WandaVision and the Power of Pure Emotions

Pop Culture

WandaVision and the Power of Pure Emotions

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Shortly before the pandemic, we bid goodbye to Marvel’s massive Avengers franchise with the release of Avengers: Endgame — a three-hour long epic stuffed with dozens of characters and narrative threads that closed out a decade-long journey. Starting out with Iron Man in 2008, Marvel has released at least one film every year to add to its flagship Avengers project, creating a universe that grew steadily more involved and convoluted. But in 2020, there were no big-budget blockbusters to speak of, as theatres shut their doors. The annual ritual of the big Marvel drop, with all the hype of fan theories, Easter eggs, casting speculations, and tantalising post-credits scene, was no more.

Since Marvel had closed out a mammoth three-phase rollout plan, Endgame really did feel like a finale. Still, it turns out there was magic left in the Marvelverse after all, in the form of Scarlet Witch, Avenger Wanda Maximoff’s super alter-ego whom we are introduced to in WandaVision, the MCU’s first episodically released TV show. We see Wanda and her husband Vision (Paul Bettany) — an android who combines Iron Man-suit technology of Ultron with the AI of Jarvis and the consciousness of the Mind Stone — living in WandaVision, what appears to be a suburban sitcom along the lines of I Love Lucy or Bewitched. Even from the first episode this idyllic world begins to show cracks, and we soon discover that it was created by Wanda, who has taken over the town of Westview, NJ with her illusory powers. Meanwhile, a team of SWORD agents fruitlessly try to penetrate her forcefield, called the Hex, and put an end to both Wanda and her TV show.

Throughout the Avengers films, Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda has always been pretty heavily superpowered. One of a pair of twins from the fictional Eastern European nation of Sokovia, Wanda and her brother Pietro become human experiments for HYDRA after their parents are killed in American air raids. Seeing the logo of Stark Industries on the bombs, the twins are fuelled by a hatred for SHIELD and the Avengers. When the Avengers go to investigate a HYDRA lab in Sokovia, Wanda mind-controls each one into a personal traumatic hell, rendering the squad helpless before teaming up with them against self-aware robot Ultron. She creates illusions and has telekinetic energy; her lightning-speed brother is killed in the fight, and a devastated Wanda emits an explosion that levels a city block and rips Ultron to shreds.

WandaVision is an exploration of her most unique fount of power: pure emotion.

This is our first taste of the abilities that put Wanda in a league with Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange as the most overpowered characters in the Marvelverse, all three of whom are, at various points, the Avengers’ last-ditch hopes for stopping Endgame villain Thanos from wiping out half the universe’s population. And yet, while former surgeon Doctor Strange studies the mystical science of the Time Stone, and Captain Marvel is a Tesseract-powered alien warrior, Wanda is neither the smartest nor the strongest of the bunch. She is not a soldier like Captain America or a spy like Black Widow; unlike her fellow reality-bender Loki, Wanda has no interest in politics or strategy.

Instead, WandaVision is an exploration of her most unique fount of power: pure emotion. It is Wanda who, after seeing her parents killed, witnesses her twin brother face the same fate in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is Wanda who, in Endgame, must kill her true love Vision to save the universe, only to watch Thanos reverse time and destroy Vision himself, stealing the Mind Stone from his body. These are the moments when Wanda is a force to be reckoned with, even for the other Avengers. And as we see in WandaVision, her trauma is both her greatest strength and her biggest weakness.

When Wanda visits an empty lot that Vision had bought in Westview, hoping the two could start a home together, she is so overcome with grief that she steals back his body from a SWORD intelligence facility and converts the town into WandaVision, modelling the sitcom along the lines of the ones she would watch as a child in war-torn Sokovia. Here, Wanda and Vision have the life she literally dreams of, complete with kooky neighbours and a couple of kids, all of whom are playing the parts she has designated for them. But when we are first introduced to the TV show, Wanda has no idea what she’s done. Her emotions are so profound that she acts out of blind instinct — which for a character as powerful as Wanda, means altering the reality and minds of anyone within her town-sized energy sphere.

Wanda’s journey to become Scarlet Witch is not about saving the world. Like all the Avengers, she has walked the line between hero and villain before. In WandaVision, however, Wanda becomes a hero when she saves herself. Her perfect world turns out not to be impenetrable, when neighbour Agnes, gleefully played by a delightful Kathryn Hahn, reveals herself to be a witch named Agatha Harkness who is manipulating Westview with her own magic.

Wanda is the hero who lives and dies by her feelings — but like any hero, she has also got a superhuman resilience.

Agatha claims that Wanda is the Scarlet Witch of prophecy whose chaos magic will destroy the earth, and demands that Wanda give them to her. She traps Wanda with runes and forces her to relive her most traumatic moments to see how she got her powers. As WandaVision is besieged by Agatha on one hand and SWORD forces on the other, Wanda concedes, bombarding Agatha with her chaos magic until she has nothing left, in a stark manifestation of her grief.

Wanda is the hero who lives and dies by her feelings — but like any hero, she has also got a superhuman resilience. Agatha finds she cannot use Wanda’s chaos magic as Wanda has turned the tables and cast her own runes. Wanda takes back her magic to finally come into her own as the Scarlet Witch, and destroys her fantasy Westview. By forcing her to face her past, Agatha unwittingly gives Wanda the emotional therapy she needs to emerge as her most powerful avatar. WandaVision manages to set up a character who is just as compelling as any standalone Marvel movie: a woman who is most dangerous when she is vulnerable, and most destructive when she is honest. True to Scarlet Witch herself, we have no idea what awaits us in Season 2, but it’s bound to be a mindfuck.