We’re running a weekly recap of WandaVision on Disney+. There are spoilers, duh! You’ve been warned.
It might be safe to say that episode 8 of WandaVision, titled “Previously On,” broke the internet in the best way possible. Long before I got a chance to sit down and watch it, I saw that line tweeted over and over again. You know the one:
“But what is grief, if not love persevering?”
People who don’t even like superhero entertainment, let alone the MCU, have been quoting it all week, pastors tweeting about working it into their Sunday sermons. It has been hailed as C. S. Lewis-esque, people have used it as a catalyst to cathart all over their Twitter feeds, it has become an expression of delayed grief from a pandemic year.
Three thoughts, really quick:
First, we are a people desperately in need of therapy on a large scale. Collective grief from a year of devastating losses has left so many of us with unhealed wounds—not to mention past wounds some of us never healed from in the first place.
Second, we are emotionally stunted in the area of public expressions of grief and mourning. We need permission to publicly grieve—to weep, lament, and mourn. In America, We tend not to grieve in public, to tear or rend our clothes, and so it became revelatory for a popular show to define that grief is love persevering. To say that grieving is a good thing.
Third, the pop culture entertainment we consume is far, far more important than many people want to give it credit for. This week, an MCU show ministered to the hurting masses.
But there was more to episode 8 than one great line—a lot more! Let’s get to it.
At the end of episode 7, we found out that (gasp) it was Agatha (Harkness) all along! For the Marvel uninitiated, though, this didn’t mean a whole lot, so episode 8 starts with a flashback to the Salem Witch Trials and a scene where Agatha is being put on trial as a witch by, well, other witches. It’s not exactly the sort of witch trial you might be expecting, but in this scene, we learn that Agatha is more powerful than the other witches in her coven. She sucks their lifeblood away (ew), and takes her mother’s brooch, and we fast forward back to her creepy basement where we left her at the end of episode 7, and where she has Wanda held captive. Wanda’s kids, Billy and Tommy, are somewhere, and Agatha takes a moment to explain basic magic spells to Wanda (and, let’s face it, to us—because the viewers haven’t seen this sort of magic before in the MCU).
Agatha is digging for information; she wants to know who Wanda is and how Wanda did it. It being the creation of the Hex (the Westview Anomaly). So at this point, the “It Was Agatha All Along!” jingle at the end of episode 7 feels a little dishonest. “It Was Agatha Messing Around Sometimes” would be more accurate. Westview, it turns out, is all Wanda, and Agatha wants to know what the flerken is going on.
With Wanda’s kids’ lives on the line, Agatha forces Wanda into a walkthrough of scenes of her past. It’s a jarring, emotional journey through the bombing of her childhood home in Sokovia, the awakening of her powers under Hydra experimentation with the Mind Stone, early memories of her life with Vision, and more. When Wanda says at one point, “I don’t want to go back there,” Agatha replies, “The only way forward is back.”
It’s a therapy session. In WandaVision episode 8, Agatha takes Wanda to therapy, and the show essentially takes its viewers to therapy, as well. Laura Donney, who wrote this episode, said in a tweet that she and the other writers wanted to “give space & voice” to Wanda’s grief and loss. “To spend time with her there.” It’s a classic therapy technique, to dig into one’s past to make forward progress. Donney said, “I told a therapist once that my trauma defined me. She said no: It shapes you.”
What shaped Wanda into the person she is in WandaVision? That’s the question episode 8 sets out to answer. In the flashbacks from Wanda’s earlier life, we learn why she loves sitcoms—thus why she projects the Westview Anomaly as sitcoms. We learn that she was always a witch. Perhaps most importantly, though, we learn that she did not (as Director of S.W.O.R.D. Hayward said she did) steal Vision’s body. Wanda went to S.W.O.R.D. to recover Vision to bury him, and when they refused to release his body to her, she said goodbye and left. From there, she drove to Westview, New Jersey, to a plot of land Vision had purchased for the two of them to “grow old together” on. When Wanda gets there, she’s overcome by her grief, and her power bursts out of her, engulfing the town.
Here is where the story takes a unique turn. (Okay, as if WandaVision wasn’t already a unique concept. Bear with me!) There is a hysterical woman trope in stories—stories of women who, once they lose everything, enter into an irrational and destructive rage. “Hysteria” used to be thought of as a disease that was an uncontrollable emotion or an unreasonable state unique only to women because of their female organs (naturally this made them inferior to cool, rational men). Now, obviously we don’t think of hysteria being unique to women anymore, but what I love about the reveal in episode 8 is that when Wanda finally feels her feelings, she doesn’t destroy—she creates.
A home she would have shared with Vision, a protective hex (literally!) over the town, and out of her very being, she brings a new Vision to life. She manages to give birth to two children within this town—two kids that didn’t exist before. Her magic is not hysterical destruction, it is a literal creative and restorative force, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a really big deal as the MCU moves forward.
Matt Poppe said in last week’s recap of episode 7, “Maybe Wanda’s been fighting with one hand behind her back this whole time. What happens if Wanda stops shunning her grief? What happens when the Scarlet Witch lets herself feel her bad feelings and stops controlling the pain? Something cool I bet. Something shocking and fantastic.”
I think we’ve already seen the “something shocking and fantastic”; I think we’ve been seeing it all along, and episode 8 let us in on the gig. The Westview Anomaly, Westview Vision, Billy and Tommy—everything that Wanda has created shows us exactly what she can do when she stops shunning her grief. When Wanda feels her pain, she creates. “Spontaneous creation,” Agatha tells her. It’s what’s at the heart of chaos magic.
It may be described as “chaos magic,” but creation is not chaos; creation is order. Wanda brings order from disorder. She’s lost until she forms and frames a world around herself. And as we learn in episode 8, she creates this world as an outpouring of her grief—and “what is grief, if not love persevering?” The MCU may call the Westview Anomaly “chaos magic,” but there is beauty in the restoration of the creation that surges out of Wanda. It’s chaotic, perhaps, in her lack of intent and in the fact that she does not, actually, have “everything under control.” It’s chaotic, too, in that she unintentionally traps people within Westview she doesn’t intend to trap. But none of this changes the fact that Wanda is not a hysterical female trope, burning the world down in a rage of irrational anguish.
In her grief, Wanda recreates her husband. She creates their children, and a home, and an ideal community. She protects that community from outside attack. Wanda is a wife, mother, caregiver, protector. These are markers of her strength. She is no villain, and she’s not hysterical, either, not even when she loses control. Whatever happens in episode 9, Wanda is going into it named as the Scarlet Witch. She’s a hero, and as I’ve pointed out before, these stories are all about being “lost and found.” She’s not just any hero, she is an Avenger, and Avengers assemble. Grief is not meant to be walked alone.