It’s been almost a month since the season finale of WandaVision aired, and I’m still thinking about it.
This article contains spoilers. Please don’t read it if you haven’t seen the series.
The nine-episode Marvel series, streaming on Disney+, takes place three weeks after Avengers’ events: Endgame. Wanda Maximoff and Vision attempt to live an idyllic life in a New Jersey suburb while concealing their superpowers from the town’s residents. Each episode takes place in a different decade as a more complex and compelling narrative takes shape.
We know something is off from the first episode. The black-and-white film replaces the muted, naturalistic tones that characterize most Marvel movies. Wanda and Vision roar into view dressed in 1950s clothing and driving a decade-appropriate sedan.
More ominously, none of the characters mention that half the earth’s population returned after a mysterious five-year disappearance less than a month ago. Instead, we encounter Wanda and Vision stumbling through a madcap evening filled with early marital misunderstandings as the couple tries to adjust to “normal” life.
Bewildered at first by the shifting decades and television tropes of the plot, the audience goes along for the ride because we know that something is coming. And if we’ve learned nothing else from Marvel Studios in the past 13 years since the first Iron Man movie was released, it’s that whatever is coming will be worth the wait.
It was. Marvel Studios delivered an inventive, timely, and unexpected meditation on grief and survival.
We learn later episodes that WandaVision is a manifestation of Wanda’s grief after a lifetime of successive losses, culminating in Vision’s death in Avengers: Infinity War. “So much suffering,” as Agatha Harkness, the series’ main villain, taunts Wanda in the eighth episode.
“So much suffering” could be last year’s tagline that is trickling into this year.
The global pandemic claimed the lives of 2.7 million people worldwide so far. COVID-19, coupled with increasing racial violence, political division, and natural disasters, sparked an avalanche of losses that continue as of this writing.
While we may have survived a hail of losses, we haven’t learned how to process grief maturely. We treat sadness, anxiety, and depression as bad rashes of character that can be overcome with shallow answers and self-care. We send thoughts, prayers, emojis, and hugs in the place of genuine interaction when someone is grieving. At the quarantine’s height, we were unable to gather physically in communities of care around the bereaved when they needed us most.
Like Wanda, we retreat to escape – binge-watching Netflix, rage baking, buying a new puppy, and online shopping rather than deal with the festering pain. The lesson of the series is that when Wanda faces her pain, she claims her true power.
Wanda, however, needs to atone for the people she’s hurt and nearly killed by forcing them to be characters in her trauma drama. While she sacrificed the existence of her self-created family, Wanda avoids justice by flying off to a mountain cabin to drink tea and study superpower Wiccan.
WandaVision matters because the show provided a lens to process our collective grief while showing the power of television as a coping mechanism. Its meta stance enables us to glimpse at how we have tried to escape the crushing grief of the past year by retreating into fantasy. WandaVision is a television show that invites us to turn off the screen and step into the reality of our lives.