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WandaVision is part of a new wave of shows that are destigmatizing grief

  • The Disney+ Marvel series, which appears to be progressing through the five stages of grief, is part of a new TV trend of changing how we understand grief and recovery. "As female and nonbinary creatives finally (!) receive more opportunities to tell stories on the small screen, many narratives have begun to approach trauma from a more compassionate and creative angle," says Erin Qualey, a licensed therapist specializing in addiction and trauma. Along with WandaVision, recent female-led series like I May Destroy You and The Flight Attendant have centered on characters reckoning with devastating traumas. Each series accurately depicts the process as heartbreakingly complex. In The Flight Attendant, Kaley Cuoco portrays Cassie Bowden, a haunted woman with an alcohol problem who wakes up one morning next to her murdered lover. In I May Destroy You, Michaela Coel is Arabella Essiedu, a young, hip twentysomething Londoner who is drugged and raped in a bar one night. On WandaVision, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) is a supercharged hero mourning the loss of her soulmate. These traumas are wildly disparate, but the thread that connects them marks the gnarled and nonlinear road toward healing. These new types of trauma narratives mark a refreshing shift away from treating trauma as a liability. Instead, they recognize that it’s something we all struggle with, in ways both large and small. A hallmark of trauma is feeling a loss of control, so taking back control, even when the behavior is unhealthy, is often how people cope. The idea of delaying healing by using maladaptive coping mechanisms is prevalent in each of these series. Cassie drinks herself into oblivion to avoid thinking about her difficult childhood. Arabella dives headfirst into social media activism, and once she disentangles herself from that addiction, she is able to confront early memories about feeling abandoned by her father. Wanda, well—Wanda has essentially taken binge-watching to the next level, causing untold amounts of pain for the citizens of Westview whom she’s imprisoned. Yet, for the time being, she feels as if she’s in control. Spoiler: She’s far from in control. It feels counterintuitive that a being as powerful as Wanda would feel so inherently powerless to confront the darkness within. By exploring how the process of admitting weakness can become an inherent strength, Wanda’s story marks a refreshing, if temporary, departure from the usual comic book formula. With only one episode to go, there’s no overt Big Bad, no imminent catastrophe, and no cabal of superheroes gearing up to save the day. Instead of focusing on showy external battles, the series has chosen to focus on the intimate internal battles that we humans fight every day."


    • WandaVision director Matt Shakman expects some fans to be "disappointed" if their theories don't come to fruition: “We build this show with so much love and passion and care and attention to detail, and you just cannot understand how appreciative we are that the fans have embraced it with that much love and passion and attention to detail and theories, which are incredible,” he tells TVLine. “And I know there will be a lot of disappointed people with some theories and some who will feel very smart, but you can’t please everybody, obviously. But I hope folks enjoy the ride.” Shakman separately tells EW of the finale: “I hope that they feel like the journey was satisfying for them. I know there are so many theories out there; there will be a lot of people who will no doubt be disappointed by one theory or another. But we're always telling this story about Wanda dealing with grief and learning how to accept that loss, and hopefully people will find that the finale is surprising but also satisfying, and that it feels inevitable because it's the same story they've been watching the whole time."
    • It's okay if your WandaVision fan theory doesn't come true: "After having spent so many years binge-watching shows now, I think many have forgotten what it is like to watch a show week in and week out and come up with theories and, sometimes, have those theories not be true," says Rachel Leishman. "Remember all the things we thought about Lost? So the idea that people might be 'disappointed' is more about us just not being right about something. And that’s fine! We’ve all become so connected to the instant gratification of streaming that when a show like WandaVision gives our theories time to breathe, we become so connected to them that if they don’t pan out, there is this air of disappointment about it. But I trust WandaVision and the creatives bringing me this story, and I know that even if my theories aren’t true or something isn’t answered, that’s more than fine."
    • It's about time the MCU gave its fans the first superpowered Black woman: "I knew from casting announcements that Teyonah Parris had been cast in the series as Maria Rambeau's grown-up daughter Monica, but with little hint of her in the show's trailers and none at all in the first episode, I figured she would just be another Black woman relegated to the shadows of the white, titular heroes, shoved in there for diversity points," says Melanie McFarland. "But as the episodes aired, the show has almost become just as much Monica's as it is Wanda's. An absolute scene-stealer, Monica has taken more and more control on her side of the narrative – the real-life parallel to Wanda's televised fantasy. She even overshadows the return of fan-favorites Darcy and Jimmy Woo (Kat Dennings and Randall Park, respectively). Though her actions are in direct response to Wanda, Monica does not feel like she exists to be in service to Wanda but rather ultimately has motivations that stretch beyond her. They are each other's foils – independent yet related. Not only is Monica a full participant in the show's action, but in the show's seventh episode 'Breaking the Fourth Wall,' she becomes the MCU's first superpowered Black woman. I can't shake the impact of seeing her burst through the Hex – skin a radiant brown, hair in dark, natural curls and eyes glowing with the power now surging through her. She's the character I've been waiting for my whole life. Commanding instead of obeying; compassionate while still kicking ass, Monica Rambeau is the long-awaited evolution of Aisha. But can you believe I still want more? Because the show is ultimately called WandaVision, not 'Rambeau.'"
    • Teyonah Parris admits she was baffled from Day 1 about WandaVision's portrait of grief: “Once I read the script,” she says, “I was like: ‘OK, wow! This is crazy and amazing and, wait … how, again, does this work?’” Parris adds: “It’s been a dream of mine to be a Marvel superhero. I had actually been fan-cast as Monica Rambeau years prior on Twitter, so I started doing my own research on the character then.”
    • Stop pitting WandaVision vs. your favorite DC show: "Watching the backlash towards Marvel’s WandaVision on Twitter has been … interesting," says Princess Weekes. "On the one hand, I get it. Disney and Marvel have been able to monopolize so much of the industry on the backs of largely fine to great movies. Marvel films in particular have the dual issue of being largely formulaic, but featuring charismatic actors and characters that have pulled in large audiences, both within the comic book fandom and way outside of it. For DC, this has not been the same journey. Their movies have received mixed response, and just this year Wonder Woman 1984 underperformed critically, and the biggest DC even has coming up 'movie-wise' is the Snyder Cut of Justice League, which is inherently divisive. That isn’t to say that DC isn’t doing well on the small screen. The CW Arrowverse, while many have accepted has layers of mediocrity, did help revolutionize the way superhero television looked. We got some amazing crossovers and storytelling from some of these shows. Plus, it’s on a network that people have access to, The CW, with a free app that allows people to catch up fairly easily. Outside of the Arrowverse, DC shows don’t have the same thing."
    • You can fully enjoy WandaVision, even without a Ph.D. in Marvelology: "In fact, if you’re a TV fan ... WandaVision‘s first three episodes are a true pleasure, because they’re a love letter to television itself," says Dave Nemetz. "Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda and Paul Bettany’s Vision play a married couple stuck in an alternate universe that mimics classic TV sitcoms through the decades, from The Dick Van Dyke Show and Bewitched (both presented in classic black-and-white) to The Brady Bunch. The cleverly crafted recreations of vintage sitcoms are spot-on, with impeccable period detail and a healthy dose of kitsch, and there’s an eerie Pleasantville/The Truman Show vibe here, too, with hints of a sinister unseen force orchestrating the sitcom universe. (I didn’t understand what was happening at first, but neither did Wanda or Vision, so I didn’t feel left behind.) But yes, even I could sense there’s more going on here."

    TOPICS: WandaVision, Disney+, The Flight Attendant, I May Destroy You, Elizabeth Olsen, Matt Shakman, Teyonah Parris, Marvel

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