Warning: Contains spoilers about the conclusion of Wandavision from the series finale.
Over at Opuszine, Jason Morehead has a detailed examination of what the WandaVision experiment put the citizens of Westview through and what they are owed in the narrative. He believes that an extra episode that deals with their trauma would be appropriate. In the piece, he discusses the unreliability of Wanda as a narrator with regards to whether she knows what her spell is inflicting upon the citizens of Westview.
Some may point to those scenes where Wanda tells Vision that she has no idea what’s happening, or how it’s happening, as a way to let her off the hook. However, WandaVision sets up Wanda as something of an unreliable narrator, especially when we see her increasingly desperate attempts maintain the illusion and prevent others, including her own husband, from uncovering it. Still others may point out that when Wanda discovers the effects of her illusion, she does lift it so that Westview’s citizens can escape — only to put it back in place the minute she sees that Vision and their two sons are being adversely effected.
It’s really not clear, at different points in the show, what Wanda knows about the pain that the citizens of the town are going through (or whether she wants to know). It also isn’t clear how interested the story is in putting a focus on that. To use the military term, the town residents are almost treated as collateral damage. Even after understanding the difficulty that the citizens have gone through, one of the protagonists, Monica Rambeau, admits that she would have done the same thing, under the spell of grief.
Morehead brings up Age of Ultron as a counter-example of this in the MCU. My wife and I watched that movie a couple of weeks ago so she could see the back story on the twins and had the exact opposite reaction. There’s so much widescreen destruction and ‘splosions everywhere, that you can easily get distracted from the people caught in the middle of the firefights. The mechanisms of telling these stories about superheroes handle most of the ordinary humans with the same capriciousness that the Greek gods were said to have handled mortals in their tales. Certain people are depicted as being saved like precious jewels while others are fodder for the Ultron stormtrooper armies.
I don’t know how to resolve this issue. In these smash ‘em ups, the buildings, the cars (oh my gosh, the cars) and the people ancillary to the story all serve as props for spectacle. A huge boss fight in a city doesn’t work without the stage setup (which includes the unfortunate denizens of the area under siege). I think the difference between WandaVision and the other MCU vehicles was that we did get to understand more about the people on the sidelines and that brought more attention to their plight. This makes us feel like they are deserving of additional care.
The mechanisms of telling these stories about superheroes handle most of the ordinary humans with the same capriciousness that the Greek gods were said to have handled mortals in their tales.
In a certain way, the model that WandaVision brings with it, where the audience is given a chance to emote with the people on the periphery of the main action, is a step in the right direction for the MCU. It’s something I haven’t seen as much of, to this point.1 I think it could be considered another way that the show breaks barriers within the genre.
I don’t claim to have seen every Marvel film or tv show. ↩︎