WandaVision‘s first few episodes were onto something brilliant. Equal parts heart-warming and disturbing, we watched Wanda live out the life she deserves: loving, stable, idyllic.
Many rejoiced in how the often formulaic Marvel Cinematic Universe was stretching its creative muscles. Far from the world-ending stakes of Avengers: Endgame, here, we were tuning in every week to watch Wanda play housewife. Begging for a simple life, and rejecting reality. Creating her own rather than face the horrors in the world. Every week, we saw the perfect life that she and many of us want, but knowing the entire time that this would not last. How could it? Wanda’s life is full of misery, she isn’t allowed something so simple.
As the cracks begun to show – the radio disruptions, the drone, the S.W.O.R.D, agent – it became increasingly obvious that the most powerful Avenger was not well. After all, she’s lost her parents, brother, and boyfriend. No mater what she did, or what side she fought for, she could not protect the people she loves, and was at the mercy of someone with more power; her happiness was just colleterial damage.
Dealing with grief and hopelessness, WandaVision could not have been timed more perfectly. As we finally approach what appears to be the end of Coronavirus related lockdowns, there’s cause for celebration for many, but for others, nothing will bring back what we lost. Loved ones, jobs, homes, ways of life: snapped away, not coming back. This is especially true in the U.K., which is still in strict lockdown while other countries with fewer deaths re-open. It’s been a year, and we can’t hug our family members, we can’t see our other halves – we’re stuck in the same grief-purgatory as Wanda.
Given half the chance, I’m sure many of us would snap our fingers and live out the perfect cereal-box-family life as the Vision household. Marvel should have been confident enough in that we relate to Wanda, that they don’t need to pretend she was heroic at the end by letting the Westview residents free.
Was it strong of her to destroy the Hex? Absolutely. But hurt people can hurt too, and that’s exactly what she was doing. Wanda didn’t have to realize that – people can often justify anything in their head, good intentions or otherwise – but we did not need Monica Rambeau to look at the camera and tell us everything is fine. That the nameless mass of Westview just need to get to know Wanda better. Everyone in the show could have despised the Scarlet Witch for what she did, and it wouldn’t have made her any less loveable to many in the audience – it’s almost therapeutic to watch someone make the same mistake we would make if we had her powers.
Some members of the audience would not sympathize. They would not see enough good to outweigh the bad, but that’s the price you pay for having a well-written character. This crowd would still have enjoyed WandaVision, just think of all the prestige television shows that rely on a polarizing protagonist. What this crowd didn’t want was to be treated like assholes for criticizing her, which unfortunately, the finale sort of does.
For proof of that just look at our antagonists. Director Hayward was written as a moustache-twirling villain, with motives that didn’t entirely make sense, other than cruelness for cruelness sake. In terms of his dealing with the Hex, it certainly made sense, as he represents the toxic view of not sympathizing with victims, never ending the cycle of abuse. Pre-Hex though? Hayward either gets off on being an ass, or cannot read the room to save his life. Even keeping him as the epitome of toxic-masculinity, it was baffling why he couldn’t at least pretend of be kind to Wanda when she came to visit Vision’s body. Why he didn’t use some PR talk to make what he and S.W.O.R.D. are doing sound less villain-y. But there is one reason why Hayward is so over-the-top evil: it makes Wanda look better in comparison.
Then we get to Agatha Harkness. While never exactly one of the good guys, the writers definitely dialed up the villainy in her MCU debut. Agatha certainly had better and more believable motivations than Hayward, and made for one of the best (and catchiest) twists of the series, but her purpose felt underwhelming, as she was used as a big-bad in a series that didn’t need one. A foil to Wanda’s fragile psyche? Absolutely. The penultimate episode where she forces her to confront all of her trauma was brilliant, but it was a waste to have her amount to a fight of purple magics vs. red magic.
It’s telling that the writers scrapped the comic’s original plotline, where it was the Avengers who had to take down Wanda. No, her opponents this time around were unambiguously bad, and her victims an occasional inconvenience. Sure, I don’t think any of us expected (or wanted) an Infinity War style team up to take down the Hex, but at the very least, many of us thought Dr. Strange would make an appearance, teaching Wanda with empathy but also disapproval on how to use her powers.
For audience members like myself that adored Wanda, and couldn’t help but forgive her at every turn, this wasn’t a problem. However, the viewers that (quite rightly) take issue with holding an entire town hostage deserve better. If you don’t side with Wanda, who do you have? Monica, Jimmy and Darcy can’t bring themselves to say a bad thing about her. The victims are a nameless mob. You’re only left with a couple of homicidal antagonists.
Does this mean WandaVision failed? Absolutely not, and far from it. Frankly, it’s a step in the right direction that the MCU has given us enough nuance to actually debate. These discussions aren’t a reach, reading too much into the source material. The topic of grief and cycles of abuse are not one I expected to be discussing in the context of a Disney Plus show.
WandaVision started bold, but in the final episode it retreated into the safe embrace of tired tropes – saving the day in a big CGI battle, philosophy be damned. This doesn’t detract from the earlier episodes, however, which explored the very real trauma of never having any stability in your life. I only hope that future MCU storylines won’t get self conscious about you not liking the hero: good people do bad things, and that’s fine.