WandaVision director Matt Shakman knows his way around a conspiracy whiteboard. He also directed 'Sweet Dee has a Heart Attack', the episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia that birthed the meme of Charlie and his wall of string and scribbled notes about the elusive Pepe Silvia. His new show features another one.
In episode four of WandaVision, FBI agent Jimmy Woo wrote his own unanswered questions and half-formed theories a bit more legibly on a whiteboard at the SWORD field HQ. It did not pass Marvel fans by.
"Jimmy Woo's whiteboard is really looking like a YouTube channel that specialises in breaking down the MCU," said one Redditor.
"It's literally us after MCU content," added another.
That's not an overstatement. I saw at least two of the questions on Woo's whiteboard – "Why hexagonal shape?"; "Is Vision alive?" – verbatim on one post-airing Reddit thread. It was pretty spooky, the synergy between the fans' dissections and those of Jimmy Woo. They're basically in the show, stomping through SWORD's city of tents, telling nameless computer lackeys to enhance visuals and such.
Which is part of the fun, obviously, and why each Friday's episode drop turns Twitter and YouTube into a froth of giddy over-analysis for a good seven hours or so. It was also the most explicit demonstration yet that whatever Marvel's next phase turns into, it knows it doesn't need to take along anyone who doesn't already really, really, really like Marvel.
The whiteboard isn't the only meta moment where characters act like the stans. Much of that episode involves people on the outside of the action speculating on what it all meant, and not just in the usual mode of explaining the plot to each other repeatedly (though there's also a bit of that about). Thor's Darcy watches Wanda and Vision's sitcom with popcorn, slowly getting invested in their wacky scrapes. The way that the show seems to be flipping forwards through the decades, she notes, "can't be purely for my enjoyment". Even more bluntly the characters huddle around a TV set and Jimmy asks: "So you're saying the universe created a sitcom starring two Avengers?"
WandaVision was first shaped like a whodunnit and a mystery thriller, evoking the suburban weirdness of Twin Peaks and The Truman Show and challenging you to work out what was happening. Now, though, everything's wrapped in a fairly bog-standard sci-fi adventure, and you need a pretty forensic understanding of the last 12 years of Marvel if you want to follow things past the opening credits.
The perspective's shifted. WandaVision isn't meant to be legible or explicable to outsiders anymore, and to a degree, that's OK. I've got a rough idea of what's going on, and I have next to no emotional investment in it. That's fine. It's not for me. The Marvel fandom is so gigantic that WandaVision can speak exclusively to them and still be the most popular TV show on the planet.
It might, however, mark the point at which the whole thing becomes just too big and unwieldy for most people to care about. Your gran knows about Captain America and Spider-Man and that lot. She does not know the ins and outs of Monica Rambeau's complicated relationship with SWORD.
I'm not saying this is the start of the passing of the age of the superhero film, not least because people have been saying that since Spider-Man 3. It might, however, be the point at which Marvel becomes an extremely big cult phenomenon, rather than a pop blockbuster factory. It might also be the point at which Kevin Feige and friends it decided they were fine with that.
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