“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” — Marianne Williamson
The final episode of WandaVision has been in the past for a while now, so I’m figuring that any of you who were interested in seeing it already managed to do so. If not, I must add:
I’m a rather vague and desultory fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is, I’ve seen most of the movies from the past decade, and I was heavily into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., mostly because of my crush on Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson), but I don’t have the wide-ranging background knowledge necessary to understand WandaVision with all its cross-references, or the memory to keep track of everything I have seen over the years.
So I wasn’t really expecting to be, but I was immediately enthralled with this oddest addition to the MCU, and now I’m seriously crushing on both Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen.
We see the origins of a whole crew of super beings in this series, and those who knew them from the comics were excited to have them show up on the screen. The superhero tropes weren’t the point, though, and like some of the critics whose work I’ve read, I was a bit jarred and almost annoyed when the final magic-fire-smiting battle of the witches came along, iconic and necessary though it was. We were in it more for the small-screen, intimately emotional story at the core.
Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff is incandescent even when she’s not throwing red fireballs around the neighborhood. She is catastrophically powerful, exquisitely vulnerable, and most of all profoundly broken. In her short life she has lost her parents, her home, her brother, her husband, and any chance at stability or normality. Unable to bear the latest and sharpest loss, she has retreated into a comforting world constructed from the American sitcoms that she enjoyed as a child, her last memories of happiness with her family.
It’s a perfect story for our reality-warped, grief-soaked, wrenchingly surreal time.
When the story begins, we’re confused and nonplussed. There is no explanation for the sudden appearance of these superhero characters in a ’50s-style sitcom. It doesn’t take long for the characters themselves to begin to realize that they don’t belong there and something is terribly wrong. At some level Wanda realizes that she’s creating this televised reality (including the pithy commercials) but she fights that knowledge with everything she’s got. Messages break through from the outside, but she rejects them. She has to be forced to understand what she has done.
It seems to me that this is pretty much what we’re all doing every day.
Like Wanda, we are terrified of our own power and of the responsibility that comes with it. Wanda has been told that she is dangerous and will destroy the world. As individuals, we are unlikely to do that, but as a species, we know the destruction we are capable of, even as we protest our innocence.
The sitcom world is enticingly free of such concerns. Vision is the perfect husband, devoted, caring and empathetic, poetic and philosophical with a charming edge of goofiness— not to mention able to fly, walk through walls, and protect his family from sundry technological and supernatural attacks. Yes, he’s a synthezoid, but hey, we’ve made worse choices in romantic partners, right? Don’t judge.
And of course he is perfect; he is Wanda’s creation, everything she wants him to be, and he becomes acutely aware of that. In the series finale, just before the artificial world disintegrates and he is destroyed, he asks Wanda, “What am I?” She explains, ripping our hearts out: “You, Vision, are the piece of the Mind Stone that lives in me. You are a body of wires and blood and bone that I created. You are my sadness and my hope. But mostly, you’re my love.”
We do not, most of us at least, create our lovers’ physical forms. But I will argue that in a sense we create everything else about them. Do we ever know the true nature of anything we perceive, or only what we perceive of it? Demonstrably no. So do we ever know the true nature of the people in our lives, or only our perceptions of them? The answer is obvious.
(When I was a teenager, this truth slammed into me suddenly when I saw it in a play, before I was ready for it. I had a sort of nervous breakdown in response. I remember blubbering uncontrollably while my mother held me and wondered what in the world to do with me. Since then I have made peace with the fact that reality is slippery and undefined and no one quite exists as they appear.)
We all change form over time, and adjust to the programming necessary to live different lives. This is as true within one lifetime as it is across many. As Vision begins to dissolve, he recounts, with wonder, the very different forms he has taken over time. “Who knows what I might be next,” he concludes wistfully.
There is another truth embedded in this scene. Wanda has already stated firmly that “family is forever”— and that does appear to be the case in the real world, whether we like it or not! As Vision’s body dematerializes, the two agree, “We have said goodbye before, so it stands to reason…. we’ll say hello again.” Cheesy? Perhaps, but who cares? We needed it, and it’s true. Relationships don’t end with one lifetime/series/episode. As for Vision, we know we can expect to see more of him in other stories, and most likely we’ll see the kids as well.
I don’t know how to tell you what I was feeling as Wanda stood alone in the midst of the desolate lot that was all that was left of her dream home, or why I experienced that specific image with such intensity. It was visceral, a twisting in my chest, as if all the losses and griefs of the past year spun together into a black hole. All that even though I have not personally experienced the great losses that so many others have. I believe that stories have been crucial to our emotional survival during the pandemic, but sometimes the processing they facilitate can be hard going.
So much more could be said about WandaVision, and so much has been. Here’s a worthwhile example, an interview with someone at least as enthusiastic as I and way more knowledgeable about the MCU: https://news.yahoo.com/breaking-down-wandavision-thrilling-easter-235442212.html
I can’t end without mentioning everyone’s favorite quote, which we hear the real Vision say in a flashback: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
Wanda is the heroine of this story, but she is also its primary villain. She has conscripted other living, conscious beings into her fantasy against their will, and that, too, is a fine metaphor for our time. The past year has felt like things just happen randomly, without our knowledge or consent, like we’ve been cast in someone’s movie for which we never auditioned. It’s good to be reminded that we are the writers, directors and producers.
Wanda says that she doesn’t understand her power, but she vows to learn. Let’s do that.
May the reality you create be beautiful and filled with love, and may it harm no one.
While looking for the Marianne Williamson quote above, I found some others that seemed relevant:
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — Carl Jung
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
“We are the sum of the things we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” — Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” — James Baldwin
And the rest of the quote from A Return to Love: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”