This article contains spoilers for WandaVision on Disney+
“Mr Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe…you just don’t know it yet”. Thirteen years and over twenty films later, the Marvel universe is now one of the biggest franchises out there. The time and dedication that has gone into creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built up a strong fanbase that trusts them with the beloved source material – and now allows them to take risks in the form of a superhero sitcom series. WandaVision had many questioning whether Marvel could ever top the staggering accomplishment of Avenger’s: Endgame. But sceptics forgot the true source of Marvel’s strength.
The thing is, people may come to the cinema to see which superhuman can punch the hardest, but they stay for the depiction of flawed individuals trying to be worthy of their hero mantle. When things go wrong in this universe, it does not go back to normal in the next instalment. We see Iron Man having panic attacks, Thor suffering from depression, a world trying to move on as they struggle with their collective grief.
Marvel’s newest venture into television is just the latest example of vulnerability in Earth’s mightiest heroes. WandaVision premiered on Disney Plus to a confused but excited audience, and we slowly tried to discover what or who was controlling the all-powerful figures of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (Paul Bettany) in a supposed utopian sitcom setting. In a slow burn series that only Marvel could pull off, it became apparent that grief is the harshest opponent the two superheroes have ever faced as Wanda struggles to accept the death of her partner and the reality of what she has done to bring him back.
To be perfectly honest, despite my love for the marvel universe, I am surprised by just how much depth and understanding has gone into the writing of the show. For such a nuanced and realistic portrayal to come from something so visible in our culture is amazing, and it should be celebrated. WandaVision does not slap a sticker on one emotional monologue and call it pain; they do the work to fully display the psychological toll that has been put on the Scarlet Witch and the consequences that arise when grief is not properly processed.
Grief is the most universal experience we have; we all will feel it at some point in our lives and yet it doesn’t make it any less lonely. Grieving is unique to everyone as we try to figure out what our lives could look like without that missing piece. Many struggle to talk about what they’re feeling and this may manifest in unhealthy coping mechanisms like, I don’t know, imprisoning a whole town in their minds while resurrecting your dead lover to create the dream future you can never have.
What I find so interesting about the show is how effectively it shows how self-destructive grief can be. It makes you split yourself in two, trying to hold on to some semblance of self. You can start to believe that some part of you died along with that person, but we need to stop casting ourselves as the villain and start believing that we’ve always been a whole person – we just don’t know how it all fits together anymore.
Wanda chooses a life of fiction, so she doesn’t have to face up to reality. Just like Wanda hurts the people in her life, when we grieve it’s normal to do the same. Whether it is conscious or not, we can sometimes push people away in favour of wallowing in our feelings or burying ourselves in memories. Because not everyone can understand grief, it can mean we isolate ourselves from the world and hide how we truly feel. But the fact is this isn’t healing, it is playing a character in a sitcom so other people aren’t made uncomfortable by our sadness. When we hide how we feel, what we are doing is suppressing emotion until there is no more room and we explode.
While it isn’t healthy to live in the past, the key to reconciling the loss of a loved one is to face the reality of what has happened. Despite Agatha Harkness’ (played by the fabulous Kathryn Hahn) obvious issues, she does have a point when she says “the only way forward is back”. At some stage, there needs to be a conversation with our personal history so we can move on and make more memories. I’m not saying this is easy, or that I have even gotten to that place myself, it’s just we need to remember that we can’t always feel this way, because eventually, it will come back to bite us.
Another thing that this show gets spot on my eyes is breaking the misconception that grief is just overwhelming sadness when, really, it is a melting pot of complex emotions that are often overlooked in the media’s portrayal of loss. WandaVision perfectly captures how in the midst of grieving, we’re not sad all the time, but we are thinking about it. Grief is its own character in the show, it is a part of Wanda and everything she knows. The fixation on sitcoms is the manifestation of losing her parents so young and mourning the childhood she lost with them. The birth of her twins represents craving that sibling relationship that died along with her brother. Even in times of happiness, there is always that sick feeling of an empty seat at the table.
This is best demonstrated by looking at the structure of the show. As an audience, we are literally taken through the five stages of grief. The blissful denial of the ’50s and ’60s as the couple denies their powers and the oddities of a Westview existence. The destructive anger that takes hold when the world begins to crumble and outside forces tell us to move on and stop imprisoning people in our misery.
This turns into a bargaining act as Wanda tries to tell herself that what she is doing to cope is okay, and then the depression that spirals when she realises that she is no longer in control. Finally, she reaches a place of acceptance of the damage her grief has done and who she really is. All of this is to say that while someone may be laughing on the surface, they could be trying to work through some heavy stuff inside.
Grief is an incredibly personal experience, and we can only use the five stages as a roadmap for our emotions. It is not always a straight road and it is not easy. The fact is no matter how much you grow and learn from an experience like this, there is always a part of you that wishes it didn’t happen, as pointed out by Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris): “given the chance, and given your power, I’d bring my mom back”. Even though I know what Wanda did was wrong, and in many people’s eyes she is the villain of this tale, I can’t help seeing my own story and my own mistakes in her grief.
We have all had a difficult year and have suffered significant losses. We have missed birthdays, rites of passages and precious time we can never get back. Some of us may not have been able to hold the hand of a loved one as they say their final goodbye. Whatever it is that we are grieving, we need to take the time to process and accept our loss. I’m not telling you to watch WandaVision instead of seeking real help, but it is always nice to feel less alone,
Featured Image Credit: Marvel Studios