SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION
After nine weeks the hit Marvel television show (does it still count as TV if it’s on a streaming service?) WandaVision has come to an end, with mixed results. But I’m not here to talk about the criticisms some fans have with WandaVision, I adored the show and the finale. I think it did an excellent job at looking at grief and complex trauma, about what would happen if a grieving person had the power to bring back their loved one, to create the life they planned on having together.
This isn’t a new concept, Stephen King explored this idea in his infamous novel Pet Sematary where a man learns of a strange burial ground near his new home that brings back the deceased but not how they were when they were alive. It’s an idea that’s been questioned before, one I think many people who have experienced grief and trauma On the outside viewers can chastise this decision, see the danger of King’s protagonist Louis and WandaVision’s Wanda in the questionable ways they process their grief, but viewers can’t help but relate to them and question who would they bring back if they had the power to do so. I know I related to many things in WandaVision, the most being when Monica told Wanda that she would have done the exact same thing if she had Wanda’s powers so that she could have her mom back.
This idea, whether shown by King or Marvel, always has consequences. For WandaVision it’s the reveal that while the residents of Westview were trapped and mind controlled in the sit-com themed Hex Wanda created with her grief, they also felt her pain. The residents had her nightmares, experienced her grief, and in one residents case begged Wanda to let her daughter out of her room, even proposing that Wanda’s sons could befriend her daughter for a new story line, so that she could hug her daughter again. For most of the show though Wanda isn’t aware of how she caused the Hex, and until the finale she isn’t aware of the pain she’s causing the residents of Westview, it’s only revealed in later episodes (with help from Agatha Harkness) that Wanda created the Hex and this idealized, sitcom version of Westview as well as Vision because of the immense amount of grief she felt over not only Vision’s death but the years of trauma collecting into something impossible for her to cope with anymore.
It’s what makes WandaVision complicated, and I think why some Marvel fans had issues with the finale (though there were other reasons too, it was revealed that filming the finale was around the time the pandemic started and certain scenes had to be dropped altogether). Viewers sympathized with Wanda mourning Vision only to learn that her grief ended up hurting a number of people and that isn’t the image of grief people like to see, but it is sadly a realistic one.
Wanda suffers from complicated grief. While the show at first focuses on her grieving the death of Vision (in the Marvel timeline he’s been dead for five years but for the blipped Wanda it’s been a matter of days) it’s revealed in later episodes that Wanda has suffered through immense trauma in her life. She and her brother were orphaned at a young age after a Stark missile landed in their house, they joined a terrorist organization and were experimented on in an effort to change the world (which is problematic in a number of ways that I wish Disney had addressed or attempted to retcon), Wanda’s twin brother Pietro died to protect the avenger Hawkeye, Wanda was forced to kill Vision to prevent Thanos from getting the mind stone and when she failed to do that Thanos took the mind stone and ended up killing Vision in front of her (as well as half of Earth’s population), she was then blipped out of existence for five years only to return with Vision’s death freshly imprinted on her. This is an immense amount of trauma for one person to deal with, and considering that Wanda also has superhuman/supernatural powers the grief ends up being exemplified in ways no one can really understand, but while Wanda’s trauma helps viewers understand why she unintentionally did what she did to the town of Westview, it doesn’t absolve her of the pain and trauma she’s caused to it’s residents.
It’s hard to understand complicated grief unless you’ve experienced it, either yourself or from someone in your life. The simplest way I can explain it is that the grief becomes so consuming that a person’s actions while grieving end up affecting other people. It’s not necessarily in a violent way like Wanda’s unintentionally was. Sometimes just watching someone grieve, watching the effect it has on someone and attempting to fix it to no avail is painful to experience. The most important thing to remember is that it’s unintentional, the grieving person isn’t purposely trying to hurt or harm anyone, they’re just so consumed in grief that they can’t see how they’re affecting others. Which again brings another incredibly important point: just because someone did something unintentionally doesn’t make them innocent, they’re still responsible for the hurt they’ve caused. If Wanda were a real person then she could go to therapy and work through her trauma and complicated grief, but for a Marvel movie that doesn’t make a good story. Superheroes never go to therapy.
Which is why it’s difficult in the finale since Wanda just flew away without any consequences, why even though I loved Monica’s line about having done the same thing I would have liked to see more of a struggle and understanding of what it would be bad to do what Wanda did (considering Monica and Wanda are foils it’s a shame we didn’t get more screen time of Monica’s journey through grief), and it especially worries me with Wanda possibly becoming a new villain for the MCU. It’s not that I condone her actions or what she’s done, only that it seems a lot of viewers misunderstood what WandaVision was about and how it ends up characterizing grieving/emotional women. Because it’s easy to look at women’s grief and blame it on being overly emotionally, it’s easy to read a violent outburst as the product of being overly emotional, to simplify a feeling into something dangerous, to make it seem that all women are are emotional and dangerous in their emotions. Similar to WandaVision and Pet Sematary’s journey with grief Wanda also shares some qualities with King’s infamous protagonist Carrie who burns down her school and kills a number of her classmates after a bloody prank goes wrong and triggers violence after years of bullying from her classmates.
The “Good for Her” trope is a new way that people are attempting to reclaim and excuse the violent actions of female-identified characters in fiction, and honestly it’s a trope I’ve enjoyed. Instead of turning these characters into villains the “Good for Her” trope allows these characters to feel their anger and act out their violent impulses, especially when so many women characters are often forced into the role of love interest or pushed into the domestic sphere. But with WandaVision I’ve been questioning it and how it’s used and who it’s used for. Some notable examples are Carrie killing her bullying classmates, Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne for her calculated revenge against her cheating husband, and Midsommar’s Dani who smiles when complying with the sacrificial murder of her boyfriend to a cult. It’s used as a way but as article details, the “Good for Her” trope really only exists for white women, women of colour are not given the same sort of title in fiction despite acting in similar ways to white characters. And with Marvel erasing Wanda’s Romani and Jewish heritage (which makes her association with the Nazi-subgroup Hydra even more problematic) she both does and doesn’t belong in this trope. But should she after the trauma she caused to others? Should any of the characters I’ve mentioned?
It’s worth mentioning that when male-identified characters act in such a way the violence is generally seen as a necessary act, a boys will be boys attitude. Since male-identified characters typically fall into a macho, stoic, hero archetype violence ends up being forgiven and forgotten, a “Good for Him” trope doesn’t exist because these characters are expected to act in such ways. Male-identified characters generally can’t show any type of emotion unless it’s through violence. Violence isn’t surprising, it’s just what happens.
I recognize that this a long post questioning a mini-series that really boils down to: what’s the point of all this? And I really don’t have an answer. But I do know that I love how WandaVision portrayed complicated grief (even though the Five Stage model is misunderstood and outdated) and really tried to show trauma and keep the finale keeping viewers conflicted. Any show that can cause discussion is a success in some ways, and the fact that a more realistic understanding of grief was shown in a Marvel television show is one I won’t forget about. WandaVision has challenged how grief is portrayed in storytelling and complicated the roles of women in superhero films. While I am a bit worried about what this means for Wanda’s character development, whether she will grow and become more developed, if she will go into the domestic role of mother as she searches for her children (the theorized plot for the second Doctor Strange movie) or if she will be classified as a villain and what this exactly means for women’s grief. Can women grieve or will their emotions always make them overly dramatic, unreliable, and dangerous?
There are a lot of questions left to be answered and I’m curious to see where Marvel goes next, until then fans have many more MCU based shows to keep themselves entertained.