Welcome back to Westview, gentle viewers. That’s right, Westview.
Home; It’s Where You Make It.
Every time that sign appears on screen, it’s a reminder of the sign greeting visitors outside of the town in Nebraska where my mom grew up. Danbury; The Good Old Days. Danbury, a town with a population hovering around a hundred residents or less, is the kind of small town you either never escape from or you escape to later in life. These places offer a kind of small-pond atmosphere where everyone knows everyone else and you feel comfortable staying within your lane.
Late in episode three of WandaVision, Dr. Neilson, no doubt a wink and a nod to the television viewer system that shares his name, makes a darkly ominous point. He tells new “papaya”, Vision, that small towns are so hard to escape. Vision’s look of knowing tinged with dread speaks to those who really live in or grew up and grew away from small towns.
The Small Town Prison
In the premiere episode, no one seemed at all concerned with leaving Westview. Vision had his job doing complex computations for who knows what or for whom. While Wanda had her homemaker life and nosey neighbor in the form of Agnes. As we rolled along with Wanda and Vision into episode two. The story moved from the simplistic 1950s sitcom scenario and into the 1960s world of television. Questions of escape were still not present. Outside of a hushed conversation when Vision walks in on the neighborhood watch in the local library, we instead found our sense of creepiness in the uniform chant of the townsfolk, “For the Children.” peppered throughout the episode.
This week, after watching the bright, cheerful, and downright adorable The Mary Tyler Moore Show inspired opening credits, we find ourselves and our show’s namesakes soaked in The Brady Bunch levels of wood paneling and other 1970’s era decorative kitsch. We have our standard establishing shot of a real house outside in natural lighting with actual, factual trees and a lawn before cutting to the interior set of the Wanda-Vision household. Here, we’re greeted with two acknowledgements that Westview isn’t so much a place of joy as it is a prison.
The Devil Is In The Details
First, when looking at the era-inspired sets, unlike the previous episode that had its share of outdoor and indoor locales, all of the locations are on a set, even those that are meant to be outdoors. Here, astroturf and backdrops crudely replicate the world outside of a studio soundstage to uncanny and unsettling effect. Second, Wanda’s pregnancy is further along than we thought.
Upon seeing Dr. Neilson off, Vision spots his neighbor Herb, the same one having a hushed conversation when we first met him in episode two. Now Herb is trimming the bushes on his side of the property line and is seemingly unaware that his little hedge trimmer is slicing through the concrete wall behind his bushes like a hot knife through butter. Herb sure seems to want out of this neighborhood.
Near the end of the episode, Vision spots Herb and nosey neighbor Agnes chanting in low voices. Herb stops from saying more, though it sure seems he wants to say something about everyone being trapped. We never hear the rest of his sentence as Agnes gives him a withering look that shuts him up and shuts him down.
No More Guessing, They’re Trapped
When Vision snatches Dr. Neilson from trying to get his car to work so that he can get away on a vacation, he is pulled, unwillingly back into the sitcom plot and Vision and Wanda’s lives, only to make mention of never escaping a small town upon the completion of his work in helping to oversee the emergency delivery of Wanda and Visions twin boys, Tommy and Billy. All these things start adding up and as a result, the David Lynch-like levels of dread in the previous two episodes are now replaced by the suffocating fright one feels while trapped or imprisoned.
Westview is a prison but one of a design we are unsure of. Is Wanda the jailer? Is she too a prisoner? Any time Vision begins to question what is going on, Wanda quickly rewinds or re-edits things to prevent Vision from seeing what is really going on. While Wanda clearly was unsure how to present herself and Vision in the first episode, by episode three, she is comfortable and seemingly in charge not only of the situation but of her powers in said situation. Well, that is until her pregnancy throws those powers for a loop – but in this particular discussion, that is neither here nor there.
But Who Is Doing The Trapping?
Wanda’s role of jailer is at its most obvious when we see by the end of the episode that she has, like an enraged producer, cast out Geraldine, the newest member of the Westview community and one who, according to Agnes and Herb, doesn’t belong as she doesn’t have a home or anyone else with her. Accompanied by “Daydream Believer”, Geraldine goes from the 4:3 aspect ratio world of Wanda’s vision and back into the gritty, wide screened world outside of Westview.
A Quick Aside About Prisons
Now then, this all presents an interesting query, who’s prison is it? Who is the jailer, who are the guards, and who all, are the prisoners. This sets up one very twisted and interesting panopticon of a penitentiary. For those unfamiliar with the term, a panopticon was a type of prison developed by 18th Century English Philosopher, Jeremy Bentham.
He devised of a prison that consisted of cells in a circular fashion facing inwards and towards a single guard tower set in the middle and built in a way and at a height as to keep the prisoners from seeing if there were, in fact, any guards in the tower – thus causing the prisoners to guard themselves. Above and beyond jails, this idea has also been applied to social norms. It also seems to be happening to the world Wanda has either created or is also trapped by.
What Is Real Anymore On WandaVision?
Who is the one watching all of this play out on a television screen just as the credits begin to roll? Do the people of Westview know who their jailer is? Do they have their suspicions? Is Wanda a jailer or a prisoner and is this all for her or Vision or the children? I don’t think it’s any coincidence that when Vision mentions Billy as a name for the child (before either he or Wanda know about the second baby) he mentions Shakespeare and paraphrases the famous line from the Bard’s play As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players.” This begs the question then, when will any of the players in Wanda and Vision’s made-for-television lives be able to have their respective entrances and exits?
With six more episodes to go, I’m sure we will all get more answers to this deepening mystery sooner rather than later. Even with Wanda clearly in charge of some, if not the majority of what is going on, I still can’t help but wonder if she too is a prisoner in a prison with a jailor who may or may not be there to pull all the strings and guide all the puppets.
In a time when we are all prisoners to an unseen virus that has trapped us in a panopticon of our own homes, suddenly this episode with its uncanny 1970s send ups and set.
For more on WandaVision, check back to That Hashtag Show.