WandaVision, Part 1: Prelude to Westview

Note: This is the first in a three-part series exploring WandaVision, with an emphasis on the show’s unique development of Wanda Maximoff’s character and personal journey. Part 1 discusses Wanda’s condition before the events of Westview. Part 2 will discuss the show itself. Part 3 will conclude with personal thoughts about my own journey through crisis and continuing recovery.

Be warned, spoilers abound.

In 2013, Warner Brothers released Man of Steel, its most recent attempt to reboot Superman as a movie hero in its DC Comic universe. Intended to play as a dark counter to the serio-comic Marvel universe—whose biggest stars at the time were Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’s fish-out-of-water Captain America—Man of Steel underperformed with both critics and ticket buyers, neither of whom could be sold on director Zach Snyder’s bleak vision.

The movie’s final scenes came under particular criticism for depicting Superman and archenemy General Zod laying waste to Metropolis, then concluding with Superman snapping Zod’s neck and killing him. Critics gave particular notice to the lack of physical or emotional consequence in these scenes. As one critic wrote about the movie:

Snyder depicts an apocalyptic battle between Superman and Zod that inflicts planetary devastation on a scale hundreds of times larger than 9/11, with no real acknowledgment of death or suffering or moral consequences that might endanger the PG-13 rating.

Another wrote:

The fact that nobody thought that Superman should have any emotional reaction to killing someone is either confusing or incredibly cynical. The fact that this is being sold as family entertainment proves that we are really just screwing with our kids now.

2012’s The Avengers drew similar criticisms—a year before Man of Steel’s release—for its depiction of a New York laid to waste by alien invasion. But Marvel’s superheroes have been gifted with two advantages that others have not. First, Marvel’s heroes are relatively self-aware. Recall Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner saying “We’re not a team, we’re a time bomb.” And second, Marvel’s heroes are literally in the streets protecting civilians, the movie toggling between large-scale scenes of Iron Man and Hulk and smaller scenes of hand-to-hand combat involving Captain America and Scarlett Johansen’s Black Widow.1In Man of Steel, Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan are unsubtle about comparing Superman to Christ. Given the distance that modern Christianity has put between Christ and the individual, the irony has only thickened since 2013, though further analysis must await a future day. These scenes, featuring scared, endangered civilians, at least remind the viewer that scaled destruction would come at unspeakable costs—at least so much as a 2-hour popcorn movie can do without scaring the children.

By 2015’s Age of Ultron, Marvel had established that its universe would have consequences. Ultron was Tony Stark’s creation, a misguided attempt at a worldwide Strategic Defense Initiative.2The official name of Reagan’s so-called “Star Wars” missile-defense program of the 1980s Though the inevitable shootout concludes the movie, it is carried out amidst the evacuation of civilians from Novi Grad, the Sokovian capital that Ultron intends to use as an extinction-level asteroid strike. The Avengers manage to defeat Ultron, but collateral damage is inevitable. Novi Grad is destroyed before it can cause an extinction-level event, but its smaller pieces fall to Earth and kill thousands nonetheless.

An outsized portion of those consequences have fallen on Wanda Maximoff. After being released from Hydra, she and her brother Pietro joined Ultron based on their joint hatred of Tony Stark. It was only after she learned of Ultron’s plan to use her homeland as the means of destroying Earth that she decided to join them. Her brother died in the ensuing battle, shot protecting a Sokovian child during the evacuation. Her power destroyed Ultron, but it also inadvertently put into motion the chain of events that would lead to thousands of innocent deaths. She was saved, survivor’s guilt and all, only because Ultron retrieved her before impact.

A year later, in Captain America: Civil War, Wanda again bore the consequences of tragedy. Nevertheless, her attempt to control a suicide vest explosion went awry when she sent it into a nearby office building full of Nigerians. Dozens died, and it made very little difference to Wanda that her actions had simply changed the identities of the dead.

Enter Vision. Wanda has been gaslighted her entire life. Hydra used her as a guinea pig for years, unaware that it was cultivating her latent powers. Ultron did the same. Both used the central trauma of her life—watching her parents die then spending several days at the mercy of an unexploded Stark missile—to extract what they wanted from her. She has ended up in the Avengers’ company, but they don’t fully trust her either. When Secretary Ross confronts them with the Sokovia Accords, Wanda realizes that she has no choice in the matter—she may be hunted by the world’s combined military forces if she doesn’t.

It is Vision who speaks up. “We would protect you.” Vision has seen what Wanda can do. And shortly after this scene, Wanda will unleash a power against Vision that even he can’t resist. It is hard to believe that Vision does not know Wanda has these capabilities, and likely is more than able to use them for protection.

No, Vision’s commitment here is not what it appears. Vision is telling Wanda that she has found her people, and is safe with them. They will tell her the truth. They will suffer as she does, from guilt, pain, and the responsibility weighing them all down. She may find refuge and understanding there.

But then, Tony Stark sends her back to her room for more sitcom duty, aware that the public considers her a menace. She intends to leave, when Vision plays the card he’s been holding back. Stark has told Vision not to let Wanda leave. It may be a gilded cage, but it’s yet another cage.

Again, the pattern is repeating. Wanda is being gaslighted. The fear is back—she has the illusion of freedom but, in fact, no freedom at all. To her in this moment, none of what she is experiencing is different from her Sokovian childhood, Hydra’s exploitation, or Ultron’s manipulations. But Wanda is learning. She intends to leave, and uses an energy bolt to drive Vision hundreds of feet into the Earth, incapacitating him. Or put another way, it’s probably fair to say he let her go.

Relationships should be built in truth and trust. But we are mortal, and a great many times we fail. A few strategies exist for these occasions, many of them wholly dysfunctional. In the worst circumstances, the liar simply refuses to admit the lie, even after the truth is exposed. On other occasions, the liar tells more lies, shading the truth to cover for the first lie, creating a daisy-chain of deceit. Still others justify—“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH.”

The betrayed has fewer options, but when Vision finally admits the truth, Wanda exercises the best of them. She confronts Vision directly with his betrayal, and demonstrates the depth of her resulting pain— dramatically. This kind of confrontation inevitably ends a false relationship, probably for the best.

But in a true relationship—one that matters and is worth saving—the recipient recognizes confrontation as an invitation. In this kind of emotional maelstrom is found an exacting truth—the source of one’s own vulnerability. When vulnerability is met with vulnerability, the kindling of love, friendship, and family sparks anew.

Vision—the least “human” of the Avengers—intuitively understands that despite Wanda’s attack, she is not a threat. An insentient robot would have retaliated. Instead, Vision understands. Her vulnerabilities are her grief and guilt, which in turn influence—often dangerously—her control of her powers. But he responds in kind: He demonstrates that he is vulnerable to her power in a way he is not to others. Later, Vision and Wanda reconcile, start a romance, and attempt to fade into a quiet life together, which works for a time.

Then Thanos. When he rips the Mindstone from Vision’s forehead, Wanda loses the only person to whom she can show everything and remain safe—her power, her vulnerability, her pain. If the universe is going to take that from her, she will have to build a replacement. Separate beds and all.

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