Locked In Conflict

Image by AaronShoots from Pixabay

Warning– this blog post will get very spoilery about the Disney+ show WandaVision. At the point of writing, we are at episode eight- “Previously On.” This is my opinion only.

I caught up on WandaVision last night. Now, let me say this, I absolutely positively 100% LOVE LOVE LOVE the MCU, the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  As such, I’m more than willing to forgive the little faults in storytelling throughout the years.  Also as such (is that a phrase?) I loved both The Scarlet Witch and Vision in the later movies and wanted more.  So, when WandaVision was announced, my inner child screamed in delight.

I didn’t start watching until the first three episodes had aired, so I went in knowing all the chatter about how different this show is compared to others.  A friend gave me spoilers about the comic book plot that this is based off of.  I was a knowledgeable and curious viewer.

I came away with a surprising lack of both knowledge and curiosity.  That doesn’t tame my enthusiasm for the MCU in general, as they say, nobody’s IMDB is all five stars. But my once excited inner child pronounced the show a “meh.”

I left it alone for several weeks, then binged the latest five episodes last night. While I’m still disappointed by it, I think I’ve figured out the problem, at least for my OCD brain. The conflict isn’t locked. We’re in, or at least we should be in, the third act of a season long arc, and we still don’t have a locked conflict.  

Let me back up and explain that term. A conflict becomes “locked” when you know who the protagonist is, who the antagonist is, what the goal is, and there can be only one winner.  We may know the winner ahead of time (Face it, was Harry Potter ever really going to lose to Voldemort?), but the journey makes it worth knowing the outcome.  A locked conflict can be either internal or external.  For example:

External: The Lord of the Rings:

Frodo must destroy the One Ring.

Sauron wants the One Ring.

Either Frodo succeeds or Sauron does- the conflict is locked.

Internal: Casablanca

Rick Blaine “sticks his neck out for nobody.”

Ilsa walks in, needing false papers and has devotion to the cause.

Either he helps or he stays a jaded ex-pat- the conflict is locked.

Now let’s take a very spoilery look at WandaVision. The first couple of episodes had no villain at all.  I get that they want to do something different and it certainly got viewers talking about the show. But again, without a locked conflict, or even an idea of who the villain might be, it left me unenthusiastic instead of wanting more.  Episodes five, six and seven built a few things in, making the second act of the story far more interesting than the first.  But now at episode 8 of ten my we’re at a really odd place.  Arguably, on a season long arc we are in act three of the story, and we don’t have a coherent locked conflict.

We do have three characters all fighting unlocked conflicts.

-Wanda is in internal conflict over Vision’s death that is not specifically revealed until episode eight. The only reason I knew that ahead of time is because of my spoilery friends. We now know the hex is part of a psychological breakdown Wanda has had. Once Monica Rambeau pushed Wanda’s buttons this conflict inside her started to take off. But it took a really long time to get to that place. Granted, internal conflicts are tough to pull off, but this falls far short.

-Agatha Harkness is inside the hex snooping aimlessly and reacting oddly until the episode eight script says, “Surprise! You’re a villain.” Maybe I missed something, but I shouldn’t have to research a television show.  Agatha announces that Wanda is the Scarlett Witch.  This should not be an act three revelation for an antagonist who has asked no prior questions. What does Agatha want? How does that conflict with what Wanda wants? How does that conflict with what Vision wants? (What Vision wants is another discussion entirely.) Again, the conflict is not locked in.

-Director Hayward of SWORD is a cranky Phil Coulson from SHIELD but is revealed to be another villain in episode eight. At least we assume he’s going to be a villain. Technically, we don’t know his motives other than some very general nefarious dialogue and villainous music cues, so the possibility for a plot twist is certainly there.  But again, the reveal comes far too late in the season. This is very much a first act move, it doesn’t belong in the third act of the arc.

With regards to Director Hayward, we don’t even know who he conflicts with. For the moment, he’s not in conflict with anyone. Ultimately, we assume the conflict will be with Wanda, won’t it? Or will it be with Vision? Or the new Vision? What about Monica Rambeau?

Let’s talk about Vision and Monica Rambeau for a second. In a show called WandaVision, you would think the titular characters would be the protagonist or antagonist. But Vision is neither. He doesn’t gain agency (motive to act) until episode six. The show’s second strongest character is not Vision but is Monica Rambeau. While it makes sense to have one protagonist on the inside of the hex and one on the out, one antagonist on the inside and one on the out; the way they’re doing it keeps the conflict from locking into place. Monica isn’t really in conflict with anyone, she’s just trying to pull all the pieces together.

What I was hoping would be a delightful spiderweb drawing me in feels more like a needle in a haystack. I know there’s a story there somewhere, but it’s just not locking in. I’m sure there are people who know the comic book storyline well and could take me apart for my analysis.  I’d love it if you would.  Maybe you can wake my inner child back up.

I hope you are navigating these most difficult of times with faith, love, and good literature.  

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