In episode 6, in the midst of its sitcom march that began in the 1950s, Disney’s WandaVision has now reached the 1990s. Which means we did it, millennials—we made it, we can now understand the references.
Those references include Malcolm in the Middle, and characters talking to the camera, and weird jump cuts and cut-away scenes played for non-canned laughs. And it also includes those creepy unsettling commercials beamed across Nickelodeon and into our overstimulated brains, making us want to drink and eat all kinds of florescent-colored goo. WandaVison’s newest commercial for Yo-Magic (something between Kool-Aid and Go-Gurt) brings to life this late century television moment, though, in a creepier and somehow more uncanny way.
In previous episodes, the commercials have been innocuous reconfigurations of Wanda’s memories—with product placement from Hydra or Stark Industries. Episode 6 feels different. Wanda’s trauma is beginning to bubble up in the form of the absurd.
In the ad, we see a starving child on an island repeatedly fail to open a Yo-Magic cup delivered by a shark. He eventually starves to death. It’s both a parody of those 90s stop-motion/claymation ads and an absurdist gut-check to an audience used to the series’ previously playful commercials.
In a way, this absurdity actually imitates the style of television advertisement in the 90s—when commercials partook of the postmodern Kool-Aid, referencing themselves as commercials or the audience as an audience; the ads became self-aware. (Think of the Old Spice advertisements literally deconstructing themselves as advertisements just a decade later—we had reached peak postmodern advertising.) In this sense, it’s entirely appropriate for Wanda’s commercials to now start going off the rails. They’ve always been somewhat meta, but not in a way that was related to the actual plot of the series. Now they may actually be telling us something portentous.
In the episode, we experience through Vision’s Halloween wandering the edges of Wanda’s control, where her cast of Westview extras look like glitches in an open world video game; they can barely function. The danger for these folks is made obvious by the Yo-Magic commercial: eventually, won’t these people just … die? It seems they might. The Yo-Magic commercial could indicate Wanda’s own unconscious fear that she won’t be able to keep the sitcom charade going, that she isn’t powerful enough, that something, eventually, will have to give. She admits to Pietro that she scarcely knows how she even made Westview possible to begin with. Perhaps the commercial concedes the same worry—that she can’t hold it together for much longer.
Episode 7 will likely take the audience across the century threshold. Expect even weirder commercials next week. The early 2000s had some real bangers.
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