by Arhana Aatresh (’23)| March 29, 2021
For over a year, many people have been sequestered in their homes, besieged by grim headlines and death tolls, with little respite. Thankfully, media in forms ranging from movies and television shows to books and podcasts have provided an outlet for many. WandaVision, Marvel Studios’ first release since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and another foray into television made for a streaming service, has served as a welcome breath of fresh air while artfully reflecting many people’s stew of emotions, through its main character’s experience with inconsolable grief, albeit with unorthodox, powerful coping mechanisms. WandaVision follows Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), a reality-manipulating and telekinetic human first introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). She grapples with her utter loneliness after returning from being “dusted” for five years, as she lost her home, parents, brother, and loved one Vision (Paul Bettany), a synthezoid. She was forced to watch these traumatic events and even in partake in one.
The first few episodes, each set in a different television era, depict Wanda and Vision, seemingly alive and memory-wiped, living a seemingly perfect suburban life as a married couple with children in the town of Westview, with a cast of zany characters, if not for some suspicious mishaps. Occurrences, such as the revelation of her neighbor as the powerful witch Agatha Harkness and Vision’s increasing suspicion of his life in Westview complicate Wanda’s fantasy, forcing her to go through extraordinary lengths to maintain her world—the Hex.
Simultaneously, outside this sitcom fantasy, Captain Monica Rambeau, FBI Agent Jimmy Woo, and Dr. Darcy Lewis, all introduced in previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies, investigate the Hex by tuning into the sitcom that we, the viewers, have already watched. In a series of emotional flashbacks of Wanda’s life, depicting her compounding and overwhelming anguish, the viewers discover that Wanda wields her powers to manifest the Hex’s Vision and the entire Hex: a revelation with massive implications for the future of the MCU. Wanda gains the moniker ”The Scarlet Witch,” triumphs over Agatha to face her grief, and dissolves the Hex, taking Vision and her children with it, and leaving her with nothing, again.
Each episode, set in a different decade with period-appropriate jokes and catchy theme songs, provide a rich viewing experience. The creative team’s attention to detail, including a live studio audience for the 50’s episode and era-appropropriate special effects and lighting, was appreciated by a fanbase known for discerning easter eggs and small details. The use of sitcom parodies to subvert expectations effectively sets viewers on edge, as the sitcom world slowly crumbles. With a Disney-esque villain song that topped the iTunes charts, set design reminiscent of The Brady Bunch, confessionals similar to those of Modern Family, and animation like that of Bewitched, WandaVision offers something special for all fans.
However, the show is not without its faults. Although it powerfully depicted Wanda handling her grief, her transition to acceptance of her loss in the final episode was abrupt. The show seemed to set up Captain Rambeau as a foil to Wanda, as the former had just lost her mother, but forwent this meaningful juxtaposition for an epic hero-villain showdown, not leaving much time for the viewers to understand Wanda’s change in mind. In another instance of setting up yet not addressing a storyline, the introduction of Wanda’s dead brother Quicksilver, who was replaced with the X-Men franchise’s actor for the character (Evan Peters), was played off as a joke, leaving viewers confused about its significance.
Most importantly, WandaVision is a message of hope in this time of loss. Just as Wanda denied her loss at the start of the show, many people continued functioning normally at the start of the pandemic, denying that anything had changed. Wanda’s selfish response to her trauma, involving holding an entire town hostage, reflected how many people’s relationships deteriorated at the start of the pandemic, due to unresolved internal issues. The show works to reframe grief in a different context, explaining how facing it is vastly healthier than suppressing the intense emotion. After a year of sorrow, we could all learn a lesson from Wanda, and work to acknowledge our different world, rather than maintaining an idealized version of the world in our heads. One must remember that it is natural to feel these emotions; what matters is how we handle them. As Vision eloquently explains in a flashback as only a synthezoid could, “What is grief, if not love persevering?”