Set in the Marvel universe immediately after Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision depicts a grieving Wanda Maximoff and her ‘family’ living a suburban life in a fabricated micro-universe of Wanda’s own making.
Growing up on sitcoms, Wanda seemingly desires the traditional happy family portrayed on TV. These picture-perfect set-ups are defined by feelings of security; any issues that exist are trivial – often resolved within twenty minutes. After the trauma and turbulence she has experienced in the past, it is no wonder Wanda craves stability. So, in her grief-stricken state, Wanda ‘accidentally’ recreates a projection of her deceased husband by creating her own universe – one that takes the form of a TV show named WandaVision.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when you’re a grieving woman trying to control a glitching pocket dimension that houses hundreds of mind-controlled hostages.
We learn over the course of the series that Wanda’s – ‘perfect’ – life isn’t as simple as it first seems. We don’t need reminding that real life isn’t as peachy as it is in situational comedies. But Wanda’s desperate attempt to make everything flawless got me thinking… is the life that Wanda desires even possible? Whether it’s life on television, in a fabricated Marvel universe, or in the real world as we know it, the creators of WandaVision show us again and again that life is messy, and there’s no way around it.
No Such Thing As the ‘Perfect Life’
We are taught from a young age to strive for success in order to achieve the ‘idyllic life’. If we don’t have a conflict-free and financially successful nuclear family when we grow up, it feels as though we are failures. Relentlessly comparing ourselves to neighbours, people on social media, and families on popular TV shows can leave us feeling deflated.
Striving for perfection is, in my eyes, a mistake. Rather, it is important to appreciate whatever weird lot we’ve been given in life just as it is right now.
The transient nature of things means it won’t last long, and many of us don’t realise what we have until it’s gone. Unlike Wanda, we cannot bring our loved ones back from the dead. Even if we could, WandaVision shows us it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – instead, it is better to grieve and let go. As Wanda eventually tells her boys, “there are rules in life… we can’t reverse death, no matter how sad it makes us”.
Death is just another way for us to understand that life is not simple or easy, but our fleeting existence is what makes our time on earth beautiful and meaningful.
On top of that, if Wanda herself – with all her power – cannot create a flawless life in her controlled universe, how could we? Things are structurally unsound in Westview from the beginning of the show. From inanimate paintings warping into real-life storks to stormy indoor weather, the town is not short of strange goings-on. Wanda desperately tries to stop these things from happening, but that’s the thing about life – you can’t control all of it (even if you are the Scarlet Witch).
What is the ‘Ideal Family’?
WandaVision also demonstrates how the ‘ideal’ family notion has changed over the years. The picture-perfect existence fed to us by mainstream culture is an illusion – there cannot be one ‘ideal’ way to live if family principles change drastically over time (and between cultures). Most of us are aware of the diverse dynamics presented in popular sitcoms over the last few decades, but this becomes crystal clear when they are exhibited side by side.
Episodes one and two that play through the 50s and 60s are based on classic sitcoms such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, and Bewitched. The perfect family then consisted of a distant male breadwinner who takes care of the finances. His partner, a woman, would obediently conform to her housewife status in preparation to birth and raise a few kids. In these early episodes we see gendered roles, old-fashioned attitudes towards sex, and overly formal dinners. We also see elements of community rivalry surrounding the local talent show in episode two. The person in charge – a bossy, snobbish woman named Dotty – is quick to judge anyone who isn’t wearing a skirt and minding her Ps and Qs. This “Keeping Up with the Joneses” mentality – the idea that we use our neighbours as a benchmark for success – was widespread during this time-period.
Moving through time to the 00s and 10s we see Wanda’s world mirroring shows such as Malcom in the Middle and Modern Family. Wanda’s family is portrayed entirely differently in episodes six and seven – the ‘chaotic mother’ character being much more relatable and likeable during this time. Wanda’s children (who were born in episode three) have magically fast-tracked growing up and are now characterised by energy and mischief. In episode seven Wanda tells her boys that she’s starting to think everything is meaningless and she has no answers. Society was becoming more open about the fact that life isn’t always peachy – not even parents know everything. Perhaps the modern world is more accepting of the fragmented and diverse way life plays out.
The truth is that life is hard, chaotic, and messy. Simplicity is not possible (even in the suburbs) when you consider all that families deal with – finances, housing, parenting, new life, recent death, and constant change that we cannot control. No aspiration you realise or goal you achieve is going to change the nature of our hectic existence. Things go wrong all the time, and there is beauty in that if we choose to look for it. If we don’t accept it – and just keep striving to grasp the next thing or achieve the next goal – we will endlessly look to the future to fix things rather than embracing them as they are.
WandaVision shows us that appreciating the unpredictable nature of life also means learning to let go when things change. The inevitable grief that characterises the death of a loved-one is a necessary part of family living. Without grief and death, we could not have love and life – one is not possible without the other. As Vision puts it, “what is grief, if not love persevering?”
There is no such thing as one ‘idyllic life’ – good comes with bad, witches with synthezoids, life with death. We would all do well to accept that.
Words by Charlie Martina
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