TV Had Never Seen Anything Like WandaVision Before

How a strangely uncategorizable and undefinable show became the new appointment viewing

Vision and Wanda
Marvel Studios

This story contains spoilers for all of WandaVision.

Within minutes of WandaVision’s finale dropping on Disney+ this morning, my Twitter timeline began to fill with questions about what the ending meant. After a few hours, YouTubers started posting breakdowns of what viewers might have missed. New comments flooded subreddits about how the story serves the Marvel Cinematic Universe, adding to the cascade of online discussion that’s happened every weekend, like clockwork, around the show.

WandaVision, as a streaming series tied to a massive franchise that rolled out an episode a week, turned out to be the closest thing to appointment viewing that the overcrowded television landscape has had in a while. The show wasn’t just must-see; it was also must-discuss TV. Fans watched not only to keep up with the story, but also—and perhaps more importantly—to be able to take part in the intense theorizing, meme-making, and Easter egg–hunting that tended to start even before an episode ended.

Watercooler shows such as The X-Files and Lost have been around for ages, but they began as blank slates—not as parts of massive existing universes that viewers could reference. Other programs in recent years have certainly bred a form of interactivity: True Detective, Game of Thrones, and Westworld come to mind as dramas that sparked collective, real-time theorizing. But while the creators of those series pushed back against such show-solving, WandaVision’s masterminds seemed to deliberately encourage fans to take screenshots, make GIFs, and analyze what they saw for hints into the plot. Early episodes—filmed and told in different sitcom styles—featured fake commercials that spurred viewers to figure out how the advertised products connected with Wanda (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and the Marvel films in which she appeared. The conspicuous casting of respected comedic actor Kathryn Hahn in the relatively small supporting role of Agnes galvanized viewers into guessing who Agnes might be. The name sounded suspiciously like the Marvel character Agatha Harkness—and lo and behold, she turned out to be the witch Agatha, all along. The cast teased major cameos; Paul Bettany, who stars as Vision, cheekily gave interviews all season about working with an actor he’d never worked with before, driving speculation about which A-lister across the MCU would show up to spar with him. The acting partner, it turned out, was himself.

And though today’s finale proved many theories wrong, it did so carefully, even self-consciously. A scene between Evan Peters’s Pietro and Teyonah Parris’s Monica confirmed that Peters’s character wasn’t the version he plays in the X-Men films, quashing fan speculation that WandaVision would finally connect the two franchises. Mephisto—essentially Marvel Comics’ version of Satan, who’s often associated with Agatha and Wanda—never showed up, as many had expected. But even while refuting theories, WandaVision offered more new tantalizing threads for fans to tug on, in the form of clue-dropping dialogue (who’s the friend that Randall Park’s Jimmy Woo references?) and two (two!) mid-credits scenes. No, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange never appeared, but a viewer expecting him to be a part of the story got to hear Agatha reference the Sorcerer Supreme and to see Wanda, in the second mid-credits scene, work in her astral form.

For a non-Marvel viewer, a lot of these elements probably sound like gibberish—and indeed, such theory-driving scenes made the finale (already a longer-than-usual episode) feel a tad overstuffed. But as I wrote when the series premiered, the show as a whole is an intimate examination of Wanda’s grief and the mystery of her circumstances. It concentrated first on developing Wanda’s arc: from a character self-sabotaging in her anguish to a superhero who finally learns her own strength. From there, it layered on more stories. Eventually, the universe-building material felt more like rewards than distractions. Was it a meditation on grief and the way pop culture can offer a flawed sanctuary? Yes. Was it a set-up for the multiverse of madness yet to come, and a glimpse inside the government organization called S.W.O.R.D.? Also yes. WandaVision took advantage of its position in the MCU to offer multiple entry points for viewers, Marvel fans and franchise newbies alike. Together, these viewers built a community invested in discussing the show, making memes that spanned from silly to sentimental, and interrogating both granular details and epic twists.

But perhaps what made the series feel so singular is the fact that it was strangely undefinable and uncategorizable. It was neither sitcom nor drama; it was both a self-contained project and the gateway to the next phase of a larger franchise. That ambiguity meant that viewers had seemingly endless material to discuss: Some critics focused on the storytelling, while others concentrated on discussing the state of television and film, an impulse that may have been egged on by WandaVision being an extended homage to sitcoms and TV history. It was intentionally meta and experimental, an “in-between” work that, with its weekly rollout, operated as neither traditional TV nor a bingeable streaming series. “The show is a love letter to the golden age of television,” the head writer Jac Schaeffer said last year. “We’re paying tribute and honoring all of these incredible shows and people who came before us, [but] we’re also trying to blaze new territory.”

Given all that, it’s perhaps no surprise that WandaVision got philosophical in the finale. As the two versions of Vision battled, they launched into a metaphysical discussion about what they are. They talked about the Ship of Theseus, a thought experiment about whether an object that’s been modified—say, a ship that’s had its parts replaced with new ones—can still be considered the same as it was before.

Just like these two Visions, critics and fans have been wrestling week to week with the show itself. This phenomenon contributed to the sense that WandaVision wasn’t just a television series, but an ongoing conversation—maybe even a thought experiment. Judging by the plethora of theories and “ending explained” videos, viewers are still analyzing their findings. But so far, WandaVision has proved that appointment viewing is still possible in our age of limitless TV.