Spoilers for WandaVision ahead
“Given the chance and given your power, I’d bring my mom back,” Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) tells Wanda. It’s a simple line, easily glossed over having just seen the spectacle of a superpowered showdown, but to me, it sums up the heart of WandaVision, Marvel’s first Disney+ series. It’s a show about grief that feels strangely apt for the world we’re living in right now- something that director Matt Shakman believes has worked in its favour, with audiences being able to resonate with Wanda’s heartbreak given the events of the past year. Continuing the story from 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, it follows Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) as she processes the death of her partner, Vision (Paul Bettany), in a decidedly unusual way: by bringing him back to life to star in their own sitcom.
Outside of the sitcom, we follow Monica Rambeau and allies investigating the broadcast, and trying to help both Wanda and the residents of Westview: the town being held hostage by Wanda’s grief. The show made strong choices with genre, by setting six of the nine episodes in sitcoms across five decades- with nostalgic dialogue, a fantastic score by Christophe Beck and varying aspect ratios which differentiate the sitcom from the outside world. The decision to use sitcoms becomes clear in episode 8, when Wanda is taken on a journey through her life- where she sees the growing reliance she has had on watching TV in order to escape from the misery of her circumstances. Watching The Dick Van Dyke Show with her parents in war-torn Sokovia, to seeing Malcolm in the Middle with Vision as she grieves the death of her brother. This portion of the series is a timely reflection of how many of us have come to rely on the media in order to help process, and escape from events of the last year, so it feels particularly poignant to see Wanda delve into this in later episodes.
An unintended pause of eighteen months in the release of MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) content seems to have worked in Marvel’s favour: after a decade of multiple movie releases a year, I have to admit that I, like others I’ve spoken to, found myself with Marvel fatigue. It’s satisfying to see them take things in a new direction for Phase 4 where hopefully more diverse and creative content will be able to take precedent over some of the more generic origin stories we have seen before.
A much more introspective look at grief than the MCU has previously allowed, the show released a new episode weekly to provide opportunity for fan discussion. Wild theories circulated before every episode, so it’s safe to say that no one knew exactly what was coming in the series finale. I was excited to see where it was going to end- but I had the feeling it was going to end sadly. This suspicion was confirmed by Teyonah Parris in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, who called the finale “epic and incredibly sad.” And there’s no better way to have put it. It ends in tragedy, and I was primed for this as I went in.
The finale was devastating in the best way.
It felt inevitable that Vision would slip away from Wanda once again, so watching him disappear and leave her alone again felt like a gut punch. Superhero tales are metaphors for events that happen to us in real life, and WandaVision was a really beautiful testament to the grieving process. Best of all, she isn’t villainized by the narrative for doing what she did. Monica’s line of, “I’d bring my mom back,” drives home the universality of Wanda’s experience: this is a human story told in a superhuman setting, and she doesn’t need to be punished for her actions.
"this is a human story told in a superhuman setting"
My eternal nemesis, The Rise of Skywalker, has the same ending as WandaVision. Our heroine loses her soulmate just when she thinks she has everything. I hated Skywalker- but love WandaVision for how well it handled the same tragedy: because it doesn’t shy away from the sadness of it. The finale of Skywalker sees Rey resigned to living her nightmare- alone in a desert- but the score didn’t seem to get the memo, with the triumphant Star Wars fanfare playing as if the film ended happily- when it didn’t. Wanda’s story comes to a close in the same way: her soulmate disappears, and she vanishes into the wilderness alone. If this were Star Wars they’d think it was enough to end there, but the post-credits scene shows us Wanda studying the Darkhold- the magical book belonging to the series antagonist Agatha (Kathryn Hahn)- on a mission to use her powers to reunite her family. She is still grieving. The audience knows that we’re in a dark place for her character. Rather than pretending everything’s okay, the show leans into the tragedy of the situation and the perseverance Wanda will need in order to proceed. This final scene is a woman refusing to let her lowest point be where her story ends. In the MCU everything is a set-up for something. Franchise content never truly allows its characters to have a ‘final’ ending and we already know it’s not the end of Wanda’s story. Despite being four films in, it still feels like we’re in the ‘set up’ stage of her character and, having now reached her darkest point, we know she is not giving up without a fight. Knowing that Wanda’s story will continue gives me hope for a happy ending to come in the future. The writers of this series had to continue the tragic arc that she followed in Endgame, so for now I’m just grateful for the sympathetic approach that WandaVision took to it.
It’s also important to note that Wanda’s story is the product of decades of Scarlet Witch comics and six years of development within the MCU. Clearly there is someone with a plan for her in mind- with the melancholy ending of WandaVision simply a stepping stone in a greater plan for her across the franchise. This is something that couldn’t be said for the finale of Skywalker, where the cast and crew have openly admitted that there were no finished plans for any of the characters even up until just weeks before release. By comparison, many of the tweaks that had to be made to WandaVision before release were due to COVID and timing issues: the main story went largely unchanged.
"After ten years in the MCU, it truly feels like we’re entering a new age for writing nuanced female characters that exist outside of the “strong female character” trope."
After ten years in the MCU, it truly feels like we’re entering a new age for writing nuanced female characters that exist outside of the “strong female character” trope. 2019’s Captain Marvel kicked it off with the line, “I have nothing to prove to you.” She acknowledged both her strength and mental fortitude simultaneously, in a way that I’ve never seen a woman in a blockbuster do before and I will never forget the way I felt watching that scene in the cinema. WandaVision’s series finale gave us, “I don’t need you to tell me who I am.” It’s part two of women in the MCU being allowed to be unbothered by others’ definitions of them. Wanda is a flawed character, with immense powers, who has made many mistakes: she is multifaceted in a way that feels realistic. I can only hope that the writers responsible for this new generation of female characters will be allocated to many more Marvel projects in the future.
For better or worse, the MCU is known for being superficial and full of clichés, so the more they are able to carve out smaller-scale, introspective stories for their characters, the better they will be able to resonate with their audience. WandaVision was a fantastic debut for Marvel on Disney+, and seeing how well it was handled gives me a lot of hope not only for Wanda’s character, but also for future shows such as Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki, both due for release later this year.
It’s hard to know where we’ll see Wanda Maximoff’s story pick up again- but we know for sure she will be returning for 2022’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Will it follow her mastering the powers of the Scarlet Witch? Will this be her journey to find her family? Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany have such chemistry when acting alongside each other that I can only hope we will see Wanda and Vision reunited in the near future.