We’re six episodes into WandaVision and I’m feeling nourished by the diet of big story moments. I’m similarly delighted by the pacing and the weekly release structure advocated by Disney+. Unshockingly, there isn’t universal agreement on these things, so we thought it would be helpful to explore the show’s storylines and the strategy behind its supposedly slow rollout, citing some reasons why the approach might be exactly right for this show, the MCU, and this moment. So, with that said, a listicle. One with spoilers galore.
1. Things are happening.
This show has blazed through multiple decades while slowly (maybe a little too slowly at the start) unraveling a story of grief that highlights the levels one particular Avenger will go to stave off pain and simulate happiness.
Along the way, we’ve seen a potentially seismic move to bridge the X-Men universe into the MCU (or maybe not, maybe it’s just a bit of fun yet hollow fan service) and the introduction of a character that is going to play a big part in the next Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau). We’ve also seen, more clearly, the after-effects of The Blip on the government response to superheroes and the bonkers, high-property damage happenings that always seem to swirl around them.
Avengers: Endgame left a lot of questions unanswered about what comes next in the MCU and WandaVision is doing a more than capable job of trying to explore some of them. This while hanging onto the thread about Wanda’s mental health and slow playing the cracking facades of the world she’s built. That’s a lot to cover in six episodes, but it doesn’t feel overstuffed at this point.
2. Grief requires care and time to be fully understood.
We’ve seen superheroes die and the impact of that loss on their friends and the world at large. Endgame deals with this constantly — showing a world shattered by the loss of half the population and an Avengers team dealing, at various points, with the loss of key members like Natasha, Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Vision. Spider-Man: Far From Home is obviously driven, largely, by Peter Parker’s grief over the loss of his mentor in Tony. We’ve also seen heroes hobbled by the loss of someone they love — Bruce Wayne, in particular. But WandaVision is doing something different, sitting with the pain and showing the personal devastation and mental health impact in full.
For all its quirk and cheeriness at the start, the show’s commitment to being a meditation on grief and loss stands out as its most daring and revolutionary part. Wandavision is pioneering a new level of human emotion and exploration for cowls and capes fiction that can help to broaden the reach of these things beyond escapist fantasy. The MCU needs to keep its eyes fixed on the stars but it also needs to continue keeping one foot on the ground, showing the vulnerabilities of its heroes as they wrestle with relatable and tangible things in the midst of planetary and superhuman challenges. It can never lose sight of the need to keep pushing boundaries there, same as it does with the boundaries of scale and spectacle.
Look at this from where we stand right now, six episodes in. It’s clear that Jac Schaeffer her creative team chose wisely. The moral ambiguity of Wanda’s actions couldn’t be revealed upfront. We needed to get the impact Vision’s death has had on her mental health and sense of the world. We needed to see the illusion-as-a-salve in full — the projection of an uncomplicated life, as seen on TV, that could give her the kind of happiness with Vision that she’d never get to feel in the harsh light of reality due to his death. Then we’d be sympathetic to hazy actions that might turn her into a straight-up villain sans context. Something that gets into our heads, causing us to question how far we’d go, what rules we’d break, to steal the same kind of fantasy with the one we love if we cruelly lost them. In short, it hits us differently because of the way this story is being told. It hits us right in the chest. Which is important because…
3. We need things to talk about.
The debate between releasing a show all at once for easy bingeing or taking a more tantric approach to the payoff by dropping new episodes every week comes down to personal preference. Sure, some shows are better built for one model over the other — and WandaVision falls into that category, best served by the weekly model — but the moment also matters.
In normal times, with 8500 streaming options, we’d be inundated by new shows and grateful for the time to stop, sit, and watch a story unfold over the course of a weekend. That might be the only way we’d actually absorb it. Because it’s hard to track a number of stories over a large expanse of time and really feel their impact or even hold on to them. But right now, with scattered production delays and all the other impacts levied by COVID, we aren’t dealing with quite as many options. As such, it’s easier to go week to week with a story. And it’s better, giving us all something to talk about that isn’t completely wrapped up in the news cycle.
From The Last Dance to the second season of The Mandalorian, the weekly model has proven successful at offering us a weekly communal obsession/distraction. It’s practically a public service… and a smart business move that grows our obsession with these things, garnering free media in the form of reviews, hot takes, easter egg discussions, and the like. We can’t stop talking about these things because they won’t stop giving us fresh things to talk about. And so a show becomes a months-long relationship, which is going to inspire a stronger attachment than something we spend a weekend with. Because what’s more memorable, a relationship or a fling? OK, I suppose that depends on the contents of those experiences, but in this case, WandaVision is making its case, slowly, to stay in our heads.