We’ve seen 8 episodes of Wandavision now. What once was confusing and gimmicky is now clear and focused, the gimmick has faded into a deep character-driven exploration of grief. We all knew this, probably, but the genre hasn’t historically been a space for deep character-driven anything. At least that’s what we all have been led to believe. To say you’re a superhero guy implies you’re stunted emotionally and especially socially, living in your parents basement wishing for a girl who likes action figures and cosplay as much as you do.
Aside on cosplay: The last time I participated in anything that could be called cosplay was when I was 8, with a lightsaber and bathrobe or a towel safety-pinned around my neck. Good times, man. But if that’s what your deal is, I’m down with that. I don’t live in my parents basement, either. I am married with 2 kids, and haven’t played with action figures since high school. I loved it then and would probably love it still. I don’t think I’m stunted in any way. I wouldn’t, though, would I?
But I really love superhero movies and would sign a petition to classify them as films, nowadays every bit as nuanced and layered as any random indie film nobody sees and is critically adored. They just use a different delivery device. Peanut butter is still peanut butter if it’s on celery or an apple or a cracker or a chocolate bar. Courage, fear, friendship, kindness, and love are real if they’re in your town or Hogwart’s.
This has taken a while to come to grips for me, as a fairly insufferable snob with negative opinions on popularity. If everyone likes it, I figure it’s like white bread or McDonald’s hamburgers; nothing to love but nothing to hate, inoffensive, safe, produced for mass consumption. But Endgame raked in 2 billion dollars and everybody saw it and screamed with joy when Captain America held Mjolnir (the hammer of Thor). It’s hard for me to understand that sometimes everyone likes something because it’s actually very good.
While we’re talking about that hammer, when Thor regained it and woke up to the idea that he could still be “worthy,” who didn’t understand? Who hasn’t felt the inadequacy of “Am I good enough?” Even the god of thunder feels like me and you. This is the sort of arc that takes half a dozen movies to move from sickening arrogance to heartbreaking insecurity. Have any of your friends fallen apart because the image they wrongly based their entire value on turned out to be pretense? If I am not what I do, what I can produce, then what am I? Of course, it’s as true and relatably human in a cubicle or corner office as it is in the last son of Krypton.
We live in a culture that needs it NOW, spoon-fed with a tidy conclusion – and that was always perceived as the realm of superhero stories. Our hero would vanquish the villain as the credits rolled. Infinity War ended with half of all living creatures reduced to dust and we had to wait a year for any other resolution. That first story in the Marvel universe took 23 (!!) films. That’s why it mattered soo much and was sooo devastating when Tony Stark made the sacrifice he did.
Wandavision took 4 episodes before anything happened that even considered making sense of the sitcoms from different decades. Many of us checked out, but those who stayed are now being rewarded with a richly imagined psychological drama. Vision says at one point, “what is grief but love persevered?” Of course, I cried then. So did you and everybody else because Wanda is now our sister, dealing with the kind of loss and suffering that breaks us into a million pieces. Does the fact that the lovely her life is dead somehow hurt less if she can fly? The decision to do this on a weekly tv show tied into and through the previous films allows us to truly know her story, and as it turns out, it’s ours.
I could write forever about Rocket and his loneliness or the Quill/Yondu father-son dynamic or Gamora wrestling with the sins of her own father or Natasha wrestling with her past and if she’s done too much and gone too far to ever return… but I won’t. You already know.