Cool Motive, Still [SPOILER]
The following contains spoilers for the MCU through Endgame, WandaVision episodes 1 through 5, and Jessica Jones season 1. Read at your own risk if you are not caught up.
Content warning for discussion of rape and consent.
To begin with, it must be said that I'm enjoying WandaVision more than I thought I would given that this show, for me, exists purely to be a Monica Rambeau delivery system. If someone could've presented me with the reverse Jar Jar cut of WandaVision, which is to say a version which only showed the Monica Rambeau scenes and nothing else, I would've been happy as a clam.
Which possibly puts me in a better position than most to enjoy the show, because anything which is good above and beyond scenes with Monica is a happy bonus. Much easier to surpass low expectations than high ones and all that.
That being said, I wouldn't be typing all this if I didn't have thinky thoughts about how the show is going.
I admittedly hesitate on sharing these thinky thoughts because this newsletter is going out on Thursday afternoon, less than twelve hours before episode six goes live. Anything I say here could become irrelevant before the sun rises. But I figure at the same time you may as well start somewhere and this way gives the best opportunity for people to have been able to watch last week's ep. If I need more up to the minute commentary maybe I'll do those as an extra entry over the weekend or something.
I'm finding the meta of WandaVision to be an interesting challenge. There's obviously much to analyze, and the show explicitly tells us we are supposed to be analyzing things. Jimmy putting questions on the board which echo what the audience has been talking about shows us that.
However we're in new territory for MCU analysis. To begin with, we are no longer in the days of the Russo brothers and Markus and McFeely (MMRR for short). MMRR being in control of the overarching narrative of the MCU with the known final point of Endgame meant we had some idea of where stories were going to go and how they would be handled. Broadly speaking we knew Thanos was always going to be the bad guy. We knew ultimately the Avengers would win and some of them would probably die in the process.
We also knew MMRR’s storytelling weaknesses but that's another essay. Ahem.
Now that Endgame is behind us, it's totally new territory. We don't yet know what the new theme is for all the phases. There are some guesses, sure. Some possibly highly educated guesses based on things like upcoming movie titles. But we don't yet know for sure. So without knowing where we're going, we're likewise not as certain about how we're getting there.
Moreover, the Disney+ of it all means we're also in new territory for budget and copyright issues. Think back to Agents of SHIELD, and how even in the still "it's all connected" season one they were held back by how much they could spend and who they could even refer to. No matter what you knew Robert Downey Jr wasn't about to walk in the door so Tony Stark could save the day. And that was the first season, when they were still able to get Samuel Jackson to play Fury for an ep.
Contrast that with episode 5 of WandaVision in which, as others have dubbed it, Evan Peters shows up as Pietro in a $71.3 billion cameo.
So what would normally be reasonable guesses for where the show could go are completely off the table. Is that aerospace engineer Monica mentioned actually Reed Richards? Who the hell knows! Maybe it's Rose Tico! It's clearly Anything Can Happen Day over at Disney+!
Which doesn't mean we don't get our analytical thinking caps on. Just that I appreciate there's a new challenge in trying to ferret out where things are going. I also fully acknowledge that any guesses, including my own, have a high chance of being wrong.
That being said, I still have things with the show which are in my Items of Concern column. Things which I'm not saying ruin the show for me, but which I have flagged as things WandaVision really needs to stick the dismount on, and which I do not think we can yet have confidence that they will. Keyword: yet.
Granted, possibly this is due to me having trust issues. The last show I was invested in was Lovecraft Country and sadly that show, for all that it had very good elements, also had problematic ones which it very much did not fix by the time the final episode aired. I won't get into it here because it's not the topic of the day and I don't want to spoil anybody.
Suffice it to say there's a reason why I hesitate to assume any show can handle things until I see them actually handle things. Especially for a show like WandaVision where, like I said, we're in entirely new territory. If we were still in the MMRR phase I'd feel much more comfortable guessing if they could address these issues properly (answer: no, no they could not). But now? No clue. We have to wait and see.
One such element is whether or not Wanda is the villain. And, if she is, will the show handle addressing her crimes?
Which is where we come to the title of today's essay.
Regardless of who the villain of WandaVision is, it's pretty clear about the bare minimum of their wrongdoing: They have kidnapped and mind controlled an entire town of people. As much as the result of that is literally wacky sitcom hijinks, this is still serious shit. Not to cross the streaming streams too much but this is straight up Kilgrave moves out of Jessica Jones.
Moreover, the Kilgrave comparison is even more spot on when you realize that we have seen Wanda use her powers to manipulate Vision to act and feel the way she wants him to. Which means that her sleeping with him, just like Kilgrave with Jessica, is rape.
Now to be fair, I do think the show has left multiple doors open for Wanda to not be the villain. She said in episode 5 she doesn't know how it all started. Moreover you have things like Norm saying "she" is in his head. She, not a specific name like when Monica said it was Wanda. Plus, comics being comics, we can't rule out that the Wanda who dragged the drone outside of the Hex (thanks, Darcy!) was truly Wanda and not a shapeshifter, or an illusion, or even a heretofore unseen second personality living in Wanda's head a la Bruce and the Hulk.
But likewise this is also why I suspect and hope Wanda isn't the villain. Because if she is this is serious stuff. And either the show glosses over how bad these actions are in much the same way Endgame glossed over Hawkeye's racist mass murder spree, or it does acknowledge that this is pure evil and in which case… what next? Yet another Marvel storyline about how powerful women aren't capable of handling that power? I know the MCU has rights to the X-Men now but that doesn't mean we need Dark Phoenix: Now More Scarlet Witchier!
What worries me is how the show has set up the dichotomy of moral voices. We're clearly meant to not agree with Hayward when he calls Wanda a terrorist and to believe Monica when she says Wanda's grief means she should be dealt with via empathy.
And if Monica was talking purely about tactics that'd be fine. Not to keep dipping into the Jessica Jones pile but one of the things the show handled well was why Jessica had to stop Kilgrave on her own: Any more powerful hero would just be controlled by Kilgrave and turned into a weapon. Wanda has mind control and reality warping powers. Sending in Captain Marvel would be a bad idea. (Much though I'd love to see her. Again: Monica Rambeau delivery system. Ahem.)
So if Monica was pointing out that practically speaking you cannot fight Wanda from a power standpoint I'd be fine with it. But her argument seems to be that all Wanda needs is empathy and… no? Hence the title of this piece? I get that Wanda is hurting over all the loss in her life but COOL MOTIVE, STILL MIND RAPE.
Which again, may not be Wanda. But Monica doesn't know that right now. Monica is the one who explicitly says it is Wanda, unlike Norm with his generic "she." I'm not saying this means Monica should be agreeing with Hayward sending in missiles. But it should mean that Monica, as one of the good guys, is more on team "Let's help these tortured innocents" than "Let's give the person doing the torture a big ol' hug so they feel better."
Hence again why I suspect we're going to find out that Wanda isn't behind all of this. Because a not uncommon writer error is to have characters acting in a way that makes sense given later reveals even if it doesn't make sense at that second in the story. If it's later revealed that it wasn't Wanda controlling things, then Monica's (and Darcy's, and Jimmy's) through-line is being one of the few people who was right from the start in how what Wanda needed was compassion. And maybe that will be a sign that Monica, Darcy, and Jimmy have better gut instincts about these things than most people.
But like I said: that all depends on if the show sticks the dismount. Which we don't know yet. Just have to wait and see.