Weekly Update: WandaVision, Wind in the Willows (Cosgrove Hall), Beat Saber

What I’m Watching: WandaVision

I wish I could say I held off on getting a Disney+ subscription due to some moral objection to Disney’s shady business practices, like their insane copyright manipulation or their way of ignoring actual genocide, but in truth I simply didn’t want to buy a new subscription service. Not entirely for financial reasons, just stubborn dislike of the way all media is fragmenting into subscription services.

I finally decided to get Disney+, for much the same reason I was tempted to a year or so ago–the show WandaVision. Fans were speculating wildly about it prior to release, critics were raving about it as it released, and overall the buzz made me really tempted to watch. I had no real investment in the WandaVision relationship, but I thought the idea of a dark truth behind a sitcom show (as was clear even from the trailers) looked fascinating. I love the surreal juxtaposed with the mundane, and this show looked to be all about that. So when the trailer for Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness dropped, and it became obvious that WandaVision was going to play into that movie, I bit the bullet and subscribed.

No regrets thus far. WandaVision was a joy to watch. My family was a big fan of TVLand (whenever we found a hotel with cable TV, so I’m well-versed in shows like Dick VanDyke, Bewitched, and other classics. It was great to see send-up spoofs of these, even if they slowed down the much more interesting hidden subplot.

It’s weird how I don’t want to spoil anything. It wasn’t *really* a surprise, and I imagine anyone watching the show would pick up on the “big secret” by the second episode, even if they weren’t familiar with the mass fan theories. Maybe there’s just an illusion of surprise that I want to maintain, or I want to hide how the surprise is revealed. Maybe part of the joy is each watcher figuring out the surprise for themselves, however obvious that surprise is. (That said, there are some inexact spoilers here)

Here’s one thing I can say. The stuff with the SWORD and FBI agents was the sort of thing I wished Agents of SHIELD (which was really a pretty good show) could have been: ordinary people trying to grapple with superhuman events way out of their league.

It’s not, I guess, much of a revelation to say that the show has a real poignant examination of grief and loss. Again, loss of moments one might have had, a life one might have shared. The sadness is not just that the person is gone, but that there are so many moments one could have wished to share with them–a whole future that is now impossible.

I have to think also that there’s a sense of the failed American dream, or of one’s life not having turned out like you hoped. Flashbacks show Wanda watching old sitcoms, dreaming of a life in America, of a happy family life. Proceeding through the various ages of sitcoms gives a sharp view of how the American dream has changed over the years and, perhaps, how sharply it differs from the dismal reality of how that often turns out.

I’ll continue through more of the shows (already finished Gravity Falls, but I’ll save that for next week)–I want to watch Mandalorian at least, and probably Loki also. I might jump around What-If–I mostly spoiled that show for myself already but I could pad it out with the stuff I don’t know, especially since it also seems likely to play into the upcoming Dr. Strange movie. Honestly that trailer got me really excited and I’m almost definitely going to watch it once it’s in theaters.

What I’m Also Watching: Wind in the Willows (Cosgrove Hall version)

I’m aware now that there’s countless adaptations of Wind in the Willows, but for much of my childhood, the Cosgrove Hall was the only one I knew. My parents once admitted they rented the tape (back in the days when you still rented stuff) five or six times before they finally gave in and bought it.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but this will always be the definitive version of Wind in the Willows, to me. There’s a certain tranquility to everything, a glut of detail, with slow pans over beautiful natural scenery or crowded rooms. It’s probably the best way to add time without having to go through laborious animated sequences, but it works very well and gives a great sense of reflection. And the voice acting is superb, particularly Sir Michael Hordem as Badger.

Returning to it as an adult, one has to wonder about the presentation of weasels as underclass cockney laborers, who are “all right in their own way” but best not interacted with. Looking for metaphors in animal worlds, of course, is complicated by actual animal relationships, so it’s probably best not to read too much into it. Though I do wonder if the female magistrate in the piece is meant to be a reference to Margaret Thatcher.

What I’m Playing: Beat Saber

I’ve talked about VR and rhythm games a number of times. They’re a very popular type of game, since they require you to move your body in time with music, almost like a form of dancing. (They’re not. Not remotely.) Audioshield was the early great one in this vein, until Google took away its access to Youtube and you were stuck with your own audio library. Soundboxing was my own personal escape during my early years directly after I got my own headset. Nothing relieves tension from dealing with terrible students quite like punching colorful balls in the face.

Probably that’s why I got back into it–I’d been using VR as an exercise tool, then stopped after I had my seizure and wanted to be more careful, but my job is so stressful lately I feel an acute need to punch or slash things. And Beat Saber is the definitive game for slashing things in time with music.

I didn’t like Beat Saber when it first came out. Mind you, I hadn’t played it, I just disliked the way it was yet another rhythm game in an already-crowded market that had done a lot of viral marketing beforehand. I doubted it could last very long, since there was no song-editor for players to make their own beat-maps (a crucial element of Soundboxing), and people would swiftly get bored with the premade maps.

I was wrong. Five years after its release, Beat Saber is still one of the most popular games in VR, constantly named as a “must-have” app. It certainly helped with the popularity of the Oculus Quest 2, as countless videos of slashing blocks shows. I myself became a rapid convert after I bought the game.

There’s something really intoxicating about moving in tune to the beat of music that surrounds you–you feel at harmony, in the zone, like you know exactly what’s going on and what to do. There’s an element of power, too, in smashing the blocks and ducking and sliding around. You feel talented, you feel slick, you feel cool. And for a few moments–half-an-hour, or even a full hour–you forget that there’s a world outside the headset, a world with obligations and stresses and horrid ungrateful students who hate you. It’s like a mini-vacation. And that can be something really valuable.

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