“Don’t let him make you the villain.” “Maybe I already am.” – Monica Rambeau and Wanda Maximoff, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”
We need to talk about the WandaVision problem.
The following column includes spoilers for WandaVision up to Season 1, Episode 7.
One of the problems is that too many people are desiring for this to be a feature film disguised as a TV show. But it’s a TV show; it purposely draws from television history, it’s structured like a TV show, and it’s released like a TV show. The other problem is the desire for there to be a “big bad” like it’s a formulaic Marvel movie. If anything, WandaVision had proven itself to be anything but, until its seventh episode.
Still, TV critics like Ben Travers of IndieWire have decried its use of the televisual format. Travers said: “Aside from its weekly small-screen aesthetics, WandaVision still feels far too much like an inflated feature film that just keeps dragging out its story via inconvenient weekly installments.” Travers concluded his recap of last week’s sixth episode with this: “Knowledge is the real power, Wanda doesn’t have it, and neither do we.” By stating this, he takes away Wanda’s agency. Up until the seventh episode, it is actually very clear that Wanda knows exactly what she’s doing, and that is all a defense against her PTSD caused by the events of the movies.
Think about it: Wanda has had her brother killed, her love killed, and her world taken away from her multiple times, be it Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron or her freedom in Captain America: Civil War. Wanda is desperate for an escape, and the end of episode 6 makes it infinitely clear that she’s controlling the captivity of Westview. Just because she doesn’t understand some things about the illusion she’s created doesn’t mean she’s clueless. This doesn’t mean there is a WandaVision problem.
But in our spoiler-heavy, theory-riddled landscape, everything has to have an answer, even the unanswerable. For example, Pietro’s change from Aaron Taylor-Johnson to Evan Peters. We don’t know why Wanda’s illusion of him has changed his face, but in a way, we do; Wanda can’t confront the real ghost of her brother, so she gives him a new face, one she can confront. That it’s another version of Quicksilver/Pietro, from the X-Men films, should be treated more like an easter egg than as proof that something nefarious is going on beyond Wanda’s own mistreatment of her trauma.
That brings us to another point about the WandaVision problem, that there’s no “big bad”—but, as CNET editor and host Ashley Esqueda pointed out on Twitter, couldn’t the big bad just be Wanda’s grief and PTSD? She says: “I want to elaborate more on my theories but don’t want to say anything if people haven’t caught up, but…what if Wanda’s grief ends in a world-shifting event without a bad man behind it? Wouldn’t that be enough?” Wouldn’t it? We don’t need another Thanos or a Mephisto or an Ultron…couldn’t Wanda be her own villain? Much like, say, Don Draper or Walter White? Wanda follows a recent tradition of anti-heroes in television, except she is an anti-heroine, which distinguishes her from the mostly male-dominated lineup of protagonists who bend the world to their will, for good or ill (mostly ill).
But then the seventh episode arrived, revealing that the helpful, daffy neighbor Agnes was Agatha Harkness all along. This implies that Mephisto, who is often tied to both Scarlet Witch and Agatha Harkness in the comics, will make his first appearance by the end of the series. And honestly? That’s disappointing. From the quote at the top of this column, this show could have been about Wanda’s trauma and her dealing with it–or not dealing with it. Monica even points out that Wanda doesn’t have to be like the nefarious Director Hayward. This show could have been about the struggle for Wanda’s soul–instead, it’s now about a scheme to control Wanda, yet again. That’s the real WandaVision problem, now.
There’s a new show coming out on AMC, actually, which bears a resemblance to WandaVision, in that it’s a show about a housewife who is caught in her own delusions: Kevin Can Fk Himself, starring Schitt’s Creek’s Annie Murphy. A trailer was just released, which has already drawn comparisons to WandaVision in The Beat’s own newsroom. But Kevin Can Fk Himself has the benefit of not being tied to a universe that’s cinematic in nature and almost always relies on true heroes and villains to drive its stories.
WandaVision has the privilege of being a Marvel property, yes; but that will be its downfall in the end. If its creators can’t stop seeing it as an overblown Marvel movie, where morals are black and white, and there has to be a big bad at the end of the story, it may fall by the wayside of Marvel’s various productions. This is really too bad; it’s a good show, a dedicated tribute to sitcom history, and an excellent examination of what trauma does to a superpowered mind. It’s clear that even if Wanda may be obliterating her own trauma, she’s creating so much more for others. That may be a hard pill for fans to swallow, who just want to see her save the day versus whatever big bad the MCU conjures.
I am disappointed that Agnes turned out to be Agatha, a villain appearing other than Wanda herself. The show possesses nearly an hour and a half hours of more story to get us to the finish line. But all of the previous critique and my critique of the show begs a question: if it was Doctor Strange instead of Wanda controlling the little city in New Jersey, would there be such a need for big bad to be controlling him?