Marvel’s WandaVision has been cast into Disney+’s top viewing spot since February. The last three weeks have nearly crashed the streaming service as people raced to see the end of the Scarlet Witch’s sitcom.
The internet ran amok with theories, and the fandom world was abuzz with just what would happen. Who was Evan Peters? Where was Mephisto? Who was Paul Bettany’s secret cameo? The hype built to feverish anticipation.
So when the real villain turned out to be grief and despair all along it led to mixed reactions from the audience.
There are a number of people praising the Scarlet Witch, her journey with grief, and her relationship with television. There are also a number of people who will probably be scrambling through the episode to find references to the future of the MCU -—which there are!
Most of us (myself included) expected a far less mature piece than what we got. WandaVision’s episode 9 wasn’t just its finale, it was the Disney+ episode of a show about television where they had the time and the money and the skill to tackle diverse topics.
What’s there to be said about the episode itself? Wanda battles to defend her family and the people of Westview. Hayward’s “Cataract” project breaks into Westview and there are lots of explosions and lots of booms and… it feels boring after such an intense battle with grief.
Somehow the fight should be mirrored in the grief, shouldn’t it? When Agatha is taunting Wanda it just feels like a child taunting another child. Vision and Cataract (White Vision) become a CGI non-entity battle, two digital dudes being bros over the town. I’m ashamed to admit that I, a tried and true member of the school of “many explosions make good movies,” wasn’t enjoying it.
Until the Ship of Theseus Experiment.
In fact, there are two moments that tugged at the heart beyond Wanda and Vision’s final goodbye. The first wasn’t the Ship of Theseus Experiment (I’ll get into that later). It was when Agatha cut the strings to the citizens of Westview and Wanda is forced to confront the mountains of trauma that she caused other people with her grief and rage.
They beg her to let them die, they beg her to let them leave, they beg her to tell no one to come to them to rescue them because they cannot deal with themselves anymore.
“I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore,” one murmurs, “I just see what you want me to see.”
There are people who will rightfully call this abuse, but for someone with a mental health issue that has left abused people in its wake, this part hit home the most.
Grief is powerful. Grief is terrifying. Every action that human beings take from abuse to murder to money-making to love is motivated by a fear of grief and a fear of loss. We know what we have is good and we want to protect it, and for people who have dealt with trauma — either the kind inflicted by an unkind mind or the kind that is caused by someone with an unkind mind — they have been there.
I have been Wanda, and I have been the people of Westview. Agatha cutting their strings and Wanda being forced to deal with the reactions of people who might have previously seen her as an Avenger and a hero, makes her realize that holding onto her grief and her pain hurts others.
She has to let it go, but grief is so powerful, grief is so immense and painful that it is not something that any single person can take away — it is a mountain to be conquered by the grieving party.
Ironically, it’s Monica who gave her the clue to walking out of it and foreshadowed the finale. “Live your Truth,” she told Wanda. After gaining power Wanda says, “I chose to live my truth.”
There’s a lot I’d like to say about how Monica had to act as the angel on Wanda Maxmioff’s shoulder and how in a lesser story she would be reduced to a sort of “black best friend” stereotype, but WandaVision handled Wanda and Monica well. Monica steps in to block off Hayward from shooting Wanda’s children while Wanda ascends to battle Agatha in the hex and … lives her truth.
For someone currently in the Westview phase of living my grief and pain and hoping that many people will rise out of their chaos in the midst of this pandemic, I cheered. No matter how much Agatha paints Wanda as dangerous (she is), she still accepts who she is.
She descends from the clouds as Scarlet Witch, a morally ambiguous beloved character from Marvel Comics. After a hodgepodge of CGI battles, she does something morally ambiguous.
I didn’t like it when Coulson offered to erase Ward and Cal’s memories in Agents of SHIELD. Wanda didn’t ask Agatha to erase her memory, she just did it which is in its own way extremely cruel because what is life without pain?
Assembling the pieces of WandaVision is about coming to terms with grief and for people who have led privileged lives they might be left confused or hurt by it. What gives me hope is that even when Wanda has to face up to the fact that she basically abused an entire town of people in the most literal example of gaslighting I’ve ever seen, the audience sees this as a consequence of grief.
Anyone who has felt that they’ve harmed others and wished to make amends for it should draw strength not from the story but from the reactions of those watching.
It is okay to have done wrong.
You can make amends.
It just means accepting that you are something and someone different.
Nowhere but in the “streaming episode” about a show about television (see that Seinfield reference?) could we have talked about this. WandaVision isn’t a Marvel explosions show. It’s a mature story for an audience that didn’t know it was on the verge of maturity.
We may not be ready to discuss grief and mental health, to discuss the -isms that we’ve created and exploited on TV to influence our reality. We’re close though. We’re closer than we’ve ever been and when Wanda walked away accepting that she had to control herself to not hurt others I felt seen.
The last thing that I want to talk about is the Ship of Theseus Experiment, which is a real thing.
When Vision and Cataract are having their battle in the library, Vision manages to convince his doppelganger that he is capable of more than what he believes. Vision shares that he is a memory and in the second most mature part of the episode they discuss the Ship of Theseus. There are a number of theories using different objects but the simple part of it that should reduce you to tears is the question of, “when every piece of an object is replaced, does it remain the same object?” When the rot of the ship boards is replaced with new planks, does it remain the same ship?
Put another way, when an identity is worn away with despair but put together with a support system, health, and help, will that person still be the same person?
For those of us worldwide living in the life-altering events of the coronavirus pandemic, this is something many are naturally contemplating. Am I still the same after the losses that I’ve suffered and the lack of a tangible metric for when I can see my loved ones again, return to the job I love, not walk the streets in fear?
Between seeing the trauma of abusing others and accepting that you must control yourself on screen, getting the mature streaming episode we deserve, and now this, WandaVision doesn’t have answers. It simply promises that you’re not alone in thinking so, helping it top Disney+’s viewing charts.
We may not see its like again, but let’s pry open the door it cracked and see what else we can learn about ourselves with shows like it.
- I’m so glad they kept Agatha even by proxy.
- Those *end credit scenes*! (Now those I won’t spoil.)
WandaVision episode 9 is now streaming on Disney+.