SPOILERS for WandaVision. And everything in the MCU that relates to Wanda Maximoff.
CONTENT WARNING: This post has mentions of verbal and sexual abuse and women’s trauma in general.
WandaVision was a fun, fascinating ride, and I enjoyed every minute of it, even the emotionally tough bits. I loved everything about it: the sitcom parodies and references, the cast’s performances and chemistry, the balance of comedy and drama, all of it. I felt a little let down by the final episode, but finales are hard to nail, especially when you build up a show as much as this show was built up week after week. Overall, it’s a great show.
My favorite part of the show, though, is Wanda Maximoff herself. Elizabeth Olsen gives a fantastic performance, of course, and that’s part of why I love Wanda so much. But Wanda’s whole journey through her grief and trauma resonated with me a lot on a personal level.
You see, over the past few months, I’ve been dealing with old trauma resurfacing. It really started in early December when an Oxygen special called The Case Died With Her aired. It’s about a woman, Emilie Morris, who died mysteriously after going to the police to accuse her former teacher and track coach, Jim Wilder, of sexual abusing her when she was in high school. The abuse happened at Lindbergh High School and Wilder taught at Sperreng Middle School in St. Louis County, Missouri. My siblings and I attended Sperreng and Lindbergh, and Wilder was my sister’s health teacher. My family didn’t know Emilie Morris (she was several years older than me), but watching the special and finding out how much the Lindbergh School District ignored her abuse and gaslit her and her family about it reminded me of how the SMS and LHS teachers and principals gaslit my family and me about the bullying I endured there.
For the majority of my K-12 education, I was a class or grade scapegoat. This happened at Catholic school, and then in the Lindbergh School District. My classmates threw verbal abuse my way just about everyday. I pushed back, but they never stopped the bullying. Things got brought to the principals just a handful of times in comparison to the amount of abuse I got, and whenever they talked to me about the bullying, they gaslit me and told me I must have done something to provoke the abuse. (I never had.) I got a whole heap of insults over the years, but the one that sticks in my mind is “baboon.” Two boys in the trombone section used to call me that periodically. Not everyday, but often enough that it left an impression. Watching the Oxygen special made me think about how much I dealt with and how the school district thought it was okay to sacrifice my wellbeing (and the wellbeing of other students in abusive situations) for the sake of the district’s reputation.
So what does any of that have to do with WandaVision?
Well, WandaVision premiered about a month after my trauma started coming back, and I related to so much of the show. First of all, I loved watching sitcom reruns when I was growing up. I watched recent reruns right after school and older sitcoms in the evening on Nick at Nite. They were great fun, but they also let me disassociate from the bullying and verbal abuse I faced at school. Also, I was born in 1989, just like Wanda (and Elizabeth Olsen herself). Finally, I just really related to the themes of women dealing with trauma, power, and grief.
Then I watched Chris Stuckmann’s review of WandaVision. The whole thing comes across as a man’s very shallow attempt to review a show about women dealing with pain and trauma. I generally like Chris Stuckmann’s reviews. He clearly understands what it’s like to be a creator as well as a reviewer, and he assesses genre films by how well they fit into that genre. Like, if he reviews a horror movie, he assesses how scary it is and doesn’t give off the “meh, I had to watch a horror movie” vibe that a lot of reviews written for publications do. However, I think he’s missed the mark with his reviews of Wonder Woman 1984 and WandaVision. With both, he ends up nitpicking the plots or the presence of certain characters, and clearly doesn’t get that these are superhero works about the female experience. At the end of the day, those reviews make me feel like:
He says he enjoyed the show, but he doesn’t really like sitcoms because “I don’t like laugh tracks.” He says he watched Malcolm in the Middle back in the day, and he can describe the layout of sitcom filming styles in the terms that a filmmaker uses, but he clearly doesn’t know that much about the sitcom genre and its many iterations. Like, he says that the first episode films half of the house, but there’s actually a term for that type of sitcom: multi-camera sitcom. A multi-camera sitcom uses multiple cameras to film the show, while a single-camera sitcom uses one camera to film all the action. Multi-camera sitcoms were the norm in American television up through the 1990s, and some examples include I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Family Ties, Full House, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Wings, Frasier, and Friends. Single-camera sitcoms became more popular in the 2000s. Examples of single-camera sitcoms include The Office, 30 Rock, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Black-ish, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. You should know this distinction because WandaVision works its way through the multi-camera era of sitcoms and into the single-camera era.
As I think about it, the way WandaVision‘s episodes follow sitcoms’ genre shifts throughout the decades reflects Wanda’s creation of the Hex/the WestView anomaly. The ’50s and ’60s episodes are very broad, goofy, and sanitized: they’re the genre’s beginnings, reflecting how Wanda is just beginning to build the Hex. In fact, we don’t see any outdoor sets in the first episode. Wanda first steps outside the house in the second episode in a way that reminds me of how The Andy Griffith Show used outdoor sets to make its small-town setting, Mayberry, feel real in a way that resonated with its viewers. When Wanda steps outside, her version of WestView becomes more of a real place. Then Wanda and Vision become parents in the Brady Bunch-inspired ’70s episode, and they have to learn how to parent in the ’80s episode. This makes sense because the ’70s seem like a transitional period for sitcoms, when you got more representation of women and minorities in lead roles. Then the ’80s and early ’90s had many family-centric sitcoms where the parents were generally role models, but still made mistakes every now and then. But the 2000s and 2010s had more flawed families, which makes sense for the episodes where Wanda’s ideal world begins to break down.
Okay, now that we’ve got that digression out of the way, we still need to address this post’s topic: whether Wanda needs to be punished for how she mind-controlled the citizens of WestView and walled the town off from the rest of the world. Chris Stuckmann thinks she should have been punished, but some of the commenters on his video disagree. One guy says that she’s an antihero and that we’re supposed to be afraid of what she’s going to do next, and that’s why she isn’t punished for her deeds. I disagree with both Chris Stuckmann and that commenter because I see Wanda inhabiting a space between hero and antihero. Also, I disagree with these ideas because I believe that punishing Wanda sends terrible messages to women dealing with trauma.
Throughout WandaVision, Wanda is experiencing a breakdown where she’s dissociating from reality and her telepathic and reality-warping powers flow out of her to force her flight into the world of nostalgic sitcoms. She is forcing her trauma, grief, and will onto other people, but she doesn’t do that 100% on purpose. By the finale, she knows she’s using her powers to get people to act the storylines she wants, but she doesn’t seem to realize how much pain she’s putting the townsfolk of WestView through until Agatha Harkness snaps them out of their Wanda-induced mind control, and they tell Wanda what they really think of what she’s doing. As soon as they put their anger and misery out in the open for Wanda to see, she starts to undo the Hex. She only stops undoing it when she sees Vision and her twins, Billy and Tommy, disappearing with the Hex.
You see, Wanda Maximoff is a messy, complicated person. She hasn’t always made the right decisions, but she also hasn’t had much of a support system to guide her in the right direction. In fact, part of her trauma is the fact that she keeps losing the people who make up her support system, namely her parents, Pietro, and Vision. The show doesn’t bring up how Captain America and Hawkeye supported her in Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War and then swanned off to be in romantic relationships at the end of Avengers: Endgame because that film’s male writers, Markus and McFeely, really loved sidelining the MCU’s female characters whenever they could in that film. (But that’s a different blog post.) I can tell you right now that even when you have a support system, like I do, trauma is difficult to deal with. Wanda never has anyone who sticks around long enough to help her figure things out, except for Vision. And then she lost him, too. That’s why she spiraled out: she simply couldn’t handle the pain anymore.
When people deal with trauma, mental illness, and/or extreme stress, they often either implode or explode. I know someone who implodes when they deal with that stuff, blaming themselves for everything. I, on the other hand, explode. I lash out at people, and I know that’s not a good thing. It’s something I’m just beginning to handle in my early 30s. It takes time to deal with years of trauma, and people can hurt other folks around them when they lose control of their inner pain. It’s not always completely intentional, and I know I sometimes unleash my pain because it becomes too much for me to bear. When Wanda unleashes her powers on WestView, she does it because her pain is unbearable, and it needs to go somewhere. She can’t hold it in anymore, and she shouldn’t be punished for being unable to hold in her pain. She needs help learning to control her powers and getting to a healthier place with a support system of friends and/or a found family.
Fanboys’ instincts to punish Wanda are very unhealthy, but they have precedence in history and pop culture. Today, we use the term “hysteria” to describe a time when someone is freaking out excessively, but it was once a legitimate psychological diagnosis used exclusively on women. The word even has the same root word as the female medical procedure, hysterectomy. Hysteria was thought to originate in a woman’s uterus, and one of its symptoms was “sexual forwardness.” Because God forbid a woman has a sexuality. Also, the majority of lobotomies performed in the 20th century were performed on women, including JFK’s sister, Rosemary Kennedy. On the pop culture side of things, men’s urge to punish Wanda probably goes back to the Hays Code, which was the Catholic-influence production code Hollywood used from 1934 to 1968 to limit representation in films and reinforce social norms of the day. The Hays Code stated that characters who did bad things had to be punished by the end of the film, and this rule often made films kill or otherwise punish bad-girl character types such as the femme fatale. Also, in the day of the Hays Code, and much of pop culture that came after it was no longer enforced, female characters were often good girls or bad girls, with little room in between the two types. Women have been punished enough over the centuries for struggling with mental illness and not conforming to society’s standards. Wanda is neither a pure good girl nor a pure bad girl, but she is allowed to exist in our current popular culture. Ultimately, she’s a step forward from all these harmful, morally binary portrayals of women.
There’s so much more about Wanda Maximoff that I could go into, but I have gone on long enough. Before I end, I’ll address this line from Monica Rambeau to Wanda that confused Chris Stuckmann but makes sense to me: “They (the people of WestView) will never know what you sacrificed for them.” Chris Stuckmann says that Wanda only lost things in the Hex that weren’t real, but he’s missing the point. In the end, Wanda chose the WestView townsfolk’s well-being over her own emotional comfort. She gave up her fantasy, but she also got out of their way because she realized her pain was causing them tons of pain. It takes strength to realize how your pain hurts other people and make some sort of amends for it. Also, Monica has been dealing with her own pain over losing her mother, and she’s validating Wanda’s trauma. It’s nice to see one women validating another women when they’re both dealing with pain, grief, and trauma. We need more of that in fiction. Heck, we need more of that in life.
Overall, some fanboys and male critics don’t understand WandaVision because it’s not a reflection of their experiences. But it’s still a great television show, and I love it.