Marvel Studios has concluded its 9-episode series WandaVision; and it’s been such a delight to see such a tight and impactful series that it was almost as painful to see it end. Marvel has been incredibly adept at putting human layers into their superheroes, giving them real dimension, and we have seen the signs of grief and loss played out in their other movies… but never like this. Part mystery, part Twilight Zone, WandaVision has been less about superheroes and more about psychoses.
There are a lot of Marvel fans who likely didn’t get anything out of WandaVision until the very last episode’s superhero fights. And that’s fine, if you’re into that. But for those who want a bit more depth to their characters, this series throws you into the deep end at the beginning. Early episodes used the sitcom trope to lull viewers into complacency; then would throw in a sudden odd moment that Wanda would somehow alter and reset into something more expected. If you didn’t yawn and miss it, you found yourself thinking, “What did I just see?” And hopefully that whetted your appetite for more of the mystery. What was this story really about?
WandaVision is essentially the story of one character, Wanda Maximoff, and an episode of her thoroughly traumatic life. Over the years, Wanda has lost her parents to war as a child, submitted to experiments in the hopes of somehow changing the world, fought with the robot Ultron when she thought it shared the same mission, then rebelled against it when she realized the robot intended planetary genocide, lost her brother in the war against Ultron, and finally lost her love in the Infinity War. Notice a pattern?
At this point, we should address the elephant in the room: Yes, Wanda was in love with an artificial being—a robot, essentially, the very being that Ultron was creating as the next generation of itself. Though the being, named Vision, was very intelligent, with incredible compassion for its young age, it’s hard to imagine a woman falling in love with a machine, especially one whose original intention was to destroy the world. Still, if you recall the movie Her, about a lonely man who falls in love with a disembodied computer voice, maybe the idea isn’t so far-fetched given the right circumstances.
WandaVision gives us an idea of how that strange relationship blossomed, and it may have been as simple as Vision being the warmest and most sympathetic of her new comrades, the Avengers; in times of stress or grief, as Wanda was after she lost her brother, sometimes all it takes is one sympathetic person to become the anchor for a griever. And if Vision was Wanda’s anchor, it apparently didn’t matter to her that he wasn’t human.
So when he, too, was lost to her in the Infinity War battle, Wanda went through the first of the classic stages of grief: Shock and denial of Vision’s loss on the battlefield; pain, and though we don’t know how much guilt she felt, she channeled her anger into a second battle; later bargaining with SWORD over Vision’s dismantled body; and finally, depression and disconnection when she realized she couldn’t feel Vision’s “soul” any more. We are first led to believe she stole the body, but in fact she walked away from what she considered an empty shell.
From there, things get interesting, because Wanda was in a unique position to act on her grief. This, too, isn’t unusual in loss, and those who suffer it often choose something else in which to channel their feelings, whether it’s a person, a pet, or a pursuit. But using her magic, Wanda created a new Vision, an identical surrogate for her lost love. She also created an idyllic home for them to live in, based around childhood memories of happy homes from sitcoms she grew up watching. From a standpoint of loss, regression is also not unusual; it’s just that Wanda can take regression a lot more literally than most.
And so we find ourselves witnessing a textbook case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of the worst kind, compounded by the fact that Wanda’s pain is causing others pain… specifically, the entire town of Westview that becomes captive to her personal needs. It takes a few episodes before the audience starts to realize what the townspeople are being put through, thanks to the distractions of the changing sitcom backgrounds, and the audience’s predilection for trying to guess what comes next, good, bad or indifferent. The audience’s reaction was much like knowing a PTSD individual in a struggling house, and the individual’s problems in order to quietly try to guess whether the household will settle in or fall apart.
Eventually, Wanda’s influence on things outside her home must be dealt with, at the same time that elements within her house start to break down; Vision realizes that his life isn’t real, his memories are gone, and he doesn’t enjoy being Wanda’s unwilling tool. As is typical of sitcoms, in fact most American television, and quite honestly real life, when there’s a conflict or misunderstanding, the characters rarely sit down and work out their differences, but instead double down on whatever subterfuge they have in place, and problems get worse. So Wanda and Vision start to drift apart, leaving them vulnerable to outside forces.
They manage to regroup in time to repel the inevitable bad guys, in a battle most superhero fans were surely waiting for; but in the process, Wanda must again confront her forced captivity of the townspeople, and the mental torture which she didn’t realize (or wouldn’t acknowledge) she was putting them through. She finally manages to shut down the hex that held the town captive… but in so doing, she also loses everything that was created to restore her, including her Vision. A few of the characters realize how impactful that is to Wanda, but most of them have themselves been traumatized by her, and just want her gone. So Wanda leaves, flying at full speed out of Westview in sadness and shame.
She ends up isolating herself, for privacy and to avoid hurting anyone, in a house in a distant forest, where she tries to gain more knowledge and control of her powers—in a scene reminiscent of the end of Ed Norton’s The Incredible Hulk, which seemed to have a positive effect on Bruce Banner. Will isolation work for Wanda? There’s no telling. After all, not all methods of dealing with grief or loss work the same on different people, and self-isolation can often exacerbate mental issues in unexpected ways.
So, in 9 episodes, WandaVision has managed to delve into levels of emotional turmoil deeper than any other character we’ve seen in the MCU, a deep psychosis that has spread the character’s pain among multiple innocents, and most significantly, has not yet been, and may never be, fully salved.
I’m an old school fan of psychological SF series like The Twilight Zone, The Prisoner, Mr. Robot, etc, and recognize how seldom we get content of that nature or quality from television. As soon as I realized from the trailers that this is where the series was going, I thought: Super battles are great; but I’ll eat up psychological stories anytime. And WandaVision was a true feast.