DISCLAIMER: Mild spoilers abound for Marvel’s WandaVision. You’ve been warned.
WandaVision, Marvel Studios’ first foray into television, became a worldwide phenomenon seemingly overnight. Initially, at face value, the comic book series appeared to be a sitcom. It played with sitcom tropes and paid homage to American comedies throughout history. But there was an undercurrent of melancholy surging beneath the surface.
Now, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) kills her beau Vision (Paul Bettany) at the latter’s behest in Avengers: Infinity War. Of course, this is to stop Thanos from snagging the Mind Stone and completing his mission to wipe out half of humanity. Unfortunately, Thanos is successful and Vision dies. Wanda is subsequently blipped out of existence with The Snap.
However, she returns five years later amid Avengers: Endgame. While some time has passed, for Wanda it was mere minutes. After Thanos is defeated, Wanda tracks down Vision’s body at S.W.O.R.D. headquarters. She asks Acting Director Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg) if she can retrieve his corpse since she’s his next of kin. Wanda wants to give Vision a proper burial. But Hayward rejects her request, citing that he can’t let her put billions of dollars’ worth of Vibranium in the ground. Wanda leaves.
She drives to a quaint little slice of Americana known as Westview, New Jersey. She has a deed in her possession courtesy of Vision. Apparently, prior to his death, he purchased a house for them to “grow old in.” Wanda pinpoints the land she now owns. Suddenly, in a bout of overwhelming grief, she enacts “The Hex” that overtakes Westview. Additionally, she reconstructs a version of Vision out of the piece of Mind Stone that resides inside her.
What transpires next is a trip through the decades as Wanda lives out her sitcom fantasies. A suburban wife and mother with the perfect life. She even has a nosey neighbor in Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), who turns out to be a powerful witch named Agatha Harkness. Agatha incessantly tampers with Wanda’s new reality.
Meanwhile, outside The Hex, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) attempt to save Wanda from Hayward, who has more insidious plans for her. Eventually, Wanda eradicates her spell, ultimately sacrificing Vision and her children so the citizens of Westview could live their lives free of her inadvertent influence.
“But what is grief, if not love persevering?”
Now, Wanda’s grief and trauma serve as the basis for WandaVision. It’s crucial to remember that, for her, not much time has passed since Vision perished and the events in Avengers: Endgame. Her internal wounds are still fresh. Her blistering grief is palpable and unrelenting.
This show nails grief and the cycle of that journey on the head. There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. I’ve learned in therapy and through my own grief process that it’s possible to experience multiple stages simultaneously. One day, I’ve accepted my losses. The next day, I’m in denial while bargaining to win back what I’ve lost.
Time to get personal. WandaVision‘s depiction of grief, trauma and how it makes you feel isolated really resonated with me in a profound way. Those figurative waves that keep washing over you? Totally real. I was mentally and emotionally abused by my estranged mother as a child. I haven’t spoken to or seen her in 17 years. Then, I lost my Granny, the woman who was like a mother to me, three years ago to cancer. Two years ago, I was sexually assaulted. I’ve lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s. In addition to all of that, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I struggle with both every day.
I’m not divulging all of the above to garner sympathy. I’m simply providing context. I’ve always believed in transparency when it comes to grief and trauma. Through that, we can end the pervasive stigma regarding mental health.
Grief comes in many shapes and sizes. Some days I make progress, others I revert back to the starting line.
Vision’s line about grief struck a chord with me. You know the one. “But what is grief, if not love persevering?” The poignancy of that hit me like a ton of bricks. And, naturally, envy that I didn’t construct something as eloquent as a writer myself. Wanda’s grief over losing her parents, her brother and later her beau is really her love persevering. It’s proof positive that those who are “gone” never really leave us. Our persistent love keeps them alive.
“The only way forward is back.”
Wanda herself endures the stages of grief while in The Hex. Bargaining and denial as she lives her “perfect” life with a fabricated family. Depression when Agatha starts meddling in her affairs. Anger when Hayward doesn’t leave her alone. Finally, she experiences bittersweet acceptance when she realizes that she must decimate the spell. Deconstruct the life she’s always wanted and, quite frankly, deserved.
Additionally, WandaVision touches on another aspect of grief that’s sometimes all too prevalent — memory loss. Forgetfulness. Wanda has no clue how The Hex started until Agatha whisks her down Memory Lane. Even Agatha admits that Wanda needs therapy. Despite her innate villainy, she was right. “The only way forward is back” is another beautiful line uttered by Agatha, of all people. I’ve learned in therapy that the only way around something is to go through it. There’s a reason why therapists delve into your childhood. In most cases, much of our grief and trauma are derived from our formative years.
We learn that Wanda’s avid love for sitcoms started at a young age. While growing up in Sokovia, her father would bring home DVDs of vintage American comedies from his travels. Wanda, Pietro and their parents would gather around the TV. They’d dive into the boisterous worlds of The Dick Van Dyke Show and Malcolm in the Middle. Those were some of her happiest childhood memories. Television is escapism. My sister and I heavily relied on TV to escape our mother. To delve into an imaginary universe wherein pain and fear don’t exist.
Now, Wanda utilizing television as a coping mechanism makes perfect sense to me. She finds comfort in comedies, just like I do. I’ve noticed when I’m in the throes of a depressive episode that I have sitcoms/comedies in my TV rotation.
“The only thing that would bring me comfort is seeing him again.”
Wanda’s frankness in that pivotal scene with Vision in episode eight is lovely to watch. I feel seen. She reveals that seeing her brother again is the only thing that would make her feel better. It’s refreshingly honest. No bullsh*t like “Well, he’s in a better place now,” or “I’m staying positive!”
Not to mention, Vision’s desire to understand her grief, granting her the space to grieve and sitting with her in said space is so touching. He doesn’t dole out the clichés one hears after a loved one passes. Someone had the gall to tell me that death is part of “the circle of life.” I recall standing with my family during calling hours as people passed down the line and proffered their condolences. It felt like the longest three hours of my life. I think I heard every cookie-cutter phrase regarding grief that day. “She’s in a better place now.” “At least she’s not suffering.”
Everyone has to put a “positive” spin on grief. No one wants to look it in the eyes and call it by its name. Wanda was safe with Vision. She could feel whatever she was feeling without judgment or reproach. That’s so important. I’ve learned through therapy that it’s okay to want someone or something back in your life. Even if they’re “no longer hurting,” a loss is still a loss.
“The urge to run from this feeling is powerful.”
The above quote is from Wanda when her twins’ dog Sparky dies. Well, we later learn that Agatha killed him. Wanda tells her boys that the “urge to run from this feeling is powerful.” She encourages them to face it head-on. In hindsight, I realize that line rings with so much truth as far as grief is concerned. We want to run away from it. I know I did. I still do. But the only way forward is back, and the only way around something is to go through it.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I ignored the Westview residents. They could feel Wanda’s unending pain. Wanda was unaware that she was inflicting her grief onto others. To me, her realization symbolizes everyone’s perception of you when you’re in the thick of grief. It becomes your defining trait. It’s all anyone ever sees. You’re radiating turmoil to the point that it affects those around you. They can feel it too.
It’s incredibly isolating. Naturally, Wanda probably felt singled out. And it’s a stark reminder of your own perspective when it’s tinged by grief. It’s all you ever see. The world is immensely lonely through grief-colored glasses.
“You are my sadness and my hope. But mostly you’re my love.”
Now, the scene in episode nine with Wanda and Vision is so powerful. She describes Vision as “a part of her.” “You are my sadness and my hope. But mostly you’re my love,” she tells him. It perfectly epitomizes how your relationship with a loved one transforms after they’re “gone.” They stay with you. You carry them inside you for the rest of your days. Westview Vision is literally a manifestation of Wanda’s grief. Her coping mechanism. It’s normal to feel a myriad of emotions regarding that dearly departed someone. Sadness that they’re no longer here. Maybe you feel a sense of hope because their spirit imbues you with it. But, most of all, there’s love. That love you have for them fuels you.
“Thanks for the lesson, but I don’t need you to tell me who I am.”
Laura Donney wrote the brilliant eighth episode of WandaVision. On Twitter, she revealed that a therapist once told her that trauma doesn’t define you, “it shapes you.” What a moving assessment of the grief journey. In the series finale, Wanda tells Agatha this: “I don’t need you to tell me who I am.” She may be broken at the moment, but it’s not a definition of her. I know for a fact that I’m not defined by my pain. But it has molded me into the person I am today. Those experiences inform your perception. They make you more resilient. They help you find the light on the other side.
This is a massive step for Wanda. A turning point, even. Now, the healing can begin. The pain that comes from grief never dissipates. You take it with you wherever you go. But someday, that pain will lessen. It’ll feel like a dull ache as opposed to a deafening roar.
WandaVision‘s embrace of Wanda’s arc is so damn refreshing to see in the MCU. Their desire to further explore her story and to grant her space to grieve is gracefully executed in the series. Despite protests that some fan theories didn’t come to fruition, first and foremost folks need to remember that this is her saga. Her journey.
It’s a journey that resonates with me and countless others who are all too familiar with grief and trauma.
Look at our love. Watch how it perseveres.
This article was originally published on 3/7/21