E36 -

Jacob Levy & Sean Malone return to the show to discuss the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wandavision.

Hosts
Landry Ayres
Senior Producer
Guests

Sean Malone is the Creative Director at the Foundation for Economic Education. His on‐​going video essay series “Out of Frame” and FEE’s other popular shows like “Common Sense Soapbox” have generated tens of millions of views and recently earned FEE a Silver Play Button award from YouTube.

Jacob T. Levy is the Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory at McGill University. He writes on federalism, freedom of association, indigenous peoples, constitutional theory, and Enlightenment political thought.

Summary:

A sitcom with two Avengers living out their best suburban lives, what could be better? But we all know by now that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s always a catch. We discuss what could be next for Scarlet Witch and whether or not Wanda is redeemable after her mind control run amok throughout Wandavision.

Transcript

[music]

0:00:03.3 Natalie Dowzicky: Welcome to Pop N Locke. I’m Natalie Dowzicky.

0:00:05.4 Landry Ayres: And I’m Landry Ayres.

0:00:08.3 Natalie Dowzicky: A sitcom with two Avengers living out their best suburban lives, what could be better? But we all know by now that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s always a catch. Here to discuss everything that went down in Wanda’s West‐​view is the Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory at McGill University, Jacob Levy.

0:00:26.2 Jacob Levy: Hi, great to be back.

0:00:27.7 Natalie Dowzicky: And the creative director at V, Sean Malone.

0:00:28.7 Sean Malone: Yeah, thank you for having me again as well.

0:00:31.2 Landry Ayres: This show contains so much that we could talk about. There really are so many different things that could take up the contents of this episode, but I think the most prominent thing that we should probably start with because it’s the starting point of the show, is the use of the television tropes that it relies on, and specifically those of TV sitcoms. Why do you think that vehicle was chosen by the show runners to sort of move this story along? I know we have the justification that Wanda, during her childhood, sort of was taking in these dramas with her family and that pivotal moment sort of was integral to the formation of her trauma, but why do you think that they chose that to be what she touched upon and that she would glam on to moving forward in dealing with this grief? What does that set of tropes and ideas do for the story?

0:01:33.0 Jacob Levy: So if I’m the show runners, I’m thinking of a couple of different things informing that choice. One, and the MCU creators are good about paying some attention to comics history without being simply obedient to it. But one thing is that in the comics, Wanda and Vision had a very important mini‐​series in the 90’s, it’s actually one of Marvel’s very first mini‐​series, in which they tried to go lead a suburban life and…

0:02:08.2 Natalie Dowzicky: The dream.

[laughter]

0:02:11.3 Jacob Levy: After having had a tumultuous life, more or less together in the Avengers title for a long time, that was what they were going to go try to do. And then in the 2010s, written by Tom King, there was a parallel and even darker mini‐​series just starring Vision and his created synthezoid family that again, went to the suburbs as a way to explore what it was going to be like to be inside Vision’s head, there’s a good comics inspiration for the move to the suburbs and the move to domesticity.

0:02:56.3 Jacob Levy: The move to television history and the adaption of sitcoms as a reference, deep meta reference to sitcoms, it is a little bit, I think, show‐​off‐​y in a good way.

0:03:10.7 Natalie Dowzicky: I loved it. [laughter]

0:03:14.5 Jacob Levy: This was the first show of Marvel… This is Marvel Studios’ first TV show, distinguishing here the new line of Disney plus TV shows from the Netflix shows, Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, which were produced under the now defunct separate television. It’s the first real MCU entry into television, it’s the first original Marvel series for Disney plus, and there was a little bit of flexing going on here to say…

0:03:49.1 Landry Ayres: Yes.

0:03:49.7 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh yeah.

0:03:49.9 Jacob Levy: A little bit of flexing… That made sense of, “Here’s a thing we can do on television.” And after all, television is a different medium from the movies, and let’s use television as a metaphor for things that are going on. Let’s use episodic television as a metaphor for things that are going on. I worry that saying it that way sounds self‐​indulgent on their part, but I don’t think it was. I think it shows some attentiveness to that they were entering a different genre here and signaling awareness that the different genre is different, that they shouldn’t just be trying to make mini movies, they should be aware of the different genre at work.

0:04:37.2 Sean Malone: Yeah. I hadn’t really thought a whole lot about the meta aspect of that, the idea that they’re sort of commenting on their own entry into television as well as relying on things from the comics and obviously, the comic book history, I agree with a lot. I think that that’s probably a big aspect of that choice. The other thing too, and I think on a more practical level perhaps, doing that not only facilitates a tremendous amount of nostalgia, which obviously is pretty helpful for a lot of audiences and it allows us to find something really familiar immediately inside something that might be new otherwise, which is always a good, sort of a good tactic. But the other thing too, is that it grants you sort of maybe a triple cliff hanger in a lot of ways at the end of every episode, ’cause not only do you have the story cliff hanger, you also have the… Well, you have two story cliff hangers, because you have the one that’s exterior to the hex and interior to the hex. You’ve got both of those things happening simultaneously. But you also now have a sort of meta‐​level cliffhanger of like, what’s the next genre that they’re going to do? What’s the next TV show? What the next sit Com? And that I found super enjoyable the entire way through.

0:05:54.8 Sean Malone: When you start with Bewitched and sort of, I Love Lucy and stuff like that, and then we’re going into maybe I Dream of Genie or something, and then we’re kind of getting… And then getting all the way up into Malcolm in the Middle and whatever, all of these things, like it created a guessing game for the audience, which was super fun too. And if you read people’s comments or you hung out on message boards on any of this kind of stuff, you’d see a lot of predictions of what’s the next reference that they’re gonna pull. So, I think that even just on a purely tactical level, it’s really, really smart strategy on the producer’s end. But I agree also, it’s a huge flex ’cause these shows.

0:06:36.7 Sean Malone: They are the quality of what I’ve come to expect from MCU, but on TV, and in that context, it’s… I don’t know if you guys… We can get into it later, but I actually also just watched last night, the first episode of… Or a couple of days ago, watched the first episode of Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and there are… Similarly to Wanda, there are things that are not revealed yet, and there’s probably gonna be a little bit of a slow burn in some ways, but the opening action scene was something that you would have expected to see in an Iron Man move easily. And so they’re really putting the best efforts into this stuff, which is… That’s a big game changer for TV, I think.

0:07:20.5 Jacob Levy: One of the things that has most stood out in the critical reception of the MCU movies was when there was a genre at work that was not only superhero movie, Winter Soldier got huge critical celebration for being an adaptation of the 70s suspense political action thriller, Afro futurism in Black Panther and the buddy comedy in Thor Ragnarok, and to do things other than just reiterate Iron Man over and over again. So I suspect we’ll continue to see the MCU creators looking at genres that they can import and play with.

0:08:04.8 Natalie Dowzicky: It was also kind of crazy to me, their attention to detail, so everything from the intro music to every episode, to the ads that they had on those… I guess the first five or six got their own ads, and even for someone to do a short ad that was like what those ads were maybe 10, 15 seconds long. That also added to the stories, you could tell again, another flex, but you could tell that they were consciously thinking about it as far as… The one ad was for, I think it was called, it was Nexus, I think, and it was like for depression medication.

0:08:42.0 Natalie Dowzicky: And I’m sure we’re gonna get into this conversation about Wanda’s grief, but even throwing that in there, if you didn’t pick up that Wanda’s grieving like, “Here you go.” And kind of another thing I would add is, I like superhero movies, but I’m not that all that crazy about super hero stories in general, but this one, WandaVision really stood out to me as significantly different than other superhero movies that I’ve followed or their TV shows and I found it really enjoyable, and I’m wondering to myself if they even got a more unique audience from WandaVision that a lot of people probably enjoyed this show solely and didn’t even… I didn’t need all of that much outside information, it was helpful to have it, but I didn’t necessarily need it in order to enjoy everything that was going on in the show. D.

0:09:28.5 Landry Ayres: Right, I had seen… I have not seen a lot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am not one of those devotees that is following every film and going to releases and watching them all the time, I saw the first few Iron Man, I think I saw Winter Soldier. I might have seen Civil War. If you were to ask me what happened in any of the movies, I would not be able to tell you. I constantly mixed up Infinity War and Endgame and which order that they were in, it was never my bag of nerdy thing to watch, but I did enjoy them. And so I went into WandaVision knowing that there was a lot of backstory that informs it and would really allow you to get a much deeper appreciation out of the story, than if you went in without knowing anything. But with that, I would say I still got a tremendous amount out of the story, just with researching and sort of figuring out the significance of certain event.

0:10:28.1 Landry Ayres: And what I think you were mentioning, Natalie, about how… I think a lot of people might not consider themselves super hero people, but I think one of the strong points of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the use of genre and the humor and comedy has always been a strong point for them, it’s not always the best and there’s some movies that did it a lot better than others, but the snappy dialogue and witty‐​isms via Iron Man and his sort of back and forth with Captain America, there is always this fun banter element.

0:11:03.5 Landry Ayres: And I think they realized that that was a very, very much keystone of what their brand super heroes are about, and they were like, “Sitcoms are ensemble comedy shows, where in the end, usually just like they talk about shenanigans, and I think the penultimate episode, everything ends up fine in the end.” And they were like, “Well, if we can’t make movies for our TV series, what is the format that we can take that will allow us to lean into our strengths, our comedy ensemble casts?” Big things and crazy things happening, but ultimately get tied up in the end, and I think sitcoms might be one of the best ways to do that. I’m glad that they tackled that on a sort of meta‐​textual level, ’cause I think it was really, really interesting the way that they chose to do that.

0:11:57.2 Sean Malone: Yeah, you know, Landry, I think that Kevin Feige, obviously for a long time, has been… I don’t think anybody has to really say how much everybody should appreciate Kevin Feige’s role in all of these things, and how impressive he has been over the last 15 years, really more. Honestly, Kevin Feige worked on some of the [0:12:17.1] ____ Spider‐​Man movies, Kevin Feige has been around for a long, long time. But I think that another part of the strength, and I think it goes to how Natalie, I think, you can enjoy some of these things without having a lot of that back story, is that I think Kevin Feige has done such a great job over the years of finding ways to introduce elements from the back story and be really reverent to a lot of the comics history, because he is really that deeply familiar with it, but without turning it into something where it’s always purely fan service or it’s purely something that you’d have to get…

0:12:53.7 Sean Malone: ‘Cause again, going back to the beginning of this discussion, we have this idea of these tropes, the tropes work on their own, but you can get a whole bunch of other layers to them if you understand the Vision and Wanda history and the Marvel Comics history of them having mini‐​series about these kinds of things and things like that, but you don’t need it for that to still be something that works. And so I think Kevin Feige has walked a really fine line of finding ways to be really true to the spirit of the comics while also just focusing on telling really, really good stories over and over. And I think that’s something that…

0:13:33.4 Sean Malone: I may end up talking about this a little bit later, ’cause it’s kind of all dominating… My life right now is the Snyder cut of the Justice League, ’cause I’m doing an out of frame episode on it in the near future, but it’s something that the DCU I think has lacked to a large extent, is having somebody sort of in control of that who really, not only has a love for the history of those stories and the characters, but who also really understands how to tell those stories, how to transfer them to another medium such as film or television. And I think that’s been a struggle for everybody but Kevin Feige.

[chuckle]

0:14:22.1 Natalie Dowzicky: Along that same vein, they do a really good job of transferring the story, like we said, to this medium, but also transferring the story in a way that it’s relatable. So it’s very relatable to the audience, and so much of this show is about trauma and grief, but even in the beginning, it’s not even in your face about it. And you don’t really learn the extent of it, gosh, until season or episode six or seven, what is actually deeply going on in Wanda’s head. What role do you think grief plays in the story? And also grief among the other characters that aren’t Wanda as well, because we can see them kind of going through different mourning processes as well. I mean, for everyone, this isn’t a spoiler, we all knew Vision was dead. So everyone was questioning when they saw… When they first saw the first trailer for WandaVision, they’re like, “How are they gonna do this?” So kind of take us through kind of what mourning and grief, what role they play in the show.

0:15:25.9 Jacob Levy: One thing that I think is interesting about this is how much Wanda’s grief was told, not shown. We are… When the show begins, we are into her inappropriate, bizarre, super‐​powered coping mechanism and late in the show, we see a couple of grand operatic outburst, but by far the most effective grief scene in the show and as well as being the most effective in the last long run of MCU things since Infinity War was Monica Rambo’s return. And her return into the hospital where she had been sitting with her mother five years before, the chaos of the return, after the blip, after Endgame, and confronting the grief of having lost her mother in the meantime and not having been there to say good bye to her.

0:16:33.4 Jacob Levy: Really, one of the most unsatisfying things about Infinity War, Endgame, Spiderman Far From Home was how likely in an important sense, the death of half the universe and the chaos of the return was treated. That scene was the first time that I felt like the MCU was starting to really deal with the weight of what had happened even after Endgame. And then I think we were supposed to carry around our sense of Monica’s grief. I think Monica’s grief became the viewer’s entry into what it was that Wanda was feeling, that we weren’t seeing her in the first off.

0:17:17.7 Sean Malone: And it’s sort of ignored a lot just because of the movie that it is, I think Ant Man Two handled some of that okay, actually, but I agree, I think Endgame in particular didn’t… It sort of glossed over it. Endgame had a lot of other issues to deal with, so I appreciate that part of it, but Spiderman Far From Home, I think is the real travesty in that sense, because they treated it in a lot of ways as a joke, they had kids who came back to the school and they were just complaining about how unfair was that their friends were now 21 and they’re still 16 or whatever. And those kinds of things are just like… Well, that’s not… This is a lot more serious than that. It’s not something that you would take that lightly.

0:18:01.5 Sean Malone: But I also think one of the reasons why it’s smart to have Monica be the one that’s visually experiencing that grief is because Wanda’s in denial the entire show, she is… The entire world that she created was an escape from that grief. So of course, we’re not gonna see it. Now we should talk about it at various points, and also I like that WandaVision was sort of smart enough to hint at a lot of those little pieces popping up throughout the show, like just weird things that were happening. And by the time, frankly, by the time you get to Vision questioning all of this stuff and questioning the reality that he’s living in, and getting to a point where he actually releases his co‐​worker from Wanda’s brain washing or however you wanna describe that.

0:18:51.0 Sean Malone: I mean, that just opens the flood gates to us realizing what she is doing. Now, Wanda is still not aware of it, I think, or rather to the extent that she’s aware of it, she’s not really processing the fact that this is a grief‐​based response. So it is on the rest of us on the outside, not only the audience, but of course the other characters, Monica and Darcy and Jimmy and everybody else, I think it’s really important for them to see what it is, but Wanda can’t see it until the very end. And I think that that’s probably why we got a lot of telling and not showing in that context. And more importantly, why it still works narrative‐​ly, and it wasn’t just a really boring like you’re being hit over the head with exposition a whole bunch, which it didn’t feel like to me.

0:19:38.8 Natalie Dowzicky: And I also thought it was interesting the way that we found out, we got more information about what happened to Wanda and why West view exists. I think it wasn’t till episode six or seven where we get… Park‐​ness is going through with Wanda through different periods of time and showing her what’s happened to her and revealing to Wanda what’s going on. And when I first watched the season through, I watched it twice last week.

0:20:10.3 Natalie Dowzicky: When I first watched it through, I thought that episode was a little bit oddly placed and I was like, “Oh, I wish I would have known some of this stuff earlier.” Had that been like episode four. But then I realized that it was like the second time through watching it, that that would have been incredibly disruptive to the TV sitcom narrative that was going on solidly for the first, I think five episodes, and then it drifted a little bit, but I understood from that perspective, I also I didn’t pick up on, I guess, when it was Halloween, that Agnes was Agatha Harkness. So that was like a whole big shock to me, I don’t know, a lot of other people picked that up way earlier. I was like, Oh, she’s like, she’s like Kimmy Gibbler. She’s like the annoying neighbor, and that’s the purpose I thought she served. [chuckle]

0:21:00.4 Jacob Levy: Did you have a reference for Agatha Harkness?

0:21:04.8 Natalie Dowzicky: No. Okay, so I knew that… I knew that Scarlet Witch had a teacher, I had no idea what… That was my context of previous knowledge. I had no idea that what the person’s name was or that she was gonna come into play. And I don’t even know, I think right in the comic, she’s like, Agatha Harkness is a teacher to Scarlet Witch, right?

0:21:25.7 Jacob Levy: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.

0:21:27.1 Natalie Dowzicky: Okay. I didn’t even know if that knowledge was right, so.

0:21:30.5 Sean Malone: No, the tricky part of… The tricky part of a lot of this though, is that Scarlett Witch’s back story in the MCU is just wildly different from…

0:21:37.5 Landry Ayres: Exactly.

0:21:38.1 Sean Malone: The comics as well. So it’s really hard to say where they were gonna go with different characters, even if you are a fan, you don’t necessarily know whether or not certain characters are gonna come into play. And then the other thing, of course, is part of the reason why, not to get into it again, really, the meta aspect of all this, it’s like The reason Scarlett Witch’s… Wanda’s backstory is as a Strucker experiment and not as a mutant, is because Marvel didn’t own X‐​men at the time. They couldn’t bring mutants in, so it was just one of these weird quirks of licensing, licensing issues that they had to deal with. But then it also opens the door to like, well, do they even have access to this character or can they… Would it be some other character, who knows? I mean, now obviously they own Fox, so now they can do…

0:22:25.2 Natalie Dowzicky: Whatever.

0:22:25.3 Jacob Levy: But at the time Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver were explicitly in, if I remember right, contractually distinguished from other mutants because they were also Avengers characters, and it was understood that everybody might be doing their own different things with them.

0:22:43.2 Sean Malone: It’s just bizarre though, because you can’t call them mutants in that world because the mutant label is owned by Fox.

0:22:49.0 Natalie Dowzicky: This is ridiculous.

0:22:49.2 Sean Malone: But you have these two characters who were mutants, but you can’t call them mutants, and so how do you deal with that? You’ve gotta find some alternate way of getting them into the Avengers, and there’s a lot of licensing issues.

0:23:04.6 Landry Ayres: This sets up, I think, what I’m hoping will sort of be the spirit of the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which I think obviously pretty soon, based on what the… They set up at the end of WandaVision, and what they’re obviously going to set up with the Doctor Strange movie, that’s gonna come out very, very soon, that she is probably gonna have a pretty big, at least tangential role in, ’cause you can see her in the post‐​credit scene, sort of astral projecting in a similar vein to Doctor Strange and reading the Book of The Dead to sort of clean more information about the Scarlet Witch, is that… It’s not gonna be just the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s gonna be the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse in the future. And I think what I’m hoping, I don’t know if it’ll turn out quite like this, but I want it to sort of lean in that direction because it will sort of capture what makes the comics side of Marvel so exciting and wide open and risky.

0:24:08.7 Landry Ayres: And what kind of stuff you can get published in comics is because there is this canonical understanding that multiple universes exist simultaneously, and that if someone wants to take a character or something like that, as long as they have permission or rights or something, they can go and adapt it and put them in a situation that is completely different than what their normal canonical storyline and the experience have been in the past, and because of the different powers and things like chaos, magic and Multiverses, they are allowed to do that and there are story and plot justifications for all of those things that can occur. It’s how you get all these weird mini stories and sort of side things like that. And previously, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been different than the Marvel comic books, and it was different from the X‐​Men, but possibly now… And especially now that Disney owns all of these different franchises and has the ability to fully utilize them or a huge amount of them, I think we might see hopefully some risk taking, maybe we’ll get some X‐​men crossover. There was the subtle nod when they recast from Pietro from his previous actor, to the one who played him in the X‐​Men movies, Evan Peters.

0:25:31.7 Landry Ayres: I wanna see more of that because I think, they obviously are going to need more content now that streaming is a part of the game, and it’s not just movies, they’re gonna need to churn out even more super hero content to fill this void and this vacuum, and they’re gonna have to do some weird things, like WandaVision, and I say just get weird with it. I think it’s an exciting time to get into Marvel.

0:25:58.9 Jacob Levy: My prediction’s is different, I think that other than the what if and Loki series, which will be explicitly in and out of mainstream continuity because Loki has now diverged timelines after Endgame, and what if has as its stated purpose checking out alternate timelines. I don’t think that we’re going to get the X‐​Men.

0:26:25.2 Jacob Levy: The previous X‐​men universe continuing to exist as a universe. At most, I think we’ll get Wanda magic in the mutants into existence in the mainstream Marvel universe in a reversal of her no more mutants moment in the comics and we’ll have Deadpool from time to time, making reference to the fact that he used to live in a different universe…

[laughter]

0:26:44.0 Jacob Levy: But we’re gonna get mainstream mutants in the mainstream MCU, not… Not a second multiverse. The multiverse helps solve the Sony problem though. The multiverse is gonna let them have Spider‐​Man continuing to… Why is it that there is a separate Spider‐​Man verse with Venom that doesn’t cross with the MCU, and yet there are gonna be multiple different Spider‐​Man running around [0:27:13.0] ____. I think the multiverse is gonna be a solution for Sony problem.

0:27:16.8 Sean Malone: Yeah, I totally agree with pretty much all that, I think… And really, it’s just a function of the timing of all this stuff, ’cause I think if the X‐​Men franchise, the Fox’s Men franchise had been younger, and if it had been something that wasn’t developed starting in the early 2000s, I think that they probably would have done that. But in the same way, I think Tom Holland coming over in Spider‐​Man and then bringing Venom in, and I think you can do that right now, because that’s happening right now. The other thing too though, is like, there are so many things you can do with that that they don’t require you necessarily to bring in the X‐​Men or whatever, there are tons of other heroes and there’ve been some failed attempts in some of these things too. I think about the Inhumans idea that they were gonna go down that road at one point and creating a… By the way, I went to the theatrical premiere of The Inhumans TV show, ’cause they did one.

0:28:16.0 Jacob Levy: You and six other people in the world.

[laughter]

0:28:19.9 Sean Malone: It was literally me and six other people in this theater, and… ‘Cause they… Man, they really… They advertised it as like, we shot this in IMAX. No, no, really, they show like two scenes in IMAX and whatever, the rest of it was not. But I mean, Inhumans is a whole territory that you can go with, obviously, they’re going down the road with a secret invasion and scrolls and all of the kind of space‐​faring stuff that Marvel can get into. They have a huge, huge universe to play with, and I think opening up the multiverse is valuable, but I don’t know if it’s gonna bring us like broader… You know it brought us Evan Peters but then they kind of walked that back. Similarly, I kinda thought that bringing Mysterio in was gonna be a part of the multiverse thing, and then they kinda walked that back, he’s just actually pretty good for mysterious character action to be completely fake in that sense. But at the same time, yeah, I think they’re teasing it a lot more than they’ve actually gone down that road.

0:29:19.6 Landry Ayres: I mean, it’s a dream of mine. I see. It’s a hope. I don’t think… I don’t have high hopes that Disney is gonna give me exactly what I want, but I can dream.

0:29:30.1 Jacob Levy: And the Evan Peters’ cameo, the Evan Peters’… Just of the all time great moments, and even though it was…

0:29:38.8 Landry Ayres: So good.

0:29:40.3 Jacob Levy: In the end played with, not fully embraced. It was worth playing with. It was glorious.

0:29:46.7 Sean Malone: Yeah, no, it was. And look, I gotta say again, I’m coming back to the sort of comparison with DC, I actually wanna bring up a challenge I’ve got with multiverse stuff too, because… And DC is kind of on this end of it, they’re starting to bring in multiverse stuff too, especially if you’ve seen… I have no idea where they’re gonna go. Obviously, there are huge behind the scenes problems with that whole thing, and actor disputes and everything else, but… So let’s… If you guys… Forgive me if you guys haven’t seen the Snyder cut, ’cause again, I’ve watched it twice now. So…

0:30:19.2 Natalie Dowzicky: That’s eight hours and four minutes of your life.

0:30:21.7 Sean Malone: Oh, it sure was. Believe me, I know.

[laughter]

0:30:24.7 Sean Malone: Look, I appreciate… I actually think the Snyder cut, I’m gonna… I’m obviously, I’m writing an episode about this and I’m gonna actually talk about that on another podcast later today, in fact, but I actually like the Snyder Cut a lot better than the original Justice League cut that we got, but one of the things that happens in it is that it actually does open the door in a pretty big way to multiverse stuff for DC. The problem though, and this is later, this gets to my point about this, the what‐​if stories on some of these things, I think there’s a danger. Marvel’s not in this danger, DC’s in the danger currently, of taking the what‐​if stories as the “A” story, instead of taking your prime universe and then periodically adding a what‐​if on top of it, the reason this is a danger for DC and it’s always been a problem with the sort of Snyder verse is you take a character like Superman who you should establish as somebody who is just unfailingly good and bright and upbeat.

0:31:27.3 Sean Malone: And then instead of doing that story in the primary movies in your universe, you’re doing stories pulling from a character… From a characterization of Superman that are more in line with the injustice kind of universe, the really dark Superman is sort of evil kind of territory, and if you do that without having established your prime universe, you’re 616 or whatever, Earth Prime kind of stuff, then you end up with the “A” story being the dark what‐​if version, and the “B” story being what should be the real version, and you kinda twist your characters around. Marvel’s done a really good job so far, I think, of really staying true to the sort of the core essence of the character, the sort of 616… I’m sorry, that’s super nerdy reference, but hopefully people get that a little bit. But to get some of that kind of… That as the primary thing, but doing that, but that’s been good because then you can do an alternate story and you can do a crazy timeline where everybody is a Spider‐​Pig or whatever, and it’s fine, right.

[chuckle]

0:32:36.6 Sean Malone: But you’re not making that your main thing, and I think that the risk that you have with DC is that they’re… Like everything that DC has done, it’s too much, too quickly in a lot of ways. Instead of building the universe from the core of the characters, they’re jumping into some of these alternate stories. You know, right away with Batman, they started with the Dark Knight Returns, which is not… It shouldn’t be a core canonical Batman story. It’s a great Batman story, but it’s an old Batman, it’s a darker, it’s a literally like murderous Batman. It’s not the Batman that you wanna start with, and yet that’s the one that they chose to bring in, so if there’s a risk there too.

0:33:16.8 Natalie Dowzicky: I was thinking about this, as you’re just talking about, staying true to the character and having your A story and then having side shoots off of that and making sure your A story’s the best one to tell. And throughout watching WandaVision, I was struggling to decide whether or not Wanda is the villain, or supposed to be the villain in this story, and whether or not… They didn’t address the fact that she had tortured all of these people by keeping them in her world, and I guess that got me thinking while you were talking about the character’s true story, so was Wanda supposed to be the villain? And then are we supposed to feel bad for her, because she’s going through this immense grief and can’t even recognize it for herself? And then she… It was confusing whether or not Wanda was supposed to be a good… Like a hero.

0:34:13.5 Sean Malone: So I have one addition to that question, in general, for this discussion, which is, I have long sorta held a theory that increasingly, TV and film writers are losing the plot in terms of knowing when somebody is actually a hero or not. So question… No, I mean, quite a lot of the time I see people… Again, talking about the DCU stuff where you see Batman literally murdering people and you’d go, “That’s… ” You don’t think that that’s the heroic version of this character, right? That’s not what this is supposed to be, but I do think that people running along the lines of Zack Snyder’s and sort of the JJ Abrams of the world, which will always go for the visual over the character building part of things, I worry that it’s possible that the writers don’t actually know, that maybe the writers think that we are still supposed to… Because Monica does sort of absolve her at the end of that, and for me, I don’t see how she’s redeemable.

0:35:17.3 Sean Malone: And so that’s a really big question, and I really, I wanna know if she’s… We know she’s gonna be in Doctor Strange. So does she come in to Doctor Strange as somebody who we’re not supposed to trust? Or do we just ignore all of this and move on? And that’s I think a big question I’ve got with where the MCU is gonna go. But I don’t think she’s redeemable at this point. I don’t think you can do what she did, especially knowingly, and then still not not be… Because at first, I think you can redeem somebody who literally doesn’t know that she’s causing this. Once she does know she’s causing this, to return people to that state, knowing that it’s torturing them, knowing that it’s taking away their free will and everything else, I just don’t know how you redeem that and then it’s so glossed over at the end, which is super weird.

0:36:06.0 Jacob Levy: I definitely agree that people lose track of the distinction we have between a protagonist and a hero, and they will give protagonists unearned moral weight on states. And the same actions, if committed by a character wearing the other colors would have been understood as a tremendously evil act. There’s also genre stuff that I think they didn’t manage the transition with perfectly, or they were a little bit more faithful than we were comfortable with to source material. It’s very traditional in genre fiction, including super hero comics, including fantasy and science fiction, for there to be telepathic and mind control powers. And it’s extremely rare for the use of telepathic or mind control powers to be treated as being the kind of deeply morally shocking invasion that, of course, it really would be. You get characters just very casually reading each other’s minds or engaging in mind control for a joke to make some, not major enemy, but just someone who is kind of in their way, do something silly.

0:37:27.6 Jacob Levy: Xavier and Jean in the X‐​Men movies certainly use their powers in ways that, we’re just supposed to treat as, yes, that’s their problem solving device, that’s their equivalent of super strength. And sometimes you get a funny laugh, because they mind control someone into doing something silly. I think for Wanda to use mind control without it being viewed as a tremendous irredeemable crime, that’s something that could have happened in the comics, and it’s just that when they did a good job adapting it to television, and gave us good actors and real faces and people… When they let it be actual characters and they drew our attentions somewhat to the moral cost of what’s going on, it makes it harder for us to do the genre thing of sweeping it under the carpet. But then they did the genre thing of having Monica, whose place it isn’t to forgive on everyone else’s behalf, since she was there for a few hours and her family wasn’t being tortured, for Monica to be doing the forgiving, it didn’t work.

0:38:41.0 Sean Malone: So I’ll point out too, that… So take the X‐​Men movies, for example. There are plenty of instances where… And then actually, I’ll talk about Logan too, ’cause I think they’re both really relevant here, but take any of the kind of previous X‐​Men movies, maybe X‐​Men one or two, or maybe both, Xavier stops an entire room full of people, dead in their tracks, they can’t move. The difference… And to your point, Jacob, I think you’re absolutely right, the comics treat that as just a problem‐​solving device, this is just something Xavier can do, and it’s really impressive and it’s cool, and it’s something that his powers are just that big and expansive that he can take down an entire airport and everybody can just stop in their tracks. I will say, there’s a distinction for me though, that that doesn’t seem to hurt anybody. He seems to… Other than stopping time for a second, but he stops time for everybody, there are obvious implications to free will and everything else that are a problem for that, but he’s not actually torturing them. So they don’t physically experience pain, they’re not trying… At the end of the sequence with Wanda, when somebody comes out and says, “If you won’t let me go, just kill me.”

0:39:54.3 Sean Malone: That is a level of horror that they touch on in this that I don’t think we’ve ever gotten in the X‐​Men stuff, until… I was gonna say until Logan, in which case, we do see Xavier as a huge danger to everyone. At that point, you understand that he’s causing… He’s not just stopping people in their tracks, but he’s stopping their hearts, he’s stopping their lung function, he’s forcing people into tremendous pain, all of those kinds of things, but he’s also seen as somebody who is a 90‐​year‐​old man who can’t control it anymore, and a huge danger to everyone. So I think Logan actually deals with that relatively appropriately, only it’s not his agency that’s doing it, it’s just the fact that he’s old and can’t control his powers anymore. I think when you get into the thing with Wanda though, it’s a lot more terrifying ’cause she’s physically torturing people and hurting them, and they experience it that way. It’s not just, “I lost two minutes of my life because Xavier stopped me for a minute.” But it’s actually, “I was tortured for months and months on end.” Now that’s pretty dark. And it is weird that Monica just sort of goes, “Hey, nobody’s gonna… Nobody knows what you’ve been through.” What do you mean? Like lots of us have lost loved ones over the courses of our lives, and we don’t suddenly enslave a town as a result. That’s not the normal response to that.

[laughter]

0:41:27.2 Jacob Levy: I don’t think they handled it entirely successfully, but it is the case that… I’ve now forgotten the actress’s name… But when Kitty Forman from That ‘70s Show says, “If you’re not going to release us, then kill us.” Wanda doesn’t return them to it after that. That’s her wake up call to let them go. I think there’s a strong narrative suggestion that she doesn’t know that they’ve been sharing her grief dreams, that she doesn’t know that their consciousness has been still awake underneath the blanket of sitcom that she’s put on them. I think she’s been telling herself a story that she’s put everyone into a happy life, and that still would have been wrong if knowingly done, she’s still stealing their existing lives, but I don’t think there’s a suggestion that she knows she’s causing suffering, and maintains it. She does know she’s stealing their lives and maintains it, by two‐​thirds of the way through the show.

0:42:29.1 Sean Malone: I think that’s true, but I do also think that there’s not any real atonement for it, first of all.

0:42:35.5 Jacob Levy: Totally agree.

0:42:36.5 Sean Malone: And secondly, she does put the wall back up as things start to unravel for her once Vision starts disappearing and all that. So she does make a choice at one point to say that the wall is more important than these people’s freedom, so yes, a few of them managed to escape, most of them perhaps managed to escape at that point, but she does put the wall back up. But again, I think the atonement thing’s maybe more than anything else, it’s just kind of the bad part.

0:43:03.3 Jacob Levy: Yeah.

0:43:04.1 Sean Malone: Which just she doesn’t even seem to really acknowledge, “Oh, I did a really horrifying thing to a whole lot of people.” And then it’s kinda treated like, “Well, they’re mad at me. Oh, I don’t know, these people are just afraid of me.” Well, yeah, of course, they’re afraid of you. Why wouldn’t they be afraid of you?

0:43:19.5 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, I guess I was left unsatisfied by that part of the storyline, especially towards the end, because again, we get those two ending credit scenes, and I was thinking, I was like, “Oh, maybe one of these ending credits is gonna give a hint as to Monica… Or not Monica, Wanda feels terrible for what she’s done and all this stuff.” But all we see is Wanda sitting in a cabin in the mountains, and then she’s reading… What’s that book called?

0:43:51.6 Jacob Levy: It’s The Darkhold.

0:43:52.5 Natalie Dowzicky: The Darkhold. Yeah, she’s reading it, and the way it’s shot makes me think… Now this is a prediction… That she’s not necessarily going to… She’s not gonna learn from past mistakes, especially as easily as she was just let off. So it makes me think that she’s going to turn to be not so good, but I don’t know enough about the Scarlet Witch in general, to know if that’s something that will happen, but I guess I was disappointed that the four… Maybe we had four times where someone approached Wanda and was like, “You have to let me out of here.” Or one of the actresses said, “Our kids can be friends.” That kind of stuff, and it just didn’t seem like it gave enough. I would have liked more of it along the way, just seeing that like, “Okay, this is actually a really serious moral problem.” Where it was more thrown in as a second thought type thing, but that’s just me personally. [chuckle]

0:44:51.3 Sean Malone: Yeah, I totally agree. I think I would have liked to have seen them handle that part of it a lot better. But again, I think it kinda goes back to what I was saying, like I’m not actually super convinced that most movie and television writers have a really good handle on these kinds of moral questions. I give you as evidence the entirety of television of modern world.

[laughter]

0:45:15.8 Sean Malone: ‘Cause I see that all the time. Sorry, I keep going back to this, but I was watching the one review of… Whose review was it? I’m trying to remember who I was watching… Somebody’s review of the Justice League movie. Oh, Dan Murrell’s, formerly of Screen Junkies. And Dan was talking about this scene where Cyborg in the new cut has powers over pretty much anything digital or anything technological in nature, so he sees a woman struggling with the ATM. She’s at the ATM and she has insufficient funds and she’s got a kid there and it’s raining, and he feels bad for her, so he just materializes $100,000 in her bank account. And he does it in kind of a clever way. It shows up on screen and says like, “You’ve won our bank’s best customer award.” Whatever. It’s $100,000, whatever.

0:46:15.2 Natalie Dowzicky: That’s never happened to me. It’s sad.

0:46:16.3 Sean Malone: Yeah, it’s never happened to me either, unfortunately, but then he kinda walks away smiling, but to Zack Snyder’s credit, Zack’s handling this in the context of a whole montage where his… He’s listening to a voiceover of his father talking about how powerful he is and how his abilities are gonna allow him access to literally anything and he can do anything he wants with all of these things, and how he’s gonna have to make the choice to use those powers one way or another. But the funny thing is, I’m listening to the review and Dan Murrell’s like, “Oh, I loved that scene because it showed us how much of a good guy he is.” And I’m like, “Okay, so it’s not the worst thing he could have done. I think he’s creating that money out of nothing, and then we can talk about the Federal Reserve and things like that.”

[laughter]

0:47:13.0 Natalie Dowzicky: Next time on Pop N Locke. [chuckle]

0:47:15.3 Sean Malone: Next time on Pop N Locke. Let’s talking about printing money out of nowhere, so really, he’s probably just causing inflation in this context, so it may not be the end of the world in this case, but in reality, like Dan Murrell’s giving him credit for essentially taking money from the bank and putting it in this woman’s account. That’s sort of how we’re meant to see it, and he’s saying that that’s a really good thing. That’s a positive attribute. I think people missed some of those things because some of those things are a little bit more complicated and they don’t… Like if on the surface, all you see is somebody doing something nice for somebody who’s poor, it’s pretty easy to just go, “Okay, well, that’s the good guy. That’s his like save the cat moment, or whatever.” But he’s not really saving a cat. It’s not the same context. But it’s something that I think people really struggle with in general in writing, and I think that may be the case in Wanda as well.

0:48:09.7 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, and the heroes just become more and more nuanced, and their…

0:48:15.6 Sean Malone: Right, nuanced.

0:48:16.1 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, and their powers become more and more confusing then. [chuckle]

0:48:19.0 Landry Ayres: They’re just more human.

[laughter]

0:48:24.5 Jacob Levy: Good adaptations at least show some struggle on the part of the people, on the part of the protagonist, so the Netflix TV shows mostly did a good job of at least having the characters be aware of the moral compromises they were making and worrying about them. Dark Knight and Black Panther, in different ways, had some characters calling out the moral choices being made by the protagonists, even if neither of them was entirely successful in answering the argument of the critics, and the movies do end up saying, “Well, because this person is Team H for Hero, ultimately we trust that their choices are the good ones.” But at least the scripts allow there to be criticism of it, and of course, the X‐​Men movies. So there are people who still think that in an important sense, the better of the X‐​Men movies were always making the argument that Magneto was right, and even in a mediocre X‐​Men movie like Dark Phoenix, Magneto gets the chance to say, “You’re always sorry, and there’s always a speech, but no one cares, Charles.”

[laughter]

0:49:31.3 Jacob Levy: And there was a lot of audience sympathy, I think with that moment to say, “I know you think you’re Team H for Hero, but that doesn’t mean that your choices are actually good ones.”

[music]

0:49:44.4 Landry Ayres: And now for the time in the show where we get to share all of the other things that we’ve been enjoying with our time at home. This is Locked In.

0:49:52.1 Natalie Dowzicky: So how about Sean goes first?

0:49:55.5 Sean Malone: Yeah, apart from spending a tremendous amount of my life watching The Snyder Cut.

[laughter]

0:50:02.2 Sean Malone: I’ve actually weirdly, a lot of times I like to work and put stuff on and have stuff on, and I’ve been watching Lucifer on Netflix the last few weeks, and it’s kind of interesting. I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s not the best show that I’ve ever seen by any stretch of the imagination, but it is kind of interesting, and I think it’s particularly interesting in the moral arena because… Well, I am… And in the characterization of Lucifer, it’s actually based on a Neil Gaiman conception of the character, which I didn’t know going in, which actually explains a lot in terms of how much I actually like it versus what I kind of expected. But one of the things that’s really interesting about it is that Lucifer is constantly upset that the world blames him for evil because he is a punisher of evil, and he is not a creator of evil, and I thought that was a pretty interesting take on the character himself. And then of course, he’s a weird character and it gets into a lot of religious metaphors and things like that. I’m an atheist, so that doesn’t really… Like I have to kinda keep up with some of the deeper Catholic stuff that’s going on in the show, but it’s interesting, and I’ve been kind of enjoying it, and it’s been sort of a light departure from a lot of the other things I spend my time doing, so it’s been good.

0:51:23.4 Jacob Levy: Last week, I finally had a chance to read a novel that came out a year ago by, disclosure, a friend and former co‐​worker of mine, Saleema Nawaz, and it was a novel she’d been researching over the course of the previous seven years, set against the fictional world of a global pandemic of a novel coronavirus.

0:51:49.0 Sean Malone: Wow.

0:51:49.4 Natalie Dowzicky: Too real. Not funny anymore.

[laughter]

0:51:53.1 Jacob Levy: It was at the printers, it was getting typeset last February.

0:51:58.6 Sean Malone: Wow.

0:51:58.7 Jacob Levy: They rushed the e‐​book out for obvious reasons, and the physical book…

0:52:02.1 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, I’m sure. They’re like, “Go, go, go.”

0:52:04.0 Jacob Levy: Yeah, and the physical book came out in August, and it is fascinating first of all how much the research was paying off in creating a really very plausible and got a whole lot of things right image about how these things work, but it’s really a human character and relationship novel, and is not fundamentally an apocalypse novel or disease novel. It’s a really lovely work. And I didn’t read it over the winter because I wasn’t… I wanted some escapism in my fiction and I wasn’t quite ready to read a pandemic novel.

[laughter]

0:52:41.8 Jacob Levy: And it is in that sense not escapism and some people might wanna wait until it’s all authored, but it is a really wonderful book and I recommend it very highly. Oh, it’s, Songs For The End Of the World. I didn’t say the name. I’m sorry. Songs For The End Of The World is the name of the novel.

0:52:56.4 Natalie Dowzicky: So for me, I just finished reading The Invisible Bridge, which was… It’s a fiction book set in World War II. It’s very good. World War II fiction is like my bread and butter for books. I guess that’s kind of… Not really an escape, just more interesting to me. [chuckle] And I watched Yes Day on Netflix. Again, it was just like, it’s a comedy. It has Jennifer Garner in it. She’s the strict mom, and she tells her kids that they’re gonna celebrate Yes Day. It’s like a day… She has three children and a day where the mom has to say yes to everything that the kids ask and her kids range in age from two to teenager. So it’s a really cute movie, where they go from the two‐​year‐​old wants to go to the ice cream store at 10:00 AM, and they do some kind of ice cream. They do the biggest ice cream you can buy there and if you eat it all in an hour, you get it for free, type thing, ranged to more serious family relationship discussion that goes on, too, but it was a cute movie and I like Jennifer Garner.

0:54:01.5 Natalie Dowzicky: And then, other than that, I haven’t really been watching anything too new, besides just keeping up with This Is Us, which I’ve been watching for a few years now and yeah, that’s it. Oh, shoot, I’m gonna forget the… Manifest comes back on and I’ve been watching that on NBC. I think it’s it in its third season now. I thought it was gonna get cut ’cause of Corona, because they were cutting all these shows that only had half a fan base, but that one’s another typical, like, a plane leaves and then comes back five years later, but everyone on the plane thinks it only was one short flight.

0:54:42.2 Landry Ayres: Right, that one.

0:54:43.8 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, it’s really good. I enjoy it. It’s not like, Lost, where they’re stuck on an island, but they come back to real life and it’s suddenly five years later. But yeah, that’s kind of what I’ve been up to.

0:55:00.4 Landry Ayres: I recently… I have never owned a Playstation before, until this past week.

0:55:05.9 Natalie Dowzicky: So proud of you.

0:55:06.6 Landry Ayres: And I bought my first ever… We’re a Nintendo family. [laughter] But I got my first… I got a PlayStation 4. I am a generation behind, because it’s easy to get those and now they’re cheaper, because everyone’s scrambling for the PlayStation 5. So I got four on sale and I downloaded Red Dead Redemption Two and have been riding around the vast, fictionalized American West, as a cowboy, hunting deer, and wrangling outlaws, and chasing tumble weeds and it’s just a blast. It’s so fun and it’s a beautiful game. If you have not played it, it’s like playing a movie. It’s just really great and I’m not a fan of the Grand Theft Auto games, the other stuff that Rock Star has done before. Obviously, there’s some questionable moral ambiguity there for a character of that, as well, but they lean into that and that’s kind of part of the story and what they’re going for, but it is… There is no denying, the performances in it and the technical production involved in a game like that is really, really amazing.

0:56:17.5 Landry Ayres: I also started watching this show. It’s a Japanese show, on Netflix, called Midnight Diner. And then, they released a couple other special for Netflix series versions of it called Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories. And it’s this sort of weird ensemble story about this little, tiny diner in Tokyo, where this guy invites this, sort of, rotating, this revolving door of characters that come in and he serves them food and he learns about their lives and sort of drama unfolds. There’s bits of magical realism and sort of weird circumstances, and you rarely see the same people twice, but it’s kind of moody and very heart‐​breaking at times and it’s just… It’s very simple and kind of atmospheric, which I really, really like. So that’s been kind of interesting and special shout out to my Dungeons and Dragons party. We had our 50th session yesterday.

0:57:20.8 Jacob Levy: Wow.

0:57:23.8 Natalie Dowzicky: Woo. So proud.

0:57:24.5 Landry Ayres: We’ve been going with this campaign…

0:57:25.1 Sean Malone: Congratulations man.

0:57:26.9 Landry Ayres: To keep on going for that long, I’m considering it a very big personal accomplishment as a dungeon master.

0:57:32.7 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s on his resume now.

[laughter]

0:57:35.4 Landry Ayres: It has been one of the things that has been able to get me through this pandemic, along with my lovely wife, who’s also in the Dungeons and Dragon’s party. So that helps, but yeah, so special shout out to my party. They were gifted a villa. They met the Queen. They got their biggest gold reward they’ve received yet. And the big bad villain also is working on corrupting one of our players who was recently reincarnated. So we’ll see where that goes.

[laughter]

0:58:04.6 Natalie Dowzicky: So very exciting.

0:58:09.3 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. As always, the best way to get more Pop N Locke related content and to connect with us is to follow us on Twitter. You can find us at the handle @PopNLockepod. That’s Pop, the letter N, Locke with an e, like the philosopher, pod. Make sure to follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. We look forward to unraveling your favorite show or movie next time. Pop N Locke is produced by me, Landry Airs, as a project of lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. To learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.