March 12, 2021

Streamin' (Madverse) Meemies: WandaVision Ep 9, "The Series Finale"


So we've come to the end of the series, and I've gotta's been quite a ride. 

WandaVision was pitched as the official opening of Marvel Phase 4. This finale, along with the two end-credits scenes, are setting up at least two movies: Captain Marvel 2 and Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (the latter title borrowed in part for this blogpost series). This is fine, and I enjoyed seeing Monica Rambeau's superhero origin story--even if, out of necessity, it was given rather short shrift. And Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis were a nerdy, competent delight. But the entire point of this series, and the element I enjoyed the most, was getting to dig into the mostly overlooked character of Wanda Maximoff. She was thinly characterized, to put it charitably, in the previous movies, and mainly defined by her relationship with first Quicksilver and then Vision. Of course, Vision was also an important part of this story, and the depiction of his and Wanda's relationship provided many of the series' best moments. But first and foremost, from beginning to end, this was Wanda's story. Despite the endless fan speculation about the introduction of the X-Men, due to the clever fakeout of Evan Peters being hired to portray Pietro, Wanda's seemingly resurrected brother--actually revealed to be some schlub named Ralph Bohner, manipulated by Agatha--and my own prediction that Dr. Strange would show up in the finale, neither turned out to be the case, and rightfully so. This exploration of Wanda's grief and loss transformed her into what I think is one of the richest characters in the MCU. 

(I only hope her development will not be undone in the second Dr. Strange movie. I haven't yet thrown anything at the screen while I'm watching a Marvel film, but if she's turned into some sort of one-note Multiverse villain, I will be sorely tempted.)

Having said all that, I was, shall we say, a wee bit disappointed by this finale. I know this is on me and not the showrunners, because after all they were only following the established, winning Marvel formula: OH MY GOD IT'S THE THIRD ACT AND/OR THE LAST EPISODE AND WE HAVE TO TURN THE FULL SCREEN CGI AND PEW-PEW SLAM-DUNK SUPERHERO BATTLES UP TO ELEVEN!!!!! Nearly every superhero movie I've ever seen (with rare exceptions, such as the vastly underrated Fast Color) has been like this. (And sometimes the formula really makes you wince, such as in my otherwise beloved Wonder Woman.) All the same, I found myself hoping against hope they would avoid going that route with this show. It had already been so different from anything I'd seen from Marvel before, with its decade-hopping sitcom format, even after the introduction of the outside world in episode 4. I really hoped they would find a way to carry that through to the end, but sadly, it wasn't to be. The episode, for the most part, consisted of Wanda/Agatha and Red Vision/White Vision (and they really missed an opportunity by not following through with what Darcy Lewis saw on S.W.O.R.D. director Tyler Hayward's computer and calling the latter Cataract--I mean, what a perfect name for a white, rebooted anti-Vision) zipping through the sky, knocking each other ass over teakettle, throwing globs of red and purple magic, and shooting red and/or white laser beams out of eyes and chewing furrows through the hapless Westview streets. A little of that goes a long way after having seen it in so many movies, and Wanda/Agatha's fight especially pushed the limits of my tolerance. However, offsetting this were some genuinely poignant character moments. I just wish there could have been more of those, and less teakettle-tossing. 

Nevertheless, those character moments were memorable. The best part of the entire episode was Vision/Cataract's (dammit, I'm going to call whiteVision Cataract, even if nobody else does) philosophical wrestling over the "ship of Theseus" problem. Vision attempts to defuse the fight between the two right away, tossing this question at his opponent: "Might we resolve this peacefully?" Cataract at first refuses, insisting his mission is to neutralize Wanda Maximoff. After a bit more slam-dunking and teakettle-tossing, the two of them end up in a library, which is a most appropriate place for Vision to distract Cataract (heh) with his logic puzzle. But unlike the use (or overuse) of similar strategies by Captain Kirk, the "ship of Theseus" exercise isn't posed to blow Cataract's circuits. Vision wants his rival to see what has been done to him by S.W.O.R.D. and Tyler Hayward by resurrecting him and denying him his memories. "A weapon to be more easily controlled," Cataract says, realizing what he is. Vision offers to restore his memories and presses the blue stone in the middle of Cataract's forehead, the S.W.O.R.D. replacement for the Mind Stone, and everything comes rushing back (basically a quick-cut ten-second highlight reel from the Avengers movies, unintentionally laying bare just how both Wanda and Vision were underutilized in those films). Cataract, stunned by what has been revealed, says, "I am Vision," and flies through the library's skylight and away, not to be seen again. 

(Now this is interesting. In gaining Vision's memories, Cataract remembers his and Wanda's romance. Yet he obviously doesn't feel it, as evidenced by the fact that he doesn't go straight to Wanda. But in the grand Marvel tradition of hardly anybody ever really dying, the door has been left open for a future reunion between the two, if Kevin Feige so chooses.)

On the other side of this coin, definitely sliding more into the over-the-top pew pew, was Wanda and Agatha's careening in red and purple lightning bolts across the sky. (At one point, Wanda slams her car into her fellow witch and smashes her halfway through a nearby house. When Wanda goes to look, all that can be seen under the car are two empty boots, in a sly homage to The Wizard of Oz.) Agatha is trying to convince Wanda that she is indeed the Scarlet Witch, more powerful than the Sorcerer Supreme according to the purple-black floating magic book the Darkhold, and she is prophesied to do terrible things...but if Wanda will just give Agatha her power, she can stay in this little world she has created for herself and her family. Agatha also says "give me your power and I'll correct the original spell." Wanda, in a clever bit of quick thinking and misdirection, pretends to go along with this, hurling red energy globs at Agatha over and over again, until she is seemingly drained and nearly zombified, hanging limply in the air over Westview. Agatha then reveals that Wanda's original spell cannot be fixed: "Once cast, a spell can never be changed. This world will always be broken, just like you," and prepares to finish Wanda off. 

But Wanda learned from Agatha's taunting of her earlier, when Agatha slammed Wanda around in her basement. Two red runes manifest on the walls of the Hex, preventing Agatha from casting her magic. Wanda then says: "But I don't need you to tell me who I am," and takes all her magic back, pulling it out of Agatha. More than that, at that moment the vision generated years ago by the Mind Stone comes true--Wanda takes on the power and the mantle of the Scarlet Witch (even though she still doesn't understand what that means) and a shimmering red crown manifests on her head, along with a very cool-looking new red costume. She breaks free of Agatha and slams her down to the Westview town square, defeated. 

Agatha's punishment is this: she will have to live in Westview, taking on the persona of the "nosy neighbor" she created for herself, until Wanda sees fit to release her. Agatha calls this cruel, and maybe it is...but it's not undeserved. (It also serves the purpose of tucking Agatha away in limbo until a future storyline can use her. I hope that is soon. She was a bit one-dimensional in this finale, but I think she has the potential to be an interesting character if she's developed right.)

But along the way to this ending, Agatha succeeded in breaking not only Wanda's magical spell over the people of Westview, but also Wanda's internal spell of self-deception. Now I know there are two schools of thought about this. The first is that by trapping the people of Westview in the Hex and forcing them to play out Wanda's little scenario against their will, acting in storylines she envisioned as part of her selfish, grief-stricken little world, she is a monster that should be tried under the Sokovian accords. The effect this has had on the townspeople is driven home when Agatha frees them from Wanda's control in the middle of their fight, and the townspeople circle around Wanda, telling her what they have experienced. 

"When you let us sleep, we have your nightmares."

"We feel your pain; your grief is poisoning us."

"If you won't let us go, just let us die."

That's not an unreasonable position to take, I suppose, but I don't think it tells the whole story. We must remember that Wanda didn't know she was a witch, and she didn't accept the fact of her being the Scarlet Witch until the end of this story. Even Darcy Lewis, when reviewing the S.W.O.R.D. files on Wanda, categorized her powers as "telepathy and telekinesis" (which it seems Wanda does have to some extent, but it's powered by magic, not pure mind powers). She certainly doesn't understand it or know how it works; all this time she seems to have been operating on untrained instinct. The conversation with fake Pietro a couple of episodes back revealed Wanda didn't know how she created the Hex, and she subsumed herself in the storyline she had spun up out of the depths of her past so deeply it took Agatha's forcing her down memory lane, to the flashbacks to her family, Hydra, the beginning of her romance with Vision, and what really happened when she went into S.W.O.R.D. headquarters to retrieve Vision's body, to shake her loose. Subconsciously she knew she had created Vision and the twins out of nothing; maybe she thought the townspeople, and the entire little pocket universe of the Hex, were part of that fantasy as well, the fantasy she clung to so desperately because it gave her her love back, for a little while. The full import of what she has done comes crashing in on her at  the end of the above scene, and she releases the walls of the Hex, for a short time. Unfortunately this causes Vision and the twins to start flying apart, and Agatha tells Wanda: "Save Westview or your family." 

This sets up the choice Wanda has to make, and at the end she does. And Vision knows she has to do it. As he tells her after she defeats Agatha and rejoins him and the boys, "I know you'll set everything right. Just not for us." What Wanda does at the end--bring down the walls of the Hex, return Westview and all the people within it to rights, and let the twins and Vision go--is not the action of a monster. It's the choice of an immensely powerful, complicated, grief-stricken woman who for a time lost her way, but not a monster. 

The scene where Wanda and Vision say goodbye was so beautifully written and acted I rewound it and watched it twice, pausing it so I could write down all the dialogue. 

"But before I go, I feel I must know--what am I?"

"You are the piece of the Mind Stone that lives in me. You are the body of wires, blood and bone that I created. You are my sadness and my hope, but mostly you're my love."

"I have been a voice with no body, a body but not human, and now a memory made real. Who knows what I might be next? We have said goodbye before, so it stands to reason--"

And Wanda finishes, "We'll say hello again." And the walls of the Hex rush in, and Vision disintegrates back into golden energy, and the whole thing snaps shut on that half-built, abandoned house that was to have been Vision and Wanda's home together. 

This does not mean there won't be consequences for what Wanda has done, I think. Presumably this will be taken up in the second Dr. Strange movie? The second end-credits scene has Wanda in an isolated cabin somewhere, her astrally-projected form studying Agatha's purple-black book the Darkhold, which has some serious bad vibes about it. And we hear, from somewhere far away, an echo of the twins crying, "Mom! Mom!" 

So. Again, parts of this were disappointing, and the payoff didn't really live up to the buildup. Still, it was certainly a worthy effort, and an arresting beginning to Marvel's Phase 4. All I have to say is, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (starting next week) had better be damn good to live up to this. 

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