Marvel’s WandaVision delights and surprises with its timely reflections on love and loss
The months of the past year have rolled slowly from March to March. In these times which can feel so bleak, I often find myself turning to episodes of my old favorite sitcoms. Now more than ever, the familiar tropes and formulaic humor feel comforting, even safe—a welcome escape from a darker reality.
Marvel’s WandaVision takes this idea and runs with it. The cinematic giant’s first real, canonical foray into the television format on Disney+ has been a smashing success with viewers, and it’s not hard to see why. The show follows Wanda Maximoff, last seen in Avengers: Endgame mourning the losses of her brother (in Avengers: Age of Ultron) and her love interest the Vision. From the very first episode, however, viewers know something strange is afoot: in WandaVision, Vision is far from dead. Not only that, but Wanda and Vision seem to be living in domestic bliss in the small town of Westview—on a black-and-white television set straight from the 1950s, complete with a live studio audience.
So begins the most daring entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. As the episodes progress, each plays homage to classic sitcoms from a different decade, beginning in the 50s with I Love Lucy and traveling all the way to the 2000s’ Modern Family. These homages are lovingly executed, impeccable in every detail from the aforementioned live studio audience to Office-style camera stares. It’s a charming concept in its own right, carried by a superb cast: Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda, Paul Bettany as Vision, and Kathryn Hahn as “nosy neighbor” Agnes. But it wouldn’t be Marvel without a few twists and turns, and WandaVision holds more than its fair share of surprises.
As the season goes on, the mood starts to darken and the questions compound. Is Westview some sort of strange pocket dimension? Is it a dream? Is Wanda using her mind powers to create her own version of reality, one in which Vision is alive and she is not alone? Is it all just an extended metaphor for COVID quarantine bubbles? I won’t spoil anything here, so you’ll have to watch the show to find out.
Ultimately, WandaVision is a show about grief: about those left behind to live with their loss. It is this, more than the show’s sitcom escapism, that makes it feel so poignant and leads to one of the best lines I have heard in mainstream entertainment. It comes in a flashback scene, set just after the death of Wanda’s brother in Age of Ultron. Vision sits next to Wanda, who tells him that her sadness is like a wave that washes over her again and again, threatening to drown her. Vision explains that he has always been alone, so he doesn’t “feel the lack”; as he has never anything to lose, he has never felt loss. Then he speaks seven words: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
It’s a strange thing, sitting down to watch a show about a mutant-powered woman and her robot husband living in a sitcom-world and finding there a deep, foundational truth about love and loss. Wanda’s grief and her desire to escape it are mirrored in the daily reality of our own lives. The deep loneliness she feels, her overwhelming need to manipulate her surroundings and control her own reality, are a little too relatable for viewers in these pandemic times. But “what is grief, if not love persevering?” At the heart of the deepest grief we find love, persisting, remembering, living on.
WandaVision is just the first entry in Marvel’s planned lineup of Disney+ shows, and it works as such: the final episode introduces some exciting new characters and teases future films. But you don’t have to be a Marvel fan — or a fan of classic sitcoms for that matter — to enjoy WandaVision or appreciate its timeliness. Marvel could never have anticipated that, having filmed WandaVision in the before times, this past year allows the show to be more than just escapism. It captures so much of what this year has been: the distorted sense of reality, the sorrow, the fatigue which has filled so many of our days for so long. But so too it captures the moments of humor and light breaking through the clouds, and the love which perseveres.
Caroline O’Callaghan is a senior studying theology, studio art, and Irish language. If she had Wanda’s unlimited power, she would most definitely use it to make breakfast for dinner. For a definitive ranking of the best breakfast skillets in South Bend, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.