WandaVision: A Marvel Of A Case Study in Handling Grief

Every Friday, for the past nine weeks, it has happened as if by unspoken social media ritual.

“OMG WANDAVISION!! WHAAAAAAA??? MIND. BLOWN.”

And with good reason! The topsy turvy plot, the air of mystery, the revelations, and surprise guest stars. It all adds up to FOMO levels the likes we haven’t experienced since, well, The Mandalorian, another Disney Plus series. The streaming platform has proven that weekly appointment television in this era of ‘binging’ is alive and well!

But others, like me, were marveling (yes, pun intended, sorry-not-sorry) at the next level writing. The Netflix and Agents of Shield series aside, which more of less did their own thing, WandaVision gives us something we aren’t used to in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – a slow burn.

The show, which drops us into a sitcom-of-the-week format to follow the familial adventures of Wanda Maximov (Elizabeth Olsen) and her synthezoid lover, Vision (Paul Bettany), is not only true to the Marvel brand of being light and breezy fun with slight serious overtones, but it is surprisingly multi-layered.

Ultimately, it’s a meditation about grief. A case study, if you will.

I know. Like Thor’s hammer, it’s heavy stuff!

WARNING: MEGA SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AND SOME OF THE MOVIES IN THE MCU AHEAD!

Pietro helps Wanda
What year is this??!

Bewitched by Grief

Throughout the movies in the arc leading up and into Endgame, the MCU has not been shy in showing moments of trauma and loss, from Captain America’s WW2-era love, Peggy (peacefully in old age, but still, a loss of 50 years due to being frozen in an iceberg would do a number on a guy’s psyche), to the grave injury of War Machine to the greatest sacrifice committed by fan favorites Black Widow and Iron Man.

But even so, the cinematic offerings only dealt with the emotional fallout in mostly subtle ways… though granted, that cheeseburger line delivered from Happy during the Endgame climax. UGH. I’m not crying, you’re crying!! …. partly a consequence of runtime limitations, of course.

WandaVision, over its nine episode run, is different. It is a FULL exploration of trauma, how sadness can overwhelm and destroy a person. It’s more than trauma with Wanda though. It’s love and rage. And wow, does Olsen sell it!

Wanda was a natural choice for such a hefty story-telling endeavor, as the series reveals her life as one full of tragedy upon tragedy. She lost her parents in a bombing during the Cold War in her native Slovakia, her brother, Pietro, in The Age of Ultron, and just as she seems to have found that special someone to “settle down with” in Vision, she loses him too. As WandaVision‘s writers coldly remind us, first by her own hand, at his own request. And then he is killed SECOND time by Thanos while SHE IS FORCED TO WATCH. Geez.

We’ve All Been to ‘Westview,’ Right?

So what’s arguably the most powerful Avenger in the known universe to do? Why, retreat into a whole new world – in this case, birthing an entire town, Westview, casting neighbors in the image that she wants. And Vision. She recreates Vision. One with no previous memory, unsoiled by tragic events. As outsider Darcy observes, “Wanda decides what makes it onto her show and what doesn’t.”

“We’ve all been there, right? Letting our fear and anger get the best of us, intentionally expanding the borders of the false world we created.”

– Wanda

Their life is sitcom perfect, just like in her favorites that she grew up on, where everything turns out fine in the end. Always.

“We’ve all been there, right? Letting our fear and anger get the best of us, intentionally expanding the borders of the false world we created,” says Wanda.

Wanda’s right. I HAVE been there. After my divorce, all I would think about was escape. The house was full of ghosts, memories of her and what we had. Though my ex-wife was very much still on this earth, it sure didn’t feel like it. Thoughts were consumed with running north, to Michigan where I grew up. Not just moving. The lure of recreating myself – no, every facet of my life – was tempting and strong. Anything but confronting the reality of the loss.

But just because we may have the power to avoid, does that make it right? Is it healthy? Let’s talk about it.

‘What Is Grief, If Not Love Persevering?’

This exchange between Wanda and Vision during a flashback is telling. It takes place in the home they made together in the Avenger’s compound shortly after Pietro’s death.

Vision:  Wanda, I don't presume to know what you are feeling. But I would like to know. Should you wish to tell me, should that be of some comfort to you. 
Wanda:  What makes you think that talking about it would bring me comfort?
Vision:  Oh, see I read that - 
Wanda: The only thing that would bring me comfort is seeing him again.  (whispers) Sorry. I'm... I'm so tired. It's... It's just like this wave washing over me, again and again. It knocks me down and when I try to stand up, it just comes for me again. And it's just gonna drown me. 
Vision: No, no it won't - 
Wanda: Yeah. How do you know?
Vision: Well, because it can't all be sorrow, can it? I've always been alone, so I don't feel the lack. It's all I've even known. I've never experienced loss because I have never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?

Tender. Heartbreaking. Beautiful.

Wanda and Vision talk grief
Whattchu talkin’ bout, Vision???

Back to that question: What is grief, if not love persevering? Vision has offered a valuable reframing that Wanda lost sight of. Rather than a consequence of loss, grief is love living on (more on that later).

Embrace it. Lean into it. It’s about letting other people in, to grieve with us.

The University of Washington Counseling Center recommends the following steps:

  • To accept the finality of the loss;
  • To acknowledge and express the full range of feelings we experience as a result of the loss;
  • To adjust to a life in which the lost person, object, or experience is absent;
  • To say goodbye, to ritualize our movement to a new peace with the loss.

Close friends, family, and a trained counselor can all aid in this task. As we persevere.

The Magic of Therapy

The prime witch-antagonist Agatha (Kathryn Hahn), in a bid to learn the secrets of Wanda’s power, prepares to lead her down a torturous trek through the past, akin to something out of The Christmas Carol. “The only way forward is back,” she cackles. Nefarious intentions, no doubt, but … she isn’t wrong. Never underestimate the power of therapy. Psychology Today can help with that.

Tragically, Wanda was robbed of a valuable grieving tool when – instead of being able to bury Vision’s body – she was notified by Slime Ball, err, sorry, I mean Director Tyler Hayworth, that it was essentially being donated to science (Read: Weaponized).

A warning on closure. Sometimes it can do more harm than good, as it belies the importance of the grieving process by suggesting a definitive end. It may be especially damaging if someone is obsessed with finding answers. At the same time, there are some benefits to seeking closure as it can provide an effective starting point or a transformative experience to move past a traumatic event.

A Vision of Hope

And so comes the final episode and we find ourselves cheering Wanda on as she faces the consequences of her mishandling of things (“You’re grief is poisoning us!” GEEZ, what a loaded statement!) and quite literally faces her demons and temptations between doing what’s right and keeping her unhealthy little show on the air. It’s an epic battle and we know where she’ll come down. This is Marvel, after all.

Wanda and the Vision that had sprung from her grief share one more tender moment.

“What am I?” he asks.

“You, Vision, are the piece of the mind stone that lives in me,” she replies. “You are a body of wire and blood and bone that I created. You are my sadness and my hope. But mostly, you’re my love.”

What is grief, if not love persevering?

Where to Watch

All nine episodes of WandaVision is available for viewing on Disney Plus. Another recommended Marvel series that deals with trauma is Jessica Jones on Netflix.

What kinds of lessons did you take from WandaVision? Does it leave you as excited for the future of the MCU as it did me? Drop a note in the comment section below!

Director: Matt Shakman

Screenwriters: Jack Schaeffer, Randall Park, Kathryn Hahn, Fred Melamed, Josh Stamberg, Hernandez Walta Hernandez, Jess Hall, Gretchen Enders

Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Kat Dennings, Teyonah Parris

Rated: TV-PG

Comments

  1. April

    Ooooh! I’ve been wondering what this whole Wandavision thing is about. (My teenage son did a lousy job of explaining its premise. LOL!) That actually sounds like something I would really like.

    Question though… Would I be completely lost if I haven’t watched any of the Marvel movies in the past 10 years? Or, would WandaVision still make some sense to me?

    1. Post
      Author
      Scott Harrison Rees

      Watching the prior content would certainly enhance the experience! There is a scene or two with Monica’s backstory that may be a bit of a headscratcher if you haven’t seen Endgame, but all things considered, I think it should be fairly easy to follow. I say go for it!

  2. Unwanted Life

    Not many shows dedicate so much time to a single human process, like grieving. That aside, I have a few questions about the show, how did the white version of the Vision have the same powers as the original without the Mind Stone so they could fight as equals?

    Why wouldn’t any of the Avengers step in when Wanda is potentially one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel universe?

    1. Post
      Author
      Scott Harrison Rees

      Hmm…. I… don’t know. As for the second question, that is one that can be applied to many of the single hero outings! Best not to strain our brain TOO much when watching comic book fare, for down that road lay folly!

  3. Heather

    I love this, especially since you used it as a case study to handling grief. I’ve been wondering about it since I keep hearing people are loving it. Even my dentist was telling me about it. Like April above, I need to refresh myself on the Marvel movies so I can truly appreciate it!

    1. Post
      Author
  4. Tanya

    I’ve heard the hype and I appreciate this post because now I want to check it out! Thanks for the amazing post!

    1. Post
      Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.