We’ve been told that every story has a beginning a middle and an end, but who said that every story needs to start at the beginning? Some stories, like the one told in Wandavision, start in the middle of the action, aka “in medias res”.
Let’s say that you’ve watched all the Avengers movies. Let’s say that you know everything about The Vision and Wanda Maximoff because you read Marvel’s comics. Let’s say that you haven’t watched any of the promotional material for Wandavision.
You opened Disney plus, and instead of an action-packed modern Marvel blockbuster you see… a sitcom from the 50s? What? Did I click on the wrong series?
What is In medias res?
In medias res is Latin for “In the midst of things”. It’s a writing technique that allows the writer to begin the story in the middle of the action.
This means that the viewers will be dropped into a world already in motion, among characters that haven’t been introduced without a clue as to what is happening.
I know it sounds like a bad thing but, believe me if it’s executed well it can be great.
Wandavision starts In medias res because it shows the viewer Wanda’s reality without explaining why, how, or when the characters got to that point.
Episode one starts with a catchy jingle and shows the stereotypical intro to an American 50s sitcom starring Wanda Maximoff and The Vision. A far cry from the punching, webbing, clawing, stabbing, and snapping adventures that we’ve come to expect from the Avengers and the MCU.
In medias res: Wandavision’s secret weapon
Ask yourself this question: why am I watching Wandavision?
Probably because you want to know the mystery behind this strange new reality created by the Scarlet Witch. Would you really be as interested and intrigued by the story if it started at the beginning?
In medias res is Wandavision’s secret weapon because it’s the “hook” that pulls in the viewer’s attention. Starting a story in the middle of the narrative confuses the viewer but also forces him to find any possible clue, and piece them together to solve the puzzle. In short, it forces the audience to pay attention.
Exposition and In medias res
At some point, however, the writer has to share some information with the audience. Otherwise, the story will never start making sense.
This is the most challenging part of writing In medias res. Grabbing the audience’s attention is easy, keeping it is the real challenge.
Wandavision uses three tools to keep the viewer engaged:
- disrupt the familiar
- give a clue to the solution
- leave on a cliffhanger
1 – Disrupt the familiar
Each episode of Wandavision puts the character in a different world, taking inspiration from a particular series from each decade (for example I Love Lucy from the 50s and Malcolm in the middle from the 90s).
This means that each episode must first introduce the audience to this new world and allow them to get used to the new status quo. However, once that’s done, the familiarity of the new setting must be disrupted.
2 – Give a clue to the solution
Once the status quo is disrupted, Wandavision keeps the audience glued to the screen by giving them a clue.
It might be a symbol, a line of dialogue, a strange behavior, or something else entirely.
3 – Leave on a cliffhanger
Now that the audience has been given a clue to the solution of the mystery, it’s time to go back to the good old status quo. The rapid return to the original setting sets a jarring contrast in tone, from comedy to thriller and then back to comedy as if nothing happened.
This contributes to the feeling of discomfort and uncertainty that the writers want the audience to have. As if they were giving the viewer the chance to take a step closer to the solution and then moved them back to the point where they started.
In medias res and Wandavision: why it works
Wandavision manages to be such an entertaining and intriguing show thanks to its skillful writers who managed to use a simple writing technique to keep the audience at the edge of their seats.
In medias res helps the screenwriters create interest, build tension, reveal a mystery, and even empathize with Wanda in her grief.