WandaVision’s Finale Was What You Made of It

WandaVision’s Finale Was What You Made of It
Vision and Wanda, together in their home. (Photo: Disney+/Marvel)
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There were as many ways that Marvel’s WandaVision series finale could have ended as there are different ways to process grief. Each of the season’s nine episodes teased this out — new plot twists that threw audiences for loops all meant to obscure, but not erase, the reality that despite all her strength she’s put on display, Wanda Maximoff was falling apart long before she set foot in Westview.

“The Series Finale” is what WandaVision’s been building towards this entire time, and it certainly brings a finality to this chunk of Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) briefly picturesque lives together in New Jersey.

With all of the hype and mystery revolving around the episode, it was somewhat unsurprising when series director Matt Shakman made a point of letting WandaVision’s fans know that while the fandom’s theorising about the plot and potential cameos were appreciated, they weren’t things the show was ever necessarily trying to, or ever planning to, touch upon. Some of that speculation was rather warranted considering just how many loose threads and unanswered questions there were about WandaVision’s core plot and sitcom conceit ahead of “The Series Finale” premiering.

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After winking and nodding at viewers all season by playing with its style and format in ways that encouraged audiences to think more critically about how we engaged with the show, the finale really does away with the bulk of WandaVision’s more inspired trappings in order to become what’s easily recognisable as something akin to the last 30 minutes or so of almost every Marvel movie. Depending on how you feel about big-ish, ridiculous VFX-heavy MCU fight scenes, this could be either a positive or a negative. But as what’s meant to be one of WandaVision’s more significant “big battles,” it has the effect (perhaps intentionally) of coming across a bit like something from a Disney Channel original movie.

In place of any sort of sitcom-esque intro sequence, this time it’s a hard cut right back to the scene in front of Wanda and Vision’s home, where Agatha had previously identified Wanda as the Scarlet Witch after rummaging around in her mind last week. As Agatha hovers in the air with Wanda’s children ensnared in magical threads, whatever uncertainty Wanda still feels is pushed aside by her instinct to fight the elder witch with a flourish of energy blasts that Agatha gobbles right up like a Sanderson sister. Delightful as both Kathryn Hahn and Elizabeth Olsen have consistently been in each episode, most everything about their character’s standoff falls rather flat in the sense that it’s a lot of simultaneously telling and showing (with an emphasis on the former) that always makes these fights kind of drag. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear already, Agatha specialises in draining the magic of others, which she explains as she plays with a handful of Wanda’s energy and Wanda watches her hand begin to shrivel and grey.

Agatha threatening Wanda's twins. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel) Agatha threatening Wanda's twins. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel)

Because WandaVision’s previous episodes put so much energy into figuring out new ways to depict what being a hero (saving Mr. Hart from choking in “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”) and being a villain (see: “Agatha All Along”) could look like, Agatha explaining her evil plan while the episode nods to The Wizard of Oz feels like something of a slight step backward and to the side. Had Agatha gotten down to brass tacks and just walloped Wanda on sight, there’s a chance she might have been able to end things then and there.

But “The Series Finale” chooses to spotlight Wanda’s growth and path to triumph during the sequence by alluding to a number of her flashier moments from previous movies that, here, feel like a reminder that the character’s meant to live on in future MCU installments. When she smashes Agatha into a house using a car as a sneak attack, it feels like a direct callback to her battle in Captain America: Civil War where she did the same to Tony Stark. The Civil War parallels continue when Cataract — a.k.a. the White Vision built by Director Hayward (Josh Stamberg) and SWORD — arrives on the scene to find a stunned Wanda who doesn’t immediately understand that this reanimated version of her partner means to murder her.

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While Vision’s dalliance with whiteness in Marvel’s comics left him emotionless and alien to the people who knew him, WandaVision’s Cataract instead reads as explicitly malicious and acting on Hayward’s orders as he attempts to crush Wanda’s skull while musing about how powerful he was told she would be. To be honest, a full-on Cataract character study wasn’t necessary upfront and would have only gotten in the way of the episode’s legitimately fascinating fight that kicks into gear once the Vision Wanda created arrives right on time to save his wife.

Even though the cards were laid out for WandaVision’s characters at this point, it’s interesting to think about how much of what happens in “The Series Finale” might actually be influenced by the Hex, especially when you consider things like the multiple hero landings and amount of narrative observation that takes place. If Agatha was truly about her villainy, one imagines she wouldn’t float around cracking wise about Wanda’s two-Vision-problem, or flying off to Westview’s water tower as if she were a boss moving to the next stage of a battle in a game. Because everything else about Westview appears to still be under the influence of Wanda’s last revision that turned the town into a slice of life from the early aughts, it’s possible that at least some of what’s happening is being shaped by Wanda’s experiences she lived, not as a fan, but as someone who’s actual experiences read as movie clips because, for viewers, that’s what they are.

Cataract holding Wanda's head. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel) Cataract holding Wanda's head. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel)

Some day, the public will learn that studios and actors really have no qualms messing with fans’ minds in order to drive interest in different series and films, and on that day people will begin taking those grains of salt we’re always harping on about. Though Paul Bettany’s tease of an upcoming WandaVision cameo was a well-executed troll, the scenes focused on Vision and Cataract’s fight with one another turned out to be some of the series’ most riveting and philosophical.

Something that often gets lost in the conversation about the Scarlet Witch and Vision is how the nature of identity within the context of twinhood can, at times, be a complicated subject. Beyond Wanda and Pietro and Billy and Timmy, who have all been depicted as more straightforward twins in Marvel’s comics, there’s been a kind of spiritual kinship between characters like Vision and Wonder Man, and more recently Vision’s synthezoid wife Virginia whose brain patterns were modelled after Wanda’s in the comics. In Marvel’s books, that particular kind of dynamic has almost always led to turmoil and strife, and it’s interesting to see WandaVision incorporate that energy into a fight sequence that follows the two humanoid machines as they beat one another up across town.

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One of the many questions pressing questions looming over the Disney+ series before “Previously On,” was just how much of the Westview anomaly the rest of the world was aware of — especially after Wanda expanded the Hex significantly in order to save Vision’s life in “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!” “Previously On” casually tried to gloss over this outside the Hex where SWORD director Hayward triumphantly explained his villainous plan all along to an audience of operatives who all seem cool with harbouring a secret, sentient weapon of mass destruction who explicitly told them to leave his corpse the hell alone.

True to Hayward’s (and the episode’s) general on-the-nose-ness, Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) defiantly tells the director that he’ll never get with his dastardly plan, and in one of WandaVision’s truly uninspired moments, Hayward makes a pun about Woo’s lack of “vision” that, if we’re being honest, was kind of beneath the story that was being told. WandaVision’s time outside the Hex has never been especially fascinating, save for moments following Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), who’s woefully underutilised in the finale, but also present enough to make the episode’s missteps quite apparent. While Jimmy rushes to make a secret phone call to Quantico meant to expose Hayward’s treachery, Monica bides her time in Agatha’s house under Pietro/Fietro’s (Evan Peters) watch. Nothing much comes from their interaction other than the revelation that the man everyone was led to believe was Wanda’s brother was actually Agatha/Agnes off-screen “husband,” Ralph, of the Bohner family.

Reactions to Ralph Bohner are likely to be split among fans because of what all Evan Peters’ presence in WandaVision could have (and honestly, still might) mean about the MCU’s future. Though the nods to the existence of Fox’s X-Men franchise and a recontextualised origin story for the Maximoff twins very strongest suggested that the Marvel series might be an entry point for the MCU’s take on mutants, Peters’ casting was also very obviously meant to be a big joke touching on Disney and 20th Century Fox’s merger and the nature of how sitcoms have worked in the past. That doesn’t mean that there’s no possibility for Wanda to become a part of whatever future X-Men projects Marvel greenlights, but it does mean that people worked themselves into a frenzy about Magneto and Reed Richards showing up all because they couldn’t accept that sometimes jokes are really just jokes.

Monica discovering Ralph's real name. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel) Monica discovering Ralph's real name. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel)

The finale does toss a rather significant bone of lore fans’ way, however, as Wanda chases after Agatha into the town square, and Ms. Harkness reveals that at some point after Agents of SHIELD and Runaways, but before the beginning of WandaVision, she somehow managed to get her hands on the Darkhold. For those unfamiliar, the Darkhold (which has a number of different names and forms) is a magical tome forged from energies native to the Darkforce Dimension where Doctor Strange’s best bud Dormammu dwells. After previously being framed as a kind of MacGuffin unto itself, Agatha brings Darkhold to WandaVision as a source of information more for the audience and Wanda’s benefit than anything else. While she doesn’t explain that the book’s capable of teaching its owner arcane secrets, she does reveal that it contains a chapter dedicated to the Scarlet Witch, a mythic being whose power surpasses that of the Sorcerer Supreme.

If Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) ears were burning somewhere out there in the MCU we won’t know until he shows up and says so in next year’s Multiverse of Madness. The man makes nary an appearance here, even though you’d think that the new incarnation of a magical goddess would set off some alerts in the Sanctum Sanctorum. If there were any such alarms, Strange apparently didn’t hear them in the same way that Wanda didn’t, or more accurately wouldn’t, hear anything Agatha said, choosing instead to insist that she couldn’t be a witch.

Because denying the obvious has been Wanda’s thing as of late, her reluctance to hear Agatha makes a kind of sense. It also makes Dottie’s (Emma Caulfield Ford) return to the series that much more difficult to watch when Agatha breaks the spell over her in order to show the Avenger the truth. Free of Wanda’s influence, Dottie’s (whose name is actually Sarah) sitcom frostiness gives way to panic and concern for her young daughter who’s been trapped in her room in moments where she’s not allowed to become part of “the show.” As Agatha wakes more of Westview’s residents up, you begin to get a better picture of the very real agony and torture Wanda was putting them all through by forcing them to experience her traumatic nightmares in times when she put them to “sleep.”

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When the “Yo-Magic” commercial first premiered earlier in the season, one of the popular theories hypothesised that the hidden message in the ad was actually about Wanda draining the life force out of the people trapped within the Hex. While that theory wasn’t entirely accurate, it wasn’t wholly off the money either. As Mrs. Hart (Deborah Jo Rupp) begs Wanda to simply let them all die, it’s a legitimately chilling moment of despair for everyone present because it places the blame squarely on Wanda for harming civilians.

Every massive feat of magic that Wanda pulls off this episode represents an opportunity for Agatha to siphon some of it off in a way that bears an uncanny resemblance to some of X-Men: Dark Phoenix’s flashier moments. When Wanda briefly begins to left the Hex, it gives the citizens a chance to escape, but it also causes Vision, Tommy, and Billy to begin breaking off into chunks — which seriously evokes Joe Quesada’s House of M #1 variant cover. It’s from this point on that WandaVision kicks the comic book movie factor up in ways that sometimes work, and sometimes don’t.

As Agatha, Cataract, and Hayward’s SWORD goons all converge on the family, the four of them break into a set of hero poses that are going for The Incredibles, but end up giving you more of ABC’s No Ordinary Family, (a show the network seldom mentions these days). After Vision flies off to fight Cataract in a library, and Wanda follows Agatha into the sky, Billy and Tommy are left on the ground to handle SWORD, and the boys make short work of disarming the adults using their powers together. “The Series Finale” truly misses the mark in an uncharacteristic way, however, once Hayward steps out of his vehicle prepared to gun down the twins himself, and Monica — who just happens to show up — jumps in front of the boys to intercept the bullets.

Wanda and Vision's family ready for action. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel) Wanda and Vision's family ready for action. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel)

It’s very common to see Black comic book characters imbued with powers and put in situations that very hamfistedly attempt to make a comment on or draw inspiration from the experiences of actual Black people. Luke Cage’s bulletproof skin is both a kind of protection from harm and a constant reminder of the racist abuses of the carceral system which lead to the experimentation that made him Power Man in the first place. The Black Panther is a rather explicit embodiment of Black excellence meant to be looked up to, but the character also embodied an idea of Black perfection that, in some ways, was just as stifling as the period Sam Wilson was known as the gangster “Snap” Wilson.

By first having Monica’s (one of the show’s sole Black characters) heroic origins rooted in her attempting to help and stop Wanda (someone who repeatedly harmed her) and then demonstrating a new facet of her power set by having her take a bunch of bullets fired by her former boss for Wanda’s children, the story ultimately placed Monica into a discomfiting box. There is a very specific power and larger meaning behind images of Black bodies being shot in general that, unfortunately, the finale tries and fails to do anything with as it focuses on how Monica’s body drains the projectiles of their kinetic energy as they phase through her. To make things worse, Billy’s able to catch one of the bullets by his damn self as the sequence comes to a close, and while WandaVision tries to play the moment for laughs, there’s…nothing particularly funny about it!

“The Series Finale” is far stronger elsewhere, when Vision and Cataract are busy duking it out with one another in the local library, to gorgeous effect. Though the synthezoids’ brutal dance of fists and phasing is a visual delight, it’s how Vision brings the fight to an end with reason that’s truly memorable. Though Vision’s “soul” perished along with the Mind Stone, Vision reasons all of Cataract’s memories must be located someone within his onboard storage, and he convinces his duplicate that those memories are both what links them together and what separates them. In any other show, a robot convincing himself to stop fighting by working their way together through the ideas behind the ship of Theseus thought experiment would be ridiculous, but here it works completely as the sort of thing that would give both Vision and Cataract reason to pause.

After Cataract realises the truth of what Vision’s telling him, he simply peaces right out of Westview similar to the way the Hulk dipped after Age of Ultron to everyone’s confusion. Here, though, because there are two of the synthezoids running around, no one stops to consider Cataract’s departure, and Wanda takes Agatha by surprise, sneaking up behind her and hitting her with a mind hex similar to what she got Tony with in Strucker’s laboratory (the callbacks, you see, they are plentiful.)

Vision and Cataract bonding. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel) Vision and Cataract bonding. (Screenshot: Disney+/Marvel)

Rather than bring us back to a new nightmare for Agatha, Wanda’s hex brings us back to Salem on the night of Agatha’s would-be burning at the stake, and for the briefest of moments, it feels like Wanda’s about to full-on give Agatha a dose of her own chaotic medicine. Instead, Wanda’s illusion bounces back on her, and the witches from Agatha’s past all turn on Wanda, ultimately binding her to the stake. Agatha’s reasoning, that’s only but so convincing, is that while Wanda’s Scarlet Witch powers are formidable, her lack of formal training makes her skill at wielding it rather paltry, and Agatha promises that if Wanda just hands over the force living within her that Agatha will give her and her family what they want.

From there, the boss battle changes locations once more as the women take back to the skies and Wanda lobs hex bolts at Agatha that only seem to make her stronger. The way Wanda’s body withers as she uses her powers mirrors the way she ages in James Robinson’s Scarlet Witch series, and here it’s revealed to all be part of Wanda’s larger plan to lull Agatha into a false sense of security.

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By the time that Wanda’s hovering in the air, seemingly empty of magic after more than a few of her attacks having missed and smashed into the Hex’s walls, Agatha had drained enough of her chaos magic to, in theory, do something wild with it. When she tries, though, she finds that her powers no longer function. Those “misses” were Wanda having purposefully drawn the same runes she’s seen in Agatha’s basement on the Hex. One could argue that Wanda’s plan was bound to work even though she had little knowledge about the runes beyond their shape because of her being the Scarlet Witch, but it’s just as interesting to see Wanda and Agatha’s entire ordeal as the very first lessons in magic that Wanda ever learned from her comics mentor.

The moment the outline of Wanda’s Scarlet Witch headdress begins to form around her face, “The Series Finale” begins speaking in Dark Phoenix’s visual language once more. Wanda siphons the chaos magic back out of Agatha and embraces the witch she was destined to become. Though these Dark Phoenix parallels might have derailed the show if they went on long enough, the story brings them to a much-needed end with Wanda creating a new costume for herself and Agnes very genuinely warning Wanda that she doesn’t know what she’s done by becoming the Scarlet Witch — even going so far as to tell her she’s destined to destroy the world. To Wanda, it’s all something of a moot point as she hexes Agatha one last time to “trap” her in her Agnes guise in Westview where Wanda can always find her, and you can clearly see the general shape of the character Wanda might be when she turns up next in Marvel’s movies.

Wanda a sthe Scarlet Witch (Gif: Disney+/Marvel) Wanda as the Scarlet Witch (Gif: Disney+/Marvel)

What’s somewhat off about the way “The Series Finale” comes to an end is the way that everyone within Westview — meaning Wanda, her family, and Monica — all sort of just go with the strangeness of the day. Perhaps because they’re all outgrowths of Wanda herself, Vision and the boys don’t at all question what the deal is with Wanda’s new getup or why they all had to fight auntie Agnes. As the Hex begins to come down, Wanda and Vision bring their sons home to put them to bed and let them know how intensely proud of them they are. What little hope there was for Billy and Tommy somehow surviving outside of the Hex is dashed when Wanda thanks the boys for choosing to be their mother, and you can feel her pain when the camera cuts to a shot of the deteriorating Hex in the distance. Both Vision and Wanda know that their lives together will come to an end once the Hex is fully gone, and for one of the first times in the series, the pair are able to joke and be honest about how unusual their lives have been.

“The Series Finale” comes very close to topping the “What is grief” line with Wanda’s revelation that this Vision isn’t just a projection of her love, but an echo of the Mind Stone that lives within her, and that’s all Vision needs to know to hope that, in all of his life’s madness, there’s still potential for him to return in a new form. In a small, touching way, Vision’s wondering what he might return as next feels like WandaVision’s way of showing that, for all the drama and pain that Wanda’s brought into his life, he loves her that much more for it, and that idea sticks with her as she leaves her plot of land, pulls up her hood, and semi-shamefully walks back to the town centre. There’s a stiffness to Wanda and Monica’s conversation as our “hero” apologises for what she’s done, promises that she’ll learn more about magic, and changes back into her Scarlet Witch costume to fly out of town as police sirens press in from the distance.

When you take a moment to recall that WandaVision was always meant to be a story about Wanda confronting and getting to the bottom of her grief, the series first ending makes sense even though there’s plenty about it that might disappoint some viewers. Wanda came, she cried, learned a bit of magic, and peaced the hell out. But along the way, WandaVision did a number of wondrous things that evolved its central cast into new, fascinating versions of themselves, some of whom will be very interesting to see in the futures heavily teased in the finale’s mid and post-credits sequences.

With Hayward in cuffs and Jimmy having been the agent responsible for exposing his treachery, he and Monica are pleased as hell as the rest of the FBI swarms on the location to begin investigating the anomaly. When an agent pulls Monica aside into a nearby theatre, the woman revealing herself to be a Skrull doesn’t phase Monica at all. However, the Skrull’s mention of being sent by an old friend of Maria Rambeau’s gives the woman pause, as does the Skrull’s offer to become part of a new mission up in space where SWORD won’t let her travel anymore. While this thread’s sure to be picked up in Captain Marvel 2, WandaVision doesn’t truly come to an end until after another brief scene set in the mountains where we find Wanda sitting alone on the steps of a simple cabin.

Wanda reading from the Darkhold. (Gif: Disney+/Marvel) Wanda reading from the Darkhold. (Gif: Disney+/Marvel)

Witchy as chilling alone in forest cottages is, things take a proper turn when Wanda wanders into her home to grab a kettle off the stove, and the camera pushes in to reveal that Wanda isn’t exactly alone. While one “Wanda” may simply be a projection meant to fool anyone wandering through the area — presumably, Wundagore Mountain — the Wanda in the back of the house is busy floating in the air atop an enchantment circle while reading the Darkhold with keen interest. Even more surprising is the way Wanda snaps to attention when she hears her children’s voices shouting for help in her mind before the scene cuts to black as a reminder that the Scarlet Witch will be back sooner than later.

“The Series Finale” was neither WandaVision’s strongest episode nor its weakest, but it was very much something that lent itself to multiple interpretations and takeaways depending on what it is you came into the show expecting from it. At any given point in time, it was possible to invest one’s energies into the actual text WandaVision was presenting or into the discourse around the show, both of which could be worthwhile efforts within reason, but hype and reason have seldom gone hand in hand.

As the first of Marvel’s new episodic stories that are meant to irreversibly change the arc of the larger MCU, WandaVision set the bar incredibly high for the shows that’ll follow it. But even as its own story that was always meant to be a deep exploration of an underserved character, WandaVision was a bona fide knockout.