Content Warning: Mentions of War Trauma, PTSD, Depression
WandaVision follows Wanda Maximoff (played by Elisabeth Olsen) or the Scarlet Witch after the epic battle of Avengers: Endgame. First aired on 15 January 2021, it’s a journey of loss, grief, healing, and self-realisation journey. Wanda Maximoff has been repeatedly claimed as one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe by fans of the comics and the cinematic universe. The show, featuring as the first instalment of Phase 4 of MCU, is the first time that the fans get a close glimpse of Wanda’s character, her past as well as her developmental arc. With a unique approach towards the plot devices, cinematography, and Marvel’s characteristic easter eggs, the show captures the audience in an enthralling 9-episode-run.
The show progresses like a time capsule— it starts from the early 60s in American suburbs and slowly unfurls itself towards the much-awaited present reality. Each of the nine episodes impersonates tropes of American sitcoms as they developed through the years. This technique gives the audience a feeling that something is amiss, thus setting in a tone of trepidation throughout the series. References to classic American family sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, and Malcolm in the Middle are tied with Wanda’s grief and her desperate urge to escape her post-Endgame reality.
The first three episodes are filmed in classic three-angle, black and white frames, which later proceed into colour and more modern filming techniques. Slowly, the audience progresses from watching a parody sitcom to watching WandaVision. Music, the closing scene of every episode, costumes, and language facilitates the progression of time and the breaking of Wanda’s illusion. The show’s cinematography foreshadows Wanda’s war-torn childhood in Sokovia, where the American suburban life was glorified and presented as the pinnacle of western idealism, as reflected in Wanda’s make-believe town of Westview. True to its fashion, Marvel drops easter eggs through advertisements that break every episode into two parts. These are usually tied to the larger MCU universe and add a little touch to connect every era shown in the series with the other avengers.
The plot brings into focus the delicate but firm line between self-preservation and self-destruction. Wanda copes with the loss of Vision (played by Paul Bettany) through escapism. Her illusion resembles the environment her childhood self found fascinating. The story depicts not only her grief after the war but also her unresolved childhood trauma. Unlike the hitherto Marvel storylines full of larger than life dilemmas and heroic moral purposes, WandaVison zooms in on personal battles. Wanda’s story negates the unrealistic moral binaries of good and bad. She traps others in her bid to escape her sorrows, establishing that heroes aren’t immune from making mistakes; they are equally responsible to repent for them— a characteristic which Marvel has been blamed for not acknowledging in its entertainment media.
The audience accompanies Wanda in her trajectory of experiencing the five stages of grief. With a refreshing addition of traditional witch lore and the history of Scarlet Witch, the audience gains the depth of Wanda’s powers and the accession to her superhero persona. The character of Darcy Lewis (played by Kat Dennings) amusingly becomes the audience’s voice, commenting on Wanda and Vision’s story in her characteristically sarcastic and grounding way. Agnes (played by Kathryn Hahn) brings out the snarky nosy neighbour trope, expertly morphing into the ‘dark witch’ disposition.
Although the show’s cast did an amazing job portraying the multitude of themes, specific plot devices were so fundamental and constant in the show that they were as crucial as the corporeal characters. Marvel notoriously plays with the concept of time in almost all of its media. In WandaVision, time is a facilitator—a helping hand of sorts— both to the audience as well as for Wanda. The quote ‘Time is the best healer’ comes to life in Wanda’s story. According to the comics, Wanda is a nexus being in the Marvel universe, meaning that she is a constant in all realities and universes. Time is her old friend; she borrows it to escape, leans on it to heal, and relies on its history to hone her powers.
While time is a facilitator, grief and sorrow is a hurdle Wanda needs to overcome. As Jac Schaeffer explains, grief itself is a villain of the show. The show begins with Wanda running away from it and ends with her confronting it. Our villain morphs itself into five stages— denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Wanda is so adamant in her denial that she has no knowledge of her illusion. Her anger is directed at Monica Rambeau (played by Teyonah Parris) and other S.W.O.R.D officials. She desperately clings to forge a balance when her illusion cracks, bargaining with the circumstances the best she could. Self-preservation forces her to solidify her emotional walls, removing even Vision from her depressive episode. The final acceptance comes as a self-exploration journey, right from her childhood to her present illusion of normalcy. The story is woven intricately around this personification of grief.
Not everything is Marvelous in Westview
WandaVision slows the pace of the general MCU media; it forces the audience to take a step back and ask, ‘how does one recover after being at the forefront of an intergalactic war?’ However, there is still a lot of ground to cover regarding representation in the cast, character development, and tokenistic portrayal of conflicts. As a production house, Marvel is yet to improve the diversity ratio in its cast members and production crew. While the introduction of Teyonah Parris’ character Monica Rambeau was refreshing, it unfortunately plays into the problematic trope of the magical black person. In the past, we have seen Marvel use this stereotype with the character of James Rhodey in the Iron Man movies.
As a far-reaching Media company, one expects Marvel’s side characters to have well-developed story arcs rather than a one-dimensional portrayal of the protagonists’ helping hand. The development of a strong, well-rounded female superhero was more organic in WandaVision as compared to the previous instalments of MCU. However, the dearth of repercussions faced by Wanda is irksome. The amount of screen time and writing space that are given to justify her confinement of others as an angry, grief-stricken human is more expansive than her repentance. It is imperative to acknowledge both sides of trauma, to acknowledge that one’s actions have very real repercussions on the lives of others. As enthusiastic Marvel fans, we hope to see Wanda’s character divulging into these responsibilities when we meet her next in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Written by Lavya Joshi for MTTN
Edited by Aishwarya Sabarinath for MTTN
Featured Image by Bhavna Choudhury for MTTN