Portrayed by: Elizabeth Olsen
Show | Film: Marvel’s WandaVision, Age of Ultron, Infinity War
Before we begin, first this will contain major spoilers from WandaVision the series, second, I have not read the comics, third, this will not be addressing wrongs and rights of the cinematic universe. We all know how deeply flawed a majority of things within are. We all know there should have been different actors cast. And going forward, hopefully that is something the universe is more mindful of. This deep dive will focus solely on the films and the TV series while primarily diving into emotions and why they’ve mattered through Wanda’s arc.
Superheroes on film or TV always look good—even when they’re battered and bruised, they still look good. Primarily because it is fiction and the hair and makeup department, etcetera. But also, because they are superheroes. They’re supposed to look good (or so that’s the assumption), but one of the things the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done an exemplary job of is showing women in the midst of their struggles because our emotions matter.
When a woman like Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) lets her roots grow out without dying her hair for five years, you feel the weight of how these losses have shaken her.
When a woman like Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) stays in bed all day and remains in sweatpants for the duration of the show, you feel the weight of her aching bones.
I love Peggy Carter, anyone who knows me knows there will never be another heroine like her, but even while Agent Carter allowed her to grieve, because of the time period she was in, she was not allowed to dawn sweatpants for hours or leave the house without high heels.
WandaVision took Wanda from an adorable fifty’s housewife to a woman in the 21st century barely getting by. And one full year after we’ve all been living through a global pandemic that’s been refreshing to watch in the form of an Avenger.
That is where this deep dive is headed—it will be digging into fatigue, heartaches, and the power of creativity along with the true marks of selflessness. It will be digging into female complexities and why a character like Wanda Maximoff’s arc matters for viewers and critics, as a woman first, a superhero second.
The most admirable part of WandaVision as a series and thus, Wanda as a character is the fact that they allowed her to be tired while uttering the words: “I’m so tired,” out loud. When was the last time something of the sort happened in a superhero film where the person wasn’t immediately dismissed as weak for admitting to defeat? Frankly, I can’t remember it. And to me, that’s what matters. It takes courage to speak up. It takes courage to be true to your body and mind. It takes strength.
We’ve written about Wanda through various articles and performance reviews, so to continue touching base on why this all matters, let’s look back to certain scenes that have stirred the most discourse.
Wanda Creates Westview
For starters, Wanda didn’t break into the lab and take a dismantled Vision away. When she could no longer feel Vision, when she fully understood that she had lost the last piece of home that she had found, Wanda broke. In what should’ve been closure, she left S.W.O.R.D. even more internally shattered than before and she drove to Westview, NJ. She followed a map to the place where she and Vision were supposed to grow old together and she wept. She let herself grieve. She broke into a thousand little pieces and unknowingly channeled her grief and magic into creating a world that was better—safer and happier. A world where she didn’t have to grieve. A world where she didn’t have to say goodbye any longer. A world where love could persevere. A world where love and Vision would be tangible. A world where she had no idea outsiders would try to villainize her—a world she didn’t even realize was happening or possible.
She wept and she broke down, and in the midst of her beautiful chaos, she created. Magic created for her. Magic created with her. However we choose to look at it, whatever way we choose to analyze this moment, break it apart bit by bit, we still sit in front of a woman who felt so much pain, it burst out of her. She exploded, fully and completely, for a moment she lost control in order to find it. We sit in front of a woman who sits in front of a TV and with a desperation so profoundly engulfing, she tries to hold on to a bit of happiness.
Grief isn’t linear and no two people grieve the same way. And until this is a concept we have all universally accepted, we’ll keep saying it. Wanda Maximoff was and is grieving. She has had all that she has known taken away from her (her parents, her brother, the love of her life), and she is one of the most powerful Avengers living through even more powerful pain.
In a scene that parallels one of the few memorable moments from Age of Ultron, in her grief and through her pain Wanda released her magic into the world not to destroy, but to feel. To breathe. To let go. For a moment, she fought the waves off; for a moment, she wasn’t drowning, but she was fighting back. She needed to breathe again. She needed to not feel tired. She needed to let go while she held on for dear life in a push and pull that through the chaos, for a moment healed her. She needed to float and not drown. She needed to choose herself.
In what feels like a painfully evocative moment of cathartic release, Elizabeth Olsen embodied the character with such stunning ease, it was reverberating. When her magic went off, you felt it—you lived through it with her.
You lived through the way the world tries to break a woman and villainizes her for feeling—for acting on the emotions that are drowning and eating her up inside. Wanda Maximoff is a grieving woman, and in a moment of powerful grief, she let herself create, without full control, without thorough comprehension, she merely allowed herself to release the waves and for a single moment, lived through the idea of growing old in a happy sitcom. (It wasn’t even intentional and that is the point.)
Wanda’s Sitcom Life
Wanda Maximoff loves TV. This idea that a superhero (or anti-hero as we all know most people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe aren’t righteous) can love something as fervently as Wanda loves TV is so fascinating to me. And that just might be the reason it’s so easy to connect to her because it’s so easy for her to connect with us.
She wrote her life into fan fiction when you think about it. Her very own 50s, 60s, 70s alternate universe. #Fluff. She didn’t want the angst or the heartache, just the good stuff.
How many of us who tuned in every Friday to sit in front of our TV in order to watch what was unfolding? As much as it’s entertainment, as much as it’s escapism, we’d all be lying if we said that we’re not searching for something bigger that we can’t quite grasp when we turn to our favorites.
In a time where most of us have been sad and lonely, we’ve found solace in escapism through the shows we’ve consumed. We’ve found escapism through the discussions we’ve had with friends. And some of us have found escapism through creative releases such as writing about characters who’ve effortlessly forced us to look into our own pain and exhaustion.
Like Wanda, in the first few months of the pandemic a lot of us turned to comfort films and TV because while we had no idea what was happening in the real world, we knew that the shows we were watching would end happily. We knew our favorite characters would be okay.
Like Wanda, if we found ourselves living through our comfort shows, we wouldn’t want to put an end to it either. (If I woke up right now in Pawnee, Indiana working in the Parks department, I wouldn’t want to leave either, not for Los Angeles, California 2021 at least.) If I was a superhero, I would question it sure, but I’d live through it. Because deep down, we’d still be human beings. Like Wanda, we all want to escape the sadness. We don’t want to stay under the waves.
Through a character who loves TV, we were able to see what it looks like when people don’t know what to do with the pain they’re in. How they find their escapes and where they turn to. This is how we saw it. This is where it shined in a way that worked so well for this show, it moved us to our bones. Watching flashback little Wanda and adult Wanda turn to the comfort of a show made most of us feel a little less alone.
How many of us buy tees and shirts with our favorite characters on them? Every single time I put on Bésame cosmetics 1946 Red Velvet lipstick that Peggy Carter rocks on Agent Carter, I immediately feel a bit more confident and more comfortable. If Peggy could do it, so could I. And Wanda found that type of inspiration and comfort in her favorite characters too.
Giving in and Making Right
In her darkness and pain, Wanda unknowingly created a world that could be a happy place for her, but when she learns the truth, she puts her happiness, hope, and family aside for the sake of saving Westview.
Wanda is a woman who’s lost her parents and brother—she then lost her partner. She learned to navigate through her unwanted powers only to then be washed over by grief and lose control once again.
She learned to be okay only to lose everything again. And that’s part of what’s made her so amazing and entrancing as a character—this growth and remarkable journey she’s been on has told the story of a woman who’s hurting.
So much of the beauty in her character is found in the detail that even if you haven’t gone through loss in the way she has, you’ve still likely found yourself aching because of something that broke you. You’ve likely found yourself in a situation where you’ve cried so hard that if you had any sort of power, you’d probably create something like Wanda did, too.
Through her arc we watched the showcase of pain and repression. She’s stood as the example of the willpower that it takes to let go of something no matter how badly we want to hold onto it. She’s a representation of deep, aching fatigue. She’s a version of every single woman who says she’s fine when she’s collapsing inside. And she’s a representation of the creativity that’s within all of us—how we take the pain and what we do with it.
Wanda Maximoff, as she is, isn’t too much or too little of something. She is enough. In all her pain and darkness, she is enough. As a grieving wife and mother, she is enough. As a daughter and sister, she is enough. As an Avenger trying to figure out her powers, she is enough.
When the world called her selfish and heartless, she let go of the greatest happiness she’s ever known. She let go of her children. She let go of the boys she’d give her life for because they matter more than anything now. Wanda’s time as a mother has clearly been the most important part of her journey. It’s been about gratitude. Above all things, being Tommy and Billy’s mother has been the greatest gift for her, but once she realized how many people were suffering, she need to let go of the joy she’d created.
“I don’t understand this power, but I will.”
So much of Wanda’s arc was the world attempting to villainize a woman in pain—the attempt to take her grief and pin her out to be selfish. The attempt to declare her destiny as treacherous and her powers dangerous. From day one, her intentions were never questioned. Wanda is far from perfect. She is deeply flawed (as are all characters in this universe), but post Age of Ultron, she’s made conscious decisions to make the world they all live in a little better. She has tried even when her heart was aching. She’s unknowingly screwed up and she’s made right by her mistakes.
But she is so far from the villain others have believed her to be. And she’ll be okay. Wherever she goes, whatever she does—she’ll be okay. She’ll learn and grow and navigate through her powers as best she can. She will fight through hell and high water for the life she’s been given, now fueled by the moments of adoration in Westview that brought her back to life. For Vision. For Billy and Tommy. And for every person who has known great loss.
WandaVision was never going to be a show that wrapped up with a neat little bow because we’re not done with Wanda Maximoff yet. It’s a show about hope and the uncertainties of life. It’s a show that promised everything would be okay, and in its hopeful ambiguity, we can be certain that it will. It’s a show about women fighting for power and women fighting through their grief. It’s a show about potential friendships, great love, and the strength it takes to choose the right road even when it’s unbearably difficult to.
And Wanda Maximoff is a reminder of the fact that speaking up about our pain is a form of courage not a weakness.