Wanda All Along

SPOILERS for the entirety of WandaVision, episodes 1-9

The mission statement of WandaVision, we now see with 20/20 hindsight, was to take Wanda through her stages of grieving, from denial to acceptance. The finale accomplished that mission. Wanda released the hex, and with it, her conjured husband, children and their domestic sitcom life together where nothing truly bad happens. There was another more hidden mission about Wanda’s new place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: she’s a supervillain now. This show doesn’t have a sitcom ending.

The best supervillains (like Magneto, who has absolutely no role in WandaVision) have points-of-view with which we can empathize, if not sympathize. (Though I can see the “Wanda Was Right” t-shirts already.) We journeyed with Wanda through her loss and grief. But we also saw her inflict horrifying trauma on an entire town, and devise a cruel punishment for Agatha after beating her. Both things seem like plot elements that will rear up again. Wanda is “hated and feared” now (as Marvel mutants frequently are), and rightly so. This isn’t necessarily a terminal state–we know that prior to the pandemic, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was to immediately follow the events of WandaVision–but it’s a character arc that culminates her biggest beats thus far, from Sokovia, to Lagos, to Wakanda.

In Marvel Studios tackling Wanda Maximoff, especially in a story inspired by “House of M,” there was a danger of falling into the Hysterical Woman and Unstable Powered Woman tropes. Though Wanda herself made it through her cycle of grief to acceptance, with many a graceful and emotional scene, the show still embraced those tropes. It deserves credit for fully realizing Wanda’s character and treating her with sensitivity, but Wanda walks a dark road now. If the creation of her idealized Westview was “accidental,” her first instinct was still to put the populace on magical choke-chains when, freed from her spell, they reacted to their imprisonment. Wanda told Monica Rambeau that maybe she is the villain, and the people of Westview wouldn’t argue. Nobody in the Marvel Universe–not Wanda Maximoff, not Jean Grey and the various Phoenix hosts, not the Sentry–acquires godlike powers without becoming villains.

Despite Agatha’s catchy song, it was Wanda all along. Separating families. Forcing people to enact her script. Leaving them screaming on the inside. And Westview was only the beginning. The final scenes in the town square show the movie theater marquee shows the title “Tannhäuser Gate.” It’s a Blade Runner reference, and its relevance might be explained in a cited article on Wikipedia:

“Joanne Taylor, in an article discussing film noir and its epistemology, remarks on the relation between Wagner’s opera and Batty’s reference, and suggests that Batty aligns himself with Wagner’s Tannhäuser, a character who has fallen from grace with men and with God. Both man and God, as she claims, are characters whose fate is beyond their own control.”

I’m a sucker for metafiction, and WandaVision was a brilliant example of a character who harnesses godlike power to rewrite her own story, and thus her own fate, but ultimately fails. Not because she lacks the power or the will, but because sometimes the pain we carry forces our actions beyond our best intentions.

WandaVision‘s ending is more troubling and dark than its color palette would suggest, and that peaceful mountain cabin in the final scene hides a secret that entails horror and doom. It’s a perfect end to a show that always played with these contrasts, representing grievous loss behind the veil of a win.

Marvel Cinematic Universe properties always set up the next thing, usually in a mid-credits or post-credits sequence. WandaVision gave us both, one for Monica Rambeau, and one for Wanda herself. The show also brought a new status quo for Vision.

Monica Rambeau

Monica Rambeau: superhero

In the comics, Monica has gone by the “silly nicknames” Captain Marvel, Photon, and Spectrum. In the movies, her mother’s callsign was Photon, which makes that her likely moniker, though her color-shifting eyes and electromagnetic vision make Spectrum appropriate. We don’t know much about what Monica can do. She can withstand being magically bodyslammed onto the pavement, and she can steal the kinetic energy from bullets as they sail through her without damage. As she passed through Wanda’s hex, it seems she internalized all the praise she had heard from her mother and Auntie Carol, and she became it: a glowing, flying, most-powerful-person-Carol-knew. An interesting metaphor, worth exploring.

It sounds like Nick Fury and his Skrull allies have called her up to the S.W.O.R.D. orbital station (last seen in the mid-credits scene from Spider-Man: Far From Home) for a mission. Will we see that in Captain Marvel 2, or Secret Invasion, or both? (It’s interesting that in the MCU Secret Invasion, at least some of the Skrulls are on Nick Fury’s side.)

Wanda

Wanda may have accepted the loss of her parents, her brother, Vision, and the twins, but she is now more alone than ever, and spending her time studying Marvel’s Book of the Damned itself, the Darkhold, written by the dark Elder God Chthon from whom, in the comics, Chaos Magic originates. It’s as evil as it looks. There was no Doctor Strange cameo in WandaVision, so her choice of mentors puts her firmly on the villain’s path, and possibly on a collision course with Doctor Strange as an adversary. (I still haven’t forgotten that Mordo is out there, hunting sorcerers who upset the natural order. Wanda will probably kill him in the opening scene of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness).

Hearing her children call out for help has probably awakened her hopes (and those of the audience) that somewhere in the multiverse, Billy and Tommy are real. And they need her. But we’ve been burned by false promises of the multiverse twice already, once in Spider-Man: Far From Home and in WandaVision itself. Wanda is reading the Darkhold. Her feelings of being alone–which were the impetus for the Westview hex–are stronger than ever. She’s being lured by powers once again trying to prey on her. I suspect Chthon and Mephisto will be conflated in the MCU–an analog for Satan is likely too fraught for a Disney property.

One revelation of WandaVision‘s with alarming implications is that Wanda can apparently create people, ex nihilo. Conscious people, with their own independent volition (as Vision proved when he snuck away from Wanda, as the twins proved when they defied Wanda to help in the fight). People with souls (whatever souls are). Wanda’s hex may have limitations in size, but within it, she has the godlike power of creation–not Thor godlike, but Old Testament godlike. If Chthon is behind her power, as he is in the comics, what does it say about the nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? If Chthon is a malevolent Creator, is there a benevolent one? Does capital-G God exist? That seems even more fraught than Mephisto. In any case, just as Wanda tried to be the author of her own story, she managed to create three fully-realized primary characters in her husband and children as well–characters as fully realized as those outside of the hex. It’a a Marvel metaphysical question for the ages.

Vision

Vision discusses philosophy with himself

Paralleling his comic book “Vision Quest” incarnation, the White Vision is now a being with the former Vision’s memories, but perhaps not the love–or even the capacity for the love–he once had for Wanda. If people–fans, or MCU characters–think that Vision is the key to pull Wanda back from the darkness, they are tragically mistaken. It’ll make for a heartbreaking scene, though. We can look back at Darcy telling Vision that the love they have is real with bitter irony now. At best, hex-Vision was a representation of Wanda loving and nurturing herself. At worst, it was a one-sided fantasy, feeding on the echoes of a love that is gone.

How much S.W.O.R.D. programming still dictates White Vision’s actions? Will he have his own journey to find/earn his soul? I’d love to see it. The Ship of Theseus conversation was easily my favorite part of the finale, an intellectual settlement of conflict with one’s self. Throughout the show, Vision and Jimmy Woo presented a different sort of masculinity–a contrast with Tony Stark, Thor, and even Steve Rogers, who dominated their scenes. Vision and Jimmy were content with being supporting characters, in multiple senses of the word. They took their stands without taking the spotlight (remember when Jimmy stood up against workplace bullying?), and were there to nurture and support instead of solve all the problems. To some viewers, it possibly looks like emasculation of the characters. And though I like that a new, nurturing model of masculinity is being slipped into a genre with a historically narrow view of the male hero, it’s too bad that the only ones to enact this model are the android and the Asian guy.

Ralph Bohner

Really, WandaVision? A boner joke?

Now the gripes. Well, just one gripe. Of course there will be Easter eggs, foreshadowing, and red herrings, and we’d only know which detail was which in retrospect. A show can lay false trails, it can play with its audience, and it can even make jokes. But the revelation ought to be a better payoff than the one you led the audience to expect. And if you actively punish your fans for their knowledge by making them the butt of your joke, you’ve gone too far. If mystery is the currency you’re using for engagement and attention, understand that it’s a loan. It comes due by the end of the show.

I’m fine with the false trails about Magneto, “for the children,” Mephisto, Chthon, “Dottie is the key to everything in this town,” X-gene mutants, Reed Richards, “don’t shoot! I’m just the messenger,” a hidden Infinity coven of witches, and Luke Skywalker-level cameos. I’ll even chalk up the nexus/multiverse tease as “fool me twice, shame on me.”

But Evan Peters as Pietro Maximoff/Ralph Bohner crossed a line. It came off as hostile to viewers who believed that Marvel Studios could play with big ideas.

If they wanted a Pietro fake-out in line with the Vision and twins fake-outs, they could have cast Aaron Taylor Johnson. It could have been even more heartbreaking to see and lose him again, both for Wanda and the audience.

If they wanted to make the Darrin Stevens recasting joke, they could have cast literally any other actor. If they wanted to make a meta-level speedster joke, they could have cast Ezra Miller, who played the Flash in Justice League.

Because of the character ownership rights across studios, the MCU couldn’t acknowledge that Magneto was Wanda and Pietro’s father. That relationship, established for decades, provided the basis for a lot of great stories (including “House of M,” which informs WandaVision). But at least the fans could have their comics universe, with no firewalls between character franchises, right? Wrong. The MCU became so popular, that, around the time of Age of Ultron, the comics changed the story, revealing that those family ties were a lie, henceforth to be ignored. It was a badly executed story that left the comic universe poorer, and felt driven by business, not story, concerns. Now that Marvel Studios acquired the X-Men characters, there is an opportunity to undo that bad decision. There’s an opportunity to do something as wonderful as Tony Stark recruiting Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War.

By casting the X-Men movies’ Quicksilver, while teasing the multiverse, while cinematic rights to the X-Men were transferring from Fox to Marvel Studios, while casting rumors for Spider-Man: No Way Home included actors from previous Sony iterations of Spider-Man… Only to play “Fietro” for a “boner” joke in the finale… That’s a let-down on multiple levels. From a studio that managed to make individual Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor films, bring them all together for an ensemble Avengers film, and then go even bigger, this joke set grand expectations of what’s possible from Marvel Studios, and then went out with a Beavis and Butthead moment. Terrible. The show would have been better with any other option.

Regardless, the introduction of the Darkhold means that Chthon or Mephisto are still in play, probably for the Doctor Strange movie. The multiverse is still coming in some form, either as the weird dimensions already introduced by the first Doctor Strange movie, or the fractured timelines that are policed by the Time Variance Authority in Loki (or both). We know from corporate property rights that mutants are still destined for the MCU, though whether their number includes intuitive witches, Infinity-awakened speedsters, and survivors of Tesseract-powered engine explosions remains to be seen. 

And I’ll believe in the live-action Spider-Verse when I see it onscreen, and not a moment sooner.

Live-Action Spider-Verse? I’ll believe it when I see it–on the big screen

As metafiction, the (over?) engaged fan’s journey is the same as Wanda’s. She, and we, tried to reauthor the story. She failed to give herself a sitcom ending, and we fans could not will WandaVision to be an expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Wanda’s stage of acceptance–and ours–is the acceptance of the story that was told. Her story is what it had to be all along: a reckoning with the intersection of tragedy and power.

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