‘WandaVision’ Clashes With Reality in “A Very Special Episode”

Making sense of the mind-bending fifth episode of Marvel's 'WandaVision.'

WandaVision Explained Episode 5 Review
What is going on in Marvel’s WandaVision? Disney+/Marvel

This post contains spoilers for the latest WandaVision episode, “On a Very Special Episode”

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Last week, Marvel’s WandaVision pulled back the curtain to escape the sitcom world of Westview for an entirely SWORD-focused endeavor. This week, the mind-bending show blends both the real world and the alternate reality we’ve been watching to cut to the harsh truth of the series: Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff is our villain.

Episode writers Peter Cameron and Mackenzie Dohr cleverly reconstruct the show’s formula on the fly, painting the family sitcom with a sinister brush that also shades in more familiar MCU elements. Moving forward, this balance represents the best of both worlds—the experimental ambition of WandaVision‘s deliberately odd sensibility and the more traditional Marvel drama. In doing so, WandaVision has also created the most emotionally sophisticated dynamic between protagonist and antagonist.

Episode 5 jumps between perspectives: Monica Rambeau, Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis’ SWORD-based attempts in the real world to make contact with Wanda and the sitcom reality created within the “Hex,” which is now plopped into the 1980s. (Yes, the hair is big and floppy. You’ll love it). This week’s story begins with Tommy and Billy crying incessantly as babies just as Agnes pops over to “help.” When Vision refuses her offer, she turns to Wanda and asks if they want to take that again, as if they are actors repeating a scene. This is the first of many instances in which the nature of the sitcom reality is questioned and Vision begins to see the puppet strings manipulated by the marionette master.

Tommy and Billy age themselves up to 5 years old and find a puppy. Deemed too young to care for a dog by their parents, the twins then age themselves up to 10 years old. Cheeky little rugrats.

Outside of the Hex, which is also being referred to as the “Maximoff Anomaly,” Monica, Darcy, and Jimmy are attempting to unearth the truth. Unfortunately, Acting Director Tyler Hayward takes a hardline stance, labeling Wanda a terrorist. To be fair, she is holding “thousands” of people hostage in her alternate reality. “On a Very Special Episode” reveals through Monica and others that each inhabitant is being suffocated by Wanda’s grief and is in excruciating anguish. It also shows us Wanda breaking into SWORD headquarters nine days earlier to steal the corpse of Vision. This is darker than the MCU’s average rah-rah cheerleader tone, which is exactly why we like it.

What’s interesting is how WandaVision portrays its central character. Episode 5 paints her in an increasingly negative light. She gaslights Vision to accept her reality, traps innocent bystanders and grows increasingly unhinged. At the same time, however, there are repeated suggestions that her behavior is a result of immense grief and trauma resulting from the events of the Infinity Saga. People enduring mental health crises are not inherently villains. They are in need of help first and foremost, not confrontation. Though, at some point, SWORD certainly needs to consider the lives of Westview’s innocent citizens.

As the real world and the sitcom world continue to blend, so too does the tonal narrative. Where WandaVision‘s first three episodes ferociously committed to the sitcom bit with just an undercurrent of light avant-garde unease, Episode 5’s drama is paralleled both within the sitcom world and the real world. That strange darkness and creeping sense of unease has permeated each storyline and created a dynamic that is far from black and white. This brings both the sitcom and real world elements into unison to a degree so that WandaVision‘s structure doesn’t feel like a stop-and-start marathon.

Five episodes in and the standout element thus far is Vision’s increasing self-awareness. (Paul Bettany modulates his performance spectacularly, as is Elizabeth Olsen.) Throwing Agnes “off-script,” eliciting Norm’s true subconscious in a particularly dark moment, squaring off against Wanda in a ripped-from-the-comics moment—it’s enough to make a man go mad. Vision, unable to remember his life before Westview and realizing his wife is manipulating the very reality around him, is teetering on the edge. Again, WandaVision building the protagonist-antagonist dynamic around Wanda vs. Vision (barring a still possible appearance from Mephisto or another villain) is far more compelling than introducing a run-of-the-mill big bad we have no prior connection to. It contorts our allegiances and preys upon our pre-existing emotional investments.

Episode 5 works as both a stakes-setting blend of both in-series worlds and as a transitional phase to WandaVision‘s endgame.

That’s to say nothing of the episode’s final big reveal: Evan Peters, who fans know as Quicksilver from the X-Men movies, being “recast” as Wanda’s brother Pietro, originally played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Age of Ultron. Even the live studio audience uttered a “Woooo!” at his introduction. Is this the first sign of Marvel’s continuity-hopping multiverse rumored to be featured in Tom Holland’s upcoming Spider-Man film and the Doctor Strange sequel? Rather than create its own X-Men, is Marvel simply co-opting Fox’s previous incarnations? The longer-term ramifications are fascinating to contemplate for superhero fans.

The concurrent storylines of SWORD and Westview are merging rapidly. Wanda even leaves her safe haven momentarily to deliver a pointed threat, cementing the idea that she has become self-aware of what she is doing (not a good case for her innocence). Positioning her as the sympathetic villain of WandaVision is a bold and compelling stroke, building toward an ultimate showdown between husband and wife. Credit to WandaVision for creating a unique, theory-inducing puzzle unlike anything the MCU has previously produced.

‘WandaVision’ Clashes With Reality in “A Very Special Episode”