WandaVision didn’t just birth a whole new phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—the Disney Plus series resurrected appointment television, as viewers tuned in weekly, sometimes even briefly crashing the platform. Yet, while the series has overwhelmingly been praised, its goals and achievements remain a bit of a mystery. Was it really an exercise in form, or just a segue back to the big-screen version of the MCU?
Even those of us here at The A.V. Club have spent much of the season expressing disparate opinions, both on the site and in our Slack channels. So we gathered around the virtual watercooler to search our feelings—sorry, wrong Disney property—about the conclusion to WandaVision, “The Series Finale.” Were Wanda and Vision’s final moments together worth the nine-hour journey? Did the show’s substance match its enviable style? Why didn’t Debra Jo Rupp return? And what was the deal with Dottie?
WandaVision began as an impressive pastiche of classic TV tropes, but one capable of great subversion and pathos. A confluence of influences runs through “The Series Finale,” though it’s to decidedly weaker effect. In returning with gusto to the big-screen MCU for inspiration, WandaVision’s finale looked, at times, downright generic. As it hit some of its biggest emotional beats and action scenes, the episode just called to mind a variety of other comic book/superhero productions, from The Incredibles (when Vision wonders if they’ve prepared their kids for having superpowers) to The Crow (I half-expected Wanda to quote Eric Draven to Agatha while up in the sky) and Hellboy (Wanda’s mantle as the harbinger of the end of the world; the red horns that sprout up around her face when she “accepts” who she is).
Still, there’s no denying the powerful veins of grief that were mined so thoughtfully by Jac Schaeffer, Matt Shakman, Elizabeth Olsen, and Paul Bettany. That’s just one of the many themes that sparked chatter among the show’s viewers. What I appreciate most about WandaVision is all the discussion it stirred—maybe it’s just the editor in me, but as long as the discourse was respectful, I enjoyed watching fans and critics volley back and forth, poring over every new development, grafting meaning onto each narrative turn.
Well, I was wrong about everything, huh? Like a lot of Marvel fans keeping up with WandaVision, I had fun picking through all of the mysteries and clues, trying to parse what the bigger picture was going to be, but I am a little disappointed in how it all worked out. In retrospect, it would’ve been kind of ridiculous for Magneto or the X-Men to appear in the MCU for the first time on a Disney Plus series, and I was never remotely convinced that Reed Richards was going to show his stretchy face here. But it did all feel like it was going somewhere more interesting than Wanda tossing CG superhero balls at Kathryn Hahn and every little tease turning out to be a red herring. (Not that I don’t love people tossing CG superhero balls at each other.) I mean, Marvel absolutely knew what it was doing when it cast Evan Peters as Pietro, and while the payoff didn’t have to be that he was literally the same version of the character that he played in the X-Men movies, it is a frustratingly cheap cop-out to just say, “Oh, he’s a random guy with no real relevance to the story who happens to look like this”—especially when Marvel Studios has historically been so savvy about knowing how to read its audience without seeming manipulative. I think I’ll probably like this finale more on a rewatch, as pretty much everything with Vision (the fight with the sleek Apple iVision, his “We’ve said goodbye before” line, the little tear) was fantastic, but I don’t think the series as a whole stuck the landing.
WandaVision, a series quite literally borne of the depths of Wanda’s grief, met with a fitting, if not heartbreaking, end. But that’s only if we look at it as it was intended (not what the Twitter discourse turned it into): a fascinating insight into how Wanda’s mind and powers work, and how she uses them to channel her loss. In that sense, the final episode didn’t lose sight of what made the show unique compared to its Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts. Other big-name Avengers have gotten the opportunity to deal with their heartaches in films, but Wanda has been relatively underserved. I appreciate that “The Series Finale” didn’t tie everything up and set her off into the sunset (or somewhere in the mountains) with Vision, Billy, and Tommy until she’s needed again. Her story is only just beginning as she transforms into the Scarlet Witch, complete with a great costume and tousled hair.
WandaVision might not be the holy grail of exploring grief on TV: The Leftovers, This Is Us, and the Elizabeth Olsen-led Sorry For Your Loss are great examples of this theme. But I’m glad it took the time to dive into an iconic character, using a beloved comic book storyline while doing so. Paul Bettany had fun playing with Vision, including the Night King version, and Kathryn Hahn got to shine onscreen yet again. I can empathize with the idea of escaping into TV shows to find relief, and WandaVision had great fun with sitcoms while paying homage to the genre. In typical Marvel fashion, there were red herrings, teases, and hints of some Big Cameo. None of it paid off in the finale as expected, but they did the job of keeping the theorizing alive and well. Even if these nine episodes are simply a stepping stone to bigger forthcoming projects, WandaVision is quite a perfect start to Phase Four.
Having grown up in the era of I Love Lucy and Dick Van Dyke Show marathons on Nick At Nite, I was not among those itching for WandaVision to move past the spectacular channeling of classic TV. That said, I still pored over every weighted phrase and possible hint of what was to come. The world Wanda created was fascinating, and the fact that she had no idea how she did it made for riveting storytelling—inside Westview, that is. I enjoy Josh Stamberg, but he was in a different show. Where the world of Westview’s sitcom imitations was exciting and new, Hayward’s mission felt like a stale rerun: setting the stage for Vision’s revival seemed somewhat unnecessary, and Monica Rambeau could’ve gotten her superhero origin story without a clichéd boss in the way. (I’d also add Monica’s long-touted mystery guest being a no-name agent to the manipulations list Sam started with Fake Pietro.)
Even in the moving finale, Hayward’s trucks and guns and obligatory “I’ll now explain my entire evil plan” speech felt disconnected from WandaVision’s emotional center. And what an emotional center it was: Wanda forced, yet again, to choose between love and the greater good, this time savoring love just a while longer. After an Emmy-worthy season, Kathryn Hahn was functional but constricted during the prolonged fight scene, and watching Vision fight Talcum Powder Vision didn’t really excite me. It was all worth it, though, for that family Avengers pose—and my heart broke watching Wanda tuck her boys in one final (?) time. Ultimately this denouement felt jarringly rapid after such a slow burn over the preceding eight episodes, but that’s more a comment on the strength of the first two acts of the season and less a critique of the finale. Solving a mystery like Westview is rarely going to be as exciting as exploring the possible answers.
Kudos are, I think, in order to Jac Schaeffer, Matt Shakman, and the rest of the WandaVision crew for resisting the MCU ethos—“There’s no problem so thoughtful or internal that you can’t work through it by firing a giant CGI laser at it”—for as long as they did. But every dream must come to an end, and WandaVision’s went out with a big, loud, emotionally simplified bang. As ever, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, and especially Kathryn Hahn do yeoman’s work elevating the more emotionally resonant parts of “The Series Finale”—Hahn, especially, has an utterly transfixing gift for keeping Agatha’s latent sympathy for Wanda shining in her eyes even as she embraces the show’s mandate to be its true “Wicked Witch.” But the show’s smaller, better impulses are consistently drowned out by its need to be a workable block in the Marvel Lego wall: Monica’s superhero origin story, the compulsive need for exposition, and especially whatever deranged part of the MCU formula insists two invincible beings must repeatedly punch each other while delivering quippy one-liners. There are beautiful moments here, beneath the din; Bettany and Olsen are never better than when basking in Wanda and Vision’s easy intimacy, and the resistance to giving Wanda an easy out for her sacrifice is to be commended. But as Vision himself points out, how can you tell an honest story about grief in a universe where nothing is ever truly allowed to die?
I watched WandaVision every week with my middle-school-aged son, an absolute gift since he’s at an age where he’s not dying to hang out with me exactly, but remains an Avengers addict. So I for one was grateful for the weekly format, because otherwise we would have binged it immediately, and our fun soon would have been over. He’s never seen an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show or Bewitched, yet he is so tied to the characters of Wanda and Vision that he was as riveted as I was, a testament to the show’s storytelling and spot-on period TV re-creations.
So, unsurprisingly, my main takeaway from the finale is a poignant understanding of Wanda Maximoff as a mom. When she told the angry Westview crowd, “I’ll fix it!” I started crying and didn’t stop until the end. Like many parents, Wanda had a vision of what her ideal domestic life could be like—but what we all eventually realize is that real life is a lot bumpier than a 30-minute sitcom. Still, we wouldn’t trade our families for the world. Obviously what Wanda did was over-the-top and hurt a lot of people, but like Monica, I get it: She got to clutch that perfect family for at least a little while (and judging from that final shot, may be planning on doing so again). So while the red and purple fireballs got repetitive and not all the teases panned out (was expecting more from Emma Caulfield Ford’s cameo), what will stick with me post-WandaVision is its spot-on depiction of motherhood—and Elizabeth Olsen’s amazing ability to interpret that. I’ll try to get my son to watch The Falcon And The Winter Soldier with me next, but I doubt it’ll have the same resonance.
If we’re going to talk about underutilizing the WandaVision cast, then I’m just going to launch into my biggest, nitpicking gripe with the series: You’re going to hire sitcom ringers Kat Dennings and Randall Park and then A) only send one of them into the Hex, and B) keep her out of the highest of the rerun hijinks? Okay, so it turns out that crossing that glowing red barrier is “dangerous” and may result in irreversible genetic alterations that build the bridge to one’s very own superhero sequel. But as much as I enjoyed having WandaVision around as appointment viewing (its most successful channeling of ancient television energies), I must admit that part of my anticipation for “On A Very Special Episode,” “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!,” and “Breaking The Fourth Wall” was wrapped up in the hope that Dennings might get to show off her multi-cam chops, or that Park could revisit his uncanny mimicry of Jim Halpert in the mockumentary episode. I suppose we’ll just have to settle for the blast that Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are clearly having in the black-and-white early goings, flexing performance muscles that years of big-screen MCU sequels never engaged—yet another bit of TV metacommentary laced into a series that was nothing if not clever.
I don’t have much to say on the topic of the fake-outs and red herrings, as I never delved too deep down the WandaVision theories rabbit hole. But I do find it hilarious that the big reveal surrounding Fake Pietro is that his real name is Ralph Bohner. Talk about trolling.
On the topic of the finale, and the series at large: I’m with you, Patrick. As much as I love Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, and Kat Dennings riffing in a room together, I was never completely sold on S.W.O.R.D. being a necessary part of Wanda and Vision’s story, and “The Series Finale’’ only underlined that. I wanted more period-accurate sitcom hijinks, and much less government agents in rooms assessing threat levels. Even as I write this, mere hours after watching the finale, I’m struggling to remember what the fuck Hayward wanted. (Obviously no disrespect intended toward Josh Stamberg or his performance. Like you said, Patrick: He was just on a different show.)
Unsurprisingly, what I do remember are the moments involving Wanda. Elizabeth Olsen’s has been fantastic throughout the series, and the finale was no different. In particular, her confrontation with the citizens of Westview as they pleaded to be released from her spell was gripping. Cinematic superhero stories don’t often burden themselves with the humanity of the “ground-level” characters in their universes, so it was an especially welcome move here. And of course, Wanda having to say goodbye to Billy, Tommy, and Vision left me heartbroken.
Agree to (partly) disagree, Sam: This is how you structure a finale. I’ve already seen both the praise and carping online about what people loved/hated, and I understand the disappointment in certain expectations not being met (sometimes a troll is just a troll), but I haven’t seen much of an appreciation for the basics—the fundamentals of storytelling that the show got right, and that are actually surprisingly uncommon, especially when it comes to superhero narratives onscreen.
I’m talking about things like having the final confrontation between Wanda and Agatha come down to a callback that had been set up effectively in advance, and involved actual strategy—instead of, say, a big magical hole in the sky that you just shoot at until it closes. (You know who you are, movies guilty of this.) Things like giving incidental characters real dialogue and identities, thereby making them actual people you can feel empathy for, instead of mindless cannon fodder who may as well be indistinguishable from gerbils. Things like having characters play to the top of their intelligence: There’s not many superhero showdowns that get resolved by having the two parties apply the Ship Of Theseus thought experiment to their situation until they come to a peaceful resolution. And things like not treating grief as a problem that’s resolved at the end, but rather an ongoing issue that will continue to have ramifications in someone’s life moving forward. These are essentials of building a smart and effective story, and I appreciate the show’s commitment to getting its foundation formed so properly. Was it perfect? Hell no. But it was solidly assembled and well-told, and that deserves credit. (Also, kudos to having Kat Dennings appear for exactly two seconds to deliver a great line: “Have fun in prison!”)