WandaVision (2021) | Marvel - featured image

Marvel’s ‘WandaVision’ Echos Our Lasting Pandemic Grief

Addressing pandemic-induced topics such as loss, grief, and mental illness, Marvel’s ‘WandaVision’ serves as a metaphor for life in the time of COVID.

Jac Schaeffer
Marvel Studios / Disney
15 January 2021

Fast-forward to Hydra experimentation with the Mind Stone, where Wanda’s powers communed with the Stone and powered her up. She watched sitcoms while imprisoned there too. Fast-forward to after Pietro’s death, when she and Vision watched sitcoms while Vision tried to comfort her, beginning their romance. Fast-forward to after Thanos is defeated, and Wanda broke into SWORD demanding Vision’s body for burial. She found them experimenting on it, said goodbye, and left, heartbroken.

She went to Westview, where Vision had bought a plot of land to build a house for him and Wanda. And there, Wanda’s grief overwhelms her. Her magic burst forth, remaking the town, creating a version of Vision, and starting their idyllic life in a ‘50s sitcom. Creating the hex was involuntary, but since then Wanda has tried to maintain it.

This leads to the final episode, “The Series Finale”, which brings WandaVision to full MCU spectacle. Agatha identifies Wanda as “The Scarlet Witch”, a magical being capable of spontaneous creation and global destruction. Really, Agatha is angry that Wanda has so much innate power without any training. She makes Wanda confront the horror of what she has done to Westview, how she has imprisoned and tortured the residents. Wanda must end the hex, but that would also end her Vision and her twins.

If episode eight is therapy, episode nine is an intervention. Wanda has been self-medicating with magic to avoid her grief and trauma, and she has hurt people. Does she continue to do so, or does she give up the family illusion to start processing things in a healthy manner? Meanwhile, Hayward uses some of Wanda’s magic to activate the real Vision’s body, and he is sent in to attack. This is the emotionless White Vision from the comics, but Wanda’s Vision fights him. And then the fight quickly becomes a philosophical debate about logic, which is lovely.

But that fight, entertaining as it is, only pulls focus from Wanda. She and Agatha trade spells in the sky over Westview, and Wanda appears to give her power to Agatha. But she really creates runes inside the hex that prevent Agatha from using magic. With that, Wanda embraces her full Scarlet Witch powers, drains Agatha, and gains a great new costume. She forces Agatha to remain in Westview as her slightly inappropriate nosy neighbour persona which, as Agatha points out, is cruel.

Then Wanda has to say goodbye. She and Vision tuck the twins into bed and say goodnight. Wanda and Vision then share a proper goodbye, something they were denied in reality. Wanda identifies Vision as the part of the Mind Stone in her, but also as her sadness, her hope, and her love manifested. They end on a hopeful note, with the possibility of seeing each other again, and then Wanda ends the hex. As she leaves town amidst the glares of the townspeople she tormented for a week, Wanda promises Monica that she will come to understand her extensive powers.

And that is WandaVision. Some viewers bemoaned the show when it dropped the sitcom pretense and “went full MCU”, but I strongly disagree with that criticism. First, as I pointed out, the last two episodes continue Wanda’s emotional journey to Acceptance through a form of exposure therapy and intervention. Agatha confronts Wanda with scenes of her actual trauma, with no escape. She later releases the townspeople from Wanda’s control and they encircle Wanda to reveal the torture she has caused. And the show allows her to say goodbye to Vision.

Vision is an illusion, but that is no less helpful than speaking to a loved one at their gravesite. WandaVision beautifully tells the story of a woman processing her issues. It is messy and, in the end, it is not fully resolved, but that is life. The show presents Wanda’s emotional journey in an incredibly well-produced, entertaining package, first with decade-hopping sitcoms, then with MCU-style spectacle, but it never loses focus. This nine-episode series is a remarkably singular vision, and credit for that goes primarily to Jac Shaeffer, the showrunner.

Shaeffer achieves this feat with excellent direction from Matt Shakman, who perfectly juggles the ever-shifting tones and eras to make the story sing. WandaVision is undoubtedly a team effort, with every department needing to create work that feels both true to the overall show and true to whatever era in which it is set. That goes for music, costumes, set design, visual effects, everything.

Finally, I need to give special praise to the actors, primarily Olsen, Bettany, and Hahn. Superhero properties rarely receive recognition for acting, but these three performances are remarkable. Olsen in particular gives a career-best performance. She manages to create a character that is always Wanda but also credibly exists in each era that is presented. She channels sitcom wives from Lucille Ball to Julie Bowen. But under the surface, there is always the pain and sorrow and anger, and that breaks through subtly at perfect times. Indeed, her transition from seemingly together ‘50s housewife to a broken, grief-stricken woman is heartbreaking and somehow, despite the fantastical elements, credible.

She is matched by Bettany, who also plays all the modes of the eras, but also allows his creeping doubt and confusion to gradually seep in. But Hahn gives the showiest, most memorable performance. Her Agnes is the bawdy, standout, fan-favourite supporting character regardless of the era. And she plays a witch very well. Hahn has always been a highly talented character actor, improving any show she appears in. This is a long-overdue showcase for her many, varied talents.

Marvel debated whether to release WandaVision week-to-week or as a single episode drop to be binged. They were inspired by the success of The Mandalorian (2019-present), the first major Disney+ series, to release the series mostly weekly. They intended to drop the first three episodes on 15 January 2020, with weekly episodes after that. But post-production was so frantic that the last episode would not have been ready in time. They instead dropped two episodes at first that ran until 5 Marc.

It is difficult to gauge viewing numbers, as Disney does not release the data, but analysts believe it was the most-watched title on any streaming service in January 2021. It also received 23 nominations in the 2021 Emmy Awards, winning three. Its success was no great surprise. After no Marvel Studios property being released for 18 months, the MCU fanbase was clamouring for something.

But WandaVisions‘ success goes beyond the support of the fanbase. The general population is suffering from the trauma and grief of Covid. Perhaps they have gotten sick, or lost loved ones without being able to say goodbye properly. At the very least, they were – and many still are – suffering from job changes, closures, lockdowns, or quarantines. Amidst this, here is a show that confronts grief and trauma and, in a way, a quarantine. Unintentionally, the show examines what the world is feeling. It also presents this examination in a highly entertaining, nostalgic, largely comforting manner.

During the pandemic shutdown, a lot of people were yearning for simpler days (even if they were only a year prior), and they were struggling with their mental health. WandaVision was inadvertently the perfect show at the perfect time. It is important to remember that context because it elevates the series beyond simply a very well-made show.

On a lighter note, the weekly release schedule also allowed viewers to connect over the show, and trade theories or reactions. These theories got a bit out of control, however. On the one hand, the filmmakers had remarkable insight into viewers’ reactions to the show, as evidenced by episode four. In that episode, Jimmy and Darcy become basically fans of the show, and they ask many of the same questions that viewers were asking online. But on the other hand, the MCU is known for seeding its films with references and easter eggs to larger characters or plotlines.

And so, people took to social media to insist, for example, that the demon Mephisto would play a role in the show, or that Benedict Cumberbatch would definitely make an appearance as Dr. Strange. This, even despite the fact that it would not fit the story being told or it would pull focus from Wanda.

When Monica mentions an astrophysicist, fans insisted that WandaVision would introduce Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four. When Evan Peters appeared as Pietro, fans insisted that this signalled the merging of the MCU with Fox’s X-Men films. None of these things were true. The theories made the show very buzzy, and it dominated the pop culture conversation for seven weeks. Fans intent on these theories ended up disappointed.

But that is not the fault of WandaVision or its filmmakers. A series such as this, a “puzzle box show”, is not required to solve every mystery or pay off every reference. It would be far less interesting if it did. What is required of this series and any series is to remain relevant to the emotional truth of the characters. WandaVision does that perfectly. It tells a deep, emotional character study of coping with grief and trauma, and it packages it in a highly entertaining veneer of classic sitcoms and superheroic spectacle. Phase 4 of the MCU started with WandaVision, and it may not get much better.

Credits Scene(s): 

-The mid-credits scene sees Monica visited by an alien Skrull who wants to recruit her on behalf of a friend of Monica’s mother. This may set up The Captain Marvel sequel, The Marvels (Dacosta, 2022) or the Disney+ series Secret Invasion (2022)

-The post-credits scene finds Wanda seemingly at peace in an isolated cabin. But inside, her astral form is studying the Darkhold, a book of magic from Agatha. Wanda hears what sounds like the twins calling to her, and she closes the book. See her next in Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022)

Marvel Cinematic Universe Viewing Order:

The film takes place three weeks after Avengers: Endgame, which is technically earlier than Spider-Man: Far From Home. But I like to keep things in their Phases, so this will launch Phase 4.

Phase 1

  1. Iron Man
  2. Iron Man 2
  3. Thor
  4. The Incredible Hulk
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger
  6. The Avengers

Phase 2

  1. Iron Man 3
  2. Thor: The Dark World
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  5. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  6. Ant-Man

Phase 3

  1.  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  2. Captain America: Civil War
  3.  Black Panther
  4. Doctor Strange
  5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  6. Thor: Ragnarok
  7.  Ant-Man and the Wasp
  8. Avengers: Infinity War
  9. Captain Marvel
  10. Avengers: Endgame
  11. Spider-Man: Far From Home

Phase 4

  1. WandaVision

Next Time: Can the MCU’s second Disney+ series live up to the success of WandaVision?? (spoiler: no)