Review: WandaVision Episode 3 – Now in Color!

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.

47 thoughts on “Review: WandaVision Episode 3 – Now in Color!

  1. Hmmm. I have yet to see an episode (I’ll probably get D+ eventually), but the mention of an “hours long” pregnancy brings back bad memories of the worst Marvel comics story ever. For those who don’t know what I’m referencing, just search for Avengers #200 or the “rape of Ms. Marvel”. And prepare to be repulsed.

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  2. I’m getting much MUCH more of a David Lynch vibe than PKD off this, say 90% to 10%.

    The aesthetic is so very 70s I had flashbacks to my childhood. I expected the Brady Bunch to wander in at any minute. Right down to the fake rock walls, plastic plants, dark wood, avocado green appliances, and the sassy/smart Black woman BFF. And the perky opening theme featuring scenes that didn’t happen.

    The Hydra ad was a perfect parody of “Calgon, take me away!” and “be in a world of your own without going anywhere” is fairly blatant.

    The laughs were forced exactly like 70’s sitcoms, so they didn’t particularly stick out. I have to admit the stork (in poofs of scarlet made me laugh honestly. And they nicely lamp-shaded the TV practice of actresses who are pregnant in real life hiding behind fruit bowls and big coats.

    (Spoilers)

    All light and breezy until “Ultron”… and the picture expanding… and Monica surrounded by troops. And the doctor talking about how hard it is to escape small towns.

    I even like the end credits with the RGB/CRT phosphors, a nice touch.

    I don’t have a Worldcon membership this year (just as well, eh?) but if this holds up over the rest of the episodes, I expect it to be on the Hugo ballot.

    Paul Bettany must have enjoyed working without the makeup so much.

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    1. I’m of the age that’s supposed to be super nostalgic for The Brady Bunch, but I have to admit that show always seemed weird and creepy to me in just about the same way that this one does. It wasn’t just that it was an image of family life with no connection to my own— nothing else on TV had that either— but it just… I don’t know, compared to the old-timey family sitcoms I’d seen in reruns, it was more of a simulation of the present day and that made its fakeness and blandness more distressing, an uncanny valley type deal. And it made me feel like, if people like that did exist, they would consider my family really weird and colorful in a not-right way – like, we would be the Visions in Westview, which might be cool or super-uncool. So basically, if I really must be reminded of The Brady Bunch, it makes sense for it to be this kind of story.

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      1. It was on every afternoon after my friend Scott and I got off the bus at his house and parked it in front of their TV, looking for anything and everything to mock and tear apart. Now and then, we’d tune in on it, and it was so wholly vapid and devoid that we seldom even watched to make fun of it. Farm report on? O-kay, then! Let’s hear about those barrows and gills! Feeder steers say WHAT now?

        I do have a working, conversational knowledge of the show’s top twelve or so tropes, which I think I picked up on the street somehow, apart from the fake voice-changing episode, which I witnessed firsthand. Some day I’ll be able to interpret for two alien races, one of whom communicates only in Brady Bunch quotes:

        “It’s always Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” (I nod gravely and turn to the other.) “Curly, when Larry kept getting picked first.”

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      2. I have seen several episodes of The Brady Bunch. However, I have seen them all, while stuck for hours at Atlanta airport in a dingy room where they put children travelling alone. I was fifteen and way too old for that sort of treatment (but for legal reasons, I was still classified as a child travelling alone). There was a single person who watched the kids and made sure they didn’t run off, but otherwise didn’t do anything. There were drinks, but nothing eat for hours (and that watchdog woman wouldn’t let me go into the terminal to get myself something to eat) and there was nothing to do except watch the lone TV, which was playing nothing but Gilligan’s Island and Brady Bunch.

        The experience left me with a violent dislike for Atlanta airport, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch.

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      3. @Eli: Exactly. TBB existed in the uncanny valley, so this episode was perfectly in tune with that feel.

        My mother’s comment on TBB: “8 people and one bathroom?! Why didn’t Dad the architect add some more? How long does it take everyone to get ready for school, and the line to, you know…”. And 9 if you count Alice, who was there a lot. (For comparison — we lived in Brady-equivalent areas and had at least 2 bathrooms for 4 people in my childhood)

        However, Mom met the lady who played Alice and really liked her — she gave up acting to be a lay minister and charity worker. An actual, genuine Christian.

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      4. @Kip: Wow, we only got the farm report on the radio (maybe some TV) in the mornings, and I know we grew up only an hour or so from each other. But yes, I was up on my hog bellies and winter wheat futures during TBB rerun years.

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      5. The tropes that @kiptw mentions are NOT from the Brady Bunch TV series.

        Yes, I’m going to be THAT fan.

        They are from the “motion picture” aka the Really F-ing Bad Parody Movie made decades later, and not really from the series.

        But I realize that the two parodies have made for many people younger than me a bigger impact that the orginal series. Which isn’t to say that the series was a work of High Art, because it wasn’t, but…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. kiptw:

    “Some day I’ll be able to interpret for two alien races, one of whom communicates only in Brady Bunch quotes:

    “It’s always Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” (I nod gravely and turn to the other.) “Curly, when Larry kept getting picked first.”

    “Peter when the vase broke”
    “Marcia’s nose as the dance approached”

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  4. “My mother’s comment on TBB: “8 people and one bathroom?! Why didn’t Dad the architect add some more? How long does it take everyone to get ready for school, and the line to, you know…”. And 9 if you count Alice, who was there a lot.”

    We only see the kid’s bathroom, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one, just that it’s the only one where plot happens (it’s a “Jack and Jill” bathroom by the way (https://www.angieslist.com/articles/what-jack-and-jill-bathroom.htm). One bathroom for six kids is still pretty bad – but I knew families with that kind of situation in the 1970s.

    Alice seemed to be a live-in maid, and so probably had a bathroom in her area (near the kitchen?). There might have been a bathroom on the main floor near Mike’s office/den, and the master bedroom had a bathroom too (we never see Mike or Carol in the kids’ bathroom, after all).

    I’ve spent too much time thinking about the Brady house, haven’t I?

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    1. Our house was built in 1971 and was very unusual for having two bathrooms plus one guest toilet. Most single family houses in Germany at the time had only one bathroom plus maybe a guest toilet.

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    2. I should add that I watched the Brady Bunch when it was first run (and later in reruns of course). I remember waiting a week to learn if Greg was dead in the tension-filled cliffhanger….

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    3. I’m sure Mike and Carol had their own, but that still leaves 6 kids of close to the same age in one bathroom. They weren’t hurting for money, so you’d think they’d have bought a bigger house, or remodeled.

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  5. I’m getting the impression that “Agnes” and “Herb” are a couple in the show’s “real world”, but can’t be a couple by classic sitcom rules, which is why they find themselves in the strange position of being the Visions next door neighbors, with “Agnes” married to an unseen lout that she always makes jokes about.

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  6. “Marcia Marcia Marcia” is from a 1971 show.
    The voice-changing episode is from 1972.
    I haven’t mentioned any others that I can find now.
    Curly and Larry are a different franchise.

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    1. Both the voice-changing and the Marcia-Marcia-Marcia bits were turned into whole-movie arcs by the parodies, so a lot of people who only saw the movie are familiar with them. For Brady Bunch deep-cuts, you need to reference Millicent, or Harvey Klinger, or Doctor Vogel…

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      1. Okay. I’m not particularly into depth of Bradyism, just because. Though I saw the movies when they showed up on cable channels we had, I didn’t let it change my views on the show, except to decide that it may have been worth the show’s existing for the sake of some of the funnier gags.

        Another show I couldn’t watch even to make fun of was Scooby-Doo, but of course there was enough conversation about the show for me to know all I needed.

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    2. I phrased my grump poorly, and also seemed to have spliced out a sentence.

      What I meant was that Marcia, marcia, marcia, and the voice changing thing were events that occurred exactly once, and that neither Jan always feeling jealous of her older sister, nor Bobbie’s voice change were major recurring themes. Whereas lots of people, because of the movies, have the impression that those were defining characteristics of the two characters.

      Sorry.

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  7. Whoever mentioned the colors breaking through, that’s convinced me that The Vision is trying to break through.

    The stuck-in-a-sitcom reminds me of several things, like the fake world Dr. Emil Gargunza ran in the Alan Moore Marvelman stories, or the pre-scripted Western shootout on ST:TOS. I haven’t read Six Characters In Search of an Author recently, but that’s up there too. And JB, by MacLeish, a retelling of the tale of Job.

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    1. The Brady Bunch could fit in for the sitcom in the story for me. Never heard of it until I was an adult. If it was shown in the UK when I was a kid, I never encountered it and it wasn’t a thing. Popular in Australia though.

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    2. @Andrew: that story is SPOT ON! Great find.

      It seemed vaguely, vaguely familiar to me (aside from all the obvious Brady parallels), so I must have read it in Asimov’s when it was originally published — I know I had a subscription then.

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      1. Yeah, I read it in Asimov’s back in the day too. Shiner has a lot of his work online now – favorites of mine are “Twilight Time,” “Nine Hard Questions about the Nature of the Universe” and “Primes”

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  8. It was a mix of The Brady Bunch but also The Partridge Family, but only slightly. They took the design aesthetic primarily from those two shows, but there isn’t really anything from those shows in terms of plot substance in the episode. (I.e. nobody else in the Westview neighborhood has a brood of kids who are in a band or are a blended family and there were no pregnancies in either of those two shows.) They did keep a running bit of Bewitched in terms of plot — Samantha has two pregnancies in the show (because Elizabeth Montgomery was pregnant) and the pregnancies are weird/have magic complications. So that seems to be the show that has the through line for Wanda, but moving into the late 1970’s, they will be leaving that behind.

    But in this episode, it’s really just a nod of set dressing rather than trying to give an actual sense of 1970’s shows, except that there was a sense of sadness that fit how 1970’s sitcoms often tried to deal with more real issues, even in the candy coated ones like The Brady Bunch. The real world creeps into the sitcom. There’s some indication that real people, possibly SWORD agents, are trapped in Wanda’s dream bubble and that sometimes she seems to be controlling or confusing their minds and other times not. Since SWORD deals with alien threats, there may still be some sort of alien involvement in what’s going on. (Though they are loosely using The House of M from the comics.)

    The Brady Bunch house had three full baths. The kids were in two large bedrooms upstairs with a large shared bathroom, the parents had a master suite with a bathroom on the first floor plus the dad’s office and Alice their live-in housekeeper had a room off the utility laundry room with a small full bath. Eventually Greg the eldest got to move into the attic for his own bedroom but with no bath. The house had three sets of patio doors — you could enter the backyard from the small rec room, the kitchen or the dining room/living room area, which is very unusual. The house had other unusual features for a 1970’s home — the open plan of the living/dining area, the master suite on the first floor, the massive stone wall in the front hall and the dad having a home office. All of those things would become common but were not in the U.S.1970’s homes. The multi-colored stain glass windows in Wanda’s house are from The Partridge Family.

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  9. “They took the design aesthetic primarily from those two shows, but there isn’t really anything from those shows in terms of plot substance in the episode. (I.e. nobody else in the Westview neighborhood has a brood of kids who are in a band or are a blended family and there were no pregnancies in either of those two shows.) ”

    Good point. The first two Wandavision episodes borrowed plotlines from the same sitcoms they borrowed aesthetics from, but not this one

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    1. There are bits of other ’70s media in the main plotline, just not sitcom style plotlines–you’ve got the conspiracy thriller going on in Vision’s story, as the unreality of Westview seems to get clearer to him, and you’ve got the supernatural pregnancy (ala ‘Rosemary’s Baby’) going on in Wanda’s. Both done in the style of an early ’70s domestic sitcom.

      It makes sense, because aside from the ‘reality breaking down’ aspect, the early ’70s are seen as something of a lowpoint in the genre–‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘The Partridge Family’ are both notoriously gimmicky and vacuous, and so naturally, aside from the aesthetics, this era doesn’t have much ability to withstand the pressures it’s being put under.

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    1. Well, the next decade is the 80’s. What are some of the 80’s best sitcoms? The Golden Girls? Family Ties? (The Cosby Show, but I’m sure Marvel won’t touch that with a ten-foot pole) And, interestingly enough, ALF, about an alien crashlanding in a family’s garage and their attempts to keep him a secret. And we’ve still got to unravel Wanda’s (and/or S.W.O.R.D. or Hydra’s) carefully constructed artificial reality.

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      1. I think Marvel published a comic version of Alf for at least a while, so I’m going to guess yes, even though I wasn’t reading much of Marvel at that point.

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    2. There were a lot of sitcoms considered good to exemplary in the 1970’s — MASH, Good Times, All in the Family, Barney Miller, Taxi, The Jeffersons, Maude, etc. The form of the sitcom went through a lot of experimentation during that period and touched on a lot of thornier subjects, but that wasn’t really convenient for the show’s purposes, it looks like. It is possible that they borrowed a bit from All in the Family where daughter Gloria has a pregnancy and baby and their black neighbor sawing his wall was maybe a bow towards George Jefferson when he was the neighbor in All in the Family.

      The next episode is going to skip to the 1980’s, apparently and Family Ties is going to be the big influence. The 1990’s influences subsequently are going to include Roseanne and ones using the oughts are going to include Modern Family and the U.S. version of The Office.

      Apparently the voice on the intercom that called out “Wanda, can you read me?” in episode two is Jimmy Woo, the FBI agent from the Ant-Man movies played by Randall Park (who also starred in the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat.) And Woo will apparently be working on the outside with Kat Denning’s Darcy from the Thor movies, who finished graduate school (and also starred in the sitcom 2 Broke Girls,) so there might be some references to their past t.v. shows in there, especially Park’s being a family sitcom.

      And Kathryn Hahn’s Agnes may be Agatha Harkness from the Marvel comics, a witch (magic using super person) who trained Wanda. Apparently she was wearing a broach that signaled this possibility.

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      1. The 1990s will probably visit “Full House” if only for the fact that Elizabeth Olsen’s sisters were in that…

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  10. I keep screwing up the threading, so I’m not going to try this as a reply.

    While there was one thing from the Partridge Family set in episode three, I saw the set as being mostly Bewitched with a little bit of Brady Bunch. Wanda’s kitchen in episode three doesn’t look much like Samantha’s did in Bewitched, that view from the living room through the dining room (which has moved from where it was in eps 1 & 2) and into the kitchen is so close to Bewitched’s set it had to be intentional.

    And Bewitched had two pregnancies, and more than one episode where the babies’ emerging powers caused comedic problems for the Sam and Darren…

    …of course, I was extremely disappointed in episode three on one count: if Agnes is indeed supposed to be Agathe Harkness, then they totally should have dressed her to look more like Agnes Moorhead’s Endora in this episode.

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