By Hamsini Sivakumar (‘21)
I honestly cannot remember when I started watching Marvel movies. Iron Man came out when I was 5, and while it was definitely after that, these movies have been in the background of most of my life through posters, ads, and excited trips to the theatre. Even when I didn’t really understand the plot, I was always entertained by what was happening on the screen, because the movies are foremost and fundamentally entertaining.
Wandavision is not at all like these movies. And by the way, from now on I will be discussing spoilers for the show and previous movies, so read at your own risk, especially if you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame!
The first episode, which mimics 50s sitcoms, doesn’t follow the classic Marvel formula of quickly establishing the good guy, the bad guy, and what’s about to happen. Instead, an eerie mood is created as we the audience know something is wrong (isn’t Vision dead?) but not revealing what it is until episode 4, the first episode that takes place outside of the sitcom. Even that is a misdirect, though, as the arrival of Agatha Harkness changes the story once again. On the surface, it is a mystery centered around Wanda Maximoff, who as we come to find out, has no idea what’s going on either.
That seems good enough to base a compelling show on, but it’s only scratching the surface. The real story here is one of grief, as Wanda struggles to move on after losing everyone she loved in the previous movies. While Captain America: Civil War previously tackled the impact of the Avengers on the world as a whole, this show focuses on the impact it has on the heroes themselves. Classic superheroes are meant to be almost two-dimensional: they are fundamentally good and they save the world and get their happy endings. Changes in opinion or behavior are often regarded as turning “bad”.
Wandavision, however, does not shy away from blurring this line. Wanda’s mind control is terrible to the people of Westview, a detail that is not glossed over. In the finale of the show, the residents crowd around her, reminding her of the pain she puts them through. There’s no apology to the residents or forgiveness from them. Her actions are explained but never entirely excused. However, while this would normally be framed as villain origin behavior, in Wandavision it is a tragic result of Wanda’s uncontrollable grief. She may be the Scarlet Witch, one of the most powerful beings in the MCU, but the arc of her character, mirroring the stages of grief, is fundamentally human. Even the ending of the series, much like grief in real life, feels unresolved. While Wanda brings down the Hex, she is still experimenting with her powers to get her family back.
This show was aired during the pandemic, a time when many more people are dealing with the overwhelming intensity of grief. While the basic structure of the show is something we won’t experience in real life, the emotions of it feel more relatable than any other Marvel movie I’ve seen before. While I can’t watch this for mindless entertainment, Wandavision’s choice to capture the ugly complexities of grief makes it something that truly stands out in the Marvel catalogue.