How the show is exploring a fresh take on grief, loneliness, and sanity
Just as Netflix’s outrageous Tiger King series captivated the entire nation almost one year ago, Disney+’s experimental, sentimental show WandaVision seems to be capturing more than the usual Marvel superfan crowd. What started off as a cheeky homage to the sitcoms of the past has escalated into something much bigger, and much deeper. At first we expected that Wanda might be the villain of the series, then we were deliciously surprised when Wanda’s spunky neighbor Agatha Harkness revealed herself to be the villain (in the most iconic, campy way imaginable by the way). But the actual force at work, the true villain of WandaVision, is much darker and more powerful than any witch could ever be. It’s grief.
After Wanda wanders into Agatha’s trap, her powers are rendered useless and Agatha forces her to relive some of the highest and lowest points in her life. We see Wanda meeting Vision, we see her grieving her brother’s death, and we see the entire Maximoff family when both Wanda and Pietro were young. Their family’s apartment was bursting with love and as their mother looked out the window to see violence below, Wanda is seen admiring her sitcom collection. It becomes apparent that every era Wanda and Vision have lived through in their house was directly inspired by her beloved sitcoms. The last of the flashbacks bring us to an empty plot of land in present-day Westview, New Jersey. Wanda walks into the middle of the dirt, pulls out a floor plan, and much to the viewer’s horror (well to my horror, at the very least) it is revealed that Vision bought the home for them, and on the floor plan we see the note, “To grow old in. -V.”
And there, with Wanda wailing at the site of her impossible dream home, I completely lost it too. Losing anyone is hard but how you lose them matters, and if you’ve ever lost someone abruptly, you know that feeling. That feeling of desperate loneliness, that feeling of being wronged, that buzzing feeling of every emotion tearing through your veins with no answers or outlets. That’s why when Wanda burst out screaming, sending her powerful magic outwards and thus creating the realm she’s been inhabiting the whole season, I smiled for the first time in the entire episode. Seeing her pain manifested physically, seeing it channeled into energy and seeing her send that energy out into the world was beyond cathartic. Seeing her grief literally build her promised home from the ground up and physically manifest Vision was almost too much to bear.
WandaVision is a fairytale about grief. It’s the ultimate wish, granted. I’ve always thought that grief is like a deep breath. You hear unexpected news and you gasp, collecting as much air as possible to not pass out, but then you can never figure out how to exhale. So you’re just walking through the world constantly tense with no oxygen flow and as soon as you think you’ve exhaled, your chest tightens again and you’re back to square one. Part of me (probably the grieving part, to be fair) thinks that if we were afforded the opportunity to have what Wanda has, to live the fairytale even for just 30 seconds, even if we knew it was all fake, we would finally have that opportunity to exhale. But our wailings don’t bring our loved ones back. In real grief you scream out and all you hear is your own fading echo.
WandaVision comes at a time where we are reckoning with global grief on a scale most of us have never experienced. Over 2,500,000 people have died less than a year since the nightmarish pandemic started. Those are millions of people who had families, had plans, had dreams for the future. They are also people who, in their death, left behind an exponentially greater number of people trying to make sense of it all. On top of everything, people have to work through this grief isolated, perhaps even in a space that only reminds them of who they’ve lost. It’s a pretty bleak picture, and unfortunately there really isn’t much to say that will soften a blow like that.
Back in Agatha’s lair, before the journey through time, a frustrated Harkness interrogates Wanda to understand just how she pulled it off. The two begin arguing and after Wanda asks her who she is, Agatha pointedly responds “Who are you?” One of the ugliest parts of grief is the confusion. There’s the confusion about what happened, there’s confusion about why, but then there’s the confusion about reality. What ever was, what anything could possibly be, and who you even are anymore. That is a tough question to bear.
I’m certain that Wanda will find herself again. I’m confident that the end to this story won’t be ideal, but it will be good enough. I’m sure that Wanda will soon remember Vision and smile instead of cry. I hope that Wanda can fondly dream of her future someday soon. I hope we can too.