(This post contains spoilers for Marvel’s WandaVision.)
Critics say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has nothing to do with cinema. These same snobs will soon be adamantly declaring that WandaVision is the opposite of ‘Prestige Television.’ It’s past time that the content Marvel continues to deliver is recognized and rewarded for artistic merit. Genre films and television has been lauded in the past unless the source material is a comic book.
Since 2000 only three genre films have won the Oscar for Best Picture. The Shape of Water, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Gladiator. What makes those movies that much better than Iron Man, Avengers: Endgame, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier? They all require suspension of disbelief while using allegory, special effects, and bombast to tell human stories.
Marvel Comics was built on telling relatable, joyous, and often heartbreaking tales of the human condition. While Spider-Man, Captain America, the Fantastic Four, etc., were saving the block, the world, or the cosmos, they also dealt with things we all go through. These comics for ‘kids’ dealt with serious topics such as survivor’s guilt, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and mental health.
Marvel films have done well highlighting some of these same issues and the ramifications of not dealing with them. WandaVision takes this to new heights. The show is everything you expect from the Marvel banner, and it gives so much more. All nine episodes were expertly written, crafted, acted, and directed. The show was fun, funny, suspenseful, sad, and had something to say. If that’s not prestige television, I don’t know what is.
It quickly became apparent that as the show played with sitcom tropes, the subtext was much darker. The first two shows introduced our two leads in the saccharine, ‘everything will work out,’ no stakes plots of shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show and Bewitched. By episode three, however, the real world started to seep in and remind us that harsher truths existed.
Spider-Man: Far from Home superficially addressed the effects of “the blip” and how the world was readjusting by playing it for laughs. WandaVision’s episode four, titled ‘We Interrupt This Program,’ explored how traumatic it was when half the world’s population suddenly reappeared. It also put in perspective the depth and immediacy of Wanda’s anguish.
For her, it had been mere weeks since she killed the man she loved, then helplessly watched as Thanos brought him back to life, only to murder him again. She lost her parents in an explosion, and Ultron murdered her brother. She accidentally caused the death of 26 civilians in Lagos, saving Captain America, and then twice lost Vision, her only touchstone to this reality. Her grief was all-consuming.
Elizabeth Olsen played this to perfection. The show did a fantastic job of underscoring just how close Wanda and Vision were and how much they loved each other. Little grace notes like Vision calling the first-born twin Tommy after the two playfully argued over names. The flashback of Vision comforting Wanda after Pietro’s death with the line, “what is grief if not love persevering,” and the heartbreaking farewell as Wanda finally lifted the Hex. “We’ll say ‘hello’ again.”
Perhaps the most powerful scene was when Wanda said goodbye to Vision’s dismembered body. It was a heartbreaking callback to the “I only feel you” line from Endgame. Olsen gives an Emmy-winning performance while playing against a prop. After desperately trying to find any sign of life, she says, “I can’t feel you.” Anyone who has ever lost someone they love can relate to this. Just as she later describes, it feels of loneliness, emptiness, and endless nothingness.
Wanda journeyed to the site of her and Vision’s future home and succumbed to these feelings. Her subconscious activated her latent powers as a defense mechanism and created her own reality. A reality where she could live out the idealized version of western life. A life she had seen reflected in the American sitcoms she watched with her family before it was torn apart. She bargained with her powers and gained an existence where she could deny her heartbreak and loss.
Wanda gained a brief respite and found some joy by deceiving herself but was unaware of the consequences. As she remade Westview, she bent the town’s people to her will, forcing them to live in a simulated prison they were unable to escape. By not properly dealing with her pain, she, in effect, lashed out at the people around her, causing them to suffer in her stead.
Everyone in the anomaly was a surrogate for Wanda’s agony. Monica Rambeau described it as “drowning in grief.” Upon awakening, the citizens told Wanda that her grief was “poisoning” them, that they “felt her pain,” and that her nightmares terrorized them. Stripped of their free will and isolated from their loved ones, this was torture for the people of Westview. A crime Wanda later showed remorse for but ultimately got away with committing.
The ending was not a triumphant nor a happy one. The showrunners have been making this inevitability apparent since the first episode. The clues have been there from the first time we heard ‘Wanda’s Theme’ on the end credits. ‘Wanda’s Theme,’ with some signatures reminiscent of The Matrix, mainly consists of melancholy and foreboding notes, signifying all may not end well.
Agatha tells her that she “will always be broken” and that the Scarlet Witch is destined to “destroy the world.” The show was a tome on grief and the implications of not dealing with it properly. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Wanda clearly went through the denial, bargaining, and depression stages. But has she accepted it, has she truly lashed out in anger?
This may be the premise of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Wanda has been the one character in the MCU that could be considered in a gray area. She’s been a Hydra terrorist who wanted to destroy the Avengers, she’s been on the run from the law, and now she’s just held an entire town captive and mentally tortured them. Unresolved grief may turn her into a formidable villain, but I hope not.
None of us has to be defined by our grief. Monica tells Wanda that she “can’t control this pain anymore, and I don’t think I want to. It’s my truth.” That is acceptance and remembering that grief is love persevering. Maybe love can save Wanda instead of being the impetus for more misery and despair.
I loved WandaVision. It’s one of the best things that Marvel Studios has ever produced. I can’t wait to see how Wanda’s story continues in the next Doctor Strange movie. I hope she finds the happiness she deserves. And I hope that the gatekeepers at the award ceremonies and television critics recognize this show’s greatness. That they look past their bias against comic book properties and reward WandaVision for making a genuinely human story that is relatable. Whether we’re a synthezoid or a Scarlet Witch.
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