weight of the show’s emphasis on a woman’s grief over her dead husband and brother. I just didn’t feel it and was resigned to the idea that I’d just find the show dull for the duration.
But reader, I’m here to tell you that hope springs eternal. This episode — or, at least, the sitcom-subversion parts of it — really got me going. I once was blind, but now I (kinda) see. And much of that newfound sight is due to the magic of one particular performer who just knocked it out of the park in their few moments on screen, as we shall see.
The first thing, we see, however, is the world through the perspective of a child and a camcorder. The opening credits for the show-within-a-show announce that this episode will be done in the manner of a more contemporary television reference: the unexpectedly seminal turn-of-the-millennium outing known as Malcolm in the Middle. Billy, one of Wanda and Vision’s twin boys, takes us on a little tour of his family unit — stressed-out mom, distracted dad, bland brother, charming deadbeat uncle — while pop-punk blares in the soundtrack. After the delightful fake theme song concludes (Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are truly crushing it, week after week), we see that the fam is getting ready for All Hallow’s Eve.
Wanda enters in a dimestore-spandex version of her classic original comics costume, as designed by writer/artist Jack Kirby. “I’m a Sokovian fortune-teller,” she announces. Pietro mentions a childhood trick-or-treat outing in Sokovia that features a micro-flashback to them getting a fish from a creepy old lady, from which they developed typhus. (Not exactly the most sensitive depiction of Eastern Europe, but okay.) Wanda says she doesn’t remember it that way; Pietro says it’s because she “suppressed the trauma.” In comes Vision, also decked out in a low-rent edition of his original comic-book duds, as designed by John Buscema. I know it’s fan service, but in a cinematic universe where filmmakers rarely have the confidence to use poppy color in the heroes’ outfits, it’s refreshing and fun to see the fits. “I know you have a secret thing for Mexican wrestlers,” Vision intones to his wife while Pietro shotguns soda with the boys. All seems well.
But Vision then says he’s not going to collect candy with the boys, but will rather be on the neighborhood watch to prevent devilish festivities. Wanda is disappointed, but Pietro volunteers to step in as father figure. He zooms away with Tommy and comes back with him and the boy in matching versions of Pietro’s initial comics uniform (also designed by Kirby). All the pieces are in motion for sitcom-y action.
Cut to the edge of Westview, where the Hex field is turning ominously red and the feds are all panicking. Hayward tells Monica that they need to take Wanda out, but Monica points out that they don’t know what will happen to all the mind-controlled townsfolk if their (ostensible) captor dies. Hayward counters that Monica has too much affection for “super-powered individuals,” citing her help of Captain Marvel, and, perhaps more important, disses people like Monica, who disappeared in the Blip and thus don’t know how hard things can get or what must be done. Just to show that he’s a total dick, he also says it was good Monica wasn’t around when her mom died of cancer, because Monica doesn’t have the stomach for the job. She and the rest of the Virtuous Trio are officially off the case. Ouch. As the VT are being escorted away from base, there’s an eye-rolling-ly implausible and clichéd bit of business where Jimmy and Monica beat up their captors, allowing all three of them to somehow surreptitiously steal some SWORD ponchos and get back to the operating area.
Back in town, Wanda and Pietro are wandering the streets while the boys scrounge for sugar. Notably, the area is full of children — a category of human that had previously not been seen anywhere inside the Hex. Wanda asks Pietro about a specific kid they knew in the orphanage and Pietro thinks she’s testing him because he looks different. She asks why he does look that way, but before she can get a satisfying answer, she sees Herb dressed as Frankenstein’s Monster (yes, I’m pedantic), working on the Neighborhood Watch. According to him, Vision is not actually participating in the Watch. “You want something changed?” Herb asks, oddly and portentously. Vision, we see, is walking away from the center of Westview and sees a house where two adult residents are in the midst of chores, but seem to be stuck in a loop where they can only perform little actions over and over. One of them has a tear rolling down her frozen face. How odd!
Commercial time! In what is easily the weirdest one of these ads so far, we see a kid on a desert island get a visit from a shades-wearing cool-dude shark. He offers the lad a cup of what appears to be yogurt, the brand name of which is “Yo-Magic,” but the child can’t get the foil wrapper off the top for some reason and we see him age into a skeleton and die as he tries. “Yo-Magic: The Snack for Survivors!” declares the narrator. Uh?
Well, back to Westview, where Pietro and Wanda and the twins are exiting a movie theater where The Incredibles and The Parent Trap are playing (gotta love that intra-brand Disney synergy). Pietro describes his recent appearance in the show in the terms a network exec might use and concludes, “I mean, that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” Wanda asks him what happened to his Sokovian accent; “What happened to yours?” is his reply. The details are fuzzy, he adds: One minute, he was getting shot up in Age of Ultron, the next he was in Westview to help his sis out. The boys run back and now, it seems, Tommy has his own super-speed abilities. They say they want to go get more candy and Wanda allows it, but only if they “don’t go past Ellis Avenue.” Who knows what lies beyond?
Meanwhile, the VT has somehow infiltrated the SWORD computer room (or whatever one calls it), where Darcy “hacks” into the system with hand-waving ease. She finds that Hayward has developed a way to look into the Hex, and they see that (a) the people near the edge of town aren’t moving, and (b) Vision is wandering around that area. Sure enough, we cut to Vizh on the prowl, asking a frozen woman for answers and getting only silence. He converts to Robot Mode and flies into the sky, where he starts to hear the sounds of the people below. And then he spots Agnes.
This is the scene I was talking about before. Agnes, too, is frozen, stuck inside her car. The synthezoid attempts to make contact, and she appears to be just mobile enough to utter the words, “Town Square Scare: Where is it?” “Town square, I expect,” Vision says with a nervous laugh. She chuckles lightly; “Got lost,” she says. Vision takes a bold step and touches her to reverse her mind-control. Agnes suddenly looks at him in panic. “You!” she says. “You’re one of the Avengers! You’re Vision! Are you here to help us?” Vision, bewildered, replies, “I do want to help, but what’s an Avenger?”
She asks if he’s dead and starts yelling, “Dead! Dead! Dead!” She points out that “Wanda won’t even let us think about” leaving the town, and then cackles like the witch she’s dressed as. Desperate, Vision mind-whammies her back into submission. Agnes looks right at him, smiles a terrifying smile, and declares, “Okey-dokey, neighbor!” and keys up the car. “Happy Halloweenie!” she shouts as she drives off; we zoom out to see we’re on the dreaded Ellis Avenue. God, this scene is unsettling. Hahn just completely nails the creepiness of the subverted sitcom in a way that previous episodes have only aspired to. Bless up.
The VT are back in the base and Monica says she has a way back into the Hex, which Jimmy will help her with by hot-wiring a car, something he is (again, very hand-wavingly) very good at. Darcy says she’s found Monica’s bloodwork and sees that the experiences in Westview are remapping the woman at a cellular level. Monica is undeterred and says she has to help Wanda. Darcy says she’ll hang back to find something in the computers that can help them and that she’ll meet up with them as soon as she can. I really, truly, do not like the VT material in this episode, if it wasn’t already clear.
At the aforementioned Town Square Scare — a little carnival-type setup downtown — Pietro notes that there hadn’t been any kids around before tonight. He runs through his assumption that Wanda kept them all sleeping safe in their homes up until an event where they could have a nice time as a community, i.e., Halloween. “You handled the ethical considerations of this scenario as best you could,” he adds. (Evan Peters, by the way, is also crushing it in this episode, somehow balancing party-dude attitude with unnerving seriousness.) He asks how she pulled all this off and she replies that she doesn’t remember; she just recalls being completely alone: “Empty, I just … Endless nothingness.” She turns to look at her brother and sees that he now has bullet holes through his torso and the cold face of a corpse.
Darcy finds a file about something called “Cataract” in the computer and sees Vision on radar, walking toward the edge of town. Sure enough, he starts walking through the barrier with great effort, parts of him trailing backward as he pushes. Darcy runs to him and yells to the feds that they have to help him. She gets handcuffed to a car’s grille for her troubles. We see Billy inside the Hex, somehow sensing what’s happening, presumably through the kind of vague magical ability that his mama has. Now both boys are super-powered individuals, for better or worse. He turns to Tommy to say something is wrong and they run to Wanda to say that Dad’s in trouble. Pietro makes a joke about her “dead husband” dying again and Wanda mind-tosses him into the scenery.
Enraged and frightened, Wanda activates her powers and everyone in town freezes. An energy pulse emanates out from her. Jimmy and Monica, driving, see the Hex expanding, as do the feds. Darcy is abandoned while still cuffed and looks on as the Hex approaches her. We see Vision getting caught in the energy and reconstituting as a whole object, but every other human in the vicinity who gets wrapped up in the growing presence is changed: some are now costumed employees of what looks to be a massive circus, other buildings become newly refurbished and changed. We zoom out and see just how big the Hex has become. There is no twist this time, only terror. And that’s where it ends! Not everything in this episode worked, but the good stuff, the Westview stuff, was literally and figuratively magical. Color me intrigued.
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