This article contains WandaVision spoilers.
As much as we love it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never been great about telling complex emotional stories. Perhaps that’s understandable, as the franchise’s various Avengers must regularly wrestle with potentially world-ending stakes and still somehow save the day, all within a two-and-a-half-hour theatrical runtime. These aren’t stories that generally time to be but so concerned with things like the psychological trauma that inevitably resulted from these life-or-death events or how our heroes are meant to heal from them, provided they manage to do so at all.
Thankfully, WandaVision seems determined to change that, acknowledging not just the scope of the horror that Wanda Maximoff has been forced to endure but how much pain the simple act of survival has left her in. The sort of extended trauma that likely necessitates the creation of a false alternate reality in order to process.
It’s important to remember that for Wanda, Vision’s death is still incredibly immediate. Thanks to the Blip, maybe a month has passed for her since she was forced to kill the love of her life. She’s returned to a world that looks nothing like the one she remembers and discovered a weird government agency had been experimenting with her dead boyfriend’s body for five years. That, as my grandmother would say, is an awful big dose.
But Wanda isn’t the only one who has suffered trauma – a fact which WandaVision smartly reiterates through its absolute worst character: SWORD director Tyler Hayward. Granted, it’s difficult to feel anything close to sympathy for a man who openly belittles his employees and insists that Wanda deserves death for her crimes. Yet, as awful as he is, the show momentarily asks us to consider doing so anyway. Because Hayward still represents an important perspective within this story: Those that were left behind.
The Blip may have erased half the universe’s population, but it also tore the rug out from under all those that remained, taking their loved ones with little explanation and no indication that they might ever return. The world got really dark and scary really fast, and it makes a certain amount of sense that those who were forced to live through that experience might resent those for whom that time simply never existed. Or, as in Hayward’s case, hate those superpowered beings he blames for causing it in the first place, and attempt to contain them using the sort of shady methods generally reserved for mad scientists and arms dealers.
WandaVision is just bursting with hurting people making bad choices. A tragedy, but one we, as viewers can – and are directly encouraged – to understand.
In the end, it is Monica Rambeau, herself a victim of the Blip, who most clearly recognizes what Wanda’s going through. Returning to the world to find her mother has died and a complete asshole has taken over the organization that Maria built, she too is being forced to rapidly adjust to a less-than-ideal reality. But it is that same shared grief, that same anger over being stuck in a past that no longer exists while everyone around them has moved on, that allows Monica to relate to Wanda and advocate for a deeper understanding of her as a person. After all, these are feelings she shares.
Because Monica, too, is hurting. She’s angry. She also woke up in a world she no longer recognizes, with a dead loved one, and the knowledge that the Blip stole something precious from her by erasing her from her mother’s last years of life. Maybe part of her poorly suppressed fury at Carol Danvers has something to do with Captain Marvel not being around to stop Thanos the first time.
But, unlike Hayward and other figures whose lives were traumatized by the Blip, Monica hasn’t let that anger make her cruel or hard. Instead, her experience seems to have just made her more empathetic, more compassionate towards those like Wanda who experienced the same trauma. She gets why Wanda’s angry. She understands how the impossible thing that everyone is trying to ask of her is – that she get up, go back to being a hero, be fine and normal again – because it’s what they want from her too. And, truly, no one, whether they disappeared in the Blip or remained behind, should honestly be fine right now. The idea is ridiculous on its face.
WandaVision is also clearly asking us, as viewers, to display a similar empathy, to resist the urge to declare Wanda a monster for what are objectively monstrous actions. The show repeatedly goes out of its way to remind us of all the things she has lost, even as it refuses to flinch from displaying the terrible consequences of her actions. (See also: The uber-creepy shots of crying, frozen Westview citizens and jump scares involving reanimated dead bodies of her husband and brother.)
Wanda and Pietro
But what’s so exceptional about Wanda’s heart-to-heart with Pietro in “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!” – besides her actually getting some face-to-face empathy from a character that cares about her and hush with all your he’s secretly Mephisto theories, thanks – is that it recognizes that she has actually tried to mitigate some of the pain she’s inflicted on others. As her brother points out, in her fictional Westview, most residents kept their original personalities. Families stayed together; she’s given them better jobs. She’s taken their free will but tried to make up for it by offering them their best lives in exchange.
“You were always the empathetic twin,” Pietro tells his sister, highlighting that even at this, arguably her worst and lowest moment, she still cares. WandaVision clearly doesn’t want us to see Wanda as the villain of this tale – it wants us to try and understand her, to sympathize, to think about the way such power and trauma might combine to make us behave. To see that this is a woman in pain and offer her our compassion rather than our fear.
Monica responds to Wanda with empathy rather than anger because she herself is a woman grieving, and can recognize that hurt in another. And that compassion is probably the most powerful weapon at SWORD’s disposal right now. Bullets or drone strikes are never going to be a match for a woman who can bend reality to her whim. Westview will only be released when Wanda decides to free it, when she remembers what it’s like to have her choices taken away and sees its residents as real people, not just necessary props for her perfect sitcom paradise. Everyone’s hurting, and the only way to heal is to try and do it together.