Grief, redemption, and healing from trauma: Reflections on ‘WandaVision’

I won’t say that the final episode of WandaVision made me cry. However, I definitely had a strange watery-ness in my eyes, particularly during the final scenes, as Wanda’s artificial reality comes crashing down, and Wanda and Vision are forced to say goodbye, yet again. 

I wasn’t prepared for just how good the first Marvel Cinematic Universe show on Disney+ was going to be. I wasn’t even particularly hyped for WandaVision after seeing the promotional material. But the trippy, Twilight Zone meets I Love Lucy vibe sucked me in right away, and I binged the whole series in just a few days — and normally I’m not an obsessive binge-watcher. 

There were many things to love about WandaVision. I adored Kathryn Hahn’s character (especially the “Agatha All Along” reveal), and Monica Rambeau, Jimmy Woo, and Darcy Lewis made a great trio working on the outside of Wanda’s construct to save both her and the people of Westview trapped under her spell. And I loved, loved, loved Wanda’s new Scarlet Witch costume, and I can’t wait to buy a Funko Pop of that. 

However, the main reason this show has lingered with me is just how deeply it dived into some pretty heavy themes: namely grief and the process of recovering from the trauma caused by the sudden, violent loss of your loved ones. 

Age of Ultron is actually my least favorite MCU movie, but darn it if WandaVision didn’t make me care about the relationship between Wanda and her twin brother Pietro in a new way. Wanda’s entire history has been riddled with loss, starting with the death of her parents in an explosion in war-torn Sokovia. Wanda and her brother are recruited and brainwashed by Hydra, then they join the Avengers, only for her twin brother to die in the ensuing battle. 

Wanda finds a new family with the Avengers, and even falls in love with Vision. Yet he too is eventually taken from her, when Thanos rips the Mind Stone from his head. Wanda vanishes in “the snap,” and now has to adjust to life in a universe forever altered by Thanos’ act of genocide and the absence of the man she loves.

Grief and trauma are challenging topics to cover in fictional media, because every person’s response to these situations is different. Some people draw inwards, shutting off the outside world. Others lash out at those around them, processing their sorrow through anger. Still others may seek to distract themselves, trying to feel anything but the pain gnawing away at them. 

Wanda’s actions — taking an entire town prisoner and placing them under her mind control — is in no way a justifiable action. In seeking comfort for her loss, Wanda strips away the rights and free will of the people living in Westview. Yet it’s hard to judge her, because if we had her powers, and experienced everything she went through, would we not be tempted to do the same thing?

Wanda has experienced so much trauma and tragedy that she reaches a place where she just can’t deal with it anymore. Her powers help her create an alternate reality that, on the surface, seems even better than the life she used to lead. She returns to the childhood solace that sitcoms always brought her. She’s able to live inside a completely-controlled “happily ever after,” and she is the master of her own reality. Here, her heart will always be protected from getting broken. 

But eventually, this reality starts to crumble, because there’s an unavoidable hollowness to it. Deep down, she knows she’s just trying to hide from her grief, rather than confront it, and it keeps festering inside her. The life she shares with Vision and her sons isn’t real, and she’s actively harming the residents of Westview, preventing them from living their own lives with their own friends and families.

Wanda may feel “happy” inside the artificial world of WandaVision, but she won’t be able to heal until she starts acknowledging and processing her trauma. It’s all right for her to sob and scream and admit that her heart is shattered. Her alternate reality is an ineffective bandage on a difficult-to-heal wound; only at the end of the series do we truly see her start working through her emotions in a healthy way.

The show definitely makes us feel empathy for Wanda’s situation; however, the one issue I’m still puzzling over is whether it effectively holds her accountable for her actions. 

I’m a huge fan of redemption arcs in fiction, and I love a good villain-to-hero turnaround. Wanda’s story in her Disney+ series is so wonderfully complex that at times she does almost cross over Into “villain” territory, yet she never stops being a sympathetic character. 

I have hardly any complaints about WandaVision, but one thing I would have liked to see more of is Wanda processing and dealing with the fallout of her mind control spell in Westview. The scene where the people of Westview surround her, forcing her to admit what she’s done and how she’s hurt them, is absolutely heart-wrenching. I wish we would have seen her do more for the townspeople after the big battle in the sky with Agatha. 

Still, as we well know, the MCU is an ever-continuing story, and we’re supposed to see Wanda again in the new Doctor Strange movie. It’s possible we’ll see more details about her redemption arc, OR we could see her continue to experiment with the dark side, using her powers to manipulate reality in a dangerous way.

I’m torn between whether I want to see Wanda as a full-on villain, because I think the MCU is desperately in need of complex, multi-layered female villains. Yet I’m also really rooting for Wanda to get her happily ever after. Maybe the new Doctor Strange movie will find a way to do both. 

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