This Week’s Most Noteworthy Performance: Elizabeth Olsen

February 20-27
“Previously On” | WandaVision
Elizabeth Olsen

Source: Disney+

PSA: This article will be full of spoilers—if you have yet to see the new episode of Disney’s WandaVision, stop reading right away and return once you’ve done so.

I kept putting off a performance review for Elizabeth Olsen because we all knew something large and explosive was coming. (But really, she has been the most noteworthy performer since episode one.) We knew that every look, every move was leading to culminating moments where she’d have to bare it all, stripping herself bit by bit. As Agatha tried to figure out how Wanda did what she did in creating the show and bringing Vision back to life, she forced Wanda to live through her most painful life events, which led to Olsen’s revolutionary work in telling viewers the harrowing story of grief.

This is ultimately what WandaVision is about—it’s the story about grief and it’s the story about a woman who is tired. It has been from the very beginning, long before Wanda even uttered the words this week to tell us; it’s what Olsen has been showing the audience with her expressiveness tucked deep beyond the act Wanda is putting on. We see it in the memory of her parents, her love for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and we hear it in her words: “I’m …  I’m so tired. It’s just like this wave washing over me, again and again. It knocks me down and when I try to stand up, it just comes for me again.”

To encapsulate exhaustion to this degree—interwoven with emotions that are complex is simply put astonishing embodiment. Before she even said the words, it was clear where it was headed because Olsen has made sure to show us the brokenness in her physicality, the tired eyes, the weary soul. We could see right through Wanda because even while others in the show could not, as the audience, we have an in they don’t. We have Olsen showing us, bit by bit just how devastatingly exhausted the character is, how broken and how perplexed. We know it because we see it. And when she said “it’s just gonna drown me,” you felt every ounce of her pain, the inability to get past this–to look beyond it because the waves are powerful and the waves are engulfing.

It’s the fact that she is so tired that when she is explaining things to Agatha, the villain in all this, she is doing so calmly, with a low voice and deep breaths. She’s open and transparent and so incredibly vulnerable even with people who are trying to take from her. It’s the way she talks with Hayward, it’s the way she screams “stop it,” and it’s the way she just can’t understand what’s happening that’s all illuminated through Olsen’s eyes that is absolutely breathtaking.

But in this flashback, she had Vision—she would have Vision forever perhaps, or so she thought. That is why when she goes to see him at S.W.O.R.D., and she says “I can’t feel you”—we feel that, too. As the audience we live through that moment with her because the pain Olsen projects is so palpable, so harrowing and evocative in every way a moment as heartbreaking as this can be.

The detail in conveying such emotions is that they can easily be overdone–they can look and sound like a performance, and they can take viewers out of the moment in a instance. But Olsen was not acting, she is embodying and she is bringing to the surface profound heartache that feels organic. (We don’t know where she went in her own headspace to bring this all to life, but watching her was almost exhausting. My eyes were actually hurting because of how much I ugly cried, and I cannot imagine how she must have felt filming this.)

Throughout the episode, Olsen gave us insight into Wanda the grieving daughter, the grieving sister, the grieving lover, the grieving woman, and the scared mother. She brought to life a full range of emotions unmatched with anything that’s been seen in the Marvel cinematic universe before and she did so in most noteworthy fashion. This is a show about grief and it is a show about a woman figuring out how to navigate through it all without falling apart.

This was an episode that gave Olsen ample amount to work with and she did so beautifully–the details she projected through her eyes, the way she moved, every head tilt, every cry, every scream, the way she questioned, the way she walked away; between Wanda Maximoff and Scarlet Witch, she brought to life sensationally evocative emotions every moment she was on screen.

It’s not that kind of show. It’s more, it’s so much more, and this week’s Most Noteworthy Performance is tied directly to our Most Exquisite TV Moment where we discuss another part of Wanda’s arc this season. Head on over there to check it out.


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