America's Sweetheart: Thoughts on WandaVision

I. The Show

WandaVision, Disney+'s strange, engrossing, fitfully effective sitcom parody turned superhero slapfight, which wrapped up its nine-episode run last weekend, begins with what can only be described as an impressive commitment to the bit. As the show opens, Wanda Maximoff, last seen going toe-to-toe with Thanos in the grand battle at the end of Avengers: Endgame, and Vision, last seen being killed by Wanda in a last-ditch attempt to prevent Thanos from disappearing half the life in the universe at the end of Aveners: Infinity War (a death that was then undone by Thanos, who proceeded to kill Vision himself while securing the infinity stone that allowed him to perform the aforementioned disappearing act), are a newlywed couple moving into a charming suburban home in Westview, New Jersey. Except the whole thing is in black and white and in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the costumes and decor are from the 1950s, and there's a laugh track. In other words, it's a classic sitcom, in the vein of The Dick Van Dyke Show or I Love Lucy. Later episodes progress through televised decades and the history of the sitcom format, moving through Bewitched and The Brady Bunch all the way to Malcolm in the Middle and Modern Family.

It's impressively weird, in other words, and as if that weirdness weren't enough, every now and then, strange occurrences interrupt the domestic idyll and gentle comedy. Some of the Westview residents experience alarming fugue states. A voice on the radio urgently calls out to Wanda. Out of place items and people—a colorized helicopter toy; a man in a beekeeper outfit—appear with no explanation. The "show" is interrupted by sinister commercials with obvious relevance to the events of Wanda's life—a Stark toaster that beeps ominously, like the bomb that took her parents' lives; Lagos-brand kitchen towels with which to mop up blood-red liquid, a reference to her failure to prevent a Hydra bombing in Captain America: Civil War.

This glut of strange, disparate details is incredibly enticing, inviting audiences to parse references and spot easter eggs. The logo on the helicopter toy belongs to SWORD, yet another Marvel universe alphabet agency dedicated to investigating the strange and otherworldly. In the special Halloween episode, the costumes worn by Wanda, Vision, and their family (the two quickly accumulate twin sons, who, in an exaggeration of the classic sitcom approach, age from babies to preschoolers to adolescents within the space of an episode) are taken from their Silver Age comics appearances. The impression that quickly forms is of some grand mystery, building up to a world-shattering revelation.

Which is where the show first falters, because really, there is no mystery. The story that WandaVision is telling has been obvious almost from its first trailer. Wanda, in a fit of grief and loneliness, has created a fantasy world where Vision still lives, and where he and she can have the life that they were denied in reality. There are open questions—how real is the Vision in this pocket universe? how sustainable is this alternate reality? what effect is it having on the outside world? why sitcoms?—and the show also piles on additional villains and complications (unnecessarily, if you ask me). But the business of WandaVision is a rather small-scale one—the destructive form taken by one woman's grief, and the attempts to break her out of it.

Instead of delving into this rather intimate story and the character at its center, WandaVision seems determined to distract from it, not only with teasing, over-promising storytelling choices, but with the simple fact of its format. Much of the time, it feels as if the point of the show is the gag of its sitcom parody (though parody is probably too strong a word—imitation is closer to the mark). This a problem first because, as a sitcom riffing off some of the funniest shows in TV history, WandaVision is only mildly amusing, opting for tired jokes—Vision's boss and his wife unexpectedly arrive for dinner! Wanda and Vision's twins find a lost puppy and decide to take it in!—that not even its main characters' superpowers can make fresh. And conversely, as a character drama about a woman who is hiding out in sitcoms to avoid the painful reality of her life, the show feels shallow and evasive, refusing, for most of its run, to dig very deep into Wanda's pain, or examine the cracks in the world she's constructed as anything more than clues for the next pulling back of the curtain.

Waiting for the next curtail pull feels, in fact, like a good way of describing WandaVision's approach to storytelling, what it offers instead of character exploration or plot development. That feeling of a big revelation being just around the corner—what critics have come to describe as Mystery Box storytelling—suffuses most of the show's episodes, many of which end on a big twist. Wanda's new friend Geraldine (Teyonah Parris) is revealed to be SWORD agent Monica Rambeau (daughter of Captain Marvel ally-slash-secret-lover Maria Rambeau), and forcibly ejected from Westview. A knock on the door reveals Wanda's brother, Pietro, who was killed at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron (except that Pietro is, for some reason, played not by Aaron Taylor-Johnson but by Evan Peters, who played Quicksilver in the Fox X-Men movies). Wanda and Vision's nosy next-door neighbor Agnes (Katheryn Hahn) turns out to be Agatha Harkness, a fellow witch who has been interfering in Wanda's pocket universe for her own reasons.

And yet, without fail, when next week's episode begins, the promised leveling-up fails to materialize. The new twist turns out to be a red herring, a repetition of things we already knew or had assumed, or simply a way of getting us to the next big twist. As Aaron Bady has written, the MCU has a tendency to devour itself. Major plot points or character milestones from one movie are undone or ignored in the next movie, the better to service the larger narrative—which is to say, the constant churn of content that has kept this franchise active and dominant for more than a decade. WandaVision feels like the ultimate distillation of that tendency. Its episodes are nothing but churn, each one devouring the one before. The entire internet spent a week bopping to "Agatha All Along", the cheeky theme song with which Agnes reveals herself as the mastermind behind the show's events. But in the next episode, it turns out that it was not, in fact, Agatha all along, and that she is just as confused by Wanda's pocket universe as the rest of us. Pietro's face-change had fans speculating about alternate universes and making comparisons to Crisis on Infinite Earths and Into the Spider-Verse, but eventually it's revealed out that he's actually Ralph Bohner, Wanda and Vision's neighbor whom Agatha has bamboozled and put in Pietro's clothes.

There is scarcely an aspect of WandaVision's storytelling that holds water from one episode to the next. Even the sitcom conceit ends up collapsing in on itself. When we move outside of Westview and join Monica and other SWORD agents, encamped outside the very real town that Wanda has trapped in a reality-distortion field, we discover that the show we've been watching is a transmission, emerging from the "hex" (allegedly named for its hexagonal shape, but really an awkwardly belabored pun) that Wanda has placed around the town. No one ever explains why the transmission exists. In later episodes, the SWORD agents report that Wanda has "cancelled her show", and yet the sitcom parody parts of WandaVision continue, complete with commercials and aspect ratio changes. Why? How? The only answer I can come up is "because it's neat", and yet that neatness is abandoned by the series's climax, in which Wanda squares off with Agatha, and Vision with White Vision, a robot constructed from the real Vision's remains, but with none of his personality or memories. The central metaphor of the show is abandoned, because in the end it was nothing but a gimmick designed to get us to the natural end-point of any MCU story, a CGI extravaganza in which the hero and villain shoot different-colored beams at each other.

The question of "why sitcoms?" is answered, rather heavy-handedly, in the series's penultimate episode, in which a flashback reveals that as a child in war-torn Sokovia, Wanda and her family loved to watch smuggled American sitcoms, reveling in the safety and predictability of their worlds. But this, I think, is to sell short what is after all one of the most robust, versatile, and effective storytelling forms of the modern entertainment era. The reason sitcoms work isn't merely their ability to return to a comforting norm at the end of 22 minutes. It's that within that tiny span of time, a sitcom can create a world, filled with people we care about, locations that become iconic, and situations that leave us gasping with laughter. It is, in other words, first and foremost a work of worldbuidling. WandaVision, so obsessed with false bottoms, sudden reveals, and shocking twists, so laser-focused on its heroine's limited understanding of the genre she's chosen to live in, doesn't have time for that work. Its world remains hollow, and so does its story.

II. The Girl

In an interview during the press tour for Age of Ultron, Elizabeth Olsen spoke about being trained by the film's director, Joss Whedon, in how to scream. Her regular screaming face, Olsen explained, was unattractive. Whedon had to work with her to come up with ways for her character, a war orphan turned terrorist turned unlikely hero, to express her anger and pain without putting off the audience. Whedon is in justifiably bad odor these days, so it's tempting to read this anecdote as yet another illustration of the hollowness of his feminism. But the truth is, his attitude was entirely in line with that of the MCU, or indeed pop culture as a whole, which rarely allows women—even heroic, powerful women—the full range of human emotion. Ugliness, either physical or emotional, is something that can't be tolerated in a heroine, and must be flattened out, no matter what violence this does to the character or her story.

Wanda Maximoff is a character with an ugly story. She has lost everything—her parents, her brother, her lover, and whatever support system she found with the Avengers. She's been through unimaginable trauma, from witnessing her parents' deaths, to psychically sensing the bullets that tore through her brother's body, to killing the man she loved in an act of noble sacrifice, only to watch as that sacrifice was immediately rendered meaningless. She has also, for most of her life, used her pain and trauma as justifications for causing pain to others. She joined Hydra, allowing them to conduct experiments that gave her psychic powers, and used those powers to advance their aims. She made common cause with Ultron, helping him in his vendetta against the Avengers. She messed with Bruce Banner's mind, causing him to transform into the Hulk in the middle of Johannesburg. And, at the beginning of WandaVision, she traps the nearly 4,000 inhabitants of Westview in a world of her own making, wiping their minds and memories and forcing them to perform roles in a fantasy in which she is the main character.

I want to be very clear that this is a simply fantastic character to tell a story about. There is space in the MCU for a female anti-villain, and Wanda is a very good fit for that niche. It's not hard to understand where she's coming from. The shock of losing her brother and causing the destruction of Sokovia in Age of Ultron led her to reexamine her choices, and to strike a new path as a hero. And then that decision blew up in her face in the worst possible way, and she was left, once again, with nothing. Is it any surprise that a person like that, in a situation like that, would fall off the wagon? That they'd look at the world, full of people who have just been reunited with the loved ones they lost to Thanos's snap, and feel owed? That they'd once again feel justified in roping other people into their own suffering?

It isn't, of course. It is, however, monstrous, and in the tension between these two truths—Wanda's behavior is entirely understandable; Wanda's behavior is entirely appalling—lies the heart of the character. Elizabeth Olsen is an incredibly skilled performer, and she has even proven her facility at playing a Problematic Young Widow in the little-seen Facebook Watch series Sorry For Your Loss. WandaVision was the perfect vehicle with which to show off her skills, an opportunity to let a perennially overshadowed character emerge in all her complexity and contradictions. Or it would be, if the show were not palpably terrified of anything resembling ugliness, complexity, or nuance in its heroine. Instead of facing up to ugly truth of Wanda's story, the show instead diverts much of its storytelling energy to positioning Wanda in exactly the right way as to seem, if not innocent, then innocent-esque. Somehow blameless in acts that she freely committed, with full knowledge that they were wrong and hurtful to others.

Throughout the season, there is evidence that Wanda is hurting her victims (beyond, that is, the fundamental hurt caused by imprisoning them, wiping their minds, and forcing them to dance for her amusement). When Mrs. Hart (Debra Jo Rupp), the wife of Vision's boss, breaks character in the season's first episode, imploring Wanda to "stop it. stop it. STOP IT", it can only be taken as a cry of anguish. Multiple people—including, eventually, Vision himself—insist to Wanda that what she is doing is wrong, and that the people she's imprisoned are terrified of her, to which her only response is to refuse to hear them. Pietro, directed by Agatha, needles Wanda about the arrangements she's made to "minimize trauma" for the people of Westview, offering backhanded praise that only highlights how invasive and cruel Wanda's actions are.

And yet when the moment comes to confront Wanda with what she's done, the show's primary objective is to establish her innocence. When Agatha "cuts the strings" of some of Wanda's victims, and they begin begging for mercy (or even the release of death), Wanda insists that she didn't know that she was hurting them. It's such a laughable insistence that, in a better show, we might take it as a character beat, an illustration of Wanda's self-serving delusions. In WandaVision, we're apparently intended to take it at face value. Later, when Wanda peers into Agatha's memories and sees her own origin in murder, she piously intones that "the difference between you and me is that you did this on purpose".

We also shouldn't ignore how much Wanda's innocence is white innocence, the innocence of a woman who is hurt, horribly hurt, when people point out to her that she's been hurting them. And it's an innocence that is enabled by a black woman. Monica is Wanda's biggest supporter throughout the season, insisting—despite all available evidence—that Wanda is not a villain. The reason for her sympathy is that Monica is also struggling with grief—her mother died of cancer during the five year interregnum, in what feels to Monica like the blink of an eye. But what that actually means is that an emotionally stable, selfless black woman who has processed her trauma productively is used to validate the behavior of an emotionally volatile, selfish white woman who is using her trauma as an excuse to hurt others. It's a dynamic very like the one that was so widely derided in Netflix's 2020 megahit The Queen's Gambit, and though Monica does at least get superpowers out of her encounter with Wanda, I'm not sure that quite makes up for the way that her goodness and decency are used to make Wanda's fuckups seem understandable.

What's particularly frustrating about the show's choice to twist its story into a pretzel in order to justify its claims of Wanda's innocence is that it ends up making her less human and less interesting. The season finale is so preoccupied with establishing just the right level of culpability that will keep Wanda from becoming—as it clearly believes—fatally unlikable, that it forgets to shine a spotlight on what should be the season's defining moment, the moment in which Wanda gives up the thing she wants most for the sake of others. Instead, we're asked to believe that of course Wanda would always have done this. Immediately. If only she had known. It's a flattening portrait that no male character would ever be expected to put up with, but when it comes to women, it's far more important to be likable than to be human.

III. The World

WandaVision, we've been repeatedly told over the last nine weeks, is a show about grief. The overpowering, crushing force of it, leaching color from the world, deadening emotion, making it impossible to believe you'll ever feel comfort or safety or happiness ever again. There are some problems with this idea—chiefly, that dead is never really dead in comic books, and indeed by the end of the season Vision and White Vision have combined their physical form and memories to create a new version of the person whose loss triggered Wanda's breakdown—but on the whole it is solid and worth exploring. If WandaVision works at all as a piece of writing (as opposed to being held aloft by the skill of its cast and tremendous production design), it is because of this idea, that everything that happens in its story is because of Wanda's helpless struggle against the pain of losing Vision.

The only problem—or perhaps not so much a problem as an opportunity that the show lets pass—is that the world that WandaVision is set in has been mired in grief for five years. Post-Endgame, the MCU has chosen to pretend that all the pain and suffering caused by the events of Infinity War have been washed away—when Monica arrives at the lobby of SWORD headquarters, the headlines on the TV screens are all about joyful reunited families. But a moment's thought reveals that this can't be the whole story. There would be more stories like Monica's, and far more harrowing—suicides, accidents, diseases left untreated because of overcrowded hospitals and collapsed supply lines. There would be parents whose special-needs children were left without advocates, husbands and wives who returned to find themselves replaced, children who have grown up not knowing their parents' faces. And even for those people who have gotten back exactly what they lost, there would be those five years of grief, and their indelible impact.

It's not surprising that Wanda would fail to recognize her grief in others. Grief is isolating, even for the best of us (and Wanda, as already established, is not the best of us). She probably looks at the world and sees people who have gotten a miracle, while she's been left to suffer. What is surprising—or really, disappointing—is that WandaVision itself doesn't stop to consider how many people in Wanda's vicinity might have an inkling of what she's going through. Even Monica, whose grief is given more space than anyone's except Wanda, is only really used to reflect the character who really matters.

It's a particular shame because, by buying into its heroine's solipsism, WandaVision misses its best opportunity to argue on her behalf. Imagine if Westview were not merely a blank slate for Wanda to write her sitcom-inspired world upon. Imagine if the people in it were also struggling with bitterness over a miracle that seems to have passed them by. Imagine if they, too, wanted to sink into a fantasy world, rather than remember a painful reality. Wouldn't that make for a more interesting story? Wouldn't it offer a more organic, more persuasive argument on Wanda's behalf than the insistence that she somehow didn't know that enslaving people is wrong?

The reason, I think, that WandaVision didn't try to tell this story is that, like the rest of the MCU, it doesn't actually believe that anyone who isn't a headliner is real. People in the MCU matter if they have powers, if they're a mover and shaker in one of its many organizations, or if they make themselves useful to anyone in the previous two groups (in WandaVision, the latter include Ant-Man and the Wasp's Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), and the Thor films' Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), both of whom quickly put themselves on Monica's, and thus Wanda's, side). Everyone else is just the scrum. Heroes might love the scrum as an abstract, as a crowd of people to be rescued. But they don't love them as individuals, whose views and ideas should be listened to. That ordinary people might nevertheless have opinions about things like how you should use your world-destroying powers, or have input into how you should shape your sitcom-inspired pocket universe, doesn't fit into the franchise's scheme.

And maybe it can't. Because to give those people a voice would also be to acknowledge that they have the right to direct their own lives, and that that right has been permanently stripped from them by a world where the course of your life is decided by an alien demigod snapping his fingers, and where the shape of your salvation is determined by the fact that Tony Stark had a daughter after Infinity War. If you actually stopped to listen to a person who lives in the MCU, they'd probably tell you that there are no heroes and villains, merely gods, and that the rest of us live in their world on sufferance, bit players in their grand drama. They might say that life outside of Wanda's bubble looks pretty similar to the one inside it. That would be an interesting story to tell, but not for a show as determined to make a hero out of its title character as WandaVision.

IV. The Audience

In the fourth episode of WandaVision, which is also the first to step outside the sitcom conceit, Jimmy Woo gives the SWORD agents a potted history of Wanda's MCU appearances. When he gets to Age of Ultron, he's interrupted by Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg), SWORD director and the season's designated villain. Wasn't Wanda a villain in Ultron, Hayward asks. No, Woo insists, she started out that way, but then she earned the Avengers' trust and joined their ranks. On the surface level, the scene's purpose, like the rest of the episode containing it, is to exposit. But really, it is meant to indoctrinate. Woo and Hayward aren't just summing up MCU history. They're establishing what the correct history is. Good characters like Jimmy parrot the official narrative, in which Wanda is a good guy now because Kevin Feige says that she is. Bad characters like Hayward question that orthodoxy, and he will go on to treat Wanda as a belligerent, sanctioning violence against her while Monica and Jimmy urge diplomacy.

A moment's thought reveals the problems with this setup. How does Jimmy know the exact sequence of events of Age of Ultron? (For that matter, how does Monica, later in the season, know the exact sequence of events of the battle at the end of Endgame, which occurred only weeks earlier in the show's chronology?) More importantly, why is Jimmy, who in Ant-Man and the Wasp is shown to be kind but rules-oriented, and would happily have thrown Scott Lang back in jail if he could have proven that he'd broken his house arrest, so keen to bend the rules on Wanda's behalf? Why is Hayward made out to be the villain when his assessment of Wanda is entirely reasonable? (Later on it will be revealed that Hayward is lying and has been trying to set Wanda up in order to use her powers to activate White Vision, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that his real crime is not liking our heroine.)

The answer, of course, is that like a lot of characters who are ancillary to MCU headliners—like Phil Coulson or the nameless tech in Captain America: Winter Soldier—Jimmy and others like him aren't people who live in the world of the MCU. They are fans. More importantly, they are fans who behave in the approved way, who parrot the Marvel party line. They would never, to pick an example entirely at random, write 4,000 words about how Wanda Maximoff is an anti-villain, not a heroine, and how the failure of the show that bears her name to acknowledge that fact renders it dramatically inert. That kind of behavior is reserved for the Haywards of the world, the people who don't accept their place. The people who seek power even though they don't deserve it ("deserve" here meaning being granted it by writerly fiat).

For all of WandaVision's metafictional flourishes, the real metafictional exercise is the MCU itself, in which the gap between "ordinary person" and "audience" has narrowed to invisibility, and in which you earn personhood—which is to say, increased screen time, and a bunch of people on twitter calling for a show starring Jimmy Woo, investigator of superpowered crime—by stanning really hard. And that, of course, includes forgiving Wanda, assuring her she's done nothing wrong, and waving her warmly out of Westview even as Hayward is put in handcuffs.

It's a pretty dark world, when you think about it, much closer to The Boys than the MCU (or at least, the MCU as it advertises itself). And yet that darkness is implicit in all of WandaVision's choices, in the way they make Wanda the most important, the most real, person in the show's world, even outside of her own constructed reality. By the end of the season, Wanda has gotten her groove back, embraced her power, defeated Agatha (by, um, doing the same thing to her that she did to the people of Westview), and left Westview behind (without apologizing to its residents or doing anything to make amends for the harm she's caused them). But the core assumptions of the show—of the entire MCU, really—remain untouched, and so long as that's true, the MCU will never be able to produce the kind of show that WandaVision aspired to be. That show—that sitcom—requires a genuine love of people. Whether or not they have superpowers.


Good Work said…
You point out the flaw of the MCU.
The fear of making the intentionally unlikeable. Tony can’t be a party addicted drunk in iron man 2 because it would shows he’s unworthy. Bucky can’t be guilty of the crimes he committed while brainwashed not does he really have to try to make amends.
Brett said…
I keep thinking that the final episode would have been so much better if "Agatha Harkness" really had turned out to be just another delusion on Wanda's part. Agnes is just another town person, but when things started falling apart and Wanda needed someone to blame, she made a witch villain - like herself. Even better if it's Vision himself that helps reveal that to her.

I could definitely believe that that would be enough of a shock to Wanda to snap her out of her grief-driven delusion, along with having Wanda get ugly angry after the initial denial in response to the town folk begging her to let them go or kill them. Have her shout something like "You all got your families back from the Blip, I lost everything!" followed by that great line about them "dreaming your nightmares".

But instead Agatha is what she was, and honestly rather dull as a villain once the reveal happened. Not as dull as Hayward or really anything to do with SWORD, but pretty meh.

Imagine if the people in it were also struggling with bitterness over a miracle that seems to have passed them by.

Oh, that would have been good too. The set even sort of leaves that open, since when we see Wanda drive into town before creating the hex, the town has clearly seen better days.
There's really so many ways that the show could have ended up a richer, more interesting story. You could make Agatha a chaotic neutral who sensed Wanda's spell and just showed up to figure out what happened. You could make Hayward less obviously villainous, and the conflict between him and Monica more about tactics than whether or not they side with Wanda. You could even, as FilmCritHulk suggests in the essay I link to, start the whole show from where episode 8 leaves off, dispensing with the pointless mystery and making the business of the show an examination of Wanda's culpability and emotional distress.

The problem with all of these ideas are, they require decentering Wanda and undercutting the perception of her innocence, and that's the one thing WandaVision isn't willing to do.
S Johnson said…
There is a very popular system of morality which denies that mental illnesses or abnormal mental states matter. That's why so many mentally ill people are in jail and so few insanity defenses are accepted. And further there is a common popular blending of ideas about mental illness, evil as such and even demonic possession, one which would seem to be pretty literal in this scheme. By these principles, Wanda is simply an evil demon toying with people, as demons do and her delusions, her sufferings are simply irrelevant. Thus the series must be avoiding the central problem of her evil.

But I don't hold with those principles. Wanda is in a fugue state, trapped in a delusion, so that she is not even conscious of what's happening and must laboriously resolve the cracks in the dreamworld. In what sense is Wanda evil? It seems to me the series would be going down the rathole in assuming the problem is Wanda's demonic nature. Instead, the descriptions suggest the series is rather enjoying Wanda's agency. There is after all, another popular moral principle that agency, like winning, is everything. That being powerful is being better, literally.
Absolutely no one here has called Wanda evil, much less "demonic". I spend several paragraphs acknowledging the fact that her emotional response is entirely understandable. But being mentally ill (and I'm not sure we can conclude that Wanda is mentally ill; she's obviously not in a great place emotionally, but that's not the same thing, and grief in general is not considered a mental illness) doesn't give one license to hurt others. If a mentally ill person held people hostage and did harm to their person, we'd expect them to experience consequences. That doesn't necessarily have to mean jail, and the circumstances of their life, their trauma, and their history of public service should be taken into account when deciding that. But random people shouldn't have to surrender their personal safety and bodily autonomy just because someone is having a hard time of it.

More importantly - and this is something that people who bring up the mental illness excuse for Wanda's behavior refuse to acknowledge - there are, in fact, no consequences for Wanda's actions. Bringing up a schizophrenic who is sent to jail instead of getting therapy and drugs is ridiculous, perhaps even offensive, because that's a situation that bears no relevance to what actually happens to Wanda. Which is that she's treated as a borderline hero, praised for doing the bare minimum to make up for her actions, sent on her way with a smile from her new friend Monica, and not even expected to apologize to her victims.

If you're really invested in the reading that Wanda is mentally ill and thus not responsible for her actions (and let's be clear that these are not interchangeable states), I think you'd be more concerned about the fact that no one even expects Wanda to get treatment, or offer any kind of assurances that she won't do the same thing all over again. It seems like you - and the show - are trying to have it both ways. Remove culpability from Wanda for her abusive behavior, but also treat her as a fully functional person who can be trusted not to hurt others going forward.
Lis Riba said…
Would you mind if I linked to your post in the comments of Tor's critique of the series?
David Goldfarb said…
parody is probably too strong a word—imitation is closer to the mark

The word you're looking for is "pastiche".
S Johnson said…
The term "anti-villain" did seem to me to be implying a call for Wanda to be condemned as evil.

As to what is not said, what is unquestioned or tacit or most conveniently implied (these are not synonyms, by the way,) are not said.

I did not watch all of WandaVision because it's treatment of Wanda's mental state is nonsense. Not being aware of reality is not in my opinion just having a hard time and bravely solving the puzzle of reality is not a heroic cure, no matter how much agency it shows. After getting disgusted with Legion for similar problems I gave WandaVision much less patience.

Also not having watched all of Wandavision, I didn't see enough of Hayward and Harkness to even form opinions on their respective villainy, much less get outraged.
I am literally in awe of your second sentence. Whenever I try to write something that involved while trying to keep it succinct, I almost always fail.
While I agree with your assessment of WV, I'm wondering if they're not setting up Wanda for a heel turn? This would explain at least some of the choices they made.

As for the Westview residents, I'm wondering if we're not falling into the trap that the MCU is supposed to be more 'realistic' than its comic book origins? In the comics, regular people get screwed over all the time, but that's just swept under the rug as the price as living in a universe with thousands of gods walking the streets.
Aonghus Fallon said…
Think there seems to be an uncanny valley principle in play when it comes to films adapted from Graphic Novels/comics - the more realistic they are, the more problematic they become.
UberMitch said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
UberMitch said…
"If you actually stopped to listen to a person who lives in the MCU, they'd probably tell you that there are no heroes and villains, merely gods, and that the rest of us live in their world on sufferance, bit players in their grand drama."

This; I'd wager that the average rando in the MCU, more than anything else, would want all villains AND heroes to JUST GO AWAY. And they'd probably view things like the endless laudatory memorials to the Avengers as seen in Far from Home as oppressive propaganda.
janedotx said…
Abigail, I'd be very curious to know whether you'd watched Bojack Horseman, and if so, whether you thought that show's treatment of accountability for a mentally ill man who harms others was handled well.
Aonghus Fallon said…
I guess Bojack’s behaviour can be pretty dysfunctional, sometimes? But then he’s a horse - or rather, a hybrid of a man and a horse (although not a centaur). Having such a unique physiology must present challenges of its own, but it also makes assessing his mental health largely impossible, as we have no yardstick to judge it by.
Unknown said…
Regarding the discussion about Wanda's mental state, if that's how we're looking at the show, then it seems kind of wild that the show implies she was just sort of left to fend for herself after the events of Infinity War and Endgame. Guess the Avenger's post combat mental health support programs aren't as well developed as those in real world armies.

When Agatha Harkness showed up, I thought she was going to be another part of Wanda's false reality, I thought that what they were going for was as she begins to realize that what she's doing is not very nice, the same subconscious impulse that lead her to use her powers to create the world of Westview because she couldn't process her grief would also lead her to create a pastiche of a 2000s urban fantasy tv show villain who was actually responsible, so that she would not have to fact that, now that she understand that what is doing is hurting people, she needs to stop, even if it mean up giving up her false family. But... I guess now we're back to being silly again?

So, in conclusion I would say that the MCU's habit of veering wildly between attempts at serious story telling and 'lol comics' is very confusing. Like, I cannot figure out the rules about when violence does and does not have consequences in this world.
Well, we've recently learned that Tony Stark never payed the Avengers a salary, even when Sam was working sentry duty at their main compound. So I suppose the absence of a mental health program isn't that surprising...

More seriously, the series has a decent enough justification for Wanda's isolation, in that it's only been a few weeks since the end of Endgame, and whatever's left of the Avengers must be pretty scattered - Tony and Natasha are dead, Steve is gone, Thor is off-world, Hawkeye is with his family (and hopefully dealing with some serious legal repercussions), and everyone else is dealing with their own post-blip problems. The only one who might be available is Banner, who is the one Avenger who has no relationship with Wanda (not to mention, the most reason to dislike her). As I write in the piece, one of the contributing factors to Wanda's breakdown is that the support system she had within the Avengers has crumbled at the very worst time. It's a shame, though, that the show doesn't make a point of this.
Unknown said…
I was going to respond by saying that there should have been ancillary and support staff that could have kept an eye on her even if the actual superheros are not available and the Avengers as an organisation is perhaps being wound down, but we no so little about this aspect of the world and so little about Wanda as a person (a point I know you've made may times) that we cannot say if this was even possible, or how she might have responded to it.

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