WandaVision Episode 9 Analysis: The Five Stages of [SPOILERS]
WandaVision Episode 9, Mental Illness, and Personal Responsibility
Here there be SPOILERS for the WandaVision finale. Also warning for discussion of mental health issues regarding trauma and depression. Discussion starts after the picture just to be safe.
As finales go, it wasn't as bad as Lovecraft Country.
Coming from me that's damning with faint praise, I'm aware.
Look, in the end I would give WandaVision the series a B grade. In many ways it hits the finish line a solid "If you like this sort of thing then this is the sort of thing you'll like."
But the problem is that until the last episode it was earning an A/A+. The finale biffed a lot of stuff which had great promise, and that's a shame.
Don't get me wrong, if you loved it I'm happy. I'm not saying I'm right and you're wrong. I'm just saying that for me this went from a show that I was on track to recommend to anybody looking for something good to watch to becoming a show where I'd tell people if you don't already care about Wanda and Vision then there's maybe three scenes tops that are worth your time and only one of those scenes involves the main characters.*
(* In order: 1) Monica getting her powers, 2) Agatha All Along, and 3) "What is grief but love persevering?")
And what biffed it all was one single moment.
No. Just… No
Here's the thing. I meet stories at the place they want me to be. For example, I don't watch a show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, see a parent tell their 10 year old sons they were "born" to go fight people with guns, and shout "OMG child abuse! Turning innocent children into child soldiers! Where is Social Services???"
No, instead I understand that this is a show about superheroes, sometimes in these shows there are kids with powers, and even if the kids don't have powers they're still going to join the fight against the bad guys because the kids in the audience want to see themselves fighting the bad guys. We're not judging this by real world rules, we're judging by the rules of the genre and the story.
Similarly, the story gets to tell me what it wants to be. If it wants me to judge if something done with super powers is good or bad it can let me know what the rules are for its own universe. I then as an audience member can then determine if I felt it succeeded at telling the story it wanted to tell.
I'm sure anybody who's read my previous reviews of WandaVision can guess where I'm going with this.
I was ENTIRELY on board for a world where Wanda using her powers to turn an entire town into her puppets didn't have to mean she did something wrong. I've been open for multiple episodes now for any form of out for her, be it finding out she was under someone else's control the whole time or some kind of explanation that she didn't do what the show was showing us she did.
Had the townspeople come back into themselves and focused on cheering and hugging their loved ones, I would've said fine. I wouldn't have personally agreed with it, but I would've understood the story was telling me the rules of this situation are that for whatever reason the townspeople were okay or at the very least not as disturbed by what happened. Fairy tale rules: It's a happy ending that Cinderella ends up with the Prince and we're told not to be upset by the body horror of her step sisters carving up their own feet so okay, apparently feet carving is a thing that happens in this world.
But the show didn't do that. The show showed us that the townspeople were horrified by what Wanda did. They wanted to die rather than go back to it.
AND WANDA DIDN'T APOLOGIZE.
She didn't acknowledge her guilt. She didn't say she was sorry. No, she gave a poor me speech in her emo hoodie and fucked off.
Not only that but we have Monica, the show's established voice of reason and empathy, saying "They'll never know what you sacrificed for them."
Reader, I have NEVER flipped double birds at my screen so fast in my entire god damn LIFE. I have never been so pissed at so much straight up bullshit put in front of my eyeballs and I will remind you I did sit through the entirety of Hulk trying to force the Russo children to take a selfie with Scott Lang.
"What you sacrificed." Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME.
And then Wanda's little pouty reply of how it won't change how they see her. GOSH I WONDER WHY, WANDA. COULD IT BE THE ENTIRE WEEK OF LOCKING THEIR CHILDREN AWAY WHILE YOU MINDRAPED THE ADULTS INTO BEING YOUR PLAYTHINGS???
And the thing is it doesn't even work to argue that Wanda didn't know she was hurting them. They could have argued it. Last week's flashback to Wanda taking over the town strongly indicated she was consumed by grief and an inability to control her magic (more on THAT in sec, believe me). I could've bought that she was in a grief-induced fugue state the whole time where denial about herself spread to denial about the whole town.
But they didn't do that.
From episode one it was established that things were hinky. Mrs Hart begged Wanda to "Stop it - STOP IT!" in a scene where it was clear she wasn't just talking about her husband gasping for air.
Then time and time again we see Wanda noticing that things aren't going her way so she uses her magic to force them to do that. She does it to the SWORD agent/beekeeper, to the town, and even to Vision.
She steps out of the Hex to tell SWORD to leave her alone. She knows damn well what she's doing! They SHOWED us this!
I'm even fine for the argument that she had no idea she was sharing her nightmares with these people. There was nothing to establish that she should know that. But the mindrape is a problem WELL before the shared grief and trauma becomes an issue. And in last night's ep Wanda says she had NO IDEA THEY WOULDN'T LIKE IT???
Girl, get the ENTIRE fuck out of here. The first thing you did to Tony Stark was screw with his mind. You know damn well this is isn't a nice thing to do. That's why you did it to him.
And I would've still gone along with it all if the show showed Wanda understood what she did. But it didn't! Her only character growth was leveling up in her powers and getting an awesome new outfit. She learned jack shit about personal responsibility!
In fact, let's talk about that.
Here's the thing, I daresay I am uniquely qualified to speak to the concept of how capital-D Depression and emotional pain can inspire you to lock yourself away from the world. As an audience member I am primed and ready to sympathize with a character who wants to escape into TV rather than cope with her trauma.
But at the same time, if you're giving me, an audience member, a story about a character handling their mental illness then I'm gonna meet you on the ground of analyzing it as a story about mental illness. And I am gonna call bull when I see it.
It sucks that Wanda is Depressed. I know that's not fun to deal with or easy to seek help for. But I also know it's not something you solve on your own. And I also also know that there's a reason why one of the criteria for intensity of care is the phrase "danger to yourself OR OTHERS."
It doesn't matter if Wanda never means to hurt people. She does. She does repeatedly. The hallmark of her power since minute one has been that when her emotions become too much for her she explodes in red and shit goes down.
And you can understand when the magic is new to her because sure, she's got to learn how to work her powers same as any other hero. And Lagos was a mistake that could've happened to anybody.
But it keeps happening. Up to and including taking an entire fucking town hostage as her playthings.
So Wanda doesn't get to walk off at the end here with a "I don't understand this power, but I will." Because she's had years at this point to start and shown no signs that she cares to. Moreover, she's shown even less sign that she understands her personal culpability for her actions.
"The difference between you and me is that you did this on purpose." Here's the thing, Wanda, that means jack shit to your victims. Not to be crude about it but somebody who hits their spouse to "keep them in line" and someone who hits their spouse but "only because I can't control my temper when I'm drunk" is still hitting their spouse.
Not to constantly be bringing the Marvels into a Scarlet Witch show but Kamala puts it best: Good is not a thing you are, it's a thing you do. Wanda isn't doing good things. Period, full stop. Doesn't matter if she's doing them on purpose. Frankly it's worse if she's not doing it on purpose because it means she has no ability to keep herself from doing it again.
But the show is trying to tell me that Wanda is the one I'm meant to be sympathetic to here and… no! Fuck you! You don't get any more sympathy from me than anyone else in group therapy who is insisting that the real problem is the world at large and not anything inside of themselves. The work starts with you, pumpkin. I won't hold it against you if you're not able to fix yourself right away but I am gonna hold it against you if you're hurting people while insisting there's nothing to fix.
Moreover, speaking as somebody who deals with debilitating mental illness, I take issue with the show suggesting that an acceptable solution for someone in a bad mental state is to lock themselves away without help and handle it themselves. That is both inaccurate and dangerous. You can't fix this kind of deep Depression on your own any more than you can fix a heart attack on your own. Professionals need to get involved.
I would've been fine if the show had gone the Buffy route of having Wanda's Depression manifest as a monster of some kind. But the show made it clear in and out of the narrative that we're meant to take the mental illness aspect as a real world to fictional world like for like so I'm gonna call them on how they present a solution which is wrong. Even Tony Stark acknowledged he probably should be seeing a therapist! He wasn't, but at least he got the first step right of admitting the problem!
Granted, maybe the final scene of Wanda studying the book is meant to indicate to us that this is no different from an alcoholic who swears they'll stop drinking and then we see them crack open a cold one. In which case fine. But since we won't know for sure until Dr Strange 2 comes along I'm sticking with my judgement that the show's handling of Wanda's mental health and personal responsibility was badly done.
It's All Connected, Except When It Isn't
This is by no means as egregious but the finale also made me feel there was a lot in the show where they didn't realize what they were presenting came off as more significant than what they intended.
I'm reminded of a Dungeon Master setting a scene for their players where they're describing a bedroom and, in what to them is a throwaway detail, mention there's an envelope on the night stand.
To the DM this meant nothing. It was an off the cuff improvisation intended for color and nothing more. But that's because the DM knows it means nothing and doesn't connect to the story arc. The players, on the other hand, don't. So they hear about the envelope and grab on to it as significant. What is it? Who is it from? Who is it for? What's the message inside? If the message inside is just "Hi how are you?" clearly this is code!
And so on and so forth.
I think WandaVision had a lot of envelopes.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying these ruined the show or anything. Just that they stand out as something that could've used a polish. Somebody with a big picture view of the entire series who could point out that red herrings are nice and all, but you can't make a show out of a school of them.
For example: Why was Dottie treated differently from the others in town? Even if you allow for Agatha lying about her, she was still used in camera shots for reactions which implied more was going on with her than met the eye. Ditto the mailman/delivery guy. Ditto Jimmy's missing person. Ditto Monica's engineer friend. Ditto the meaning of the Yo Magic commercial (I get that the shark is Agatha but what was the symbolism of the kid unable to open the yogurt and starving to death?). Ditto the chants of "For the children." Ditto…
And so on and so forth. Again, nothing horrible just… sloppy.
I wonder how much was affected by the need to stop production for the pandemic. Like maybe if everyone had been able to work straight through they could've remembered what they'd already done and thus made sure it landed the way they wanted it to by the time the show was over. I know Emma Caulfield said she lost track of Dottie over the break. Stands to reason others in the show lost their own through-lines as well.
At the same time I do wonder how much the show was aware of it. Like look, I'm not one of the people who thought Evan Peters meant that by the end of WandaVision Michael Fassbender was going to appear with open arms towards Wanda going "My darling daughter!" I'm fine for Evan not being a full on Fox X-Men cameo and I don't think WandaVision not opening up the entire multiverse means the show failed. I think I've been pretty clear Wanda's lack of responsibility for her actions is why the show failed. ;)
But at the same time the show cast Evan Peters and knew damn well how the audience would react to seeing him. I don't think the show owes the audience anything, it's totally fine for Evan's casting not to mean anything. But if you do have it mean nothing you have to understand there are people in the audience who are going to feel tricked. And when you combine that with a not insignificant number of other things which led nowhere…
Again it's kind of sloppy. Not horrible but, well, it's kind of like Wanda herself: either you did it on purpose or you did it by accident but the end result is something that could've been better.
Final thoughts in no particular order:
- Full mea culpa that I was wrong in my guess about Fietro's outfit. I do want to make clear, though, that costume and set design do work on this level. Yes, some of my conclusions were wrong but that's because I refused to be patient and see where the story was going. There should still be full credit and appreciation to the work costume and set design did. They wrote poems in another language, I translated that language badly.
- (See Wanda? Owning your mistakes is not that hard!)
- Related, I may revisit that whole costume and set analysis depending on how I feel and on how much the behind the scenes show coming out next week touches on it. As my parents would say, "We'll see."
- Though I will briefly note that Wanda was wearing a plaid coat at SWORD and when she took over the town. Also the boys had plaid blankets in their goodbye scene. Just saying.
- I remain firmly #TeamAgatha. Nothing she said was a lie and frankly there's an excellent argument to be made that Wanda shouldn't have all that power.
- Though I like the concept that Agatha is being kept around for possible future use, it is weird to think about in the practical sense. Like where is she going to live? How are the townspeople going to react to seeing her walking around and acting like a female Ned Flanders?
- This is even more interesting when you realize that from the perspective of the citizens of Westview Agatha is very much a hero. They saw her trying to take down Wanda, who was the one torturing them. Maybe Agatha's going to live a perfectly fine life because the townspeople will adopt her out of gratitude?
- I get that Hayward was a mustache-twirling villain who even wanted to shoot kids but he seriously thought nobody would have a problem with Wanda dying? Not even, say, the group of super powered people she's friends with? At no point did this dude think Professor Hulk might wonder why Wanda wasn't responding to the group texts anymore? Really?
- Why did White Vision leave? He got his memories back and, more importantly, he was the one who bought the plot of land there in town. Shouldn't he have stuck around? Been glad to be alive? Anything?
- I don't buy Monica of all people making a "Ha ha, your name is 'Boner'!" joke. Don't get me wrong, I love me some snarky characters. There's a reason Carol and Tony are my favorites. But so far Monica has been presented as practical and empathetic. Seems weird for her of all characters mock someone's name. I would've bought it more if it had been Darcy.
- (Also not for nothing but you'd think a character who's probably spent far too much time sighing while saying "It's not spelled R-A-M-B-O" would have more sympathy for somebody else with last name troubles.)
- I did like the callback to creepy Ultron Wanda.
- I love Wanda's new outfit. Congrats to Elizabeth Olsen for finally getting a costume that's not about showing her boobs for no reason. That being said I also liked how for a good portion of the battle Wanda was in sweats. More female heroes fighting in comfy clothes, please!