This post contains spoilers for WandaVision.
Partially serving as a love letter to television sitcoms, WandaVision is a trippy delight with a simmering dread beneath the surface. After three episodes, some pieces are falling into place regarding the reality of the Westview suburb, which has undergone a makeover to match the era in question. One consistency in Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) shifting landscape is their neighbors, and part of the overall mystery is what role they are playing in what appears to be some sort of simulation. The recurring cast includes several familiar faces like Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, and Emma Caulfield Ford (formally known as Emma Caulfield). Each of these Westview residents has made a mark that suggests Agnes (Hahn), Geraldine (Parris), and Dottie (Caulfield Ford) are all either in on the ruse or trapped in the Bizzaro Sitcom Land. Furthermore, Dottie and Caulfield Ford’s performance is a reminder of another famous role she played in a world that bent reality.
Making her Buffy the Vampire Slayer debut in its third season, Anya made quite the impression when she gave Sunnydale an It’s A Wonderful Life alt-reality style makeover (the following episode “Amends” also leans into Frank Capra’s 1946 classic). In “The Wish,” Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) casually wishes Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) out of her orbit when she asks that the Slayer had never come to this town — she blames her recent breakup and impaling drama on her frenemy. Anya is actually a vengeance demon called Anyanka who became the Patron Saint of Scorned Women more than 1000 years previous. When the Scooby Gang breaks the wish spell, Anya is doomed to mortal life. Anya quickly became a fan favorite thanks in part to her lack of filter and Caulfield Ford’s comic timing. A vital member of the Scooby Gang, Anya deserved better than the series finale offered her.
So what does this have to do with WandaVision? Not only is the former Buffy actress perfectly suited to this genre-bending scenario, but her big Dottie moment in the second episode is a reminder of Caulfield Ford's versatility and charm. While Anya wasn’t the Sunnydale High Queen Bee (hello, Cordelia), there was a certain Type A-ness that tipped into an over-achieving territory, and this fits with Dottie’s reign over the neighborhood. The unique way this character relearned how to be human in the contemporary Sunnydale setting gave her portrayal range, whether bizarre fears (see bunnies) to devastating heartbreak when Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) died — she even made Xander (Nicholas Brendon) palatable. Anya can’t be placed into one personality box because she is singular and Caulfield Ford’s performance is a big part of this.
A Buffyverse scene-stealer, she makes quite the introduction as the icy blonde housewife that Wanda wants to impress. Agnes has already warned Wanda that Dottie is the person who rules this suburb, and she is the one resident whose approval matters. Of course, in true sitcom tradition, Wanda keeps messing up in front of the committee queen — who excels at fake smiles and pointed exasperation. A normal conversation peppered with audience laughter takes a turn for the sinister when Dottie’s housewife goes from a light-hearted William Asher-directed mood to an eerie Alfred Hitchcock vibe.
“I’ve heard things about you,” she tells Wanda in a disquieting tone. Pleading her innocence, Dottie reiterates her stance by saying, “I don’t believe you.” Randall Park’s Jimmy Woo infiltrates this black and white universe by calling out for Wanda over the radio. Terror flickers in Dottie’s perfectly made-up eyes and she asks who Wanda is before the glass she is holding shatters. The outside world penetrates once again via the crimson blood in a moment reminiscent of Technicolor seeping into the movie Pleasantville. The scene culminates in another switch of tone to showcase Caulfield Ford’s genre-hopping talents as she goes a little Stepford Wife when she offers up a quick pop quiz, “How does a housewife get a bloodstain out of white linen? By doing it herself.”
After the somewhat disastrous magic show — in which Dottie did not freak out about the bunny a la Anya — she announces Wanda and Vision haven’t disgraced themselves, rather they won the inaugural comedy performance award. Even the coldest heart can be warmed by her neighbors in a sitcom, but it cannot placate the percolating menace.
Dottie’s appearance in Episode 3 is brief, showing her at home life with husband Phil (David Lengel) and delivering a purposefully outdated joke to canned laughter. Her “mustache man” bears a resemblance to David Schwimmer and if they don’t tap into this in the ‘90s episode they are missing a trick — give Caulfield Ford the Rachel cut to up the uncanny Friends aesthetic. Switching the matching coat and dress for a cream belted dream highlights costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo’s excellent work that elevates each decade’s setting while keeping Dottie’s broader role a mystery.
It has been nearly 20 years since Buffy ended its seven-season run (sorry for making us all feel old) and while Caulfield Ford has had a steady run of work — including genre heavy shows like Once Upon a Time and Fear the Walking Dead — it is wonderful to see her tapping into a role showcasing why fans fell in love with Anya. It isn’t clear precisely what Dottie’s part in all of this is but after Geraldine’s expulsion into the real world and the secret almost spilled by Agnes it won’t be long before we discover the truth. Regardless of what side Dottie is on, Buffy fans can rejoice — well as long as her fate isn't the same as Anya's.
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