Unlike the Star Wars Disney+ output, which thus far has been an exercise in fan-service for those starved by the creative tumult of Disney’s silver-screen output in that franchise, WandaVision is a good addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and an excellent proof of concept for how Marvel Studios plans to use the streaming service to transition past supporting characters into a new lead roster of stars.
Elizabeth Olsen has played Wanda Maximoff for half a decade and only now has a chance to dive into the character’s pain and potential. Giving her and Paul Bettany (always the MVP of any Marvel production in which he appears) five hours over nine episodes to dive into their chemistry and characters was a smart play, and structuring each episode around sitcom tropes rather than action beats made them all the more endearing by the conclusion of the show. The result is a story with a generally satisfying ending that left me wanting to see more of Wanda in the future.
I have long been a proponent of serialized storytelling on television returning to the episodic weekly model and I think WandaVision made good on why that sort of viewing is a lot of fun. I understand there are viewers who will choose to watch it all at once now that the final episode has released. That’s fine, but there are cliffhangers and twists throughout the story that made for some exciting conversation over the past few months.
Without diving deeply into the specifics of each cliffhanger, I was really satisfied with how they were resolved. Yes, even that surprise re-casting of a character from the MCU using an actor who played the same character in Fox’s old X-Men films. I didn’t think this story needed multiverse jargon, but it certainly loved sitcom tropes, and the surprise recasting made for a clever implementation of that device.
Spoilers for WandaVision
My only quibbles with the story come at the very end and are not unique to this particular MCU production. It is not even a problem specific to them; it may well simply be the nature of these stories I love to read in comics. Simply put: The issue of collateral damage is not addressed. It feels salient here because the entire show is about the impact of such trauma on Wanda.
The basic plot of WandaVision is thus: Wanda, overcome by grief and trauma, hexes the town of Westview to create an idyllic world that mirrors the sitcoms she escaped into as a child in war-torn Sokovia. Wanda doesn’t do this consciously. She’s an incredibly powerful witch who has never been tutored in how to control her latent abilities — which were augmented by the same Infinity Stone that gave her lover, Vision, consciousness in Avengers: Age of Ultron before Thanos ripped it from his head to kill Vision in Avengers: Infinity War.
The first half of the series focuses on Wanda’s life inside the Hex (as it’s come to be known), building up her life with a seemingly resurrected Vision while hinting at her role in its creation. The later episodes reveal that a witch named Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) was drawn to Wanda’s extreme expression of magic and is in turn manipulating her, testing our hero’s abilities with the intention of absorbing Wanda’s power. In exchange, Agatha claims, she’ll let Wanda live in the Hex forever, never having to grapple with her real-world losses.
In the end, Wanda embraces her role as the Scarlet Witch and outsmarts Agatha, forever trapping her foe in the role of “nosy neighbor” that had been Agatha’s cover in the series’ sitcom portions. Before doing so, Agatha tells Wanda she’s cruel and that the Scarlet Witch is prophesied to be a force for evil who ends the world. (Maybe that’s relevant to the forthcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness?) Wanda is given a chance to say goodbye to her version of Vision before the Hex explodes and to the two children she created. Meanwhile, a real-life version of the Vision — pure white in color and initially devoid of his personality — has flown off to unknown places to grapple with memories of a life he never lived gifted to him by Wanda’s magically created Vision.
Wanda ends the show with greater self-confidence and closure over the loss of her husband. She’s now a magic user with potential greater than that of Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme. The question becomes: How will she use it?
I’d like to back up, though. My single issue with the show is the way it handles Wanda’s final scene walking through Westview as the townspeople glare at her for what she did to them. We’re shown on repeat occasions that she has mentally enslaved them, forcing them to play roles in her sitcom fantasy and even going so far as to inadvertently kidnap their children. Although Wanda releases everyone at the end, all she offers to anyone is a feeble “Sorry” to Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), a supporting hero who got caught up in the plot and will continue on in her own stories within the MCU. There is no real reckoning on Wanda’s part for the pain she caused these innocent townspeople — no apology, only forgiveness from Monica and the line, “They’ll never know what you sacrificed.” What did Wanda sacrifice? The chance to become a god and rule them? Is that a sacrifice? It’s a conflict, certainly, for a hero this powerful. But choosing to do the right thing is the mark of a hero (something they directly reference earlier in the script), so it seems strange to emphasize Wanda’s sacrifice and healing without also showing her make amends for the pain she caused others. It feels like only a single scene would have fixed this.
WandaVision is a dark, dark story about a character who seems to be an anti-heroic presence in the MCU. If she continues to be an anti-hero, I suppose that would more effectively contextualize this sequence. As it stands, it’s my only real quibble with the show as a whole.
I really love that new costume!
As Per Tradition …
One key element to my Serial Consumer columns is what merchandise I would buy from a given show. My primary collecting focus is on comic books and action figures. With Star Wars, I buy a lot. With Marvel, I’m more targeted.
Frankly, I own all the Vision / Scarlet Witch-related comic book series I need to own: Tom King’s superlative run on The Vision and Brian M. Bendis’ House of M.
I don’t buy many Marvel Legends 6″ figurines, as I only keep one very small shelf for them. My selectivity means I buy maybe one or two a year. However, were I to find it on a shelf, I guess I’d like an Albino Vision figure if he has the proper blue forehead gem / eyes, and maybe one of Scarlet Witch in her new costume.