Philip K Dick has an unenviable position: his stories have been frequently adapted and yet the films that capture his distinctive mix of average Joe’s caught up in worlds which are lies, are films (e.g. Terry Gilliam’s Brasil) that aren’t adaptations of his work.
Dick’s Ubik (1969) literally features an average Joe albeit one who is working for a psychic agency. Each chapter begins with a fake commercial for the amazing Ubik product, whose real purpose is part of the hidden mystery of the sliding realities that the characters encounter. There are shades of Ubik in Christopher Nolan’s Inception or even in how Paul Verhoeven weaves fake adverts in RoboCop (1987), a film that has oddly more Dickian elements in it that Verhoeven’s Total Recall that is overtly a Dick adaptation.
The third episode of WandaVision ramps up the Dickian elements to the detriment of the sitcom pastiche. The superhero couple are now in the colourful early 70’s with house decor to match but the comedy subplot is a magical pregnancy. The fundamentally sinister aspects of that for the time period is more suggestive of Rosemary’s Baby than mainstream sitcom fare. It does though, repeat the odd 1990s/2000s genre TV aspect of the show, where women characters might often have to face an episode-long pregnancy.
While Dick’s aesthetic is rarely included in the adaptation of his work, the suburban gnosticism has worked its way into popular culture through other means. As we do appear to be in 1990s TV land for the non-sitcom aspect of the show, the Twin Peaks sense of soap-opera concerns being a thin veneer over Manichean conflict of powers is given a notch up. Geraldine’s (aka Monica Rambeau, probably) sword (S.W.OR.D.) pendant looking like an inverted cross as she struggles to bring facts about the world beyond into the domestic bliss of Wanda Maximoff.
The laughs this week feel forced but intentionally so. The circumstance (a pregnancy lasting hours instead of months) is inherently disturbing and Wanda’s emotional pain surfaces not only as jokey practical effects but also a memories of her brother (the MCU’s killed-off early Quicksilver due to his ambiguity between cinematic universes). It is strong stuff and the show walks a tricky line, not as successfully as episode 2 but still another strong and interesting entry.