Marvel’s most popular show is a great watch and brilliantly written, and I must say I absolutely love the way WandaVision nails grief and loss.
Spoilers for WandaVision (up to Episode 7) below.
I would probably call myself a mid-range Marvel fan. I don’t own any comics or know every single character, but I’m definitely on the nerd spectrum and can keep up with most references brought up. I’ve seen most of the movies and even rate comic book-esque movies (like Scott Pilgrim and Amazing Spiderman 2) pretty highly. Most of my exposure to the characters previously has been in the form of the video games like the Marvel Vs Capcom series and a bunch of old Super Nintendo and PlayStation games, and of course the fantastic X-Men and Spiderman cartoons from the 90s.
And I am always a fan of shows that have a psychological or deeper aspect. For instance, I thought Tenet was one of the best Nolan films he’s ever put out, I recently wrote about the anime that I’ve enjoyed thanks to their themes, and you’ll always find me referencing a movie of some kind in my writing as I love the way they help us explore deeper facets of human existence.
All that to say – I was interested in WandaVision when it was being advertised. It had quirky advertising, seemingly paid tribute to the shows of yester-year, and marketed itself as a sitcom with some unsettling undertone.
As a show, I think it’s absolutely fantastic. I love how WandaVision nails grief and loss, but also how it pays tribute to so many shows, from I Love Lucy to the Brady Bunch to Malcom in The Middle to The Office. Plus it maintains its story telling whilst staying in genre, which makes it even more unsettling and interesting. I also absolutely love the potential multi-verse implications tying in Marvel’s X-Men with a particular character, and I’m really really hoping the show ends with Daddy Magneto’s appearance (here’s hoping).
But back on that first point – WandaVision nails grief and is centred around all the loss that Wanda Maximoff has faced in her life. WandaVision is an illusion created by Wanda (either of her own volition or manipulated by someone else) around a city of thousands of people, where Wanda routinely refuses to allow the outside world into her bubble, and flat out forces the participants in the show to go along with the deception.
Of all the great tie-ins and character reveals and powers being explored, I think it’s this exploration of grief that makes the dilemma, tension, and unpredictability of the show so palpable. So here we go – here are 3 ways I think WandaVision nails grief and loss, and presents a compelling portrayal of how we ourselves may be living our lives.
And just to repeat that again – spoilers for WandaVision to follow.
#1: Moving on is a difficult choice
As the Mad Titan Thanos said himself in Infinity War, “Reality is often disappointing”. In the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe for those uninformed) portrayal of Wanda so far, she lost her parents in a bombing in their home country, her brother during a battle with the villain Ultron, and then finally and most pronounced, her lover (husband?) Vision during the events involving Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.
During the show, it is revealed Wanda went and retrieved Vision’s corpse from a storage facility and brought it back to the place of this illusion known as WandaVision, where he is re-animated somehow to live the life that she always wanted – the husband and wife, the idealistic home, the kids, the white picket fence, the participation in normal society. Her dead brother even shows up halfway through the show played by Evan Peters who played the X-Men version of Pietro (which may have been one of the coolest TV twists in recent memory).
It’s not clear if Wanda is fully in control and it seems another character (or characters) have been manipulating a number of events, but one thing is clear – Wanda is trapped in a world of her making, projecting what she wishes was her life in a world where a lot of what she wants can no longer happen.
Loss is a terrible thing. It’s a confronting thing. It’s a harrowing thing. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, pain caused by the actions of another, or the stab of unmet expectations, we all face things in our lives where things don’t go the way we wished they did.
If you’re familiar with the Kubler Ross model of grief, they outline it has five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Many of us get stuck somewhere in the first four, and usually stay away from acceptance as much as possible.
Why is that? Because once we accept it, it becomes real. The person is gone for good. The opportunities can’t be brought back. The memory may fade away. We have to say goodbye to that dream, or at least the way we thought it would come true. We have to let that person remain the way they are because they refuse to change.
Another character in the show from Captain Marvel, Monica, models a person who has successfully navigated the cycle of grief around the loss of her mother and not being around to say goodbye, and more than that, has understood that the decision to move forward and to move on is just that – a decision, a choice.
We can either remain in denial about the way things really are, fabricating a world where what we want to exist still exists, or we can accept and choose what our new life looks like on the other side.
I remember a profound time in my life about 12 years ago when I realised a number of relationships in my life weren’t going to go ahead in the way they once did. It was very difficult to accept, and to make it worse, there was also a love unrequited in my heart at the time. I remember listening to the words of Bishop TD Jakes as he dove into the topic of loss from the characters in Scripture and life experience, and highlighted this truth – “Your destiny isn’t tied to the things you’ve lost”.
Perhaps we remain trapped for so long because we cannot perceive or fathom what our life can look like after what we’ve lost. Like Wanda, we can remain stuck in a false reality in order to try to cope.
And yet what greatness lies on the other side for the heart that can make it through the mourning process and recognise that the best of your life is still ahead of you, and that you can build a new life from the ashes of the old one.
I’m always reminded of the story told by the prophet Ezra about the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem. Once they had finished building the foundation, the young men who had never seen the temple rejoiced with gladness about what was coming, but the old men who remembered what they had loss began wailing in pain. The same sight that triggers hope in some can also trigger despair in others. And yet both types of person need to make the decision to choose to continue to build the new, and indeed the glory of the second house in our lives will be greater than the glory of what came before.
#2: Coping mechanisms affect those around you
Now this is a really bold and challenging point on loss that the show absolutely has gone for. WandaVision nails grief’s tendency to not just impact the person who has lost, but all the people around them.
In the case of the show, Wanda requires thousands of people in order to continue to keep the illusion alive. She needs enablers. She needs people to fall under her control so she can continue to avoid the truth.
Many of us do exactly the same thing. In the book Intimacy and Desire, relationship expert Dr David Schnarch writes that those who are unable to control themselves instead try to turn to control others. One way we achieve this is to surround ourselves with what I call Timon and Pumbaa friends. People who don’t challenge us, people who don’t call us to be better, people who will tell us what we want to hear, people we can easily manipulate, or at least won’t talk to us about what we don’t want to deal with. More on that in Why Timon and Pumbaa Are The True Villains Of The Lion King.
I wonder if you and I are aware of how we affect the world around us in our attempt to cope? Maybe we can’t create a fictional sitcom world in order to try to preserve what we believe to be happiness, but perhaps there are vices and behaviours we carry out that actually hurt others, or we place an expectation on them to be fine with how we’re acting for an indefinite period of time. Eventually people will refuse when they either continually get hurt by our behaviour, or when they are unable to continue to put up with the dysfunction we perpetuate and call normal.
I explored this a bit more when I wrote about a tragedy that happened in my city of Brisbane whereby an unhealthy father took the lives of his wife and children under the guise of mental illness – some more thoughts on this issue in that post.
#3: Extended grief makes you vulnerable
The final way that WandaVision nails grief and loss is by revealing just how vulnerable it makes you.
It turns out that Wanda’s illusion hasn’t been fully of her own decision, but that it has been manipulated and aided by an evil witch as the events of the show have gone on. Her unaddressed grief left the door wide open for someone else to manipulate and influence her behaviour.
Many studies have proven to us that pain lowers the human IQ and impedes our ability to make wise decisions. Alcoholics Anonymous and other rehab agencies put forward that people need to be careful when they are HALT – Hurt, Angry, Lonely or Tired. I’ve also had some other rehab friends inform me of the similar variant BLAST – Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stressed or Tired. These states are all triggers for manipulation by others or by the temptations of dangerous and destructive vices.
Pain can turn us into cynical people. Untreated pain becomes a root of bitterness that grows to corrupt many and destroys our relationships. Anger, unforgiveness, and refusal to move forward turns us into an easy target for predatory or selfish people.
All the more reason that we must decide to move forward from it.
Grief and loss are terrible things, and I’m grateful that such a mainstream show has been willing to go after the harsh realities of dealing with them. I already mentioned a few things that have helped me dealing with grief and loss throughout as well as some other posts where I’ve written about it. Two final thoughts on this are the words of Scripture where the writer James tells us that if anyone is hurting or sick amongst us, we should confess to each other, and we will be healed. In other words, there is a form of healing that can only be found in talking to someone else. If you haven’t started the healing process yet, start there.
Another place I really opened up with how I processed a lot of grief and loss in my own life can be found in 6 Things That Helped Me Get Through Depression And Anxiety.
So – WandaVision. Fantastic show, and highly recommended. I hope that in our lives we can live in a way that accepts reality as it is, no matter how hard that is, but that we have eyes to see and hope for the best things in our lives, that we can see and be grateful for every person and opportunity while we still have them with us, and that we can be whole and healthy people living our best life.
How about you? Do you think WandaVision nails grief and related issues, or do you think it’s a bit too much? How are you enjoying the show?