The 5 Stages of WandaVision - DisneyPlus and Marvel Give Fans Time to Grieve Before Next Adventure
While art often takes on some pretty deep issues on the big and small screens, it seldom sees as many related reviews and as much depth of controversy around how it portrays such issues, as Marvel’s Disney Plus series WandaVision.
Indeed, Marvel’s deep exploration of grief and longing has been met with a reception that has mirrored the journey of its lead character through her complicated grieving process. From its early critical acclaim in anticipation of its release, to its largely panned launch episodes and its gradual ascension into the hearts and minds of Marvel Comic book, film and television audiences, this series has been through the gauntlet of fan reaction.
But we might be getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning, when Marvel’s Avengers Endgame, passed the torch to its next generation of heroes, and did so dramatically by killing off and retiring fan favorite characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, and most relevant to the kick off of the next phase of Marvel properties, the beloved Vision.
Vision, brought to life by Paul Bentany, was first seen on the big screen as a major story point in the second Avengers team up film… Age of Ultron. Since his introduction he has become a fan favorite character, and perhaps as importantly, the love interest for Elisabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff character.
The unceremonious death of Vison at the climax of Avengers: Infinity War at the hands of Thanos, and his predictable yet still heartbreaking failure to return to a post-snap world, as he died a non-snap, even if extraordinary death, set the stage for Marvel’s first Phase 4 television project — WandaVision.
Professional reviewers, who were treated to previews of the first 3 episodes of the show, together with the unprecedented hardships of 2020, helped build a major sense of buildup and anticipation for the series. But then, almost as if it were planned by some mega-maniacal Marvel Comic Book bad guy, the show that fans had waited on baited breath for, was received with lukewarm welcome by fans.
So, what happened?
Let’s start with what many knew would be the heart and soul of the plot of WandaVision. The series was set to explore lead character Wanda Maximoff as she deals with her grief in the post End Game world having lost her love, Vision. This was a premise many were looking forward to, as it gets a magical assist from a similarly envisioned comic book based story arc Marvel fans are familiar with, and has great ties to upcoming major motion picture projects, Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness, and Spiderman 3.
As many storytellers do, however, Marvel film makers did an amazing job using this source material to truly explore the affects and processes of grief itself. In fact, as the series nears its end, almost anyone can find psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief deeply embedded in its core story, and in fact, even in the storytelling, and that may have lent itself to early dismal reviews from fans.
Kubler-Ross suggests that we go through five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. In psychological terms, the first thing most experience when grieving the loss of a loved one is a dissonance to the reality of the loss. While one may know that the death of a loved one has happened, an early refusal to accept that as a part of one’s new reality is a common and expected part of the grieving process.
This is where WandaVision begins. A grief stricken Wanda Maximoff seemingly magically creates a world where Vision is alive, and the pair can live an idyllic life. Her choice to model her new micro-universe on beloved television sitcoms is a nod to not only the character’s love of the genre, but to the Disney Plus audience’s television love and millennial cravings for a simpler time. To these ends, the first 2 episodes were released to streaming audiences simultaneously on DisneyPlus.
That’s right, 2 episodes were released, not the 3 that were initially reviewed.
Watching the series, this is easily understood as a part of breaking the story into the Kubler-Ross stages, as these episodes largely mirror their sitcom roots, and scarcely touch on the world outside, mirroring Wanda’s sense of complete denial. But this was a blow to audiences, who were a bit confused that the show dives into the Classic TV world with little reference to the outside world, or any exposition about the format.
As a result of this closed interpretation of the format, many Marvel fans abandoned the series.
By the end of the 3rd episode, Wanda begins her transition from denial into anger. As her idyllic world begins to show signs of interference from the outside, Wanda’s reactions become protective of her shared delusional state and angry with attempts to alter it. When confronted by the Monica Rambeau character acting “off-script,” Wanda reacts by angrily banishing Monica to the real world, where viewers are first treated to a familiar scene where the Marvel Universe’s “real world” is on full display.
After this reveal, viewers who stuck it out say they were on board with the journey, and many, like we here at HWWS WebTV, set about re-recruiting our fellow fans to the show.
The episodes that follow unfold, as Wanda’s denial is finally pushed aside and she begins to lash out in anger at any and all of the attempts of the outside world to interfere with her perfect world.
After confronting the harsh reality that there is a world outside of her manufactured magical bubble, referred to as the “hex,” so named for its shape by outsiders, Wanda enters into the Bargaining Phase of her journey through grief, and is “given” her two twin sons, who magically age by episode and by episode’s end, she receives an unexpected surprise in the form of the arrival her long “lost” twin brother Pietro, who fans know as “Quick Silver,” albeit in a much altered form. The MCU’s Quicksilver died during the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In a move sure to excite fans who stuck it out, Wanda is given her sense of ease by the appearance of actor Evan Peters as Pietro, recognized by many fans from the role of the same name in the previous Fox studios X-Men franchise. This clearly is an internal bargain designed to calm Wanda before she can completely abandon her magical experiment. The recasting of MCU established Pietro, actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, helps to excite fans following the much talked about Fox/Disney deal returning Marvel characters to their origin, and to the larger MCU, but it also acts as a catalyst for Wanda’s continued transition from her current grief stage to the next, by providing a constant reminder that the world she envisioned in her denial is being changed forever.
This appearance also set fans to speculations about their own realities. Fans speculate furiously about the “real” identity of Pietro, and theories abound feeding the franchise’s sense of heavily protected dramatic story arcs.
As Series episodes 6 and 7 focus on Wanda’s TV world, a manifestation of her bargaining mentality, struggles to conform to her expectations, and she struggles to understand anomalous nonconformity of elements like Pietro, as well as Vision’s uncontrollable curiosity about her seeming control over the construct.
As Wanda nears the end of episode 7, fans and viewers are exposed in each episode to a bit of parallel storytelling as S.W.O.R.D. agent Monica Rambeau, the daughter of Captain Marvel “bestie” Maria Rambeau, a previous victim of the “blip,” (the MCU’s term for the opposing “snaps” of Thanos and the Avengers, a 5 year period when ½ of all life was missing), deals with her own grief. Monica’s mother Maria died of Cancer during the blip, and Monica having only recently returned, struggles to juxtapose the organization started by her mother, a beloved friend of a super powered Avenger, with the reality of the organization that seems bent on Wanda’s death or capture, at any cost.
This parallelization of the stories unfolding inside and outside of the hex, lends the overall series the depth of plot and character that have been hallmarks of the greater MCU, and also validate the “comic-book film/tv” storytelling method as a way to tell a great allegory demonstrating the Kubler-Ross psychological model of grief.
In episode 7: Breaking the 4th Wall, now entering the psychological stage of “depression” Wanda’s character spirals slowly back to her own mental reality and ponders her life and her mistakes in a docu-drama format popularized by TV shows like The Modern Family and The Office. This episode has a lot going on as Vision is joined in his mission to understand his TV wife’s universe by Thor actress Kat Dennings reprising her comedic role as Darcy Louis, Monica Rambeau reenters the hex, manifesting powers many MCU fans recognize as those of her comic alter-ego Photon’s, and Wanda Maximoff is confronted by nosey neighbor and apparently fellow magic wielder Agatha Harkness, actress Kathryn Hahn, forcing her to face that there may be larger forces at play.
With just 2 more episodes remaining in which Wanda and Monica are expected to reach the Kubler-Ross stage of grief known as ”Acceptance,” it is likely that fans and viewers as well will be pushed toward this stage.
The action packed confrontation, and the reveal that Agatha Harkness is playing a key magical role in WandaVision, as well as the still anticipated reveal of how Evan Peter’s Pietro/Quicksilver fits into the greater MCU, as many speculate that this fictional slight-of-hand will reveal the character to be comic book big bad,
Mephisto, are all elements sure to bring viewers starkly back to an acceptance of the greater MCU after a somewhat confusing start. As many watched Wanda and Monica phase through their grief, they doubtlessly were helped to process their own sadness over the loss of other beloved MCU characters like Captain America, Black Widow and Iron Man — something many felt very strongly following the cinematic triumph of the blockbuster Avengers: End Game movie.
One thing is for certain. The shows climactic finale will bring many fans back just in time for the DisneyPlus release of March’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier.