Spoiler Alert! This article reveals several events in “WandaVision;” stop reading now if you haven’t watched the miniseries yet.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot in America. Without the ability to go out and have fun, many of us have found some solace by watching T.V. Marvel, along with most other superhero movies, occupies a unique space in the American consciousness. Superheroes stand at the forefront of reinforcing American culture, as argued in the Harvard political review. Marvel has experienced a revival over the last 10 years, starting with “Iron Man” in 2008, and most recently with “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” While these works are an excellent way to study American culture, as superheroes in many cases reflect heavily on the cultures of the place they were created, they also offer a wonderful medium to look at more intense topics, like grief. “WandaVision,” which premiered in January, did a masterful job of this.
The miniseries’ beginning is set after the events of Infinity War, where Wanda Maximoff’s love interest Vision was murdered. The episodes then carry on through the decades, each a riff on different cultural classics, leading up to the last three episodes in which Wanda Maximoff is forced to face reality — and not the one she created.
Throughout the show, Wanda reimagines herself from an emigrant of the fictional country of Sokovia to the classic American housewife. The audience later discovers that Wanda is responsible for creating the world she lives in; by harnessing her powers, she was able to create her own slice of a perfect life. We also find out that Wanda has taken control of an entire town and is essentially holding the people of Westview hostage. When Wanda fights with the evil Agatha Harkness, who momentarily frees the townspeople from the grip of Wanda’s magic, she is bombarded by their pleas to her for their release.
Wanda’s hostages grieve their loss of autonomy and their old lives. They can only sleep when she allows them, and they are unable to return home to their families, much like we have all gone without seeing our loved ones over the past year. The grief that the townspeople of Westview feel is similar to the grief we’ve felt throughout the pandemic. People throughout the world have experienced varying degrees of loss: from football games to time with friends to the people we care about.
Despite Wanda’s misgivings and flaws, it’s hard not to root for her. Few characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have had a backstory quite as sad as Wanda’s. Both of her parents were killed in a missile strike when they were young, her twin brother dies during their first mission as part of the Avengers and Vision, the one person who she can share her grief with, is murdered in front of her eyes. “WandaVision” was unique in the MCU because of its focus on the relationship between Wanda and Vision as well as her relationship with her kids. We are given intimate insight into their love, and even if imagined, it feels real and relatable to all of us. Wanda’s grief over losing her loved ones leads her to do horrible things, which the audience fails to blame her for — perhaps out of some sense that in her position, they would do the same.
Superhero movies and shows have often been criticized for being one-dimensional. The good guys will always triumph; they will always be moral actors, and if not moral, they will at least do what they legitimately believe is for the common good — even if it isn’t. In some ways, “WandaVision” fits that mold. Wanda defeats Agatha, her twins defeat the government and the good Vision defeats the bad, destructive Vision. In the end, the good guys won.
However, the Good Guys Always Win trope is also subverted. Her victory over Agatha is pyrrhic. Wanda is forced to give it all up: her powers, the idyllic world she has created for herself and her family, and in the process, her family as well. Vision and her children evaporate into nothingness and Wanda leaves the home she planned to share with Vision once again empty-handed. The people whom she held hostage are set free, but the harm caused to them is likely to have lasting consequences that will be hard to overcome, in the same way millions of us will now have to work to overcome the trauma that the pandemic wrought on us.
Ultimately, “WandaVision” begs a simple question: what would you do if you had the power to create your own idealized life? It goes without saying that life is painful for a multitude of reasons. Losing a loved one is an extreme example, but it is an experience that most people deal with at some point in their lives. With Wanda’s powers, one could create their own slice of a “perfect” life and resurrect any loved ones gone too soon. But by doing this, you would knowingly hurt perfectly innocent strangers. None of us want to admit that we’d even consider that trade-off; however, many of us long for a way to end life’s suffering, and like Wanda, would probably take extreme measures to get relief from our own. “WandaVision” was an excellent exploration of grief, and timely for us to witness after the year of death brought about by COVID-19.