By C.E. Stone
Marvel’s latest miniseries is a lesson in avoiding the truth…and the painful consequences that result.
Some of us just can’t cope with loss. Some of us simply can’t move on. In the Marvel Universe, some superheroes have the power to create alternate realities so they don’t have to.
Of course, I’m talking about Disney’s latest miniseries, “WandaVision.” Cleverly titled as a double reference, “WandaVision” has been highly unique from the start. The first episodes play like a well-done sitcom, taking place through different decades that pay homage to classic shows. Yet early on, we as the viewer know something’s terribly off.
(Caution: spoilers ahead! I'll be talking about the show with the assumption you’ve seen it.)
A lady laughs and tells her husband to “stop it” as he’s choking to death. Agnes, the neighbor next door, seems helpful but mysterious. A toy helicopter falls from the sky, a man in a beekeeping suit crawls out of a manhole, and an ominous voice cuts into a broadcast to ask: “Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?”
As the series progresses, events make more sense and we see the forces behind several mysterious happenings. I won’t dive into the mystery aspect of the show, but the way everything unfolds is brilliantly executed and masterfully written. My focus, however, is on the themes of WandaVision and the significance of its incredibly clever title.
In the first few shows, we’re given subtle glimpses that Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen’s) reality isn’t real at all. This is bolstered by the television show frame narrative and the highly symbolic credits sequence. We can also tell something is wrong with Wanda’s Vision.
I’m referring of course to the character played by Paul Bettany, whose acting is first-rate. We get a hint of how horribly off things are with him in the 1970s episode. Wanda sees a corpselike version of Vision, grayed out and with a hole in his head. It’s only a flash, but very creepy, and hints that the real Vision may still be dead. By the Halloween special, we realize the Vision of Wanda’s reality is indeed not the genuine article. This brings out a fascinating point.
As part of Wanda’s delusion, Vision seems to serve as her conscience. He stands up to Wanda while she tries avoiding the harsh realities of life, much like the real Vision would. Namely, he points out that the Avenger’s delusions and attempts to avoid the truth are hurting others.
Wanda created this false reality. While we do learn that an evil witch named Agatha has been messing things up, it’s Wanda who ultimately holds everyone hostage…with her grief. Yet her conscience, in the form of Vision, recognizes the wrongness of it and seeks to right things. This leads to a battle between him and Wanda, because the other part of her can’t accept the solution: to face the truth that Vision was lost to her and she can’t handle the grief.
The core of WandaVision, after all, is dealing with loss. As the real Vision so eloquently puts it, “what is grief, but love persevering?” Wanda has known little else but loss. What happiness she’s had came from watching her favorite TV shows and losing herself in a delusion. So, it’s no surprise that she attempts to avoid her grief by recreating a sitcom-perfect life. This is Wanda’s vision. So many loved ones have died in her life that she reaches a breaking point.
She creates a false reality out of her pain, not seeming to realize that her grief is a gift…proof of her love persevering. Just as lies so easily entangle, so the hapless citizens of Westview are ensnared by her elaborate avoidance of grief. They look happy on the outside, yet when Vision taps into their true feelings, they moan and beg to be freed from constant pain. Just like Wanda on the inside, really.
WandaVision is then a lesson in self-delusion. By creating a pretend life, Wanda avoids the agony of grief, sorrow, and loss. Yet others suffer from her decision to live a lie, and this lie cannot last. Her own conscience, Vision, sabotages her. When she tries to extend the lie (the Hex perimeter), it’s too for her to sustain. The bigger the lie, the harder it is to control, and Wanda starts to unravel with her delusion.
The fake Vision can’t help noticing this, discovering that everyone at the edges of town is frozen and that Wanda’s lies have their limits. He consequently tries to leave the Hex, as if Wanda’s conscience is acknowledging the lie and trying to break free. However, doing so makes him start to literally fall apart, because lies can’t survive in the outside world of reality.
Along with exploring the perils of deception, WandaVision is a masterful example of the power of truth. This is best seen in the character of Monica Rambeau, who does everything within her power to help Wanda. A victim of grief and the Snap herself, Monica ends up in the fake TV show. Like all the other people trapped there, she can’t remember who she was or how she arrived. By the ‘70s episode, Monica starts remembering things, and her facts threaten Wanda’s fiction. Wanda expels her violently from the Hex, but she emerges determined to go back. Unlike the troubled Avenger, Monica recognizes that Wanda created this projection to avoid the truth. And this avoidance is threatening everyone in Westview and beyond.
Monica also understands that grief and reality can’t be avoided. Her own mother’s death during the Snap has taught her that they must be faced head-on and accepted. Monica’s dogged determination is why she alone breaks back into Wanda’s world. However, she returns altered, her vision literally changed. She’s able to see things others can’t, and this symbolizes her role as a truth-teller. Wanda reacts with anger when Monica confronts her in the Hex, accusing her of lying. Rambeau tellingly retorts that the only lies she tells “are the ones you put in my mouth.”
She alone ultimately reaches Wanda because she understands her grief. Since Monica lost her mother, she states that “the worst thing I can think of has already happened to me and I can’t change it, I can’t undo it…and I don’t think I want to. Because it’s my truth.” Wanda’s vision, and Vision, have been lost in a tangle of lies. She needs the help of Monica, a woman who successfully processed her grief, accepted the realities of loss, and learned from it.
I won’t discuss any more of WandaVision’s themes. I could honestly write a doctoral thesis on them, so I’ll close with two more points. One, the scene where Wanda finds her beloved Vision dead and in pieces symbolizes her emotional state. It’s no coincidence that she falls apart after seeing his corpse, and I think it’s noteworthy that Vision comes back to life once Wanda starts acknowledging her delusions. As she allows herself to face the truth…she’s grieving, she retreated into her favorite shows to escape reality, she’s hurting others…her Vision comes back.
Second, although Agatha serves as a surprise villain, her role in WandaVision goes well beyond this. For most of the series, Agatha is the manipulative witch (pun intended) secretly calling the shots. She acts like a best friend who just wants to protect Wanda, but it’s really a front for keeping her false reality going. In episode 8, Agatha’s role reverses. She ironically forces Wanda to confront her past, which is the very thing that ends up helping the Scarlet Witch.
Faced with the losses that led to her breakdown, Wanda’s vision begins to clear. She starts to feel and, subsequently, heal. This growth enables her to start down the path toward greater powers and finding herself. Figuratively, and literally. That’s why the final battle, when Wanda uses Agatha’s tricks against her, feels so poetically fitting. Empowered by healing and truth, Wanda is a new person. She no longer falls for others’ traps, for she’s given up her own self-deceptions.
As flawed human beings, we must often face the hard truth about ourselves in order to grow. The same applies to Wanda. While this growth may not come with a new name, superhero powers, or defeating a villain, it has the same outcome. We see the world through more accurate lenses, and we are able to learn from loss and pain instead of letting it control us.
After all, that’s ultimately the lesson to be learned by the restoration of Wanda’s vision. Grief is love persevering. It’s not something to be avoided, shut away, or denied. And there is great power in the restoration that truth brings.