The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: The Power of Grief, Anger, and Empathy on WandaVision

WandaVision is a marvel (pun obviously intended). It’s a thrill-a-minute mystery, a possible (probable?) key to opening the Marvel Multiverse, an homage to classic sitcoms, and the wildest and weirdest ride on television right now.

But it’s also a story about grief.

It’s a story about the way we try to escape grief in other realities (especially happy, televised ones). It’s a story about control and the desperate ways we try to reclaim control by holding on to things long past when we should let them go. It’s a story about the anger that naturally comes along with the grieving process and what carrying that anger around does to us and those around us.

And even more specifically, it’s about how all of those things are seen through a different lens when it’s a woman experiencing them.

Female grief. Female rage.

That’s what Wanda represents. She’s the embodiment of the rage that burns inside women who’ve lived through trauma and loss. And she’s the embodiment of the way the world doesn’t know what to do with the women who wear their rage on their sleeve—who grieve in a way that’s not pretty or soft or quiet.

Wanda is an angry woman—and when you look at her life, you see that she has every reason to be. Even if she’s handling it poorly, even if she’s doing the wrong things—the motivation behind them is clear, understandable, and relatable.

She’s not a hero. But she’s not a villain, either.

She’s a woman in pain.

And the only other character who’s able to see that is another woman who’s in pain.

Throughout “On a Very Special Episode…”, Monica Rambeau is consistently advocating for a deeper understanding of Wanda as a person. It’s Monica who speaks up against the use of “terrorist” to describe Wanda. It’s Monica who says she doesn’t think Wanda has an inclination toward destruction. It’s Monica who wants to go back in to Westview to learn more about Wanda.

And it’s Monica who makes an appeal to Wanda outside Westview—not a threat, not a speech about all she’s done wrong. She makes an appeal to her as a person, as a woman, and as someone she understands perhaps better than anyone else.

Monica is also a woman who’s grieving. She fell asleep in a world with her mother and woke up in a world without her. She’s grieving her mom. She’s grieving the few years she would have gotten to spend with her before her cancer came back. She’s grieving the life she knew and the woman she was. And it makes her angry. That anger might be more controlled than Wanda’s, but it’s there—right below the surface. We only get to see it in small flashes, but it’s especially evident in this episode when Captain Marvel is brought up. (I’m sure we all have our own theories about that, but for now, I’m guessing she’s upset that Carol has been off saving galaxies while Maria died—and Monica now grieves—alone.)

That’s who reaches out to Wanda on that field outside of “the Hex.” It’s one angry, grieving woman appealing to another. It’s two kindred spirits—women who’ve suffered, women who are suffering, women who are expected to get over it and go back to work like it’s normal or easy or fine.

Monica isn’t fine. Wanda isn’t fine. And from that mutual understanding of each other’s pain comes the one thing that can save them both.

Empathy.

Monica has empathy for Wanda. It’s what makes her defend Wanda and reach out to her. And Wanda has empathy for Monica. It’s why she let Monica stay in Westview and why she trusted her to deliver her babies. It’s why she and “Geraldine” connected immediately. And it’s why she didn’t kill her when she had the chance.

Because Wanda can see people—what’s in their heads and what’s in their hearts. And she could see the truth: Monica isn’t just a S.W.O.R.D. agent; she’s a woman who’s loved and lost and doesn’t know what to do with all that love and loss still in her heart.

It’s why Wanda couldn’t really hurt her, and it’s why Monica is working so hard to keep Wanda from being hurt now. Monica doesn’t want to take Wanda down; she wants to understand her. She wants to help her.

“I am an ally.”

In the midst of a world where it’s hard to tell what’s real what’s fake, Monica’s compassion for Wanda is true. Monica is choosing to be an ally rather than being manipulated into playing a part in Wanda’s world. And that choice—to see Wanda as a woman whose anger is driven by grief and not gleeful destruction—matters.

Empathy matters.

And that’s what keeps me coming back every week. I like mysteries, superheroes, and sitcoms. But I love explorations of empathy, complex female characters, and stories of women who are angry—unabashedly, unapologetically, unrelentingly angry.

Female rage. Female grief. Female empathy.

That’s my kind of Multiverse.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?

9 thoughts on “The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: The Power of Grief, Anger, and Empathy on WandaVision

  1. Such a great analysis! And glad to have a complex show again that gives you a chance to really give a different and deep perspective! Can’t wait to share it with my daughter. She’ll love it!

    • Thank you! It’s so nice to see you back around these parts! I’m loving this show so far and am hoping to have many more opportunities to write about it. 😀

  2. This was masterful, Katie. I am in a puddle of tears because this is it. This is this show. And this is what I feel we’ve been been constantly pointing attention to in the MCU. (It reminds me, in all of ways of one our favorite scenes in Endgame.) Females understanding one another in ways no one else could. In ways no one even tries to. You took this on in a such beautiful way with the perfect theme, too. I can’t wait to see where this show goes.

    • Thank you so much, friend! I’m so excited to see what happens next and to hopefully see more of Wanda and Monica’s relationship develop as we learn more about both of them and what they’ve gone through/are currently going through!

  3. “And she’s the embodiment of the way the world doesn’t know what to do with the women who wear their rage on their sleeve—who grieve in a way that’s not pretty or soft or quiet.”

    THIS right here is everything. I think about the grief I’ve been carrying recently and my immersion into Bridgerton. It’s not a coincidence and it’s not the first time I’ve done something like this (hello Castle). When I look back through periods of grief, the relief of escape was a necessary safe haven. It was a place to simply exist without the pressure of moving on or being okay for others comfort and needs. This is what I think is the masterfulness of Elizabeth Olsen’s performance right now, is how she teeters that line trying to protect what she’s carved out in order to keep a small piece of joy she needs in her grief. To watch her with her sons try to explain when they reflect the contradiction back at her regarding the dog is the mirror no one else to this point has given her. It’s why I think Monica’s response of compassion and understanding is so deeply important. It’s also Monica’s understanding of what it means to hid identities and hid parts of the truth – something she’s doing with SWORD but also something that defined her childhood.

    When I think about the layers of Wandavision, especially in this episode, I think about the layers of performance required to make the world Wanda has created work and a cast of people who need to hid and/or are hiding something (sometimes against their will). The breaking of the 4th wall, Vision breaking into someone’s mind to try and understand what’s going on, they are are all cracks in the fabric of something Wanda is desperate to hold together (she’s been editing since episode 1). Vision broke my heart in his desperation to understand what’s happening. His knowledge that he and Wanda are of the same mind, yet not in this moment is what is the most devastating piece. His connection to her is pure, it’s honest, it’s accepting of who she and vice versa. To acknowledge its missing and part of a deeper wall she’s built beyond the one she has surrounding the town is telling. I also think the use of Family Times homage is more than nostalgic. I think about what that show was and how the Keatons were as a couple as much as the portrait of what they portrayed to be “the perfect family unit” knowing they were messy, contradictory and knowing that their magic was co-dependent in so many ways, not because they needed each other, but because they brought out the best in one another. I watched thinking through Wanda’s grief she is desperately trying to hold something together and it isolates and makes her alone, when she is at her best is when she and Vision are united mind and soul.

    The thread of shared grief is one I hope they continue to explore as they unpack the mysteries that are layered in this brilliant show. I also need a complete aside about what is happening with Monica and the medical team’s inability to get accurate vital signs on her. I feel like that got dropped in our lap never to be mentioned again.

    Now all that said, for me the best thing I watched was Framing Brittany Spears. I am not a fan of Spears and she came of age behind my boy band/teen scream concert years. My knowledge of her is deeply rooted in the tabloid fodder of her being relentless pursued. For me, being in my 20s as the rise and intrusion of paparazzi was happening, the parallels to the structures and systems that amplify misogynic tactics that fed the destruction of women was profound and in all facets of life – Monica Lewinsky, Anita Hill, Whitney Houston, Princess Diana, etc. The list felt endless and the vicious cycle of objectifying, shaming, exposing, cannibalizing, throwing away of women in particular was stark to me. To watch Brittany’s story unfold and to hear man after man after man talk about how they profited off her destruction and mockery was overwhelming at points. I think about the place I straddle as a person where a generation of women have lived, learned to cope and adapt to toxicity that is constant, unrelenting, cruel and deeply consequential. It’s barely 90 minutes but the volumes it speaks to how we destroy talent and beauty for capital gain was crystal clear. It’s a hard, but in my opinion necessary watch.

    • I’m so glad you brought up Monica’s weird medical scans because I was so consumed by my thoughts of grief and anger and all things Wanda that I almost totally forgot about it!

      I also have to say that what you wrote about grief and escape really resonated with me. The times in my life most strongly defined by grief were definitely the times I clung most intensely to things that allowed me to escape and feel joy, and I’m with you in loving the way Elizabeth Olsen is playing that part of this story. I also loved what you had to say about her and Vision being of one mind and how in trying to keep him she’s actually closed herself off from him in a way that’s hurting them both. I’m so interested to see the rest of this story play out for Vision (especially because I don’t buy for one second that they were just “keeping” his corpse at SWORD headquarters).

      And now for Britney…Your take on it is one I really loved because you had more distance from it than I did. I grew up among the group of preteens and teens who idolized Britney. I was 10 when “Baby One More Time” came out and all I remember at the time was thinking how cool it was that she wore a uniform like me. And then by the time Oops I Did It Again came out, I learning all her dance moves, wearing my makeup (when I was allowed to wear it) like her, and seeing my sense of “growing up” through the lens of her music. (Do not ask me how many times I played “Overprotected” and “Stronger” when I was 12. It’s A LOT.) I went to see Crossroads on opening weekend. I sang “Not a Girl Not Yet a Woman” like it was the only song that could ever speak to my 13-year-old soul. I loved boy bands, but ultimately, while I obsessed over which members of Backstreet Boys I wanted to date and how cute Justin Timberlake was, it was Britney’s music—and its themes of rebellion and freedom and power and sexuality—that came to define my adolescence.

      So that documentary hit me right in a sweet spot that only occurs when you’re able to look at what was happening around you as a kid with the eyes of a woman. And to see how horrible it all was. How she was asked about her virginity in almost every interview while simultaneously being dressed in a bra and underwear on the cover of Rolling Stone when she was a teenager. How she was demonized for “breaking Justin’s heart” by not just fans but the entire mainstream media. How her mental health struggles were turned into punchlines. And how the paparazzi and tabloid bigwigs to this day don’t feel like they did anything wrong. It was an eye-opening look at misogyny at its most blatant and celebrity culture at its most cruel, and it finally gave me the vocabulary to talk about the way I felt when I was in college and saw he pop star I loved so much being treated so horribly by the press. I thought I was just feeling sad about one of my teenage idols falling from grace, but the deep sadness I felt about it was actually a sadness that no one was helping her. And that sadness hasn’t gone away.

  4. Katie! I’m only a few minutes into this week’s WandaVision (I got interrupted and haven’t gone back yet, ahh!) but this is so great. The power of female rage. And I love your point that it can be transformative when it’s shared: the community of women reaching out to each other in their grief can keep that grief from becoming a dead end. It’s a language you just can’t speak if you haven’t experienced it.

    I don’t have anything else to contribute because I think I zoned out all last week. Watched a couple Mad Mens. I would be so on top of it if we were still in 2010!

    • Thanks, Kelly! I can’t wait to hear what you think when you finish this episode—it’s my favorite of the series so far, which is saying something because I’m really loving the show as a whole.

      Knowing as little as I do about Mad Men, I think even a couple of Mad Mens needs a lot more brain power than most TV I consume right now, so go you! 😉

  5. Pingback: The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: The Power of Love Persevering on WandaVision | Nerdy Girl Notes

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