[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “WandaVision” Episode 4, “We Interrupt This Program.”]
More than halfway through “WandaVision” Episode 4, two characters making their return to the MCU share a frank back-and-forth.
“All right, brass tacks,” FBI Agent Jimmy Woo (played by the always excellent Randall Park) says to his colleague, Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings, who was last seen ’round these parts in “Thor: The Dark World”). “What are we looking at here? Is it an alternate reality, time travel, some cockamamie social experiment?”
Staring blankly at the screen in front of her, Dr. Lewis deadpans: “It’s a sitcom. A 1950s sitcom.”
Call it comedy if you want — it’s about as close as Episode 4 gets — but this exchange serves a much more cursory function, as does the episode overall: It’s there to make the audience feel OK again. After 90 minutes focused on unfounded sitcom shenanigans in TV Land, all of which offered slight insights into what’s going on in the real world, “We Interrupt This Program” breaks from the parade of classic homages for a reality check; it explains some of what was formerly unexplainable, and lets audiences know it’s OK to not know exactly what’s going on.
Jimmy and Dr. Darcy are the audience proxy, and what a blunt metaphor they are: the two of them, staring at the same “episodes” we are, deciphering the same clues we have been, and asking many of the same questions. When Agent Woo scrawls, “Why sitcoms?” and “Is Vision alive?” on the white board, he’s acknowledging that the big questions looming over “WandaVision” from the start will be answered. But like a scratchy wool blanket, all of this coddling can be comforting and irritating at the same time. It’s nice to know the series is willing to let us see “WandaVision” from both sides of the screen, but the audience is too far ahead of our onscreen investigators to make Episode 4 much more than obligatory exposition.
So, what did we learn? For one, Maria Rambeau (introduced in “Captain Marvel”) did not disappear when Thanos snapped half the world out of existence, but she did pass away while her daughter, Monica (Teyonah Parris) was “blipped.” Episode 4 starts with Monica’s jarring return, as she materializes in a hospital, thinking she just woke up from a nap. Instead, she’s told that she’s been gone for five years.
Three weeks later, she’s up to date and back to work, strolling into SWORD offices for her new assignment: investigate a missing persons case in New Jersey, except this isn’t a blip-related incident. (Well, it’s not directly a blip-related incident.) Turns out an entire town has been erased from people’s minds and its citizens are being isolated behind a strange energy field. When Monica gets too close, she gets sucked inside, and that’s how she ended up in Wanda’s TV reality. (How aware she was of herself, her actions, and her fake reality remain up in the air. Was Monica spying on Wanda and gathering intel, or did Wanda force her to unwittingly play her part until she snapped out of the spell?)
From there, Episode 4 keeps the confirmations coming. Dr. Darcy shows up with a team of scientists to figure out what’s going on with the energy field, and she tunes in to a broadcast TV signal coming from Westview, allowing them to watch Wanda’s sitcom episodes, identify “characters” as actual citizens, and experiment with various ways to communicate with the people inside. Yes, it was SWORD who sent the beekeeper and Monica (as a SWORD agent) who flew in the toy helicopter, both seen in previous episodes. Yes, it was Agent Wu on the radio during Wanda’s luncheon, trying to talk to her in between choruses of “Help Me Rhonda.” And yes, it was Wanda who blasted Monica out of Westview when she mentioned Ultron at the end of Episode 3.
That Episode 4 ends in the exact same place — with a dazed Monica laying on the grass outside of town — speaks to its explanatory designs. Showrunner Jac Schaeffer recognized she couldn’t keep audiences inside Wanda’s world indefinitely, and scheduled a catch-up session to make sure everyone feels comfortable enough with what’s happening. Still, ending with Monica saying “It’s Wanda. It’s all Wanda!” isn’t even close to the level of revelation provided in the three subsequent entries. How many zooms into Wanda’s face are we supposed to need before we get the idea? How many times are we supposed to watch her reset the sitcom paradigm when someone asks too many questions? How many clues do we need?
Some fans have already moved past the idea that Wanda is behind the events in Westview, arguing that a) she’d never do that, and b) it’s too obvious. No matter what you believe is behind “WandaVision’s” premise, what’s clear after “We Interrupt This Program” is that the show can’t simply switch back to sitcom homages. The limited series’ latter half will have to do a better job of balancing both realities — finding ways to engage with Westview’s faux sitcoms and SWORD’s ongoing investigation — but really, it has to engage with Wanda. The lead character has been kept at arm’s length for nearly half of her own series, and we have yet to learn why she’s doing what she’s doing (or why she’s accepting her TV Land imprisonment).
Disney+ released a teaser for the remaining five episodes Friday morning, just as they released a teaser for Episode 4 Thursday night. Both of which are trying to assure audiences that this isn’t just a silly sitcom. Answers are coming. Hopefully substance comes with them.
“WandaVision” premieres new episodes every Friday on Disney+.
- The dialogue overall was a bit rough this episode, especially when innately casual performers (like Dennings and Park) were asked to incorporate unnatural phrases. “Hey man, we’re working with the same scarcity of intel.” Oof. Also, nothing is more painful than hearing the word “interface” used as a verb. Granted, this typically happens with people who work in very rigid office environments, like the FBI, so at least Wu’s use is arguably authentic.
- I must say, Parris is nailing her warm-up for “Captain Marvel 2.” The opening and closing scenes are actor traps. She can’t see the re-materializing special effects, and coming back from non-existence could have called for a much more extreme reaction; instead, she plays it pretty cool, showing a touch of discombobulation and then a growing panic as she searches for her mother. Then at the end, that line — “It’s Wanda. It’s all Wanda!” — could skew goofy or too on-the-nose in a heartbeat, but she manages to hold us in Monica’s POV. She just came out of Westview. She just experienced Wanda’s powers. We may have known it was coming, but it’s still new information to her. But all that being said…
- Where is Kathryn Hahn?! Good Lord, Disney! It’s been two weeks now! Get your shit together!
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: IndieWire