Don’t Touch That Dial! WandaVision Ads
Before you read any further — SPOILER ALERT
There, I’ve exercised my responsibility to warn you that if you have not yet watched through Episode 7 of WandaVision, you should not read any more, lest something be ruined for you.
Nothing too deep here, just some quick observations about the course of the adverts. NB: As with pandemic life, reading through fan theories bleeds into one blurred whole. I cannot stress enough that none of this is original, and loads of other people have no doubt already covered this ground.
There have now been six adverts:
- Stark Industries Toast Mate 2000 (Episode 1)
- Strücker Watch (Episode 2)
- Hydra Soak Bath Powder (Episode 3)
- Lagos Paper Towels (Episode 5)
- Yo-Magic Yogurt (Episode 6)
- Nexus (Episode 7)
Episode 4 (“We Interrupt This Program”) does NOT feature an advert, because it is our proper introduction to the world outside of the Hex. The episode title is meaningful as that is the phrase used to break into regularly scheduled broadcasts when major events in the real world are deemed important enough to inform the audience about them immediately.
What are commercials for?
Before looking at what they might be telling us, or how to interpret them, it’s worth reminding ourselves what the function of TV advertising is: it’s to sell things. Or, more generally, to persuade us to take a course of action by linking some aspect of our identity with the world in which the commercial is set, most often with the advertised product offering a solution to/improvement of a problem with ourselves that the advertisers have very kindly helped us to identify.
In short: commercials are vessels of manipulation. What could be more appropriate within the Hex, where at least two people appear to be controlling others’ minds and actions?
Who are these commercials for?
The other generalised consideration regarding commercials is that they are crafted for an intended audience. The default reception of the WandaVision adverts seems to be that they’re kitschy winks to us, the viewers at home, making knowing references to Marvel minutiae within an aesthetic that’s matched to the TV show format. Unless we’re watching BBC1 or PBS, we’re conditioned to expect ad breaks. In the TiVo/DVR world, these are the parts we skip through but within WandaVision they’re indispensable, flipping our relationship with them on its head. But there are two framing wrinkles that might call this interpretation into question.
Until Episode 7, WandaVision has been broadcast from the Hex as a TV show that SWORD and Dr Darcy Lewis have been watching and/or datamining to find out what’s going on in Westview. There’s a lot to unpick about edits being made, the relationship of audiences to actors/characters and fictional communities (cf: Vision’s As You Like It allusion), and more, but I lack the time and expertise to do so.
The show going off-air as Agnes reveals herself is unlikely a coincidence and would seem to suggest that she is behind the show (after all, we do see her in the director’s chair, and she is implicitly the interviewer in this week’s episode). Therefore it stands to reason that she is in control of shaping perceptions outside of Westview and has chosen to present a narrative in which Wanda is the villain, throwing SWORD off her own witchy scent, and the commercials could be fulfilling the above-referenced function for SWORD, rather than us.
In Episode 7, Breaking the Fourth Wall, WandaVision adopts that more recent sitcom convention (first actively hinted at in Episode 6 by the twins, but frequently suggested by visual breaks from Vision before that). In this altered reality, the life that Wanda was curating within the Hex has been anchored upon sitcom tropes and aesthetics from each decade 1950’s onward. It began with an in-studio audience and has always required a conscious awareness of appearances/audience/cameras. Now that the folks outside of Westview are no longer watching, the straight-to-camera documentary style is a short circuiting of the established relationship and, as Agnes announces her arrival as Agatha Harkness and we allow more horror-esque features to inhabit Westview, forgive me for drawing a tenuous (ie, this is not likely intended) connection to the Blair Witch Project, wherein the only evidence of the documentarians last days was the video footage recovered. What WILL become of the denizens of Westview?
There is another possible audience for the show within a show and its commercials — Wanda herself. At the ends of Episodes 1 and 2, Wanda and Vision are sat on the sofa watching the TV. Episode 3 breaks from this, as it ends with Monica Rambeau being cast out of the Hex. Episode 4 (which has taken us away from Westview) ends with Wanda asking Vision, “Well, what should we watch tonight?” before putting them back on the sofa in front of the TV with Vision again holding the remote control and the sounds of the TV audience returning. Episode 5 ends with the sound of the studio audience cheering at “Pietro’s” return, but there is no TV link at the end of Episode 6. The end of Episode 7 — which, remember, is not being broadcast outside of Westview — is not an ending, but rather a beginning as it presents Agatha’s theme song and is clearly directed at us, as opposed to the other introductions, which have all taken place in the contained world of WandaVision.
Following this as our TV guide (sorry, not sorry), the adverts are intended for the audience, Wanda, and are part of Agatha’s campaign to manipulate Wanda into doing what she wants her to do. In the comics, Agatha Harkness is a mentor to Scarlet Witch, so it would makes sense that she is trying to lead her toward a certain course of action. It’s this lens through which I suggest we view the adverts.
How’s your bridge game, hon?
I would like to suggest that from her introduction at the beginning of Episode 1 (Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience — the residents of Westview) until Episode 7, Agnes has been building to the climax of her plan. Upon entering Wanda’s house, she asks, “So, what’s your name? Where are you from? And most importantly, how’s your bridge game, hon?” In the fresh context of our 1950’s TV sitcom, this is easily glossed over as a reasonable social question, but I suspect it is but one of many things that will take on a different meaning if we watch the series again. Back to this in a minute.
Our first advert is for the Stark Industries Toast Mate 2000, with the tagline, “Forget the past, this is your future!” This line ONLY makes sense if it is directed at Wanda. After all, though we may each have a traumatic past that we would like to forget, this specific toaster is not likely to be linked with OUR past, nor is the show likely to affect OUR future. Agnes is beginning her master manipulation by leaning into Wanda’s most formative trauma, the death of her Sokovian parents and two-day horror staring at unexploded Stark Industries ordnance.
The dark humour (ie, “they’re toast, mate”) is piquant and in keeping with Agnes’s mischievous nature. The two recurring commercial characters, who have been posited to be Wanda’s parents, appear in the advert and if we take this to be their true identity then that’s a casting that is again specifically for Wanda. First we see two burnt pieces of toast (her parents) before seeing the magical toaster that can “get the taste back into your toast.” Might this be a subtle hint that her parents could be made alive again?
Episode 2 is titled “Don’t Touch That Dial” which is in keeping with the television theming of everything, but it also links in with the adverts in both of the first 2 episodes. You see, I haven’t been completely honest regarding the first. The complete line is “Set the dial and get the taste back into your toast,” referring to the dial on the Toast Mate 2000.
In this episode, our product is a Strücker watch. (For a chuckle, have a look at Avengers #242 if you want to take the time on the watch as an easter egg.) Watches also happen to have a dial. Is this a coincidence? Who can say?! But it would be reasonable to infer a connection between the two. Each advert concludes with a pulse-quickening bomb-like countdown effect. The toaster commercial recalls an event from a time when Wanda did not yet have her powers and was therefore helpless to save her parents, herself, or her brother.
The tagline for the Strücker watch advert is “Strücker: He’ll make time for you.” In the MCU, Baron von Strücker is the one who took the Maximoff children in as volunteers for experiments, giving them their powers. In the absence of parents, he “[made] time for [them]” thereby opening to Wanda the possibilities of bending time and space. Again, this commercial makes the most sense if it’s directed at Wanda as the audience, particularly in the way that it makes reference to Strücker as a person, rather than a company or brand. Wanda’s “parents” are also present in this ad.
The commercial in Episode 3 (Now In Colour) is for Hydra Soak luxury bath powder. The ad features Wanda’s mother, with a voiceover appearance from her father, and it promises to help viewers “Find the Goddess Within!” We see a chaotic home, with two children, a dog, and malfunctioning kitchen appliances frazzling the mother when the man, via voiceover, asks “Do you need a break?” to which the mother responds “You read my mind.”
She is then offered the Hydra-powered promise that she can “Escape to a world all [her] own, where [her] problems float away.” This is the promise of Westview, which has as of yet been largely untainted by the outside world. The layered meanings of “goddess” in this context are worth considering, as again it can be absorbed into the epistemological sphere of the sitcoms if we interpret it as helping Wanda to unlock her “domestic goddess.” The Hydra Soak packaging is curiously shaped and coloured like the tesseract, which is the source of the powers which have effectively transformed Wanda into a “goddess” and it is noted in Thor that when the Frost Giants arrived in Norway with the tesseract, they would have been revered as deities.
This is where Agnes’s bargaining with Wanda pivots. For the first time, the commercials are concretely offering something new and are explicitly linked with the world inside the Hex through their messaging. “When you wanna get away, but you don’t wanna go anywhere.” Which is to say, when you want to escape from your troubles without running away, why not visit Tahiti (It’s a magical place!) right where you are?
Episode 5, On a Very Special Episode…, features an ad for Lagos paper towels. For those of you too young to know, the “On a Very Special Episode…” branding was used throughout 80’s television for episodes in which particularly painful or contentious subjects were going to be featured, often breaking step with the general form and content of the show. In this episode, we encounter two very big moments: Wanda leaves the Hex to confront the SWORD team outside, and “Pietro” returns at the end.
Within the MCU, Lagos is a clear reference to the events of Captain America: Civil War, in which Wanda attempts to use her powers to contain an explosion and save lives, but inadvertently moves it too close to a building where it kills a number of civilians. The advert begins with one of the children spilling a red drink (blood) on accident and ends with the tagline, “Lagos: For when you make a mess you didn’t mean to.” This is an advert framed for Wanda’s consumption, offering a solution to the “mess” that she didn’t mean to make. A clear conscience and a clean table.
The placement of the advert within the episode is also noteworthy, and suggests that the mess Wanda has made is not the disaster in Lagos, but a consequence of her immediately preceding actions. Wanda has just used her powers in a showdown with SWORD, turning their guns on Hayward (who can blame her?!) but what is the mistake that the advert/Agnes are offering to help clean up? I would suggest that the “mess” inadvertently created comes from the interaction with Monica Rambeau, which foreshadows their exchange in Episode 7. Monica is trying to establish a bond with Wanda, and Wanda considers it before returning to the Hex. In Episode 7, Monica continues to try to reach Wanda and appears to be making headway when Agnes promptly swoops in to break things up.
The Lagos advert preys upon Wanda’s guilt and offers a quick fix, with the hidden caveat that the only person who can offer Wanda a way out and a path to a better life is Agnes. When her control is threatened by Monica’s ability to influence Wanda, this is potentially catastrophic for Agnes’s plans. (NB: Wanda’s parents both appear in this advert)
The Yo-Magic Yogurt advert from Episode 6 is the stuff of nightmares, which is appropriate given the episode’s Halloween theme. For the first time, Wanda’s parents are completely absent from the advert, and because of the animation the commercial takes place at one step of further remove from reality. The ad opens with the child (Wanda) alone on an island saying, “I’m so hungry, I’d eat anything.” It is pure desperation, but the hunger here I would suggest is not physical hunger, but rather spiritual/emotional starvation as a result of Wanda’s grief and loss.
Just in the nick of time, a shark appears who has overcome this hunger. They only “remember hungry.” (Who has a penchant for arriving at just the right time, with just the right solution in WandaVision? Agnes.) When the child asks the shark what they did, it replies: “Snacked on Yo-Magic, bro” before giving the child a pot of Yo-Magic which they are unable to open, and they waste away in a macabre decomposition to skeletal form. It’s softened by the animated, FUN! nature of the commercial, but it’s a menacing message that says Agnes knows the answer Wanda is seeking, and she’ll even give her part of the puzzle, but she won’t be able to solve it alone. Terror is a powerful prompt towards compliance, and Agents of Shield fans know that compliance will be rewarded. “Yo-Magic! The snack for survivors!” We’ll leave alone the matter of whether/how Agnes is feasting on Wanda’s power.
Television shows, plays, films, songs, video games. They all occur within a world or universe that, although it may overlap with or have features of our own, is never actually the same thing. It is this constrained aspect of their nature that allows for an audience to engage with them and their content safely. When these boundaries are violated, the characters/shows are Breaking the Fourth Wall (the title of Episode 7), or redrawing the lines of the established universe to include us or to expand in order to accommodate new possibilities. In the episode, Agnes acknowledges this when Wanda hesitates to look at a mole on her back, referencing “boundaries” that she is reluctant to cross.
Breaking the fourth wall presents a moment of danger, both for the audience, and for the stability of the world portrayed. In theatre, for example, if a character suddenly turned and addressed you as an audience member, it would likely heighten your anxiety. When Wanda breaks through the boundary of the Hex, it creates instability within Westview and for Agnes’s plans. Episode 7 finds Wanda depressed, and she is again camped in front of the television where she is susceptible to Agnes’s clever commercials.
The ad in this episode is for Nexus, “a unique anti-depressant that works to anchor you back to your reality. Or the reality of your choice.” The tagline: “Because the world doesn’t revolve around you. Or does it?” In the comics, Scarlet Witch is a Nexus Being, with the ability to subvert probability and change the course of the Universal Time Stream. The advert recommends that “you should not take Nexus unless your doctor has cleared you to move on with your life.” I don’t know, can you think of a doctor who has anything to do with probability? Me, neither. Strange.
The Nexus is the Nexus of All Realities, the place where the infinite possibilities of the multiverse come together, and the gateway through which one would pass from one reality to another. In essence, the Nexus acts as a sort of bridge between universes. “How’s your bridge game, hon?” Up until now, the commercials have been focused on Wanda’s past and present conditions, but this one turns the view to the future (cf: the tagline from the first ad), promising Wanda that the solution to her depression (which may produce more depression, but shh) is to “confront [her] truth, seizing [her] destiny” by taking the *gasp* red pill and opening the multiverse. (For a fun easter egg, likely meaningless, the 10.3% could point towards Avengers #103, in which Scarlet Witch is kidnapped and Quicksilver is missing, until he and the team rescue Wanda). Her parents are in the advert, implying after their disappearance in the Yo-Magic advert that there is a path by which they might be brought back into her life again.
The placement of the ad within the episode is again noteworthy, as it comes immediately after the meta-breaking of the fourth wall. Whilst Wanda has been talking to camera, there has been no response. Until an unseen interviewer (later shown to be Agnes) is heard asking Wanda, “Do you think maybe this is what you deserve?” clearly catching Wanda off-guard is it violates HER perception of what the rules of reality are. “What?” she asks. “You’re not supposed to talk.”
The tactics of the adverts mirror the dynamics of classic abuse and manipulation to coerce someone into doing something. If my theory is accurate, then Agatha (it was Agatha all along) has been trying to gain Wanda’s trust so that she can be persuaded to open the Nexus to allow someone to enter or exit the Earth-616 reality, even though she shouldn’t do so unless Doctor Strange has had an opportunity to weigh in. The question is: who?
The way in which the commercials are seamlessly integrated into WandaVision, reflecting ads from the respective time periods even when the altered reality in Westview is breaking down, is inspired. And I look forward to the remaining episodes serving to make all of this look incredibly foolish and stupid.