WandaVision Trauma Theory: It’s All Wanda, All The Time
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is no stranger to making audiences reflect on their emotions. Whether it was that devastating ending to Avengers: Infinity War or pushing through the on-screen loss of some of our favorite characters, this collection of films (and now television shows) knows how to hit us deep. And sure, they’ve dipped their toes in the water of showing the faces of the franchise deal with similar pains. But with WandaVision, the latest addition to the heroic world, they are jumping in full force, without a care for what splashes may come. We’re going to be diving into the wild world of WandaVision, looking at it through the angle of a trauma theory. Specifically, we’re talking about the trauma experienced by Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff. She’s a character who experienced more than her fair share of tragedy.
There will be spoilers and details from the first four episodes of WandaVision. So, tread forward only if you’ve seen those episodes. If not, bookmark this link and come back after you’ve watched them. After reading this, you may just want to watch them again with these ideas in mind.
WandaVision Trauma Theory: A New Way To Understand Our Favorite Heroes
Image via Marvel Studios.
WandaVision is a fun show on its own. However, to fully understand the unique character that is Wanda Maximoff, we need to dig a little bit deeper. For the purpose of zoning in, we’ll strictly be looking at Wanda through the lens of the MCU not the greater Marvel Comics.
Wanda Maximoff, a Sokovian native, grew up alongside her brother, Pietro. The pair lost their parents at the age of 10 after Stark Industries’ bombs fell on their home. Both twins allowed their hatred for Stark Industries and Tony Stark to fuel their upbringing. After participating in various protests, the twins were approached by HYDRA agents. The leader, Wolfgang Von Strucker, unknowingly used an Infinity Stone to grant them with powers.
Pietro and Wanda’s involvement with HYDRA led them to Ultron, as seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. At first they start out as his allies, only concerned for revenge. However, Wanda learns his plans, and she convinces her brother to fight with the Avengers. As we all witnessed during the film, Pietro is tragically killed by Ultron, sacrificing himself to save lives. Wanda, sensing the loss of her twin, immediately drops to the ground in devastation. Not only does she feel this pain, but it is unleashed in the form of a blast of energy, killing all nearby enemies. Her pain is beyond visible: it is felt by everything around her.
Orphaned as a child, she loses her twin and the only family she had left. After her brother’s death, new ally Vision rescues her. Over the next few films, the two of them fall in love.
Wanda and Vision, Aren’t They a Fine Pair?
Image via Disney+
In Captain America: Civil War, Paul Bettany’s Vision obviously cares for Wanda. However, when Captain America rallies her to his aid, she and Vision find themselves on opposite sides. The Infinity Stone that powers Vision is the same one that gave Wanda her powers. So, she is able to subdue him, despite his impressive power set. In fact, during the fight, Wanda is injured. Vision is so distraught he becomes careless and ends up gravely injuring one of his allies. At the end of Captain America: Civil War, Vision is still an Avenger and Wanda is in jail (until Cap breaks her out). We next see the two in Avengers: Infinity War. Wanda is still a fugitive, but it doesn’t stop her and Vision from taking their relationship to the next level. The two are actually considering running away together, leaving their lives as heroes behind. They are close, but their relationship is still in the ‘honeymoon phase.’
Of course, as we remember, Thanos is out there and he’s out to get Infinity Stones, including the one in Vision’s very destructible head. When their ‘honeymoon phase’ ends, so does he. They rush to Wakanda, hoping the Avengers’ geek squad can figure out how to destroy the stone and not Vision. That doesn’t happen, because Thanos’ forces attack. By the end of the battle, Vision begs Wanda to kill him so Thanos will be denied the final stone. It breaks her heart, but she does it. Then, Thanos arrives, reverses time with the stone he took from Doctor Strange, and Wanda has to watch him die all over again until she’s ‘blipped’ out of existence when Thanos snaps her fingers.
She is brought back with the rest of the team, and she puts a serious hurting on Thanos. Even though she may have gotten her revenge, she hasn’t gotten closure. This is why WandaVision is the perfect show to look at through the lens of trauma theory.
Looking at WandaVision through a Trauma Theory Lens – It’s Not All CGI and Action
Image via Marvel Studios.
WandaVision is, without a doubt, a unique piece of content. The first four episodes have lacked the typical action and heroism that we’re used to when seeing superheroes and villains on screen. We swap out intense weaponry for black-and-white shenanigans and pop culture references from the days past. One thing has become clear within the first few episodes, and that is that WandaVision is here to showcase something that we’re not used to.
We are still too early in the series to fully comprehend what is going on, and we suspect that any hypothesis will be turned on its head by the end of the series. Beyond all of the worldbuilding and magic, there is something much greater going on that cannot be ignored, and that is Wanda learning how to cope with trauma, albeit a bit improperly.
Wanda Is A Trauma Victim
Everybody in the MCU has dealt with some form of trauma, whether it was losing a family member or sacrificing years of their lives to villains. Wanda has been through it all, and her loss is nearly unimaginable. Finding love in Vision following the death of her brother allowed her to find support and comfort, as well as someone to lean on. But with Vision’s death, it seems impossible that Wanda could ever move on without some serious assistance. Remember, he didn’t just die. She killed him to save the universe. She then had to both watch him die again and her mission fail.
While we don’t really know why Wanda is manifesting some sort of sitcom scenario, it appears likely that she is using this format to shield her own mind from the pain of accepting all of her losses. As we learn in episode 4 of WandaVision, she apparently controls Westview. In fact, she seems aware of her role in this, but at the end of the episode appears to be as trapped as everyone else. It may be a clue to something bigger, but when Wanda saw, well, a vision of the dead Vision, her emotional wounds were ripped wide open. She wants a fairy tale of love and babies. The cracks in the reality of denial around her are widening. The walls are literally coming down. Fortunately for Wanda’s defense mechanisms, she has gotten pretty good at building them back up in seconds.
Image via Marvel Studios.
Wanda Is Trying To Cope
There continues to be plenty of symbolism throughout WandaVision. There is even an actual stork to represent the upcoming arrival of children! While some are more obvious, like the stork, others are less so. When it comes to our trauma theory of WandaVision, it all starts with the advertisements. These ads might be subconscious apparitions in Wanda’s psyche, callbacks to her hardships with Stark Industries and Baron Strucker. These advertisements aren’t just here to be used as gag product placements. They are Wanda’s traumas finding ways past her defense mechanism and fitting into the “rules” of the sitcom construct.
Another symbolic representation of Wanda trying to come to terms with her reality is the birth of her children. One important piece is missing when she goes through labor with her first, and that’s Vision. Considering that Wanda controls this whole scenario, you would think that Vision would be present for such a memorable moment. Only, he isn’t. And Wanda manages just fine without him, with the help of a “friend.” It is only when she realizes that he missed out that the labor pains for her twin begin. And our theory is that the second twin wasn’t planned, rather an amazing display of Wanda’s powers. Perhaps she conjures a second twin just so that Vision could be there for one of her births or, even, because they couldn’t agree on just one name.
Just as Wanda begins to make progress in her healing journey, something snaps her out of it. Wanda mentions that she was once a twin, the first mention of something from the larger MCU in the show. Teyonah Parris’ Geraldine, who we now know is Captain Monica Rambeau, snaps her back to reality far too soon. Her mention of Ultron reminds Wanda of the pain she needs to heal from. This could be why she later sees Vision as dead, though only briefly. If Monica held back and allowed her to keep working through her problems, could her acceptance of trauma gone further and made more progress? We think so.
Image via Marvel Studios.
We Don’t Watch Sitcoms Without Purpose
Let’s talk about the sitcoms themselves. Why is Wanda recovering through a series of old television shows? The decision to live her dreamland while traveling through different eras of television isn’t just a stylistic decision made by the heads of Marvel.
Based on context clues, it is likely that Wanda was born in the 90s. Growing up without a strong support system, it’s reasonable to expect that she would have grown up watching a lot of television. Limited by her options, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wanda grew up watching binge-worthy tv shows from all eras, such as I Love Lucy and Bewitched. The psychology behind our desire to rewatch TV shows says that not only does it help foster nostalgia, but it also works as escapism. We also can feel comforted because there’s no tension. We know what’s going to happen (and consequences in sitcoms are rarely permanent.) So, if one of the only things that help remind Wanda of a simpler time is old sitcoms, it makes perfect sense why she would allow herself to live inside one when she is trying to avoid the reality of her losses.
Remembering The Connection Between WandaVision, Trauma Theory, and Living as a Marvel Hero
There are some drastic consequences to living with unresolved trauma in real life. With rising mental health and addiction concerns and unsafe living conditions being seen in higher rates of those living with trauma, this series is somewhat representational of that experience. Genre and comic book stories often use outlandish metaphors for real-world issues. These stories can make an impact where straightforward, realistic depictions of trauma survivors could be triggering. Similarly, for those around Wanda, her unresolved trauma can impact the people around her as well. She’s the perfect character for this sort of story. Her abilities are more powerful than most other characters we have seen within the MCU. They are also far less clearly defined than say the powerset of the Hulk or Captain America. If her trauma continues to go unchecked, there is no limit to how bad things can get.
Helping Wanda heal is going to take a lot more than pulling her out of her sitcom dreamworld. It’s going to take some serious therapy, forging new connections, and a whole lot of love. Look, it’s Marvel so we know we’re heading to some sort of big conflict. It’s also possible that this is being done to Wanda because of some reality-altering villain who will play a big role in future Marvel stories. Nonetheless, we hope this series and Wanda’s future appearances in the MCU highlight how surviving and working through trauma is powerful and doesn’t make you a ‘villain.’
Image via Marvel Studios.
We Have to Keep Learning About Wanda As She Learns About Herself
There may be some intense plot twists and surprises ahead of us as we keep watching WandaVision. No matter what happens, we’re certain that if we take the time to look at WandaVision with trauma theory on our minds, we may be able to understand what this tragic heroine is dealing with. The Scarlet Witch is fighting the biggest battle of any Marvel hero thus far, and it’s all happening inside of her.
Let us know what you think about our trauma theory of what’s happening on WandaVision. How do you think she’ll get through this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Featured image via Marvel Studios.
Meghan Hale is the kind of movie lover that has a "must watch" that is a mile long... and growing. When she isn't talking about the latest film and television news she is writing one of her many in-process novels, screaming film trivia at anybody who will listen, and working as a mental health care professional. Follow her on Twitter @meghanrhale for some fun theories and live reactions to all things entertainment.