Slow-Reveals, Interior Reality, and the Power of Symbols: Why Smart Potter-Pros Get WandaVision
I recently promised I’d collect my thoughts on the new Disney+ series WandaVision, and I was planning to wait until the final, ninth episode airs, a little over a month from now. However, I’ve been thinking about how some viewers love the show, while there does seem to be a group of malcontents who don’t seem to like/understand it; it occurs to me that some of the tools that make watching this show both enjoyable and thought-provoking are tools familiar to close readers of the Hogwarts adventures and Strike series. So it seems like a good time to go ahead and share some mid-point ideas about how those of us who are long-time Rowling readers may have some super powers that give us a headstart on seeing the magic in this new MCU short-run. Be warned, the following conversation is for those who have already seen the first four episodes, as well as the pertinent MCU films, so proceed if you dare, and see how a world filled with wizards and witches is great place to learn about how to navigate a world of one particular (Scarlet) Witch, Wanda Maximoff.
The description for WandaVision is a good indication that this is not a predictable program. For genre, the show is classified as “romance, mystery, drama, science fiction, super hero.” That’s a big list of genres, and it gives us a good idea of how complex the show may be. For contrast, the equally awesome, if very different, hit series, The Mandalorian, is simply categorized as “science fiction, action-adventure,” the same combination of genres provided for Avengers: Age of Ultron, the film that really introduced the leads of WandaVision to the MCU. One reason why some viewers may be slow to warm up to the new show might be the possibility that they do not know what it is. The first episode was a 1950sish Dick VanDyke/I Love Lucy homage, while the second clearly worked on the scaffolding of two of my childhood 1960s re-run favorites: Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, complete with a fabulous animated opening title sequence that, so far, has been my favorite (each one is different). Episode Three pays tribute to the 1970s with a Brady Bunch look. Episode Four: “We Interrupt this Program,” is again, something completely different. The show swings wildly from the monochrome or candy-colored sitcom world of the past back to the world of the MCU, a world that has just recently become re-populated thanks to the “second-snap” Bruce Banner used to undo the damage wrecked by Thanos and his fistful of Infinity Stones. But there is no explanation before that first episode. It is only in episode four that we finally get a clear view of when the series is “really” set.
That in media res, mysterious and complete immersion in a confusing environment might not work for some viewers, but I am betting that many, like me, have spent enough time at Hogwarts to learn a very important lesson not on the OWLS: Patience. At the risk of sounding like a geezer, I sometimes grumble about “kids these days” who can read all the Harry Potter novels any time they want or even watch Star Wars movies all at once! What a luxury for those of us who once had to wait years, not a week for the next episode, but YEARS for another installment and maybe some answers: Is Harry the Chosen One? Whose side is Snape on? Is Darth Vader really Luke’s father?
With the Strike books, we are still on the hook for answers, like who killed Leda Strike, a subject of great study here, but those of us who had to wait years for a Potter book decades ago have learned that our patience will be rewarded. Plus, the gap gives us time to ponder and speculate (like our murder suspect analysis. There are so many credible possibilities that, at this point, I am not ruling out Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with the candlestick…)
There have been subtle little hints sprinkled throughout each episode, particularly the period-specific commercials for products whose names provide a glimpse behind the curtain, but only in episode four are we starting to see any answers as some of the strange elements from the first few episodes are explained. Many of the series’ twists are not huge surprises to those of us whose education included a minor in Marvel studies (unlike Dr. Darcy Lewis, I was, like Wanda, expecting twins), but others are wonderful, like getting to see several familiar faces, including Darcy, grown-up Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel, and even delightfully awkward Agent Woo from Ant Man and the Wasp. I am still hoping to see Ant Man’s pal Luis, the MCU’s most wonderful side character. But these explanations and surprises only delight us if we are patient. If we had known Sirius’s story from the minute Hagrid pulled up on Privet Drive on that borrowed motorbike, how much less exciting would it be getting to know him, first as a possible villain, and then as Harry’s beloved godfather? I don’t know what the next five episodes of WandaVison will bring (although it is important to note that “comedy” is not among the genres listed for the show, so a box of tissues might be a wise accessory), and I don’t have to. I learned from Harry’s story to let the mystery unfold and reveal itself.
Of course it’s all happening inside your head…
While I have been trying not to make too many guesses, I was sure, even before the first episode, that WandaVision would distort presumptions of reality. After all, one of the Scarlet Witch’s gifts is causing illusions. I assumed (correctly, it now seems) that the “illusion” of a television world, with its laugh track and contrived plots, was a metaphor for an illusion world being created?/maintained?/tolerated? by Wanda, providing her with a world in which Vision is both alive and able to be her husband and the father of her children. It remains to be seen if Wanda willingly created this reality, if she is being manipulated by outside forces (there is a precedent), or if something entirely different is happening, but what is clear is that the television world Wanda inhabits is the world she wants: a safe world in which her powers are (so far, usually) just funny rather than terrifying, and in which she (usually) manages to conceal the fact that Vision died twice, once at her hands, five years previously.
I can’t be the only close reader who has heard one of my other favorite magical people in my head while watching this show. Wanda herself, who seems to be able to manipulate the invisible, parallel world of Westview, and may be its sole creator, “edits” that world, running back moments to erase them and rewrite the story.
Only time will tell if Wanda’s created world is entirely in her control (there are already indications it is not. Those commercials, dropping the names of people and organizations that have manipulated Wanda in the past, are a clue that she is not the only witch or wizard behind the curtain), but it is a reality she is shaping, often using her power to control what is in the heads of others, and possibly in her own.
Signs and Symbols
The use of images and colors as symbols in the series is another element that should speak to our readers here who have delighted in the alchemy of Hogwarts and the astrology in Troubled Blood. While it remains to be seen if a truly alchemical theme is emerging, the very first episode (with the exception of the glimpse at the end of what turns out to be Darcy’s hand as she watches) only has three colors: black and white, and red. The red only appears in one of those tantalizing commercials in this episode. Most of episode two is black and white, before the color switch at the end that leads into the 1970s color explosion of the next episode (this also mirrors Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, which both also began in black and white in the 60s before becoming color and running into the 1970s). But the few flashes of color are shocking: the red and gold helicopter Wanda finds (and which turns out to be a SWORD drone that has been altered by the “rules” of the alternate world), the blood on Dottie’s hand when she cuts herself. When the show switches to color at the end, the entire scene colorizes, but it starts with Vision’s face, which is reddish with the gold Infinity Stone in his forehead. Interestingly, when he and red-haired Wanda are fully in color, she is dressed in shades of red, and he is in black and white/gray and gold. Considering how carefully color is being used in the show, these are not random choices, and I am very interested to see if they truly reflect an alchemical theme or something else. The shocking red flashes could instead serve another purpose as they do in other films. M. Night Shyalmalan uses red very intentionally in both The Sixth Sense and The Village. In the former, any glimpse of red indicates the presence of a ghost or the supernatural, while in the later, red is “the bad color,” stamped out by the denizens of the village as representative of the monsters in the forest.
Other symbols are already being revealed, and I look forward to seeing them evolve. The emblem of SWORD, which gives away inadvertent undercover Geraldine/ Capt. Rambo and which is on the uniform of the “beekeeper,” is the Westview universe’s way of identifying “threats,” while the hexagonal shape that appears at the end of the first episode is also connected to the anomaly’s structure, according to the analysis in episode four. Combined with the beekeeper image, that shape evokes honeycomb and a beehive, so I am looking forward to seeing where that is going. The butterflies that come to life from the baby crib mobile, and which appear in the end credits, I also hope to see continue as a theme, along with other embedded symbols in those credits: the infinity symbol made of intertwined wedding rings, the roses, the iconic costume pieces that evoke those the protagonists wear in the comics (and which will figure as Halloween costumes in the 1980s if the previews are to be believed).
When the series wraps in a few weeks, I hope to offer some more thoughts on how it connects to our strategies here as deep readers. If you have been watching and have thoughts to share, please post them in the comments. As the series moves forward, we’ll see how these ideas develop. We’ll just have to stay tuned!