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Doctor Strange 2 fixes WandaVision’s biggest problem

And watching the movie and the show together makes both stories stronger

Elizabeth Olsen in WandaVision in full Scarlet Witch mode, with glowy red hands and eyes Image: Marvel Studios/Disney Plus
Tasha Robinson leads Polygon’s movie coverage. She’s covered film, TV, books, and more for 20 years, including at The A.V. Club, The Dissolve, and The Verge.

It’s only been about a year and a half since Disney Plus launched its first Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series, WandaVision. But in terms of the cultural landscape, that feels like a decade ago. With so many MCU shows and films since then, it’s easy to forget how confused and frustrated some viewers were over the ending of WandaVision, and how contentious the final episode was among the MCU stalwart. But it’s worth revisiting now that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is out, because the new movie retroactively makes a lot of WandaVision’s more baffling decisions make far more sense. With the series’ unaddressed questions finally cleared up, WandaVision seems much more satisfying in retrospect.

We were all emerging into a brave, alien new entertainment world when WandaVision launched in January 2021. Disney Plus had a strong launch in November 2019, but it spent its first year largely reliant on the Disney archive, much of which was still licensed to other streaming platforms. By 2021, it was still unclear what the streaming service’s original-content plan would eventually become, and whether it had the long-term clout to challenge streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon or if it would just live on as a kind of well-stocked online library. (At least by that point it was fairly clear it wouldn’t quietly shutter after a few ignominious months, like Quibi did in December 2020.)

In January 2021, practically all significant theatrical movies, the year’s MCU offerings included, were either being postponed or morphing into unheard-of direct-to-streaming releases. And nobody knew what a Disney Plus MCU TV show was going to look like, because WandaVision was the first.

Wanda, wearing a white wedding dress, is dipped by Vision in their black-and-white living room in WandaVision Image: Marvel Studios/Disney Plus

It wound up being the most enthusiastically and loudly received of any of them to date. Other Disney Plus shows have eclipsed WandaVision in terms of viewership, but none have dominated the cultural landscape the way it did. Its puzzlebox mystery design and week-to-week revelations were tailor-made for a bored, quarantined viewership eager to spin up weird theories and obsess over its surprising reveals, which sometimes doubled as culture-dominating memes.

And then the show abruptly ended — and the complaints poured in about the point in the story where it stopped. It became clear that sometimes-superhero Wanda Maximoff was literally enslaving hundreds of terrified, miserable people, psychically forcing them to play background characters in the happily-ever-after sitcom-family fantasy she’d created with her reality-warping magic. That revelation was hard to square with the show’s playful, goofy early episodes, or its profound and obvious sympathy over Wanda losing her lover, Vision (Paul Bettany), both in the MCU movies before the show and then again during it.

The finale never seemed to take the horror of the situation seriously enough. There was no sign that Wanda — the sympathetic, grieving protagonist who weeps as she allows the magically generated re-creation of her lost love to dissolve in her arms — really understood or cared about what she put the denizens of Westview through by using them as living props. The shame and remorse normally expected from a hero who hurts people was never in evidence. Wanda makes one small apology to comparative bystander Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), but Monica lets her off the hook by saying the Westview citizens Wanda brutally kidnapped will never understand what she “sacrificed for them” by eventually allowing them to return to their real lives.

And Wanda’s resolution with secret series villain Agatha Harkness is particularly chilling. When she traps Agatha in a simpering, shallow false persona and leaves her to live out a terrible fake life in Westview, she’s taking a useful step toward solving one of the MCU’s biggest ongoing problems. But she’s also doing something straight-up villainous, and the fact that she’s doing it to a villain doesn’t make it land any better — at least until Multiverse of Madness makes it so much clearer how the end of WandaVision was meant to be read.

[Ed. note: Major spoilers ahead for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.]

Wanda in full costume as the Scarlet Witch in WandaVision. Image: Marvel Studios/Disney Plus

Wanda’s final choice with Agatha — rewriting reality in her mind and body as Agatha helplessly begs for mercy — is a particularly difficult scene to swallow for viewers who want to come away from the show with their sympathy and respect for Wanda fully intact. It fits oddly against the sentimental and tragic moments that immediately precede it, as Wanda tucks her imaginary children into bed and tells them goodbye, then desperately locks eyes with her fake version of Vision as she allows him to disintegrate.

But Wanda revealing herself as the ultimate villain of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness makes the tone of her resolution with Agatha a lot clearer. She isn’t a sympathetic hero doing an inexplicably terrible, merciless thing. She’s a survivor who’s given into despair, and is now fully embracing how her horrifying new power level gives her complete and utter control over other people, including the ability to take her pain out on them.

“I’m sorry,” she tells Agatha before stealing her agency, memory, and personality. “No you’re not, you’re cruel!” Agatha spits at her. Turns out, Agatha was right — and her read on the situation was the key to what was going on at the end of the series. (Once again, it was Agatha all along.)

Wanda fans have rebelled against her going full-force murderous villain in Multiverse of Madness, and that’s certainly a fair response. Particularly if the reasoning behind that decision is “The Darkhold corrupted her,” which neither WandaVision nor the movie really explores or explains. But whether Wanda’s grief and rage would take her in such an extreme direction is a completely different conversation, and a much more complicated one. The simpler thought here is that the ending of WandaVision makes more sense, now that it’s clearer that Marvel Studios was deliberately withholding information about Wanda’s state of mind and future intentions rather than telling an indecisive or muddled story.

The tonal shifts and lack of resolution are still a weakness for WandaVision if you watch it as a standalone project. But nothing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really meant to stand alone. Every new show and movie is just another chapter in one big, ongoing narrative. And in the context of that big narrative, WandaVision looks much stronger, more deliberate, and better planned now. Re-watching the series finale immediately after the movie, it’s much more obvious how Wanda’s anguish and her feeling that she’s lost everything important in her life helps inform her grim choices and lack of empathy or humanity in Multiverse of Madness.

Wanda holds Vision’s face as he dematerializes in WandaVision. Image: Marvel Studios/Disney Plus

And it’s similarly clearer why she doesn’t apologize to the citizens of Westview for turning them into agonized puppets, why she doesn’t try to justify her behavior or connect with them. It’s because she’s already decided that their pain isn’t as important to her as her own. She knew what she was doing to them to create her fantasy world was shattering, painful, and terrifying to them — they told her so, and she didn’t relent any more than she relented with Agatha. That’s such an ugly, stunning revelation that it’s hard to reconcile with the elements of WandaVision that dwell on her sympathetic side.

But her selfishness and growing indifference to other people’s lives are also right out there in the open in that finale — and in retrospect, throughout the series as a whole. She’s still got enough shame left to make that little “Sorry for the trouble” comment to Monica, but not enough to try to offer restitution or apologies to her victims, and certainly not enough to behave nobly or kindly toward her fallen enemy. She’s already moving on to the next attempt to ease her pain, by exploring the Darkhold and finding a way to make her imaginary kids real, no matter who it hurts this time around.

One of the hardest parts of Multiverse of Madness for Wanda fans to buy is the way she decides she’s willing to murder innocents to get what she wants, from killing teenager America Chavez by stealing her multiverse-traveling powers to destroying anyone who tries to protect the girl. But it’s actually a comparatively small step from being willing to torture an entire town of strangers for days to being willing to kill one girl. WandaVision could have made it clearer that she was already reaching that point of no return, but it turns out it was just teeing up that reveal to make it a surprise in Multiverse of Madness.

The depth of Wanda’s selfishness and cruelty still feel like a huge leap for the character fans knew back before Avengers: Infinity War. But Wanda hasn’t been that character for a while. Looking back and watching WandaVision again, it’s clearer than ever that laying the groundwork for her decisions was a major part of what the series was doing. Now that we have the ending that the series couldn’t offer, her whole arc makes more sense and feels more complete. Now we just have to wait and see whether that story is over, or whether Marvel plans to use any of its many options for continuing it into the future. Maybe that highly theoretical second season of WandaVision isn’t as unlikely as it once looked.

There’s just one significant problem, though — rewatching WandaVision again makes it clearer than ever that Wanda’s original passion was for recovering Vision and living out a perfect fantasy life with him. By the time Multiverse of Madness rolls around, she seems to have all but forgotten him, and she’s focused solely on her children. She never brings up any reason she wouldn’t be looking for a universe where he still exists. Does she know that any alternate version of him would still gently talk her down from killing people — including alternate versions of herself — to get to a world where she still has kids? Or has she just lost him too many times to face losing him again? There are ways to justify her shift in focus, but neither WandaVision nor Multiverse of Madness gives viewers any help with that. Multiverse of Madness fixes the biggest problem with WandaVision’s ending, but it can’t fix its own issues at the same time.


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