We all love Wongers, who brings the real magic to the MCU

Marvel's mononymous Master of the Mystic Arts is better than us, proven by his latest test: wrangling a party girl

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published September 10, 2022 3:30PM (EDT)

Benedict Wong as Wong in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)
Benedict Wong as Wong in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The following contains minor spoilers about "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" Episode 4, "Is This Not Real Magic?"

There's nothing inherently funny or remarkable about a man kicking back to unwind with some snacks, a beverage, and an hour of "The Sopranos." Unless that guy is Wong. Just Wong. The Sorcerer Supreme, Master of the Mystic Arts, leader and former librarian of Kamar-Taj. Wong does not relax. Tasked with maintaining the balance of the cosmos, everything is a serious undertaking to Wong, even if that endeavor takes place in an episode of "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law."

That makes the sight of him settling down to catch up with TV of any kind, premium or low brow, as conceptually dissonant as the thought of seeing King Charles III pick his toes in public. Not that such a thing could never happen; anything is possible. I'm merely suggesting that it would take a moment for our brains to process that image. The same is true here.

Just as we do, fate drops a perpetually inebriated party girl named Madisynn King (spelled "with two N's and one Y . . . but it's not where you thiiii-iiink!") into the center of Wong's TV room. A room which, don't forget, is inside of an ancient magical fortress in Kathmandu, Nepal, that houses mystical relics alongside a DVR stacked with classic TV episodes.

All this all-powerful sorcerer wants to do is dive into some classic HBO, but without intending to, Madisynn salts his mood by spoiling the episode – Season 5, Episode 12, "Long Term Parking," in case you're wondering – before he can send her on her way.

Despite this frustrating meet cute, they eventually team up again to eat popcorn, discuss cocktail preferences and watch "This Is Us." And by the end of the fourth "She-Hulk" episode, "Is This Not Real Magic?" the mononymous sorcerer has an adorable barfly handle: "Wongers."

She-Hulk: Attorney at LawBenedict Wong as Wong, Patty Guggenheim as Madisynn, and Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer "Jen" Walters/She-Hulk in "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney+)

Wong is the Ron Swanson of the MCU, minus the red meat obsession.

A recurring joke on "She-Hulk" involves the esteem-challenged Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) breaking the fourth wall to remind the audience that this is her vehicle. "I just want to make sure that you don't think this is one of those cameos every week type of shows," she says in the third episode before copping to the fact that the comedy is exactly what she says it isn't by listing the cameos that have already come to pass – her cousin Bruce, aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and reformed supervillain Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).  

But even she has to admit that the fourth episode belongs to  Wong, the Virgil to Stephen Strange's Dante, played by Benedict Wong.

Wong is an able leader who builds his wisdom through study and experience, and therefore knows precisely what to do when disaster strikes. He's also a guy who can be persuaded to put down his books for a second and teleport to a karaoke bar to bust out a rendition of "Hotel California."

Hence if you already loved Wong, teaming him up with Patty Guggenheim's Madisynn only increases that affection store, along with helping you to enjoy Madisynn much more than you might in real life. Wong is a man who likes to test himself in death matches with monstrous fighters like Blonsky's alter ego, The Abomination. Madisynn reminds him that his universal guardian duties include fighting for his right to party.

They shouldn't make sense, unless you recall that this franchise excels at inserting hummingbird-sized Easter eggs into a movie or TV episode scene, only to hatch it much later into a full-blown storyline. Wong's briefly featured cage match with The Abomination in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" impacts Jennifer's argument for Emil Blonsky's parole. Madisynn plays like an extension of a bit extending back to the first "Doctor Strange" film.

She-Hulk: Attorney at LawBenedict Wong as Wong in "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney+)

Remember how delightful it was to watch Wong's intensely studying while Beyonce bounced through his headphones? The song he was enjoying was "Single Ladies," a carefree, jaunty melody and message Madisynn personifies, except with way more tequila. That background assists Guggenheim's scene thievery, which is only possible because of the way her energy amplifies Wong's.

But her entry into Wong's side of the multiverse only augments what we know and love about this character, calling attention to the competence everyone around him takes for granted. If you love Wong, it could be that you recognize in him aspects of your best self, a hard-working person so accustomed to keeping his nose down that he never considers showing the outside world any side of himself other than the one that means business. He's the Ron Swanson of the MCU, minus the red meat obsession.

Unfortunately, Wong's superior capability requires him to pick up the slack for the cut-rate magicians in the world like Donny Blaze (Rhys Coiro), a clearance shelf version of Criss Angel who only the wasted can appreciate. Enter Madisynn. Donny's dangerous magical bungling sends her to a demonic dimension, before one of its residents drops her off at Kamar-Taj.  

The inept have a way of making their problems the responsibility of the highly competent, which is how Wong comes to share the common frustration of people who are better than the job they're given. He's mastered the mystical forces of the universe only to find himself playing rat catcher cleaning up another man's interdimensional infestation.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe changes Wong from how he's written on the page, thank goodness. He began in the comics as Stephen Strange's manservant and sidekick.

For "Doctor Strange," Benedict Wong inherited a man who unfailingly works his way through the ranks of the Masters of the Mystic Arts, only to be passed over for a promotion he deserves by a white guy that doesn't have a problem with bending or breaking universal laws. Strange doesn't think about the potentially catastrophic costs of his actions because he generally avoids them.

So it's entirely expected that the job of Sorcerer Supreme would pass from one white wizard who held the title for centuries to another who showed up for the equivalent of a creative retreat. The title would have stayed in Strange's hands if not for the Blip.

Wong is not just like us. He's better than most.

Granted, few Wong fans contemplate the wrongheaded office politics rectified in related films and the first movie's sequel "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." More worthy of appreciation is the way the character behaves and Wong, the actor, plays him, which is as an excessively reasonable man in a world plagued by fools punching too far above their weight class.

Donny extremely angers Wong, but Madisynn leaves him baffled.  Even after she slurs her way through testimony that weakens Wong's case, he can't resist accepting her invitation to get fro-yo.

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Wong is not just like us. He's better than most in terms of his skill and patience reserves, and sets an example of how someone who sets themselves apart from the world can also benefit from welcoming a bit of tipsy entropy into their orderly sanctum.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessBenedict Wong as Wong in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

"God, everybody loves Wong," Jennifer concedes at the top of the episode. "It's like giving the show Twitter armor for a week!"

And how! "Is This Not Real Magic?" made Wong-Madisynn 'shippers out of some "She-Hulk" viewers and left others convinced that Wong should have his own title. But a romantic team-up would probably require Madisynn to embrace sobriety or Wong to let go of his severe demeanor more than he has so far.

It's sufficient that these masters of very disparate domains found common ground in a love of TV and an appreciation for cocktails. By the time he and Madisynn are cataloging favorite drinks, watching Wong simply be a couch surfing guy like the rest of us feels right and good . . . and normal. Let's not get used to that thrill, or it might lose its magic.

New episodes of "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" debut Thursdays on Disney +.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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