Adults and children try to survive, or escape, from a cult called The Kindred in Hulu’s psycho-thriller, The Clearing.
“What, exactly, is your story?” asks Vision’s boss over dinner with him and his wife, Wanda. “Why did you come here?”
He’s not the only one asking questions of this clandestine super-couple, an android with chameleon-like red skin and his “magical” wife, Wanda Maximoff.
Nosy queen bee neighbor Dottie peppers Wanda with similar inquiries: “Who are you?” she asks as a radio mysteriously seems to start speaking to Wanda.
Secret identities, of course, go hand in hand with being superheroes. And Wanda and Vision are definitely trying to keep a low profile as newlyweds in the idyllic 1960s town of Westview (“Home: It’s Where You Make It,” the town’s welcome sign says.)
But something is … off. They actually don’t know their story. They don’t know why they’re in Westview, or how they got there. They don’t know when they got married. In some key ways, that don’t really know who they are at all.
Then again, the fact that the series begins in a1960s-style sitcom means they don’t really need overthink those questions. At least, not too much. But with each new episode, the questions are starting to stack up. And it’s getting harder for Wanda, especially, to completely deny that something sinister is afoot.
WandaVision marks Disney’s first attempt to translate its big-screen Marvel Cinematic Universe onto Disney+’s small screen. Yes, there have been other Marvel TV shows, such as ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Netflix’s collection of Defenders. But WandaVision represents a new phase of Marvel’s expansion into television.
And by new, what I really mean is old.
WandaVision isn’t like any superhero story you’ve seen before. Forget explosive combat with cosmic-powered nemeses. Instead, what we have is a sitcom meticulously mimicking the likes of ‘60s classics such as The Dick Van Dyke Show and Bewitched, with later episodes reportedly appropriating some of America’s best-known and best-loved sitcoms, from 1970s faves like The Brady Bunch to the 21st-century’s The Office.
It sounds odd–indeed, almost impossible–on paper. But somehow, Marvel’s storytellers have pulled it off. We watch Wanda scrambling to make dinner when Vision’s boss and the boss’s wife unexpectedly show up. Wanda is instantly befriended by her neighbor, Agnes, who complains constantly about her husband Ralph and offers her tips on being a better housewife.
Meanwhile, Vision heads off to work at Computational Services. And, as an android, he naturally does quite well there. “Gee willikers,” a coworker exclaims, “you’re like a walking computer.”
Cue the uproarious laugh track.
But there are hints early on that things are not as they seem. “Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?” a concerned voice repeatedly asks her over the radio.
She doesn’t know. But then again, it’s time for the town’s annual talent show, and she has to get ready.
Perhaps the best thing about the show, at least from a family-friendly perspective, is that its format emulates a bygone age right down to the content—or lack thereof. A rare mild expletive might show up, along with just a smidgeon of innuendo. But WandaVision is, arguably, nearly as clean as the shows it emulates. (That, obviously, could get more problematic as the shows WandaVision spoofs become more contemporary.)
But just when you start to settle into the series’ Dick Van Dyke mode, small, jarring hints suggest that there’s much more going on here. At times, those stirrings of awareness feel like similar a-ha awakenings in The Truman Show, the Matrix, Pleasantville or even Lost. At least in the show’s early goings, though, WandaVision’s throwback homage makes it a superhero story with an old-fashioned vibe that fans of classic comedy—and fans of almost any age—may enjoy even more than comic book geeks like me.
But with each passing episode, it becomes more and more clear that the series’ nostalgic, feel-good vibe likely won’t survive its coming collision with harsh reality.
The final episode of WandaVision Season 1 is aptly titled “The Series Finale.” Without giving away anything too spoiler-y, various loose narrative ends from throughout the series get tied up quite satisfyingly here.
The bulk of the episode revolves around combat between Wanda and the lurking enemy revealed in the previous episode. As such, a great deal of scene-wrecking, Marvel-style super-combat occurs, with both primary combatants unleashing their formidable powers on each other. Likewise, Vision squares off against another key character revealed in the last episode. And Tyler Hayward and his troops continue their assault on the deteriorating hex around Westview, N.J. All in all, various characters contribute to a lot of physical destruction here.
We also hear more dialogue about Wanda’s emerging identity as Scarlet Witch, including verbal and visual references to a tome called the Darkhold, which someone characterizes as “the book of the damned.” Witchcraft themes continue, as does the use of spells and magical runes. Wanda forcefully exclaims, “I’m not a witch.” Much in the finale, however, suggests otherwise.
In addition to combat between super-powered combatants, one character shoots multiple rounds of bullets at another (who is, we see, unharmed by the attack). Wanda’s two boys are momentarily choked by magic. Residents of the town of Westview are also temporarily choked, too. Someone caustically refers to those folks as Wanda’s “meat puppets.”
Wanda is forced to deal with many of the ramifications of her takeover of Westview, including how its residents have experienced her usurpation of their wills for the sake of her story. Wanda’s deeply sorry for the pain she’s caused them. We also see her continue to process her grief in some emotionally healthy ways.
One character’s actual surname is revealed to be Bohner, which he pronounces in a sexually suggestive, joking way. We hear one misuse of God’s name.
Wanda and the enemy revealed in the last episode continue to square off in an episode that contains a series of almost origin-story like flashbacks to Wanda’s past. These flesh out her story more fully. It’s difficult to give more of the episode’s plot without a massive spoiler warning, as everything that happens continues to connect narrative dots and explain happenings in the previous seven episodes. So we’ll skip over that, only saying that as the story unfolds here, we learn more about how Wanda’s multiple traumatic losses have influenced the events in Westview.
Content-wise, this is definitely the darkest episode so far. Parents and families need to know that witchcraft plays a role here, including a flashback to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1693 that involves multiple witches and uses of phrases such as “coven,” “spells” and “hexes.” A rogue witch is told, “You stole knowledge above your age and station. You practiced the darkest of magic.” We also hear a discussion of how difficult it is for witches to perfect even simple magical spells. There are even references to a witch possessing another person and a passing reference to necromancy as well.
Violent imagery includes flashbacks to Vision’s two deaths in Avengers: Infinity War (including the removal of the Infinity Stone from his head by Thanos’ fist); the destruction of a home by an explosion, killing two parents and leaving two children as orphans; two children being threatened and choked; a bird flying into the mouth of surprisingly carnivorous rabbit; and, perhaps most disturbingly, an attempted execution of a witch that backfires and kills all of those trying to perform the deed. Another disturbing image shows the remains of Vision’s body after his Infinity War death, with all of his limbs having been removed and placed on separate gurneys.
Episode 7 brings the series’ sitcom-styled narrative into the present with an Office-like dialogue construct that finds Wanda and other characters speaking to the audience directly—as the episode’s title hints at.
In this episode, elements of the Westview world Wanda has apparently created seem to be fragmenting and glitching. Curtains, décor and furniture flash between different decades. Wanda’s twin boys are concerned about her, as she seems distracted and out of sorts. And Wanda tells us herself that she’s planning on taking a “quarantine-style staycation” for the day. Helpful neighbor Agnes offers to take the 10-year-old twins, Billy and Tommy, to give Wanda a much-needed break. This episode’s in-show commercial is for an antidepressant that promises to make everything in life better.
Meanwhile, two different teams outside the energy field around Westview continue to plot how to deal with Wanda. S.W.O.R.D. director Tyler Hayward continues to plan a frontal assault on her, as he considers Wanda a dangerous terrorist. Rogue agents Monica Rambeau and Jimmy Woo plot another strategy to make contact with her. Many S.W.O.R.D. personnel are now trapped inside the barrier as well. They’ve become part of a travelling circus there—including Darcy Lewis. Vision connects with her in attempt figure out what’s happening with his wife and with himself.
Content concerns in this episode is pretty minimal. One character whispers “Oh fudge!” quietly under her breath. Another character wishes someone an earnest “Godspeed” in her dangerous mission. Wanda seems to recognize that her emotions and control are slipping away, zigzagging between a confessional tone and threats of violence. A vehicle collides with a barrier and sends an occupant tumbling out of it. A scene toward the end gets almost horror-movie creepy. Someone makes a confession about killing little Tommy and Billy’s puppy Sparky several episodes back. One circus performer decks another. A character has a glass of wine.
This episode mostly does away with trying to slavishly mimic a particular sitcom from a particular era—apart from a pop-punk song at the beginning of the “episode.” A movie marquee in the background advertises the movies The Parent Trap from 1998, and The Incredibles from 2004, placing this story (it seems) in the early part of this millennium.
As the episode’s title indicates, it’s Halloween. Wanda and Vision dress up in costumes that recall their classic outfits from the comics in the 1970s and ’80s. Their boys, Tommy and Billy, trick or treat in the neighborhood with Wanda’s brother, Pietro. He uses his superspeed to steal everyone’s candy and destroy jack-o’-lanterns. Wanda rightly dubs him a bad influence and undoes her brother’s mischief. Vision, meanwhile, continues to piece together the mystery of what’s really happening, moving ever closer to the barrier that Wanda has erected on the outskirts of Westview.
On the other side of that barrier, S.W.O.R.D. director Tyler Hayward contemplates trying to take Wanda out via military means, while Monica Rambeau, Darcy and Jimmy Woo try to convince him otherwise.
We see a flashback to someone’s death, as well as quickly glimpsing that character’s pale corpse riddled with bullet holes. Someone else starts to disintegrate. A Claymation commercial shows a young man aging and dying and turning into a skeleton on a desert island. We see Pietro wearing boxers. Wanda wears a camisole and robe in the episode’s opening song. She also dons a form-fitting and cleavage-baring scarlet leotard as her Halloween costume. Vision and Wanda flirt suggestively. As Billy and Tommy trick-or-treat, Pietro sarcastically encourages them, yelling, “Unleash hell, demon-spawn!” Pietro teaches them how to “chug” a can of soda. He also tells his sister that her red costume makes her look like “a Sokovian fortune-teller.”
The profanity count in this episode ratchets up slightly, with two uses of “kick a–” (once by one of Wanda’s boys, once repeated by her in parental exasperation), “d–mit,” “h—” and “b–tard.”
The latest installment finds our superhero couple back in suburbia as struggling parents of crying infants. The time: Somewhere in the ‘80s. And the vibe very much evokes classic sitcoms of that era such as Family Ties and Full House.
Wand and Vision’s twin boys, Tommy and Billy, are growing up fast. I mean, really fast, morphing from infants to 5-year-olds to 10-year-olds before their (and our) very eyes. Soon the twins find a playful puppy they name Sparky (because he sets off sparks pulling a plug out of the wall), and canine hijinks (and some sadness) ensue. Vision increasingly notices unsettling clues that everything in his and Wanda’s seemingly idyllic life isn’t what it seems, leading to conflict between them.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Westview, characters from S.W.O.R.D. (introduced in Episode 4) continue to work frantically to figure out what’s happening with Wanda. Wanda’s backstory is also unpacked very thoroughly by these agents.
Language includes an unfinished use of a reference to the male anatomy, with one character calling another a “di–.” We also hear one use of “h—uva.” Earnest, sitcom-y exclamations include “Jeez Louise!” and “Holy Christmas.”
Wanda and Vision’s neighbor, Agnes, sprays some scented lavender over the infant boys’ cribs to quiet their crying, saying suggestively, “Lavender: It’s supposed to have a calming effect. Ralph sprays it on me every night, but there’s no taming this tiger.” After she leaves, Wanda references her “high libido” talking with Vision.
Rifles are pointed in a tense scene. We hear multiple conversations about whether or not the deceased can be brought back to life.
Typically, our episode reviews begin with a summary of the story’s progression, then move on to content. With this episode of WandaVision, however, we’re going to flip that template, because literally everything that happens in this episode needs a spoiler warning. So, content, then story.
Content here is just a tad harsher than what we’ve seen in the first three episodes. Language concerns include one use each of “h—” and “d–mit,” as well as a single misuse of God’s name. A woman is hurled through multiple walls and lands roughly. Low-cut tops reveal a bit of cleavage. Someone has a head wound.
Everything else that follows here gets that big ol’ Spoiler Warning treatment.
This fourth episode deviates completely from the established structure of the series thus far. Our story opens in a hospital, with many people being reconstituted from dust following the Blip, locating this story immediately after the events of Avengers: Endgame.
One of those returnees after being dead five years is Monica Rambeau, and employee of S.W.O.R.D: Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division—an outfit that slots in somewhere in the realm of S.H.I.E.L.D and the FBI.
Indeed, Monica’s soon asked by her boss, Tyler Hayward, to investigate a missing person case that the FBI is working on in New Jersey. Turns out, however, the entire town of Westview, New Jersey is what’s missing.
The balance of the episode involves Monica, Director Hayward, plucky scientist Darcy Lewis and FBI agent Jimmy Woo setting up shop outside of town to try to penetrate what they identify as a “cosmic microwave background radiation shield” around the town that’s largely impenetrable by their technology.
As the last episode closed, Wanda and Vision learned that she was unexpectedly—and suddenly, visibly—quite pregnant. Here, in the span of just a day or so, she progresses from being four months pregnant (according to a doctor who makes a house call) to giving birth at full term. [Spoiler Warning] Wanda gives birth to twin boys.
It becomes clear that the stork will be making his delivery soon. Literally. With each contraction and each progression toward birth, Wanda seems to be somehow triggering para-events in the couple’s hometown of Westview. When her water breaks, it rains—inside. And as the birth draws closer, an actual stork shows up to march through the house. A new neighbor named Geraldine is coincidentally present for the birth, helping Wanda while Vision looks for the doctor who left just a few minutes earlier.
Speaking of the house, it’s now clearly the 1970s, and the story this time around has a very Brady Bunch-like visual vibe to it.
As with previous episodes, there’s almost zero content here. Wanda wears a dress that dips a bit on top. A commercial depicts a woman indulging in a bubble bath (fully covered by said bubbles, of course.) Vision says “d–n” once. Vision is also quite incredulous at how quickly the pregnancy seems to be proceeding, and he asks the doctor, “How did this happen?” The doctor, misunderstanding the question, just smiles and says, “Well, you see, when a man and woman love each other very much …”
Someone exclaims, somewhat earnestly, somewhat sarcastically, “Oh thank God!” Neighbor Agnes jokes about marriage being better with the power off, since that way she can’t see her husband in the dark. Agnes and Herb seem to know that something is not right with regard to Geraldine, but they won’t share their secret with Vision.
A woman is hurled through a wormhole and lands on the ground with a thud, appearing to be unconscious after the impact. The episode’s conclusion—which feels a bit like a scene from E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind—reinforces the feeling that things are gradually getting darker behind the scenes. That’s a reality that Wanda is increasingly working harder to deny so that she can enjoy wedded bliss and being a new mom.
Agnes informs Wanda that the real social “power” in the town belongs to a woman named Dottie, who controls and manages all the various social goings-on. Agnes invites Wanda to a planning meeting at Dottie’s, with other neighborhood wives, to map out the details for the annual talent competition fundraiser for the school. Vision, meanwhile, goes to a meeting with the town’s men at the library. He thinks it’s about neighborhood security, ut mostly it’s gossip about other people in the community. Vision and Wanda also prepare for the talent competition in which they’ll portray a magician and his assistant.
Vision doesn’t eat or drink. But to cover for that fact, he accepts a piece of gum, which he chokes on and swallows. The gum has the effect of making him act as if he’s drunk. When he and Wanda perform their routine, Vision’s “drunkenness” results in various comical hijinks, and they win the competition. Vision also uses the word “masticate” to describe chewing the gum, prompting one person who hears him to say earnestly and uncomfortably, “I don’t do that.”
Wanda wears a swimsuit-like one-piece outfit as the magician’s assistant. She also moves the couple’s two single beds together with her powers, fusing them into one. The couple then crawls under the covers suggestively. At the end of the episode, Wanda is pregnant (though neither she nor Vision had noticed until a baby bump spontaneously appears). Vision and Wanda kiss a couple of times.
Agnes offers Wanda the use of her pet rabbit as a prop for Wanda and Vision’s magic routine, saying, “Senor Scratchy just loves the stage. He played baby Jesus in last year’s Christmas pageant.” Elsewhere, Dottie says, “The devil’s in the details,” which prompts Agnes to add, “That’s not the only place he is.”
At the meeting of the wives, Agnes breaks out a flask from her purse and quietly quips that she doesn’t know how anyone could make it through this kind of meeting sober. Dottie cuts her hand on a glass; her blood is bright red in an episode that’s mostly in black and white. We hear a repetition of the word “d-mmit” from the first episode, as well as one additional use of “d–n.”
Wanda and Vision, apparently newlyweds, arrive in Westview to begin a new life together. A calendar in the kitchen is marked with a heart on August 23, but neither of them can remember what it’s for. Is their anniversary? They can’t recall—which is particularly strange for Vision, since he’s an android who never forgets anything.
Turns out that the heart was supposed to remind them that Vision’s boss, Mr. Arthur Heart, and his wife were coming for dinner. Vision tries to communicate that they’re coming, but (in classic sitcom style), Wanda thinks Vision’s hinting at wanting a romantic evening together. When Mr. and Mrs. Heart arrive shortly after Vision gets home, Wanda’s wearing a seductive robe that reveals some cleavage. She and Vision scramble to make dinner—and Wanda’s helped by her new neighbor, Agnes, who brings over food through the kitchen door.
Speaking of Agnes, she seems genuinely interested in friendship with Wanda, and genuinely not very happy in her marriage, as she drops complaints about hubby Ralph’s cluelessness as husband. She reads Wanda portions of an advice article on how to be a good wife called “How to Treat Your Husband to Keep Your Husband.” She jokes, “What Ralph really could use is [an article called] “How to Goose Your Wife So You Don’t Lose Your Wife.” Vision and Wanda kiss, and they seem to be deliriously happy in their marriage.
At dinner (where people drink wine), Mr. Heart gets worked up and exclaims “d-mmit,” the episode’s lone profanity, right before he nearly chokes to death. (Vision uses his powers to save the man.) To underscore the series throwback vibe, characters say things such as “Golly” and “Gee willickers.”
Wanda often uses her abilities, which are depicted here very similarly to Samantha Stephens’ powers in Bewitched. (Fans will know that Wanda’s power doesn’t actually stem from magic or witchcraft, but from abilities granted her via a genetic experiment.)
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.
Adults and children try to survive, or escape, from a cult called The Kindred in Hulu’s psycho-thriller, The Clearing.
Barons is built on the CW’s trademark petty drama. And it’s unlikely to inspire any real-life surfers, either.
Whether it’s the 2003 or 2023 version, Clone High remains the same slog of sexual quips.
Despite the show’s positive messages about familial reconciliation, the content seriously undercuts them.