What is Grief, If Not Love Persevering? A WandaVision Review
Ok… we’re in for a ride with this one. And before we get started, does anyone want to get out? Cause there’s SPOILERS ahead.
When Marvel Studios started announcing their post-Endgame slate of movies and TV shows, WandaVision was possibly the one I was least interested in; though I have enjoyed the characters, neither Wanda nor Vision were personal favorites of mine. But that has never really stopped Marvel; in the past, they’ve taken characters I knew nothing about, characters I didn’t care about, and even characters that I disliked in the comics, and made me give a damn about them. And the same, too, is true of WandaVision.
Let’s track this from the beginning, shall we? Even though both characters originated in Avengers: Age of Ultron and featured prominently in Captain America: Civil War and in Avengers: Infinity War (not to mention Wanda nearly defeating Thanos singlehandedly in Endgame), neither are characters we’ve gotten to know too personally; they’ve always been side characters in someone else’s story, parts of a moving whole but not the focus.
And I think, honestly, it was that lack of focus on these two characters that put WandaVision so low on my radar; I didn’t care about them as much- not like I cared about Tony Stark or Peter Parker- because I hadn’t gotten to know them as well. I expected WandaVision to be a fun MCU adventure, something more akin to Ant-Man- meaning that I expected it to be more of a “filler episode” between the bigger guns of Falcon and the Winter Soldier or Black Widow (the music was even composed by Christophe Beck, who scored both Ant-Man movies). Instead, Marvel quietly gave us a solid game-changing story, hidden beneath an I Love Lucy mirage. And I loved it. I absolutely loved it.
I purposefully didn’t write a review of each episode as they were airing; it was clear to me very early on that it would be better to judge the show as a whole, rather than each part individually. That said, I’m breaking this review down into episodic segments for several reasons. Firstly, I think it will help me better organize my thoughts on the series, but more importantly, I feel that it would do the show an injustice not to look at each “era” of WandaVision through a somewhat separate lens.
Episodes 1–3: The Golden Age of Television
Even though I’m 32, I grew up watching black and white television shows. I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke, and Bewitched were shows that I knew as well as Power Rangers or Darkwing Duck as a kid. So WandaVision had me hooked with the premise of reinventing the characters through classic sitcoms, even though I had no earthly idea where they were going with it and how it would relate to the wider MCU.
In fact, it was this style- shown prominently in the trailers- that really contributed to my sense that this show would be a stepping stone for the bigger stories of the Marvel world.
And let me tell you what, they did a damn good job of paying homage to those classic shows. In the first episode, I definitely felt a Dick Van Dyke Show vibe (more on that later), mixed with a little Samantha Stevens. And had they left it at that, it would have been a good half-hour of television.
What really sold me, however, was the dinner scene, in which, for the briefest of moments, the show took a dark turn. With Vision’s boss choking on food and his boss’ wife just telling him to “stop”, all while the studio audience continues to laugh, it immediately let you know that something more sinister was at work here.
I think Disney made the smart choice releasing the first two episodes together, though, since the second episode- and possibly my least favorite- was pretty much more of the same; I Love Lucy-style comedy, one or two moments of oddness, but no real answers as to what was going on. Had we waited a week to see the second episode, it might have felt like they were dragging out the TV show premise a bit too long, but paired with the first episode it worked and ending with Wanda “resetting” things after they saw the S.W.O.R.D. agent crawling out of the sewers was just enough enticement to have us scrambling back in a week’s time.
Episode 3 was where the show really started to get interesting, at least for me. More things started to seem like they weren’t adding up, with Agnes and Herb seemingly having a conversation that was out of character, and with Geraldine mentioning Pietro’s death at the hands of Ultron… As soon as I heard those names, I knew that we were at a turning point. In the middle of the Brady Bunch and Wanda’s magical pregnancy and the birth of the twins, finally, the real world was seeping in. And Wanda wasn’t having it.
“It’s all Wanda.”
When Monica said those words at the end of Episode 3, everything changed. And this show went from great to amazing in a split-second.
Episodes 4–6: Perfectly Balanced, as All Things Should Be
Up until Episode 4, WandaVision hadn’t really addressed the synthezoid in the room. We knew this was taking place post-Endgame, but when was this taking place for Wanda?
The last time we really saw Wanda and Vision together was five years previously, at the end of Infinity War. And that was a devastating moment for both characters. Not only did Vision die, but Wanda was forced to kill him to destroy the Mind Stone so that Thanos wouldn’t get his hands on it. Then, she had to watch Thanos use the Time Stone to reverse what she’d done- bringing Vision back to life- only to watch Thanos kill Vision again when he ripped the Mind Stone from his head. Talk about some trauma. Oh yeah, and then Wanda was blipped from existence when Thanos used the Infinity Gauntlet a couple of minutes later.
Wanda does return to reign all kinds of hell on Thanos in Endgame, and even though this scene takes place five years after Vision’s death, it is very important to remember that, for Wanda, this was taking place about half an hour after Thanos murdered Vision. For us, the audience, it had been a year, for most of the characters, it had been five years (and technically, for that version of Thanos, it had been something like negative nine years… time travel!). But for Wanda, it had literally just happened minutes ago and she was retaliating.
But where does that put WandaVision? In Episode 4, we open with the reverse-blip in what might be one of my favorite MCU moments to date. We previously saw Hulk reverse Thanos’ snap and got confirmation that it worked, first by the phone call Clint received from his wife, and then in epic proportions when all the snapped heroes arrived through portals. And we even got to see a more comedic version of the return at the beginning of Spider-Man: Far From Home. But what we hadn’t yet seen was the chaos and fear and confusion of the reverse-snap for the rest of the world.
It would have been easy for the show to focus on Wanda’s return from being snapped away, but we didn’t get to see that. Instead, we got to see Monica Rambeau return in a hospital room. It was beautifully done, and a tragic moment, too, as she learns quickly that during her five-year absence her mother had died. We quickly learn that this show is taking place about three weeks after Endgame (and several months before Spider-Man: Far From Home, if anyone was wondering), meaning that Wanda’s grief was still pretty fresh.
And there it is. The first glimpse of what this show is really about. There have been a lot of fan theories floating around- and I’m sure there are a lot of fans out there who are disappointed that characters like Reed Richards or Doctor Strange didn’t appear in the show, or that Evan Peters turned out to be some guy named Bohner instead of the Quicksilver from the Fox X-Men universe, or that the multiverse didn’t really come into play in this show (more on that in a bit). But that’s fine; this show never really promised us any of that (well, it did cast Evan Peters, but I think that was a tongue-in-cheek casting choice and maybe not an intentional misdirect). It only promised us Wanda and Vision and a compelling story to explain how they were together after his death, and living in sitcoms.
But I digress. Episode 4 was my favorite episode yet, and I think I could safely say that about every episode that followed. I loved getting to see what Monica and Jimmy Woo and Darcy were up to during the events of the first three episodes (and kudos to Marvel for pulling Woo and Darcy out of the woodworks to give them something to do in the MCU… I want a lot more of them both in the future). I loved seeing the mystery of Westview unfold from the outside perspective, and how Darcy discovered the television show, and how each episode just added more and more layers of mystery and curiosity.
Episode 5 was a good blend of Full House (Elizabeth Olsen might have some relation to that) and S.W.O.R.D. doing its thing. This was the first episode that I really started suspecting Agnes of something (I mean, as soon as I saw Katherine Hahn in the role I expected that she was going to be more than just a sitcom neighbor… but I’m getting ahead of myself); I mean, she sprayed something on the babies right before they started aging up, and then she seemed present for every time they aged up after that (I suspect she even gave them the dog, given what we know she also did to the dog). But the moment Wanda came out and nearly Magneto’d Hayward and his goons was thrilling… was Marvel setting up Wanda to be the villain?
And then “Pietro” shows up. Misdirect, tongue-in-cheek casting. Say what you will. Putting Evan Peters in this role was brilliant. Yeah, it would have been cool if Agatha had snatched Peter Maximoff from the other universe, but since we don’t yet know if Marvel is going to start fresh with the X-Men or if they are going to fold in the existing franchise (I vote for the former; while I love a lot of Fox’s X-Men movies, their continuity is very screwed up, and the MCU has been extremely consistent with their continuity and timelines), it just wouldn’t have made sense for Evan Peter’s Quicksilver to show up in the MCU… yet. So I’ll take the nice easter egg casting and leave it at that.
Episode 6 was another one of my favorites; I liked that Vision was finally starting to realize the extent of what Wanda had done to Westview and its inhabitants. I liked seeing how the illusion was breaking the further away from Wanda he got. And when Vision tried to escape… I thought we were going to have to watch him die a third time, and that was heartbreaking. And of course, I really felt Agnes was playing Vision when he spoke to her in her car… everyone else Vision had encountered that far out from Wanda hadn’t been able to move or speak to him, but Agnes was still speaking and moving, even if just slowly. But as we all now know…
A Quick Word From Our Sponsors
Ok, let’s take a moment to discuss those commercials.
At first, I didn’t know what to make of them. Were they simply easter eggs? Were they clues foreshadowing things to come?
Turns out, the answer was, simply, yes. Some of the commercials- like ones for a Stark Industries toaster (which could either be a reference to Vision being a product of Tony Stark or to Wanda’s childhood trauma that was inextricably linked to Stark) or the Strucker wristwatch (a reference to Hydra and the man who experimented on Wanda and Pietro) or even the Lagos paper towels (“for when you make a mess you didn’t mean to” referencing Wanda’s incident at the beginning of Civil War)- are all callbacks to the past. Other commercials, notably the Yo-Magic yogurt ad (“snacked on yo magic!”), were foreshadowing things to come, like the fact that Agatha Harkness was literally trying to absorb Wanda’s magic.
But the commercial that possibly has the biggest hint at the MCU’s future is the one for the antidepressant Nexus. This one is important, I think, because it seems to be teasing the multiverse, or more specifically, the Nexus Gate, which is a gateway into the multiverse (and Wanda herself is a Nexus Being in the comics). Now, WandaVision didn’t end up introducing the multiverse, but she is about to appear in a movie featuring the multiverse, so I definitely think this is some nice foreshadowing.
Episodes 7–9: The Scarlet Witch
“It was Agatha all along!!!!”
Try to get that song out of your head now. No, seriously… try. I’ll wait.
No, I won’t. That song might just be my favorite part of the whole damn series. With its Munsters vibe, it was catchy as hell, and completely validated the suspicion I’d had over Agnes for several episodes now.
Ok, backtracking a bit. Episode 7 was where the dam broke loose. We got so much from this one, I don’t even know where to begin. Darcy filling Vision in on everything that happened to him pre-Westview (also, I like that Thanos and everything down to both Wanda and Captain Marvel nearly beating his ass seems to be common knowledge). Monica stepping back through the Hex and getting powers (what powers does she have?!?). “Snooper’s gonna snoop”. And of course, the reveal of Agatha Harkness, complete with a catchy theme song.
But Episode 8 was, I think, the real MVP of this series. For a few episodes now, I was really hoping that we were going to get to unpack all of Wanda’s grief; after all, she’s had more than her fair share in the MCU. And who better to work Wanda through her grief than Agatha Harkness, resident evil witch.
Now, I’ve heard this episode reduced down to “just a bunch of flashbacks” and I’m here to tell you that this criticism is not valid. I would call it a clip show if it recapped the big moments of Wanda’s grief- her telling Ultron how her parents died, or her reacting when Ultron killed her brother, or her watching Vision die twice- but it didn’t do any of that. Instead, it showed us new moments, some that we’d heard of, others that were in between other parts of her story that we were familiar with.
Starting with her childhood, we immediately got the answer to why Wanda’s illusion took the form of classic television; she grew up watching old TV shows with her parents and her brother. And it was devastating to watch as that was all torn away by war in Sokovia, as her parents were killed and, as described, she and her brother waited for two days for a Stark Industries missile to explode right in front of them. But through this, we also get the first major revelation: the bomb didn’t explode because Wanda had used magic on it. She hadn’t realized it, didn’t even know she had magic, but Agatha recognized it immediately.
Skip forward to Hydra; we know Wanda and Pietro got their powers from the Mind Stone, which at the time was concealed in Loki’s scepter and was in possession of Hydra. But what we didn’t know was that the Mind Stone hadn’t given her powers; it had opened up her mind to the powers that she already had.
Sidebar: I’m left wondering if the Mind Stone did the same to Pietro. Did he also have magic, magic that manifested itself as speed? I mean, maybe all he wanted to do was run away after their parents were killed. “You didn’t see that coming?”, which was kind of Pietro’s catchphrase, in retrospect seems like something he might have asked himself after the attack that killed his parents. Just a thought. But Pietro’s speed always seemed to have a blue, almost magical effect in the blur as he ran, which isn’t so dissimilar to the magic we saw Agatha’s mom using in her little origin scene.
All throughout Wanda’s story, we could see television being something that comforted her. She was watching it when Vision first visited her in her bedroom at the Avengers compound, right after her brother was killed by Ultron. That’s when Vision put into words what the whole premise of this show is; it isn’t about introducing the multiverse or the X-Men or the Fantastic Four to the MCU, it is simply about Wanda Maximoff, and unpacking the grief she carries with her.
Wanda says of her grief, “It’s just like this wave washing over me again and again. It knocks me down and when I try to stand up, it just comes for me again. And I can’t… It’s gonna drown me.”
And Vision replies, “It can’t be all sorrow, can it? I’ve always been alone so I don’t feel the lack. It’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve never experienced loss because I’ve never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?”
With these memories, Agatha is trying to break Wanda down; as we will learn, she wants to steal Wanda’s magic, and the best way to do that is to make Wanda feel like she can’t have what she wants as long as she still has that magic. But I think it was this moment, reliving this memory, that ultimately helped Wanda realize that she’s not lost the love she had for Vision or for Pietro or for her parents. She feels her grief because she still has love for them.
But we aren’t done with the memory train yet; Agatha then shows Wanda what appears to be just days after Endgame, when Wanda went to S.W.O.R.D. to reclaim Vision’s body. All this time, we’d been lead to believe she stole Vision’s corpse from Hayward and that’s what she’s reanimated in Westview. But she never stole Vision; she realized that Vision- who he was, his soul if you will- was no longer there, and she left empty-handed (we discover later that Hayward repurposed Vision’s corpse into a new “Vision” programmed to destroy Wanda and her creation).
And that’s when Wanda ended up in Westview, on a plot of land that Vision had apparently purchased for them to start a home. We see on the land deed, he drew a heart (the same heart that was on the calendar in the first episode), labeling it a place “to grow old in”. We’ve now come to the deepest moment of Wanda’s despair. This is the moment her emotions let loose; as we saw in Age of Ultron when her brother died, her magic reaches out, uncontrolled. Except this time it recreates Westview and its citizens as a classic television sitcom. And it creates a whole new Vision from her mind.
Agatha defines this power as chaos magic and labels Wanda the Scarlet Witch, a being that the Darkhold- the book in her basement (and maybe connected to the book on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., even though it looks different?)- has foretold would come. A being whose power exceeds that of the Sorcerer Supreme himself.
The final episode of the series- and yes, I do think this is the end of the series, not just of season one- ends how you would expect any Marvel movie to end; Wanda faces off against Agatha Harkness while Vision faces off against… well, Vision. We get the climactic battle and it is downright epic.
I won’t bore you with the details (too late), as it is much better to watch, but a few game-changing things happen throughout the conflict:
- Vision awakens the real Vision being controlled by Hayward, who then zooms off to most likely appear in a future Marvel project. I’ve seen a wicked Funko Pop online that looks like white Vision but is blue and black with red accents… We didn’t see this version of Vision in the episode, but is this maybe a hint towards his future appearance? Who knows, but expect to see him back in the future in some form or fashion.
- Monica escapes “Fietro” after discovering that he is the mysterious Ralph (Bohner; sorry, Quicksilver fans) that Agnes kept mentioning, and teams up with the twins, discovering some new abilities (she can phase like Vision, making me wonder if her passing through the Hex gave her a blend of Vision, Wanda, and Agatha’s powers).
- Darcy rams an ice cream truck up Hayward’s ass, ensuring that he gets arrested.
- Jimmy Woo owns being in charge of the FBI team that comes in to clean up Hayward’s mess.
And of course, Wanda and Agatha battle it out, with the Wicked Witch of Westview claiming that if Wanda gives up her powers to her, she’ll fix the errors in Wanda’s Hex to keep her version of Vision and her children alive. She tells Wanda that she has power but no training, but Wanda apparently is a fast learner; after feigning giving her powers to Agatha, Agatha realizes she can’t use her magic at all, because Wanda added runes to the Hex- remember, only the witch who cast the runes can use her magic (and I was wondering why Wanda kept missing Agatha in their final fight).
And then Wanda takes back her magic to properly appear for the first time in the MCU as Scarlet Witch. Bad. Ass.
At that moment, I realized what WandaVision truly was; it’s an origin story. It’s an origin story unlike any that we’ve ever seen before because we’ve seen Wanda before, lots of times before. But at this moment, you understand that everything Wanda Maximoff has done in the MCU up to this point has been a prelude to her becoming the powerful Marvel figure that she was destined to be. This is Scarlet Witch’s origin story, and the best, I think, is yet to come for her.
And let me say, this might just be my favorite origin story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It isn’t a happy ending for Wanda, though. By the end, she realizes she needs to destroy the Hex and let the citizens of Westview go. And destroying the Hex means giving up Vision and their children. It’s bittersweet, but it ends on a hopeful note; just before he disappears, Vision tells Wanda that they’ve said goodbye before, so it stands to reason…
“We’ll say hello again,” completes Wanda. And I think that’s true; another version of Vision is out there. We don’t know what he remembers, if he’s good or evil or somewhere in between, but he’s out there. And eventually, I expect he’ll find his way back to her. But that doesn’t stop how heartbreaking it is when this Vision fades away.
In the end, Westview seems to have been an unintentional therapy session (maybe she should have just used Tony Stark’s B.A.R.F. program instead… oh wait, Mysterio’s about to use that against Peter Parker). She ends up standing in the empty lot where this all started, but instead of being overcome by grief again, she now seems to have worked through her sorrow and has come out on the other side. Love has persevered.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As is Marvel’s custom, they took two characters- actually more than two, if we count Darcy and Jimmy and Monica- that I didn’t really care about that much, and turned them into some of my absolute favorites. Where I wasn’t looking forward to WandaVision as much as I was other upcoming Marvel projects, I now cannot wait to see any of these characters resurface in future movies and shows.
But where will they be resurfacing?
Let’s dig in:
- Wanda, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, will next be appearing in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. That’s fitting since we last saw her in a cabin in the middle of nowhere astral-projecting and studying the Darkhold, which is the exact same way Doctor Strange studied when he was at Kamar-Taj (also, Doctor Strange’s theme can be heard in the background). It isn’t clear from this scene if she’s already been in contact with Strange, but she is definitely learning more about her powers, and we briefly hear her sons calling for help- maybe she and Strange are entering the Multiverse to find them in another dimension? Also, since we know Doctor Strange will appear in Spider-Man: No Way Home, I wonder if Wanda will also be appearing in that movie? No doubt whatever is causing Peter Parker to square off against Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock and Jamie Foxx’s Electro (and J.K. Simmons’ Jameson) has something to do with the multiverse shenanigans that she and Strange are getting into.
- Vision- the white one built from the dead Vision’s body- is still out there, and it seemed like the Hex Vision was able to restore his suppressed memories. I’m curious that when this Vision flew off, he didn’t go to Wanda but instead left the Hex, so I’m wondering if he is really all there, or if he is struggling with his Vision memories and his S.W.O.R.D. reprogramming (and maybe Ultron is swimming around in there too?). I’m very curious to see when and how he appears next.
- At the end, Monica is approached by an F.B.I. agent who turns out to be a Skrull and is being invited to go into space. We know she’ll be appearing in the Captain Marvel sequel (and just noting that Monica seemed to show some resentment towards the mention of Carol Danvers in an earlier episode of WandaVision), but this could also tie her into an appearance on the upcoming Secret Invasion series starring Nick Fury and Talos. Very interesting.
- Darcy Lewis is also slated to return, according to Kat Dennings, but when and where, I have no earthly idea. Maybe in Secret Invasion as well, maybe in Loki (she does know his brother, after all). But wherever she shows up, she’s gonna be a scene-stealer for sure.
- I haven’t heard of any plans for James Woo to return, but Marvel would be absolutely crazy not to bring him back again. Since Coulson died (and since his resurrection on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t been addressed in the movies), Woo has been one of the most grounded and wholesome characters to appear in the MCU, and I’d love to see him come back for more adventures. The safest bet would be in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, since he originated in that series, but now that he’s crossed over to another here, the sky is the limit. You go get ’em, Jimmy!
- It turned out to be Agatha all along, and not Mephisto or anyone else pulling the strings, but that was fine, cause Katherine Hahn became probably my most likable villain since Loki. And like Thor’s brother, she’s one of the few MCU villains who didn’t meet a grim fate in the end; Wanda put a spell on her to trap her in Westview, playing the role of a nosy neighbor indefinitely. But we know she’ll be back; Wanda says she’ll be seeing Agatha again and, if she needs her, she knows right where to find her. I suppose we will have to wait and see if Agatha finds a way to break out of this spell or if Wanda will indeed need her help in the future. Also, since Agatha likes to steal magic and Mordo is somewhere out there trying to rid the world of sorcerers, I could see them making a good team-up to take on Wanda and Strange.
- Ralph Bohner. No, seriously, hear me out. I’m fine with him being nothing more than a guy that Agatha repurposed to be “Fake Pietro” in Wanda’s narrative. The reveal of his name was about as hilarious as that time the Mandarin turned out to be Trevor Slattery (and before you say anything, the Mandarin twist had me in tears laughing in the theater… I don’t care if Mandarin fans were pissed, that was brilliant in my book). But… but… we never found out who Jimmy Woo’s missing witness protection person was. Just maybe it was Ralph Bohner, and just maybe it was actually, truly, really Peter Maximoff in hiding in an alternate universe from his own because… well… who knows. Look, it’s s stretch, but never rule anything out in the MCU, ok?
- We don’t have to wait too long for the next MCU property, which is good, because with the pandemic we’ve been waiting for long enough. While Disney still hasn’t given us Black Widow (they are still eyeing a theatrical release this summer… good luck!), Falcon and the Winter Soldier is right around the corner. And Spider-Man will be swinging back into theaters in December as well. But if WandaVision proved anything at all, it is that Endgame wasn’t the end of Marvel’s cinematic golden age, it was just the beginning.