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WandaVision episode 1.02, “Don’t Touch That Dial” gets more gimmicky than the first episode, yet it showcases something Wanda and Vision have been lacking for their whole MCU existence: characterization.
The beauty of long form story-telling in television is that it allows actors to actually act – especially when they aren’t crowded into a corner by thirteen other main characters and the bombastic CGI special effects that are a pre-requisite of many superhero films.
Wanda and Vision certainly have their time to shine in the second episode, despite the continued overwhelming reliance on easter eggs/ and more mysteries-of-the-day.
The defining characteristic of the second WandaVision episode 1.02 “Don’t Touch That Dial”, is our grasp on Wanda’s level of control over her town, which is apparently called Westview.
Upon seeing a beekeeper (who happens to have the same S.W.O.R.D. logo on his back which was also on the old TV last episode too) come out of a manhole, Wanda simply says, “no”, and the show within a show we are watching somehow rewinds and resets to avoid any beekeeper interruption.
This development is enormous for our plot, but also our characters. Vision is blissfully unaware of his surroundings, or the effect Wanda’s “no” has on their story together. Given the “rewind”, and Vision’s apparent ignorance to the flow of his shared “story” with Wanda, the show is making it explicitly clear that Wanda is in control of what’s happening in Westview.
During their rehearsal, Wanda says to Vision, “in a real magic act, everything is fake.” This isn’t some throwaway line, as it is the major theme that is explored throughout this episode.
What is real, and what is fake?
One catch, though, still remains to be seen — how much control does Wanda wield in this fictional universe?
Our exploration of “control” is supplemented, and supplanted, by the emergence of yet even more daily mysteries. There is a natural push and pull between the mysteries slowly chipping away at the façade Wanda has obviously created for her own benefit, but also Wanda’s desire to maintain a firm grip on the pristine veneer she has constructed at the same time.
Tenuous at best, this delicate equilibrium is an odd, yet fascinating, dichotomy to employ on a show of this ilk. Even though we know Wanda is the author of this magical mystery tour through television sitcom history, we do not necessarily know exactly how much of the world is a manifestation of Wanda’s powers, and how much of it is real.
For example, are the residents of Westview real people? Are they under Wanda’s powerful spell, or are they aware of the roles they are playing? Why are the residents constantly repeating a freakishly cult-esque line of “for the children”? Why is Wanda worried about her fitting in and meeting the approval of Dottie, played by Emma Caulfield Ford, who is apparently “the key to the town”? If Dottie is, indeed, the “key to the town”, and Wanda is the complete author of the town, why would Wanda be worried about 1. Dottie’s acceptance and 2. if Dottie believes Wanda doesn’t actually mean harm to anyone in the town?
Tension, when written correctly, has to affect both the character AND the viewer at the same time.
Implicit in Wanda’s actions is an underlying sea of tension which alludes to her authorship, yet lack of omnipotent as well as omniscient powers over her fictional community. Though she can manipulate her surroundings, Wanda seems to have only a minute command over her fellow residents. She’s worried, and if she is worried, we too have to be worried because all the little mysteries are slowly attacking Wanda’s grip on the situation. We are naturally waiting for the whole experience to come crashing to a catastrophic end, and it’s only a matter of time.
So, are the mysteries themselves important? Yes, and no.
Who’s the voice on the radio? How much do they know and why do they know Wanda by name? Why is there a colorized toy helicopter with a S.W.O.R.D. logo in the hedge? Why is Dottie’s blood red? Why is Wanda compensating for Visions abilities to the townsfolk? Why the hell is there a beekeeper coming out of the ground? Yes, I’m sure we’ll get answers to all these questions in due course, and I am also sure those answers will have rational explanations behind all of them.
The important factor we all have to consider for WandaVision episode 1.02 “Don’t Touch That Dial”, first and foremost, is what Wanda is doing to maintain her level of control in her town in RESPONSE to these mysteries. Again, this is where the tension comes to the forefront of expert storytelling.
- Wanda makes the beds come together to further evolve the narrative of she and Vision’s relationship.
- Vision chews gum and gets his insides all mucked up which causes him to act sort of “drunk”. Wanda compensates for Vision’s lack of control in his magic act by magic-ing up rational explanations for his normally impossible abilities in their “magic show”.
- Wanda sees a colored helicopter and is eventually taken off course by Agnes, who introduces her to Dottie.
- Upon hearing The Beach Boys “Help Me Rhonda” on the radio, and engaging in a truly stifling conversation between she and Dottie, Wanda hears a man’s voice on the radio saying, “Wanda who’s doing this to you? Wanda!” and Dottie’s glass breaks. Red blood flows from her gray hands and the radio stops.
- “It wasn’t so hard to fit in after all.” This phrase is spoken by Wanda right before the beekeeper shows up outside her house. The beekeeper appears in front of Wanda and Vision at the end of the episode, and Wanda resets the entire story to before she and Vision hear any disturbance.
- To further the evolution of the “story”, after the appearance of all the colorized items, a cascade of color suddenly engulfs their shared reality.
- To help further distract from all the oddities that are pushing against her fiction, and in an effort to maintain an assimilated façade, Wanda is suddenly VERY pregnant. It’s no coincidence this happens after all the people from the town repeatedly recited, “for the children”.
This push and pull of reality, and natural tension, is what allows Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany to finally explore some real characterization for their respective characters. Any show (or story for that matter) that is worth it’s salt has to have stakes.
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In other words, what am I risking, and what happens if I fail? This is the key to all drama.
Just as essential as stakes in drama is relationships, and the vulnerability that is created because of these relationships between our characters. Vulnerability transforms relationships that merely exist on paper to tangible interactions and the viewer’s genuine affection for the character’s fate. It just so happens that in WandaVision, the stakes and relationships are one-in-the-same. Wanda is risking her reality, and if she fails, her relationship with her VERY DEAD husband, and most probably her sanity, will vanish.
Yes, the sitcom aspect is cute. Yes, it’s fun to to dissect all the little easter eggs like the symbol on the Magic Box is actually the Mind Stone (which is what gives Vision is power), or that their house number is 2800 – which is also the designation for the MCU in Marvel’s multiverse — Earth 2800, or how Bova is a reference to Wanda and Pietro Maximoff’s midwife at their birth — who was actually a cow which was evolved enough to walk and talk! Yup, there’s a billion and a half more references in this episode that I won’t bother writing about because all the nerdy details will give you a popsicle headache.
As I mentioned last episode, however, the sitcom conceit — and even all the fun easter eggs — are just window dressing. The plot of the sitcom is tangential at best, because the world that populates the plot is tangential at best. Nearly everything that has transpired, plot-wise, is irrelevant. It’s all fake. It’s a magic act. What matters is our characters and what they’re doing to each other to maintain the act.
With this is in mind, here is the most crucial question you should be asking yourself in WandaVision “Don’t Touch That Dial”: what happens when Vision finds out his world and ENTIRE EXISTENCE is a product of Wanda’s manipulation?
APROPOS OF NOTHING FOR WANDAVISION EPISODE 1.02 “DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL”:
- Geraldine has been confirmed to actually be Monica Rambeau. Name sound familiar? It should – she’s the daughter of Maria “Photon” Rambeau — wingman to Carol Danvers (AKA: Captain Marvel). Why is she here? What role is she playing and is she aware of that role? Well, I don’t know. Yet.
- The Strucker Watch commercial may be more than a fun easter egg. As you know, Wolfgang Von Strucker was the Hydra agent who experimented on Wanda and her brother Pietro before the events of Avengers: Age Of Ultron. He used the Mind Stone (which was housed in Loki’s scepter) to give them their abilities, and helped set the events of Ultron in motion. While the Maximoffs killed Strucker off screen in Ultron, it’s important to note that the tagline for Strucker’s “watch” is “he’ll make time for you.” Wanda’s role in the upcoming MCU multiverse is unknown, but in the comics she is discovered to be the “Nexus of Realities” — in other words, she’s really important and it’s because of what Strucker did to her.
- The beekeeper outfit is more than just a fun little addition to a quirky world – certain S.W.O.R.D agents wear these really weird outfits that resemble beekeepers. Which leads me to question a number of things: 1. Is there a time space warp in Wanda’s reality? 2. Is that why time evolves in the “show” so quickly? 3. Is that also why an agent is wearing a beekeeper outfit and the S.W.O.R.D “helicopter” fits in with the time of the show as opposed to the real time of the events of the MCU? 4. Is that also why the “commercial” for this episode centers on a watch? Food For Thought.
- Finally, is Dottie a real actual foe for Wanda? Is that why Dottie seems to be so combative when she says, ” I don’t believe you” to Wanda? Is Dottie the reason why S.W.O.R.D is involved with this at all?
- Here’s a thought: Wanda asks Vision, “Is this really happening?” when she gets pregnant. Implicit in this question is that Wanda is not fully in control of the pregnancy, or her child. The question remains though, I thought everything is fake in a magic act. Her simple asking the question means that it’s counter to her control and is thereby not part of the “act.” It should me mean, then, that her pregnancy is very real.
- On more of a programming level, I am happy that the first two episodes came out as a pair. The first episode only works with the second episode coming right after. Watching them independently would more than likely have been disappointing. So I look forward to going week to week from here on out and noticing the storytelling difference.
Are you happy episodes 1 and 2 came out at the same time?
WandaVision episode 1.02, “Don’t Touch That Dial” Review & Analysis
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