The finale of the superhero sitcom leaves fan theories to rest
~Ian Burke, Staff Writer~
(This article contains spoilers for WandaVision)
Nine weeks and dozens of fan theories later, Marvel and Disney+ has seen critical acclaim from their run of WandaVision, the first Marvel property released during the pandemic, centered around the eponymous superhero couple. The series is markedly different from other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) properties in its stylistic qualities, namely its adherence to several different era’s visual and narrative styles of family sitcom television. While other Marvel television series such as Daredevil or Jessica Jones have remarkably similar styles of filming and narrative structure, WandaVision manages to play with sitcom narrative structure and deliver a thematically potent character story about Wanda coming to terms with loss and past traumas.
Before getting into the meat of the show, one aspect of the series that must be addressed is the abundance of fan theories and video thinkpieces dissecting every single design facet and quip of dialogue in each episode. The videos that followed the series finale were ripe with fan outrage and disappointment that certain twists or surprise character reveals didn’t happen and they cannot be entirely blamed for their responses. The casting of Evan Peters, who previously played a more comic-accurate version of Peter Maximoff in the “X-Men” franchise, as Wanda’s late brother Pietro who turned out to be a puppeteered actor with no connection to her is one example of perceived wasted potential. While this casting decision does have thematic relevance, it does speak to how the audience expected something more out of this casting decision. Other fan theories that gained traction during the series were the introduction of characters from the Fantastic Four or more mutant characters. While some of these fan theories had solid ground for their introduction into the MCU, a fan theory surrounding the character of Mephisto saw a huge amount of support for how little it made sense within the context of the universe. Nevermind how Mephisto would contribute to the villain problem which will be mentioned later, the MCU has done nothing to set up a character ostensibly based on a literary devil who rules a pocket dimension which he calls “Hell.” While the show does something to set up witches and occult influences in the MCU, the inclusion of Mephisto as a character would be jarring to the point of ridiculousness.
On a personal note this reviewer is somewhat burnt out by Disney’s various cinematic universes, Marvel included. So while there are issues in “WandaVision” that are somewhat unique to this show, the negatives of the show more or less stem from fundamental problems with the way Marvel has designed and written its Cinematic Universe to be nearly void of individual stylistic signature. While the A-plot of Wanda and Vision has a palpable sense of style and theme attached to it, the B-plot of S.W.O.R.D. and Monica Rambeau does not get the same level of emotionality or thematic depth. This is an issue that is both understandable and frustrating; Wanda and Vision both have their name in the story so it is logical that the thematic weight of the story lies with them, yet Monica’s parallel journey through grief does not register to the audience despite it being mentioned so often. Monica’s connection to Captain Marvel attempts to connect us to her character’s journey through grieving her mother’s death and coming to terms with her own death and resurrection, yet we are hardly ever given a moment where she deals with this in a way that is emotionally gratifying. And when the show attempts to equate Monica’s grief with Wanda’s, not delivering on one side of the emotional catharsis is somewhat of a waste. The villains present in both plots are both unnecessary, but the character of Agatha Harkness is far more memorable and sensical to the story than the Director Hayward, a character so thinly written that this review almost didn’t mention him because of how forgetful and unremarkable his character is. All of this can be easily chalked up to the writers choosing to go with the MCU’s by-the-numbers style in the B-plot, reserving the flashy sitcom style and emotional weight for the A-plot of Wanda’s family and Westview.
However the A-plot of Wanda and Vision is where the show excels in ways most superhero properties today fail. After over 10 years, this show is a rare instance in superhero media where we have a well-written and three dimensional married couple. This is even more impressive considering the fact that both Wanda and Vision were given next to no characterization in previous movies. Vision had almost no personality in his first two movies and became little more than a plot device in “Infinity War.” Wanda’s characterization was the miniscule amount of background detail mentioned in “Age of Ultron,” her thinly written romance with Vision in “Infinity War,” and her immense strength in her stand-off against Thanos in “Endgame.” In “WandaVision” we see massive and deep characterization for both characters, the moments they share together in love, heated argument and their farewell are the best and most well-executed scenes in the show. Vision possesses a wry sense of humor, intelligence, and a genuine love for his wife and children that brings so much more depth to him than the concept of the mind stone robot who could lift Thor’s hammer. Wanda’s journey is given much needed context and a depth that both recontextualizes her role in the greater MCU and gives depth to her character through her coming to terms with her loss and grief. As the show progresses, the viewer becomes more and more aware of Wanda’s umbrella of influence over Westview and it becomes clear that her unintentional creation of the Westview illusion came from a place of great loss and unresolved grief. This is a welcome and relieving narrative decision on the writers’ part, since other Marvel properties such as “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “Dark Phoenix” too easily fell into the “crazy magic lady” trope seen too often in comic book superheroines. However the villain problem enters the mix with the inclusion of Agatha Harkness. To her credit, this character’s inclusion both broadens the MCU to include more “hidden” groups of superpowered characters which allows for the inclusion of mutant characters to exist, however Agatha herself serves to develop Wanda’s character and her development into her identity as the Scarlet Witch. The show makes the questionable choice of making this character, who was a mentor and friend to Wanda in the comics, a chief antagonist in the story. The question of why Agatha had to be a villain enters the picture, bringing up images of female characters clashing with each other in action oriented stories rather than working together. Surprisingly, Disney made the right decision in their other tentpole streaming series “The Mandalorian,” by having their women characters work and look out for one another. All-in-all, it seems to be a somewhat harmless inclusion and one that gave us a fun and eclectic performance from Katheryn Hahn.
The bottom line is that this series did not necessarily need a central villain for Wanda to have a CGI sky-fight with, yet her narrative was not hurt or given less depth because of the shows’ other issues. Wanda learns to live with her grief and let go of the family we have grown attached to for the greater good, in an ending that is as empowering as it is heartbreaking. What this series shows is that the MCU truly values the long game, even if it sacrifices style to do it, the payoff can and often is immensely satisfying and cathartic to witness.