To Be Stuck in WandaVision’s Grief-Stricken Suburbia
Wanda: It's just like this wave washing over me again and again. It knocks me down and when I try to stand up, it just comes for me again. And I can't... It's gonna drown me.
Vision: No. No, Wanda.
Wanda: How do you know?
Vision: Because it can't be all sorrow, can it? I've always been alone so I don't feel the lack. It's all I've ever known. I've never experienced loss because I've never had a loved one to lose. What is grief, if not love persevering? - WandaVision (Episode 8)
The suburbs; where time moves slower and the weight of previous generations rests heavily on the next ones. Through the relationships we create, the media consumed, and the roles we take on, suburbia has become some figurative haven from the outside world. Until it’s not.
Enter the new age of Marvel Cinematic Universe: Disney+’s Wandavision. The show is a time warping, genre bending, reconstructed reality trip that was executed perfectly. At times, it’s a period piece taking audiences through the decades as Wanda and Vision appear in matrimonial bliss like the characters of I Love Lucy. Or the two are a freedom-loving hip couple in the 70s very much resembling I Dream of Jeannie, looking to start a family amidst the craziness of their circumstances. Each episode offers a new decade, and by extension, a changing perspective of American suburban life.
Wandavision cleverly pokes fun at those age-old tropes on nosy neighbors, raising a family, lasting love and more. The false reality which we discover Wanda has created could have only been constructed in an environment where social acceptance becomes the ultimate form of safety. Or where the cost of living and a job well done is, in part, a man’s way of providing for his wife’s livelihood and satisfaction. Together, these facets of a happy life become the blueprint for Wanda’s perceived notion of American suburbia.
The series premiered in black and white (‘Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience’), showing Vision and Wanda moving into a small suburban home in a dreary suburban town after their wedding. The two are in matrimonial bliss; nosy neighbors and business dinners with the wives, the two remain for the most part in their homes. It’s all so… I Love Lucy, very 1950s. And there’s that obnoxious laugh track throughout the episode making the production appear artificial.
Upon my initial watch, I was struck with countless questions which, while they are answered in time, makes for a confused audience. Am I supposed to know the circumstances of the premiere? The last time I watched Vision on screen in the Avengers, he had clearly been killed… How is he here now? Is he here now? Is this actually happening?
Just when I was beginning to theorize, the premiere ended. Or no, the show within the show ended. Followed by an ominous figure sitting before a screen, watching the credits roll out on the fictional sitcom, WandaVision. And then the real credits began to scroll.
Over the course of nine episodes, the show’s creators have done something so impressively unique yet predictable all the same.
In the 50s, Wanda must use her powers to prepare a dinner for Vision’s boss and wife; the two are left to fight for their reputation while a laugh track accompanies every word spoken, and action taken. Both Wanda and Vision remain in their expected character roles, until threatened to do otherwise.
Wanda and Vision perform for the town talent show in the 60s amidst an audience of judgmental school moms and fathers in the neighborhood watch. Vision grapples with his identity as ‘not a human’, while Wanda urges them both to reflect the roles of a newly married couple. The constructed reality begins to crumble as black and white turns to color, which leads to new roles in the apparently-expanding community.
The 70s episode - marked within our reality by a rapid change in culture and societal norms - sees Wanda and Vision welcome twin boys after a pregnancy which lasts just an episode. It’s also in this episode where the true nature of Westview is revealed and we see the Marvel Cinematic Universe at work once again in a reality most resembling our own. But the question remains: who constructed this reality? More importantly, why?
The 80s and early 90s are essentially an age of refurbished tropes placed upon the world: the home-video workout moms, working fathers with a passion for anything commercial, wild children who answer to no one, and the sole mom who can do it all. Wandavision doesn’t seem to shy away from these tropes, rather it embraces them; true to those decades of suburban living when all one knows is the inside of an isolated small town.
I’m an early 2000s kid, that was the decade I grew up in and when I consumed the most Disney Original Movies and spent hours trick or treating around my neighborhood each Halloween. This is essentially the plot of the show’s sixth episode, as Wanda and Visions’ twins trick or treat around town, running into familiar faces and weird situations. Yet, there is never any apparent danger.
The show’s seventh episode, ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall,’ sees the confrontation between the constructed reality dominated by Wanda and her grief and the outside world run by S.W.O.R.D. ‘Nosy neighbor’ by trope, Agnes watches the twin boys for an afternoon while Wanda takes time for herself. In a similar manner to Modern Family, Wanda shares her fears and concerns with an off-screen camera as suburban life has seemed to take its toll. Vision is nowhere to be found, and Wanda is all alone to confront the decaying reality and her own debilitating mind.
The eighth episode, now in the present with all tropes aside, we are better introduced to Agnes’s character. A witch practicing dark magic since the Salem Witch Trials, Agnes uses her own powers to walk Wanda through key moments in her tortured life. A child in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, Wanda watched American sitcoms during her youth to mask the sights of death and decay outside her home. Amongst these shows, her favorites were I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeannie, The Brady Bunch, and all the other worlds presented in the constructed reality. The season premiere begins to make sense just when everything is reconstructed again.
By the season finale, Wanda has broken out of her grief-stricken false reality. She is reunited with Vision. Together with the twins, they battle Agnes and S.W.O.R.D. for control over Westview. The finale leaves much to be desired, like what will happen to the inhabitants of Westview, what will Wanda do next, and will the constructed reality resurface?
Residents of Westview awake from their spell-induced delirium of suburban bliss every so often with the knowledge of being ‘trapped within the town’ by none other than Wanda herself. Characters are thrown out of the electromagnetic field she created, and they are tossed back in all the same. Wanda controls this town and its inhabitants, their goals and desires, and the time-ridden tropes they must adhere to.
But what is this all for? Why did Wanda create the false reality set in a random American town? Does she even know she’s doing this? Why is this happening?
There’s a varying degree of responses towards grief. The greater the loss the greater the sufferer may act out - even if it’s out of character. Could her way of processing these deaths be to create a false narrative within her mind and unto the real world, of long love, marriage, family and suburban bliss? In a way, Wanda is reclaiming all those things in life which make it worth living, as she was stripped of her desires when confronted with these deaths. And as the series depicts, this is a result of grief stemming from her early childhood in Cold-War Eastern Europe.
Wanda witnessed her parents get killed. She watched as her twin was shot. In the final Avengers movie, she herself had to remove the mind stone from Vision, the man she loved. The resulting implications lead to the creation of Westview, a mechanism of coping with the things she lost and refuses to let go of. And in the suburbs, this grief is free to run rampant.
The collective grief experienced over the last year has been like nothing we’ve seen before in contemporary times. COVID, Black Lives Matter protests, Capitol Riots, and the general mental debilitation that resulted from these events have lead many millions grieving over the lives lost, and the lives we once had. Through it all, we have been reminded of the fragility of life, of family, of love. But how are people coping?
There are so many ways to - be it good or bad - one can even take from the media, TV, literature that we all spent countless hours consuming and thrust that perception unto the world. But we would be like Wanda, in that sense, wouldn’t we? Is there a way to do so in a less harmful manner? Can we reshape the world entirely, make it better than it had been before without returning to the age-old tropes and roles of the past? Only time will tell; because in the process of grief, time is the only certainty for recovery.