Thursday, March 11, 2021

Wanda's Grief

This post contains spoilers from WandaVision.

"What is grief but love persevering?"

From the first moment that this show was announced, I was curious about how it was possible.

We saw Vision die near the end of Avengers: Infinity War not once, but twice. And even though in comics no death is truly final, we've seen in the MCU so far that no, when a character dies, that's pretty much it.

So how, then, is Vision alive and well, back with the woman who loves him? And that's before we even begin to try to figure out why they're acting out a series of sitcom tropes from the 1950s onward.

The show drops hints in the first half of the season. We get lines of dialogue or little cracks in the facade that viewers are left to dissect for a week before the next installment. We are invited to ponder who's behind all of this, who is pulling the strings that has caused this strange world to exist.

The further we get, of course, the more we realize that there are many things wrong with the existence in which Wanda and Vision (and eventually their kids) are living. Their fellow townspeople are trapped and in agony. Their neighbor Agnes seems to be in on it somehow. There's something off with Wanda's resurrected brother Pietro, and it's not just that he's the Pietro from Fox instead of Age of Ultron.

A heavy amount of the discourse over the weeks was centered on who would be revealed as the Big Bad. What yet-to-debut villain from the comics would make their appearance, probably cackling while revealing their Big Evil Plan involving bringing people back from the dead and trapping everyone in this television universe?

While there was a Big Bad reveal, complete with cackling, it wasn't what people expected. Agnes--Agatha Harkness--didn't create this world. She wasn't the one who raised Vision. She's not the one tormenting Westview's residents. She's not the one keeping everyone stuck within an impenetrable energy field. 

Near the end, we're finally shown the story of how all of this happened. Wanda has returned after the events of Endgame to seek out her beloved's body and to tend to it the way family members do in death. What she finds in short order are a series of images and experiences that compound her sadness: Vision's robotic body being pulled apart and studied as a malfunctioned weapon, her inability to feel his presence in the remnants of his physical form, the abandoned foundation of what pre-Snap was to be their Forever Home.

They were going to build a life, and as Wanda states in her confrontation with Thanos, all of it was taken away.

No evil caused this. There were no nefarious intentions behind it. Instead, all of it was caused by a primal scream of grief that had been building for this character since her brother died, but even years before that when her family had been ripped apart by bombs in a war-torn area of Sokovia. All the pain and longing and need for stability, compounded by tragedy and loss over and over and over again, finally released in one loud and long expression of rage and despair. 

I've written before about how the MCU has depicted grief. Just like in real life, it takes a variety of forms. They may be primarily rooted in anger, or overwork, or denial, or helping others. 

For Wanda, it takes the form of self-soothing. Recalling the old TV shows that helped her escape and feel joy, she uses them as the basis for creating the life she always wanted and was repeatedly denied. She doesn't always seem to be in complete control of this world, despite the many suggestions that everyone around her is serving at her whim. Rather, the pain that others are feeling is more of a byproduct than intentional. Wanda expresses sorrow for this, and takes steps to make it right.

The grief that we see in WandaVision is cathartic, an overwhelming outpouring of sorrow that ends up enveloping so many others. It is a retreat into the familiar and pleasant as a form of coping, which is an actual practice many undertake in times of stress. But it also unwittingly harms others, which people experiencing intense feelings with a need for an outlet may sometimes do as well.

Even for a superhero show, grief was enough as a source of conflict and intrigue. We saw Wanda wrestle with everything she's experienced onscreen thus far. And by the end, as she tells her personified version of Vision, "You are my sadness, and my hope." As much pain as she carries, she also still retains hope in some kind of a future. It won't be the one she was planning on, but it will be one that comes with newfound purpose.

Any form of grief will bring a desire to rush to that purpose. But that rush may bring harm to ourselves or others. It is more healthy to linger, to feel what we feel, to express what we need to express, and to slowly begin to envision what form hope may take.