Monday, March 15, 2021

WandaVision (2021)

I've always liked Wanda, but mostly watched her show without a lot of expectations. After it was over, there was a lot more than I thought I'd need to get off my chest about her arc, Vision, and their series WandaVision as an essay? rant? rave? It contains spoilers. Read at your own risk. 

Wanda’s powers has grown in tandem with her emotions - how to understand what she's capable of, how others feared her, and what she has to do to protect her loved ones. Since she and her brother Pietro debuted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2012, she’s had more than her fair share of repressed emotions to sort through.  Her abilities were, after all, born out of a "hopeful" act of revenge against Tony Stark – whose bombs killed both of their parents and nearly left them for dead. It wasn’t long before they switched teams to The Avengers. With enough pain to wield once Pietro was caught in the crossfire, we got a taste of what she could do if she was affected deeply enough: decimating all of Ultron’s clones and ripping out another murder-bot's vibranium "heart" with her hands. 

What’s made her formidable over the years is that her abilities let her do anything she sets her mind to. They’ve always been consumed or transformed her sense of self through heartache and growth, and defining who she is with and without Vision. She began to learn how to curb her skills until a fiery explosion forced her into internment with Vision at the compound in Captain America: Civil War. Not only did she and Vision connect over their link to the Mind Stone, her escape to stand up against The Accords began when Wanda was reminded she could free herself by crushing him into the surface, “I can’t control other people’s fears, only my own.” The question of her arc so far was never that she wasn’t powerful, but what she could do if she was totally in control of herself. The answer eventually came two-fold.

Age of Ultron

The first was after she sacrificed Vision in Avengers: Infinity War. Her and Vision only got a brief reprieve to be normal and free after they went rogue against The Accords. And, then Thanos brought them back to reality. The Avengers did everything they could to ensure that Vision didn’t have to be sacrificed, almost for the sake of Wanda and not trading one life for another. Eventually, she had to do it anyways. It was her love for him that made her resist killing him for the Mind Stone, and it was his love for her that made him swore he wouldn’t feel pain – only her – when she finally had to. Given the opportunity to make Thanos pay for what he did to her in Avengers: Endgame, she vowed to make him remember who she was so violently that he forced his own army to start firing away at everyone on the ground and distracted him long enough for Captain Marvel to arrive as backup.

The second time the question of Wanda’s abilities is answered is with WandaVision. After the Blip brought everybody back who was killed from Thanos’s Snap, Wanda is forced to face losing Vision for good. In their own fragile bubble, they live out their relationship under the veil of old tv shows until more clues and several intruders prove nothing is what it seems. Since love and loss is nothing new to Wanda, it’s not surprising that her series goes to the heart of everything she’s experienced to inform what she’s capable of. But what is surprising is how much the series semi-limits itself into delving more into what makes Wanda so rare as a female character – to be powerful and emotional, and not have to wear either one on her sleeves.


In the beginning, the first few episodes, there’s a sweet escapism to what Wanda is trying to achieve. The series is focused and clear on what it wants to be – to let Wanda wipe the slate clean and run the show of her own life. An unrequited pang of yearning infuses every moment between Wanda and Vision because we know as the audience, for all of the charming moments of wedded bliss, marital squabbles, and having kids, it’s not meant to be. As much as we can try to believe this is how their life could be in another universe, this one is only tangible because it’s by Wanda’s design. She’s controlling of everything – the lines, characters, plots, and editing out the parts that don’t fit in with her narrative.

Watching the show unfold every week made Wanda’s creation was liberating – who wouldn’t want to edit out 2020, where our escape has been found in tv shows and movies, and then we have to be reminded of the insanity of our governments, the pandemic, and much more. Once we find reprieve, we find a million more reasons to hold our breath or wait for the other shoe to drop. Of course, in the long run, the depth with how we immerse ourselves in escape might not become healthy; but again, the escapism is meaningful now to cope with the present and is the future when we look back on what helped us pull through.

Where this lasted the best was letting WandaVision feel like a real creation of her own, seamlessly transforming the aesthetic and mood from decade to decade. Even if the writing of WandaVision leaves a lot to be desired, there’s no mistaking how swell the production design was to make the 1940s to 1990s come alive so well from the practical and special effects to the costume and attention to running gags. The pairing of Wanda and Vision might've not been the most popular in the MCU, but the chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany was enough in WandaVision to make you love them much more now. Both of their performances were impressive and fun, playing their contemporary characters trying to navigate her nostalgia, but also being very aware that they didn’t belong in the time periods they found themselves in.

You could say most of the series loosely stand in for one of the five stages of grief. There are moments that try to bridge the gap between despair and reconciliation for Wanda – her kids aging themselves to run from their own emotions; deflecting her own pain by making herself pregnant or giving the kids a dog; Wanda seeing the corpses of her loved ones against the backdrop of episodes full of pratfalls and laugh-tracks. With every episode, Wanda kept coming closer to realizing her own actions, only to revert back to becoming possessive and defensive. Gradually, the same emotional dam that broke for her to create WandaVision is eventually the same one that has to fall for her to move on. 

Breaking the fourth wall

When Wanda helmed the narrative, it was enough to see the pangs and lengths she'd go to just to keep her fantasy alive. But her emotions were mostly explored on the surface because the series had other ideas to insert. From the first episode's ending, we were made aware that another character was watching her, so eventually we would find out who and why. But once that reveal was made - director of S.W.O.R.D. Tyler Hayward, Monica Rambeau, Darcy, and Jimmy Choo's investigations - it wasn't as interesting. 

Gradually, the show attempted to cover Wanda's arc from two angles - her and Visions' perspective and what other people think of her. Again, this was a nice nod to her arc in Captain America: Civil War when she decides she can't control other people's fears - only her own. But it more or less gave Marvel a reason to be transparent about the next phase. For every mild curiosity Wanda and Vision had about their world, and we had about them, it was treated as exposition for spin-offs, include nods to other franchises, and show off comic book easter eggs that never came to fruition. For the episodes to only run 25 minutes with 10 minutes of credits, it wasn't enough time to explore everything at once.

This dual approach with the plot also meant that the series had to have two villains. After creating other more dynamic antagonists – Loki, Erik Killmonger, Thanos, Hela, etc. – the power hungry S.W.O.R.D. director wanting to use Vision for his dirty work was repetitive and cliche. There was nothing compelling about his motives or wanting to see Monica stand up against him or for her to reach out to Wanda (except for the loose link that they both lost someone in the Snap), if I'm being honest. 

And, the other villain was Agatha Harkness. She originally guest-starred in Wanda’s show as a nosy neighbor, only to be revealed as a witch wanting to earn Wanda’s powers for her own. As much as I loved Katharyn Hahn’s performance and their final showdown, her over-the-top presence was the only thing that made me suspicious of her. All of the signs of her true identity was saved for a brief flash back montage and the last two episodes, so it didn't feel like there was an adequate build-up. And ‘the big reveal’ that she was in control of herself in Wanda’s environment left more questions – why didn’t Wanda detect that Agatha wasn’t a part of her world like everyone else; how did Agatha even end up specifically in her world at the right time and place; why has her punishment only to end up being a brainwashed nosy neighbor "forever," (spin-off or future project impending), etc.

Just when it seemed like Wanda and Vision were going to explore her world more, it transitioned into a contemporary CSI show with Modern Family superheroic leanings that struggled to live up to its original concept.

Wanda. Welcome Home.

Since death has always haunted Wanda in reality, it makes sense that it trails her in a constructed reality. After Pietro was killed in Age of Ultron, she told one of the robots that she felt like she died too. It's no coincidence that later in Infinity War after she could do nothing but watch Vision die twice, she "died" almost immediately with the Snap.  Similarly, one of the main connections between Wanda and Vision is their pure emotions - when she has to sacrifice him in Infinity War, he swears he doesn't feel any pain - only her love. So, it stands to reason that her inability to feel him as Hayward salvages Vision for parts gives birth to need to feel his presence and the love that he had for her - even if the circumstances are make-believe. It begs to bargain how many episodes recognized the five stages of death (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) for her to return to the real world, and the  dissociation and only wanting life to be as it could be; shutting people out who want to help her, becoming possessive and vindictive. For Wanda to genuinely move beyond Vision's death, she has to fully own all of her feels and move from passive to active acceptance in order for the series to work, and I'm not sure that it does.

Wanda's renewed sense of self and the emergence of Scarlett Witch wouldn't have come to fruition without the bad-ass showdown against Agatha. However, it also came with strings attached because that battle was an attempt to pass the torch of blame from Wanda holding the townspeople hostage to Agatha. But Wanda is still the main culprit. Monica ultimately lets her walk away under the guise that her sacrificing Vision is what helped them come back in the Blip. So, here was an opportunity for Wanda to take responsibility, now that The Accords seem moot now, and it left her looking too unsympathetic to the people she held hostage. 

Additionally, Wanda's farewell to Vision had strings attached since Tyler Hayward resurrected the real Vision at the S.W.O.R.D. headquarters. The fake Vision is able to fend him off by making him recognize who he is, leaving the real Vision to fly away- not to be seen again. Maybe Wanda will see the real Vision again and they can truly have what they envisioned, but it feels too much like Marvel winking at us about future projects. From the outside, it's tough to say that this goodbye the whole series is based on feels entirely earned. (Again, to steal the title card from Marvel's end credits: Wanda and Vision Will Return.)

WandaVision is her story – that’s clear. Knowing the pain that Wanda has been in since seeing Vision killed twice (and then salvaged for parts by Hayward), the whole show's concept is her response to that grief. The first episodes and bits of the finale fall in line with how she's taken her emotions and transformed them; when one part of her life dies, another is reborn to make her stronger than before. It took every once of her pain to create a wall of protection from her emotions, and it took every ounce of her liberation to get the closure she needed and to emerge with Scarlett Witch. The new question is whether or not Marvel knows how to let her own her powers without giving up a piece of her mental health do it.
Vision: We have said goodbye before, so it stands to reason
Wanda: We'll say hello again?

No comments:

Post a Comment