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Watching Wanda Maximoff struggle to stand in her grief, feels like home.
There's such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown. - Michael Scott, The Office
The first time I recognized grief, or from the distance as I understand grieving today, was from television. Primetime procedurals our parents or grandparents adored didn't have a grip on me like a half-hour sitcom's "very special episode."
In season five of Family Ties, Alex Keaton has an existential breakdown spanning over two episodes. His buddy dies in a car accident en route to an outing Alex was initially supposed to attend, instead opting not to join him. No amount of sibling conflict and silly misunderstandings could counter the poignancy of witnessing one of America's sarcastic know-it-all’s pushing against type. Michael J. Fox was already plenty generous, still toiling in his portrayal as Alex, the Reagan loving capitalist wannabe scion of the Keaton family two years after Back To The Future's explosion into pop culture canon. But his performance in "A, my name is Alex" cemented his trajectory from breakout star to in-demand movie heartthrob to icon. The value I found in his portrayal helped me understand what it meant to lose something or someone you love dearly and accept that it will always be with you, but you have to do something with that emotion, or it can take hold and never leave. Plus, it was just great acting.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I've been in a state of grief permanence. Allan and I experienced multiple child loss last year, and at times that has split us into 4. Our core selves fracturing into two personas barely holding it together. It's dangerously deceptive and shapeshift's into multiple forms just to help us combat lasting effects as we pull ourselves whole. People outside of your bubble can only care so much, at certain points you can’t deny their desire to protect themselves and you don’t know how many more sorry’s you can tolerate. Because of that, I've built a cocoon inside our home; it's effortless for me to not leave our "nest" for two weeks at a time and even easier to limit the number of times I must be presentable for a Zoom. I've been here with Allan, but what is here? We are emotionally ebbing and flowing like two lumbering ships slowly passing in the night flashing our masthead light to avert collision. Then when not trying to claim privacy and dominance in one area of the home, at some point in the daily cycle we long for each other, mingling in common areas like our own version of a sitcom. We riff sarcastically, offering treacly sentiment and inside jokes to keep the other's spirits up.
Enter WandaVision. No hyperbole; it has changed how I see our relationship. I see so much of my current self in Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff, well, as much as a human can see themselves in a superhero desperately trying to forget the bad stuff in a before time. Why had it been so long since I related to a superhero, and why is it, Wanda? My entire life, I've been exposed to the comic universes where superheroes and villains reign triumphant yet prone to destruction. We literally just had a supervillain for a President. I'd grown up empathizing with the diametrical opposing "realities" of Bill Bixby's The Hulk and a drunken Bizarro Superman. It took me way too long to meet Wanda.
Male superheroes process rage through destruction while the audiences foot the bill for collateral damage. Female superheroes have to run it off or ride lightning to get away. Still, we earthlings have to confront the ills of society without superhuman strength. So we pedal aggressively on our Pelotons and spend aggressively online. Thank goodness for the Marvel Cinematic Universe's weakest link, Avengers: Age Of Ultron (it's my least fave entry, and yours too, prove me wrong), making itself useful, and that's introducing me to Wanda Maximoff and her boiling rage.
I'm only happy when it rains
I feel good when things are goin' wrong
I only listen to the sad, sad songs
I'm only happy when it rains
- Garbage, Only Happy When It Rains, 1995
Every Friday at 9 pm is date night, and we mutually avoid WandaVision spoilers throughout the day. There's so little we can keep from each other it's precisely the masks we wear for ourselves and others that made me love WandaVision. Are we not spending days constructing a narrative that helps us simply exist? We spend most of our days face down on laptops and are only half satisfied with our output. The other part of that time, we're on our smartphone plotting an escape to a distant land we can't even enter right now. We are sinking into extremes with TV, bouncing wildly between the pleasantly "feel good" comedy of Schitt's Creek or diving into the dark abyss of any Cecil Hotel docuseries we can find. Just settling into defense mechanisms to protect us while on here, forever if need be. What do I really need from out there?
Wanda has spent the last seven episodes moving through the five stages of grief, manipulating her reality using tried and true classic 3-cam sitcom tropes to shelter herself from her quiet storm that’s out there. This while holding the citizens of Westview hostage and imagining a world where Vision was not collateral damage in Infinity War and lost forever in Endgame, she has constructed an existence that provides a sense of normalcy only she can control. The empath in me feels protective of Monica Rambeau who is violently rejected by Wanda as she continuously attempts to re-enter the circle of trust Wanda’s built in her Westview neighborhood. Frankly, I can't knock it. I miss my girlfriends but even they know when not to push. Everyone processes grief differently. It’s not an adage it’s the truth.
I want to guess it was primarily women viewers that caught on to the plot technique early. The challenges of the last year have hardened many of us to the point that we're skeptical of any overt concern or sympathy from parties not in our bubble, we just can’t be too sure no matter how desperately we long for the simple comforts of the before times.
Joshua Rivera of Polygon said, "What WandaVision is missing is the sense that anyone in the story is being confronted with the opportunity to change and wrestling with what it might mean to embrace it."
Unfortunately, that's not how grieving works, dude and aren’t you lucky. I'm thrilled for folks who haven’t spent the last year grasping for a modicum of normalcy. What’s that like? Wanda moving towards acceptance about Infinity War and Endgame's events is a process one experiences if they're lucky enough to have the chance. We're watching Wanda slowly confront the process to deal and move on. Whatever her destiny is, she knows she cannot control it. We see it when she can't maintain her 2000s household furnishing from converting to earlier eras when the voices in her son's head can't be silenced, when she can't keep Vision at home as he roams the town for answers that she can't or won't give him.
Even with what I can anticipate is ahead, I honor Wanda's journey. It's relatable, it's heartbreaking, it's right on time. I can't snap my fingers and make the world whole, heal it from the inside out, grant everyone immediate vaccinations and reinstate Coachella, (may I want to go in the after times, maybe I just miss it!) but I can protect what I've architected and reinforce it’s foundation. I’ve never been more productive than the last year while processing the internal confusion and guilt. I’m above water, that’s good enough for me.
This has been an age ripe for self discovery. I applaud anyone determined to crest that creative block, it feels like a time to reinvent. This is what Marvel has done with WandaVision, diving deeper than the magic, the mystical, the sci-fi and intertwined narratives that continues this next phase of the MCU. For me it’s opening up a world that looks a little more like our own and deepening my connection to a character I now find iconic*.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. - Brene Brown
*No disrespect to Agatha/Agnes - which is a whole other post.