Enjoying serialized television requires patience. Since the story is ongoing, you have to give the storytellers the benefit of the doubt that whatever dangling thread or dodgy narrative choice that’s bothering you is doing so on purpose, that you may see it resolved in a satisfying way by the end. WandaVision has been, for the most part, good fun, particularly when it began as such a dramatic outlier from the typical Marvel formula. But now that we arrive at “The Series Finale,” WandaVision is just another Marvel product, with all the flaws that go along with it, and in this particular case, the flaws are what stand out the most.
It Says Here in the Script that “They Fight”
Much of “The Series Finale” is occupied with delivering the action climax promised by the preceding chapters and, as feared, it’s a totally rote “Third Act Marvel Battle.” Wanda pursues Agatha Harkness through the skies above Westview, hurling red energy bolts at her while Agatha uses her purple beams to drain her power. Wanda’s newfound ability to totally transmute matter, which could have been visually interesting in a fight like this, goes entirely unused. Meanwhile, Vision duels his reprogrammed doppelgänger, and it goes without saying that there’s a direct beam vs. beam “dueling progress bars”-style clash. The Vision fight has some interesting exchanges that exploit the two synthezoids’ ability to phase through one another, but on the whole it still feels like just another airborne superhero punch-out. At this point we have seen so many on-screen scraps between flying men with capes and energy beams that it’s hard to bring anything new to the table.
What’s more, this battle is the first time in the run of WandaVision that its television budget becomes fully apparent. So far, WandaVision hasn’t traded much in the same types of visuals as its big screen counterparts, so its limitations haven’t been noticeable, but here we’re seeing Wanda, Vision, and company in the familiar context of a superhero battle, and they don’t quite live up to the images we’ve stored in our heads from similar sequences in Captain America: Civil War or Avengers: Infinity War. The effects are still very good for TV, it’s simply impossible not to compare them directly with what we see in WandaVision’s theatrical siblings. We know what Vision is supposed to look like when he flies around, and this is not quite right. Amplifying this issue is the decision to stage the climactic battle of WandaVision in broad, even daylight, which makes it impossible to hide the weaker effects and makes the whole affair feel flat and artless. Agatha Harkness’s dark witchy attire, which is reasonably cool in darkness, looks like a Maleficent cosplay in the light.
Two cool visual moments stand out during the battle sequence. First, when S.W.O.R.D. Director Hayward arrives on scene and tries to shoot pre-teen twins Billy and Tommy (in case you didn’t know he was evil), Captain Rambeau steps into the line of fire and her body reflexively phases into energy, slowing down the bullets as they pass through her. We are still learning the extent of Monica’s powers, and there’s a sense of wonder that comes from learning them as she does. Second, the final stroke of Wanda’s victory over Agatha is the revelation that Wanda, taking a trick out of Agatha’s book, has cast giant runes onto the interior surface of the energy barrier around Westview, preventing anyone but herself from casting spells within its walls. Wanda drains Agatha of all her power and reforms herself into the Scarlet Witch in an impressive array of light and particle effects, and then emerges with a sick new movie-ready costume. But as for the fight itself, there’s just no imagination to the staging or the realization of the action, and one wonders whether this is due it being new territory for director Matt Shakman or if this is another example of Marvel Studios handing the fight scenes over to a pre-visualization effects team that has done too many of these and is out of ideas.
While the action itself isn’t that impressive by Marvel standards, there are a few breaks in the action that are more interesting and attempt to speak to the themes of the show and set up an emotional ending. Midway through the fight between Wanda and Agatha, Agatha frees the minds of the people of Westview, who have been traumatized by weeks of being telepathically manipulated and are understandably pissed. They beg to see their families, for their children who have been locked away in their rooms whenever Wanda doesn’t want to use them as set dressing. They beg for either their freedom or for death, but still Wanda can’t wrap her head around the pain that she’s causing and even attacks them further with her telekinesis to try and silence them. It takes seeing herself literally strangle the life from her neighbors to see the damage she’s done. After she defeats Agatha, Wanda finally agrees to release the spell, even though it’ll mean that Vision and her children will cease to exist. She decides that avoiding her grief is not worth putting everyone around her through hell. There’s an earnest and heartfelt goodbye between Wanda, Vision, and the twins, and Wanda is left alone.
The thing is, while the farewells between Wanda and her constructed family are well-performed (Elizabeth Olsen is much better in these moments than with big dramatic superhero dialogue, where she crosses the Ham Threshold a few times), they are also immediately undercut. Yes, Wanda has lost her idyllic married life with Vision, and the magically-manifested version of him that she has spent these past few weeks with. This Vision is as real as anyone and deserves to be mourned. But as he dissolves, Wanda’s Vision wonders aloud how they will be reunited, and the romantic naivety of this exchange is unearned because both Vision and the audience already know the form that reunion will take. Though we never hear him mention it to her, Wanda’s Vision has already restored the original Vision earlier in the episode.
Not half an hour earlier in this extended finale, Wanda’s Vision is doing battle with S.W.O.R.D.’s Vision — the original Vision’s body without his memories and with strict programming from Director Hayward. Paul Bettany portrays them as two distinct characters, but even the sinister-seeming white S.W.O.R.D. Vision still has hints of the character we know. Seeking a peaceful solution to their conflict and a workaround for S.W.O.R.D. Vision’s orders to “Destroy the Vision,” our Vision uses the Ship of Theseus paradox to argue that he is not, in fact, the Vision at all, granting his opponent a loophole out of his programming. The fighting stops, and our Vision is able to restore his original body’s memories of everything that happened before his death in Infinity War.
This means that there are now two Visions, but this story only needs one and in fact always only needed one — the big threat represented by Director Hayward reprogramming the original Vision amounts to about three minutes of fighting and one interesting conversation, and it’s clear that the only reason he is even introduced is to create a spare Vision that can be used in future MCU installments while still letting Wanda’s story end with a tragic and heroic sacrifice. The restored Vision doesn’t actually serve a purpose in this story, so rather than doing what you might imagine Vision would do after regaining his memories, such as trying to reunite with and help the love of his life in her hour of need, he simply flies off, inexplicably exiting the show completely, never to be seen or mentioned again. We are to assume he’s gone away to sort himself out, suffering some sort of identity crisis, perhaps, but we all know the real reason he’s gone — because the storytellers hope that we’ll have forgotten about him by the time Wanda’s Vision fades away.
The True Casualty is Consequence
“The Series Finale” also walks back the loss of Billy and Tommy almost immediately. In their farewell scene, Wanda thanks the boys for “choosing [her] to be [their] mom,” which implies that while their physical bodies are her creation, their souls are not, and may both preexist and continue to exist beyond their time in the Hex. Nothing about this is out of bounds for a fantasy story involving magic and superheroes, and this too is still a loss for Wanda. But in the final post-credits scene of the finale, Wanda is seen meditating with Agatha Harkness’s spellbook when she hears the disembodied voices of her children crying out for help. This strongly forecasts a reunion in a future story, probably in the forthcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, where Wanda is scheduled to appear next.
Admittedly, in both the cases of Vision and the twins, it’s probably less of a cheat to immediately promise their returns than to try and sell the audience on their losses being permanent and then undoing it in another movie or TV show. What bothers me is the way that it clashes with how the ending of WandaVision is framed. On her way out of town in the episode’s final minutes before the credits, Wanda receives hateful, judgemental glares from the people of Westview. She walks past them in silence, not returning their gaze. Monica Rambeau, now a fellow superhero and viewpoint character who is positioned as a voice of reason throughout the show, tells Wanda, “They’ll never know what you sacrificed for them,” which places judgement on Wanda’s victims for not being more forgiving. And, assuming she eventually reunites with Vision, Tommy and Billy as the finale hints, here’s what Wanda’s sacrifice will amount to:
- Losing the fantasy world in which she (first unknowingly and later, knowingly) brainwashed and enslaved thousands of people
- Being separated from her family for a while, kind of like how her victims were separated from their families while they were being used as playthings in her TV fantasy
- Having to watch her partner (temporarily) die again, but this time in a really pretty way, which while upsetting probably doesn’t compare to the trauma of being stripped of your identity and used as someone’s telepathic puppet or being locked alone in your childhood bedroom for weeks while everyone outside of your city limits has had all memory of your existence either wiped or repressed.
I’m not saying that I don’t want to see Vision again — one of WandaVision’s little miracles was actually making me care about him as a character — or that I think Wanda’s kids need to be dead forever as punishment for her crime. I’m saying that, considering the enormity of what she’s done and the number of people she’s hurt, Wanda is getting off very easy, and that goes double if she ends up getting back the family she sacrifices here. It’s not a total cheat, as the sacrifice is still real to her in the moment — this is why you can’t have Wanda’s Vision tell her that the original Vision has been restored, at least not on screen. And I truly do not mind how dark this side of the story is, in fact I’m kind of impressed that Marvel would let one of their heroes do something so unambiguously wrong and then have to live with it — it’s a much more compelling misdeed to atone for than her accidentally doing a Trolley Problem in Civil War. If Wanda’s going to get her life back, we really need to see her continue to confront the horror that she’s responsible for, the way that fellow Avenger Tony Stark is repeatedly faced with the victims of his years as a selfish philandering war profiteer. And she may, yet! But, of course, leaving the audience slightly unfulfilled in anticipation of the next chapter is key to the entire Marvel Studios model, and we’ll see how Wanda is coping in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in March 2022.
The Intangible Woman
Another disappointment about “The Series Finale” is how, after weeks of building her up, Captain Monica Rambeau really doesn’t play much of a role in resolving the plot. Back in Episode 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall,” Monica powers through the Hex barrier, fueled by sheer determination, which imbues her with mysterious new superpowers. She then tries to reason with Wanda but is interrupted by Agatha, who at this point has already kidnapped the twins and is about to reveal herself to Wanda anyway. So, her intervention doesn’t end up having any effect on the plot. But, at least, the episode ends with a stinger promising a conflict between Monica and Fake Pietro.
After being (understandably) absent from Episode 8, we rejoin Monica and Pietro in “The Series Finale” so that Monica can discover that Pietro is Wanda’s actual next-door neighbor Ralph Bohner, whose house Agatha took over when she moved into town to study Wanda, controlled and granted super-speed by a bewitched and tacky necklace. Their confrontation ends up being resolved very quickly, as Monica disables Ralph using quick wits and a swift martial arts takedown, not her super powers, which are only used to identify the charmed necklace. It’s a short and mildly funny scene, but not exactly the super-fight I’d been hoping for, especially since a quick fight between two characters with drastically different power sets, one of which we’d be seeing for the first time as the character figures it out, would have been a nice change from the two mirror matches that we get in the episode.
Then, Monica arrives at the center of town to confront Hayward and dives in front of two bullets intended for Tommy and Billy (which, as I mentioned earlier, is fairly cool), but when she misses the third, Billy stops it with his telekinesis. When Hayward tries to make a run for it, he’s stopped by Darcy Lewis, who T-bones his escape vehicle with her funnel cake truck. So, Monica doesn’t end up actually being needed here, either, since Billy is essentially bulletproof and Darcy stops the bad guy.
But, of course, Monica’s character arc has always been about her mourning the death of her mother, and how that makes her want to help Wanda through her pain. Her first try at reaching out to Wanda in “Now in Color” was rebuffed, her attempt in “Breaking the Fourth Wall” nearly worked, surely she should get the opportunity to run the football home and play a role in getting Wanda to finally let go and free the people of Westview. But no, she does not! Wanda and Monica do not interact until the end of the episode, after the conflict has been resolved, where Monica’s role is simply to forgive Wanda, thus giving the audience permission to forgive her as well. While a lot of time is invested in Monica throughout the season and she does get a bit of an arc of her own as helping Wanda allows her to process her own grief, the fact that Monica essentially stops being part of the story as soon as she’s gotten her superpowers is a frustrating reminder of how no Marvel product is a complete work unto itself, and once she has acquired everything she’ll need for Captain Marvel 2, WandaVision is basically done with her. It’s only a shade better than the way the restored original Vision disappears after his own boxes are checked off — Monica is still here, but narratively intangible.
After the Credits
For all my frustrations with the finale, WandaVision has still been, on the whole, pretty fun television. I’m only disappointed because, while the series began as the most off-beat product Marvel Studios has ever produced, its closing hour feels very average. While it’s hard to compare this nine-part series directly against its theatrical counterparts, if I were to try and apply it to a ranked list of MCU films, it would likely end up in the middle of the pack amidst Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. WandaVision shot itself in the foot, at least for me, by inflating expectations of how different it was going to be.
Has WandaVision entertained me? Yes. Has it made me more interested in Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Captain Rambeau and therefore an effective commercial for the next phase of Marvel films? Sure. But I enjoyed WandaVision more when it felt like an experiment, when I felt like I could use a plainly commercial product like this one to scratch my itch for something really brave or interesting. You can rarely have it both ways, and setting that expectation was a mistake, both by producer Kevin Feige, showrunner Jac Schaeffer, and director Matt Shakman and by myself as an audience.
In two weeks, we dive into the next Marvel event series on Disney+, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which has never billed itself as anything but a superhero adventure series. As always, I hope to be delighted by a piece of mass media that feels fresh and exciting. But, particularly after my experience with WandaVision, I know better than to expect it.