What is grief...
WandaVision's brilliant exploration of grief still gets 1 thing wrong
“It's not a straight line then you’re all better.”
WandaVision is the story of escape.
Wanda escaped her reality and retreated into a sitcom fantasy world with her one true love. It should’ve been her happily ever after, but the truth came to light thanks to a nosy neighbor who turned out to be a 400-year-old witch.
It’s difficult to blame Wanda. Her life was wracked with trauma from the start. “Parents dead, brother dead, Vision dead,” Agatha Harkness recaps. Wanda is undergoing complex and intense grief.
This sort of grief cannot be fully analyzed just by rewatching movies and reading old comics, but Kati Morton, LMFT, a practicing therapist and host of the Ask Kati Anything podcast, has a WandaVision theory of her own.
“What Wanda's experiencing isn't just grief but also PTSD from that experience,” Morton tells Inverse. “It could even be argued that it's complex PTSD because there have been repeated traumas throughout and she can't get her footing.”
One of the most popular fan theories regarding WandaVision and mental health posits we’ve actually seen Wanda go through each stage of the five stages of grief over the course of the eight episodes we’ve seen so far. She went through denial by creating Westview, anger when she confronted Monica Rambeau, bargaining when she risked losing control of Westview to save Vision in Episode 6, and depression with her “case of the Mondays” in Episode 7. The only stage left is acceptance, which will hopefully come in the season finale.
Morton mostly agrees but adds that the stages of grief aren’t as simple as steps on a checklist. “It's not a straight line, step A, B, C, then you're all better,” she says. “It's more like a scribble. This show feels like a scribble and I think it should. Otherwise, it's not really representative of grief or what the character Wanda is really going through when she lost the love of her life.”
“It's not a straight line, step A, B, C, then you're all better.”
Speaking of Vision, the Episode 8 mid-credits reveal of White Vision shows yet another trauma Wanda could undergo: seeing her love, the reason she created the Westview anomaly in the first place, sapped of everything that makes him special. From a mental health perspective, this echoes a very particular kind of trauma in losing a loved one to a degenerative illness.
“It's not even just the death of the body, it's the death of the personality, the person that you loved,” Morton says. “By the end, they don't know who you are. That is in and of itself is almost harder than the loss because they're there, but they're not there. It's almost like a ghost of a person in a way.”
How fitting that the Vision we see sapped of all personality is sapped of all color to a ghostly white.
Episode 8 also gave us the most quoted line of WandaVision so far: “What is grief if not love persevering?” But from a therapist’s point of view, is the definition of grief really that simple? The short answer: not really.
“I really didn’t like that,” Morton admits. “I would describe grief more like a void. We think we have to fill it, but we honestly just have to get used to it being there.”
In fact, equating grief as just leftover love could actually be a harmful sentiment. It implies that those who have processed their grief no longer have that love, which is far from the truth. “The best way to work through grief and trauma is to go through it. To think that going through it means that then that love doesn't exist does more damage than good.” Morton explained.
Though it may seem that Wanda’s extreme grief and trauma are experiences the average WandaVision viewer doesn’t encounter in day-to-day life, there are some huge lessons that can be taken from Wanda’s experiences.
“I think we grieve constantly in 2021,” Morton says. “There's been a lot of grieving and I think it's okay. For a while, I didn't even personally want to give myself permission to feel sad because I was like, I haven't lost anybody to Covid, I’m very privileged."
Grief doesn’t have to be just suffering the loss of people. Because of the pandemic, we’re coping every single day with losses of time, of experiences, of travel, of interaction. But from WandaVision, we learn the best way to deal with these things isn’t stuffing them down or not allowing yourself to feel them. That’s basically the same as creating your own Westview to escape reality. Just like Wanda, we must face reality and go through the loss.
“It's okay to grieve that and be sad about it. There's no judgment.” Morton says. “Grief isn't like pie. It's not like you taking a piece is going to take it from someone else. There's plenty to go around, unfortunately, we all just need to kind of support each other as we go through it.”