This article contains WandaVision spoilers.
Marvel’s WandaVision is many things: The story of one of comics’ most iconic couples, a love letter to the American sitcom, and a bizarre, genre-hopping mystery through an alternate – or altered, none of this is super clear just yet – reality.
It’s also the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first real story about grief. Sure, sad things have happened in this franchise before: Multiple characters have died, in satisfyingly heroic (Tony Stark) and frustratingly sexist (Natasha Romanoff, Gamora) ways. Others bear lingering scars from the things that have happened to them, both physical (James Rhodes) and mental (Bucky Barnes). To put it bluntly: Tragedy is nothing new in this universe. But realistic, extended fallout from it is.
WandaVision is the first time the MCU is actively exploring the consequences – emotional and otherwise – of what it means to be a superhero and doing so by focusing on the Avenger who has ostensibly suffered most of all. From a childhood spent being manipulated by Hydra to an adulthood in which she had to kill the man she loved in the name of saving the universe, Wanda Maximoff has been asked to endure a heck of a lot, often with little reward.
Basically, if anybody deserves the right to hide from their personal trauma in what is essentially a comfort marathon of classic comedies, it’s Wanda, the woman whose entire life has been shaped around her powers and who has paid the price for it over and over again. But WandaVision has shown us repeatedly that its real story isn’t one of escapism, but reckoning.
And in it, we’re finally getting the chance to see the true impact of everything she’s been through – something that goes well beyond just her grief over Vision’s death.
This is a woman who has been erased and ignored, and though she’s appeared in four Marvel feature films, her story has never been centered in any significant way. WandaVision not only acknowledges that fact but attempts to correct it, depicting the scope of her personal trauma in a way that the films have never attempted and doing so in a way that doesn’t judge her for her choices.
The result is heartbreaking and horrifying by turns, as Wanda gives herself the life she’s always wanted but does so at the expense of everyone around her, including the man she loves.
Most of us went into WandaVision assuming that the show would somehow involve Wanda messing with or otherwise altering reality in response to the events of the last two Avengers movies, essentially so she could resurrect her dead boyfriend. But the reality that Wanda has created is about so much more than Vision, subtly incorporating multiple elements of the dark things that clearly linger in her psyche and have never had the chance to heal.
Throughout the season we’ve seen hints that Westview is about Wanda processing a lifetime’s worth of heartache through the medium with which she apparently feels most comfortable: The safe coziness of television sitcoms. A world where there’s no problem so big that it can’t be solved in thirty minutes, where family really is forever, and in which a happy ending is virtually guaranteed.
But ignoring trauma is not the same thing as facing it, and we see Wanda’s inner turmoil bubble to the surface in the form of the strange commercials that pop up during her broadcasts, featuring products like Stark Industries toasters, Strucker watches, and Hydra Soak bath powder. Not only are these items just downright weird, they all reflect dark elements of Wanda’s own past that she’s apparently still struggling to come to terms with.
What is Lagos?
The ad spot in WandaVision’s fifth installment, however, is a next-level gut-punch. “On a Very Special Episode” features an 80s-style commercial for Lagos paper towels, a brand that markets itself as “For when you make a mess you didn’t mean to.” It’s clearly a reference to the events of Captain America: Civil War, when Wanda accidentally killed a number of innocent civilians while trying to save Steve Rogers – and a bunch of other innocent people – in the Nigerian city of Lagos. Her disastrous mistake is the reason the Sokovia Accords were introduced, and her guilt over this event is one of the few times the MCU has actually attached real consequences to any of its heroes’ actions.
Given how many people blamed Wanda for what happened – and the fact that no one other than Steve has ever really bothered to talk to her about how she felt about it – it makes sense that this is something she’s still carrying with her, and that remorse and sorrow have clearly affected how she’s behaved as an Avenger ever since. Could one reason that everyone is so shocked by the scope of the power that Wanda’s displaying now be because she’s subconsciously tamped down her abilities in the wake of what happened in Lagos? At this point, it would likely make more sense than not. (This is a woman who basically beat Thanos by herself, after all.)
The Return of Pietro
WandaVision also represents the first time we’ve gotten to see Wanda really grieve for her lost twin brother. The MCU’s original Pietro Maximoff was killed during Avengers: Age of Ultron and though we got to see Wanda react to his death in that film, none of the sequels that followed touched on how it impacted her life going forward. In fact, Pietro is pretty much never mentioned again, unless you count the part where Clint Barton names one of his kids after him. Until now, anyway.
Not only does WandaVision allow Wanda to both acknowledge and mourn the absence of her sibling – particularly poignant when she herself gives birth to twins – but it also gives him back to her. Just perhaps not a way she likely would have ever wanted. Because while this is a Pietro, it’s most likely not her Pietro, and Wanda has somehow directly or indirectly ripped a hole in the multiverse and ported the Evan Peters version of Quicksilver over from the FOX X-Men film franchise.
This would certainly provide a rather obvious lead-in to upcoming Marvel film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but it also heaps another pile of potential pain on a woman with more than her share already. If Wanda’s still struggling to make peace with everything from the accident in Laos to Vision’s death, what’s going to happen when she finally realizes the true cost of this picture-perfect world she’s living in?