Television Man by Aidan Morgan
“What is television, if not the infantile id-driven dream of tiny people in boxes playing out your grotesque fantasies persevering?” —Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation Of Screens
Fact: If you took all the tweets, blog posts, articles, think pieces, hot takes and YouTube explainers about WandaVision (that measly little series on Disney+), it would not improve your experience of WandaVision or your life one bit.
Except for this column, of course. This is the one essential bit of writing on WandaVision you will ever read, although Collider.com’s piece “WandaVision Failed To Deliver Things That Were Never Promised To Me” gets an honourable mention for its handy excoriation of modern-day fandom.
Hilary Mantel once drop-kicked Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient through the gates of Critical Valhalla when she wrote “what frustrates the reader is this: a great novel, one of the greatest of an age, curls here in watery slumber, sucking a fetal thumb.” That’s a fair description of WandaVision. In some ways it’s a daring and unsettling depiction of grief, as Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) processes the loss of her partner Vision (Paul Bettany) by creating a copy of him and forcing an entire New Jersey town to enact classic sitcoms every night. There’s a nightmare in there, all fur and claws, but it can never really come out. Instead, the Marvel Cinematic Universe arrives, beating on the walls of Wanda’s fantasy until it disintegrates.
The avatar of the MCU is Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), a character who appeared as a child in Captain Marvel and is now an adult working with S.W.O.R.D., one of the MCU’s glossy-faced bureaucracies. Monica, who accidentally gets pulled into Wanda’s sitcom world, feels a connection with Wanda through shared grief. Despite a solid performance from Parris, the show doesn’t give the characters a genuine relationship. But since Monica is going to be in future MCU properties, we can excuse the lack of attention.
By the series finale, the sitcom premise has been completely displaced by the sheer mass of Marvel. People zip through the sky, shooting beams of energy at each other and talking about the Ship of Theseus problem. The bad guy tries to shoot a couple of kids. And at the end, the show — ends. Wanda relinquishes her fantasy and flies off, leaving the townsfolk traumatized and the audience with post-credits stingers that function as hypertext to link us to the next batch of Marvel stuff.
It may sound as if I didn’t enjoy WandaVision very much. But the thing is, I really did. I woke up early Friday morning to watch it before work. I pondered its Easter eggs and I loved every moment that Kathryn Hahn (and Olsen, and Bettany, and Parris) was onscreen. When Wanda’s enemy was her own refusal to face her grief, I couldn’t look away. When she tried to end an argument with Vision by summoning the credits, it was brilliant.
But the MCU only has so much patience for introspection, and when it threatens to become something Martin Scorsese might enjoy, beams of energy start to fly.
Man of Supe
Meanwhile, the CW debuted Superman and Lois, a superhero show that aims lower than WandaVision but hits its target resoundingly. Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) move back to Smallville with their teenage sons after the death of Martha Kent. It’s all golden light and fields of green, but Smallville is slowly dying and Clark has resolved to keep the farm afloat. Meanwhile, a very angry man from another universe is extremely cross with Superman for reasons I won’t spoil.
It’s a handsome-looking production that doesn’t skimp on people punching each other in the sky, but at its heart it feels like a classic WB small-town drama in the vein of Everwood. The real problems Superman faces are ones that can’t be fixed with physical strength or heat vision; they can only be solved through awkward heart-to-hearts with family members. Superman and Lois calls on the Man Of Steel to find his real strength as Clark Kent.