What WandaVision Taught Me About My Own Grief
By Sofía Aguilar
Since the release of The Avengers (2012), I’ve been the first in line to see Marvel’s films in theaters but never an avid watcher of their TV shows. Though I applaud the diversity of The Runaways (2017-2019) and the feminist messaging of Agent Carter (2016-2017), it’s this year’s Wandavision (2021) that has transformed my view of Marvel’s venture into television. Part of it was the mini-series element, knowing that it would end in just nine weeks. But I was also drawn to the show’s powerful exploration of trauma in its main characters, and how much it hit home after my abuela passed away.
When we’ve been in a pandemic for over a year, it’s safe to say that the feeling is shared everywhere. But my grief is slightly different from the majority. With the pandemic continuing to rage, causing the deaths of almost three million people worldwide, it’s hard to believe that my abuela didn’t pass because of Covid but of a sudden stroke in mid-February, exactly one week after she celebrated her 99th birthday. I’m mourning a death that came naturally.
My grief is also different from Wanda’s. It’s not romantic but familial, and we definitely don’t cope with our sorrow the same. Unlike one of the most powerful superheroes in the MCU (https://screenrant.com/scarlet-witch-hex-wandavision-mcu-character-most-powerful/), I can’t rewrite the fabric of reality to raise the dead or invent new people out of my own mental prowess, much less fit my life into past aesthetics and eras of television.
But watching WandaVision during the immediate aftermath of my loss helped me better understand my feelings as stages of grief. As Wanda threatened the S.W.O.R.D. agents outside the Hex in Episode 5, I remembered the anger I felt before my abuela passed, watching the world already moving on without her. As Wanda fell into depression and began losing control over all she had created, I didn’t feel so guilty about neglecting my work and school responsibilities in the days after my abuela’s passing. It wasn’t laziness; it was my brain trying to heal from trauma, the same way it does after physical injuries, too, like a concussion or a fracture.
The strange thing is that this isn’t the first time Marvel has tried to portray trauma on screen. Iron Man 3 (2013) was notable for its depiction of Tony Stark’s PTSD and anxiety attacks. Five years later, The Avengers: Endgame (2019) offered an honest look at Thor’s depression and coping mechanisms (though we could’ve done without the fatphobic jokes). Throughout its thirteen year history, every superhero from The Hulk to Black Panther has lost someone; whether they’re a god, an alien, or a human like us, our beloved characters are no stranger to death.
Even Marvel’s newest TV show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021), finds its titular characters coping with the recent passing of Steve Rogers and the simultaneous loss of his iconic altar ego Captain America. Yet with the reveal of more super soldiers like Steve and the return of a past villain, that grief gets pushed to the background, and it quickly becomes just like any other Marvel show we’ve already seen.
But what makes WandaVision so special is its willingness to experiment with the very medium of television to allow its protagonist to be vulnerable. We don’t get a few brief scenes of her sobbing or a panic attack or two.
Instead, we follow her mental state through different decades, watch her bury her grief as an act of self-preservation, and try to maintain the illusion of a normal suburban life through marriage, pregnancy, and wacky hijinks you’d only see in a traditional sitcom.
We even watch Agatha Harkness, the show’s villain, walk Wanda through all of her traumas in chronological order, from the day one of Tony Stark’s bombs destroyed her home and killed her parents to both times she had to watch Vision die right in front of her—once at her own hand. It’s a protagonist exploration unlike any I’d ever seen before, and radical for one very specific reason: the dual conflict that’s so common for writers when building a narrative—to develop character and move the plot along—isn’t there. In this story, they’re the same thing.
In Wanda’s refusal to address her trauma before that sequence, she holds the residents of Westview against their will and builds a world that isn’t meant to last. So too do the rest of us hurt other people when we neglect our mental health instead of being open with how we feel. It’s only at the very end of the show that she confronts—and accepts!—the depths of her grief.
Unfortunately, my life isn’t a Marvel mini-series. My abuela wasn’t a superhero but a matriarch, a woman of extraordinary qualities living a quiet life in a small SoCal city, the kind you pass through on the way to somewhere else. I can’t hide away in a world where she’s still alive. But day by day, I’m getting closer to understanding what and how I feel, and hoping that, just like Wanda, I’ll emerge stronger on the other side.