On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by WandaVision. Of all the Disney+ MCU shows, WandaVision was the one that seemed most interesting. But I never expected to like it as much as I did. Was it perfect? No, but it took a lot longer for it to devolve into the more typical MCU fare than I’d expected. And, underneath all of that guff, was a compelling and moving story about grief—the kind of character-driven narrative that the MCU films aren’t equipped to deliver. For me, the character work balances out any problems I had with the show’s overarching narrative, but others seem to disagree quite heartily. The question of the week appears to be: was the WandaVision finale disappointing? For me, the answer is both yes and no. Allow me to explain.
NOTE: Full spoilers for the entirety of WandaVision’s first season.
Ultimately, whether or not you think the WandaVision finale was disappointing depends on what you wanted from it. If you were looking for some kind of mind-blowing reveal—like the multiverse blowing open, the introduction of mutants into the MCU, or a surprise cameo—then you were always going to be let down. WandaVision was never going to be the kind of show that did something like that, regardless of what the advertising material might have suggested. From the show’s first few episodes, it was clear that WandaVision would ultimately focus heaviest on Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) grief—from losing her parents, her brother, and (most recently) the love of her life (Paul Bettany). All of the weird stuff going on around her was always going to be a result of this grief. Yes, there were times where it seemed like Wanda, herself, might have been trapped in Westview, instead of controlling the town, but that proved to be a red herring—much like a lot of other stuff. Even Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) proved to be a bit of a red herring. Sure, she was the closest thing the show had to a traditional villain, but she wasn’t actually the cause of anything that was going on—she merely wanted to take Wanda’s powers for herself.
All roads lead back to Wanda, and it’s the series’ greatest asset. While the first half of the series set up the world of WandaVision—introducing the sitcom gimmick, slotting SWORD into place as a sort of audience surrogate to find out what, exactly was going on, etc—, the second half turned the focus squarely onto Wanda. With the appearance of fake-Pietro (Evan Peters, whom we will discuss momentarily), the show began unraveling the layers of Wanda’s trauma. This unraveling ultimately came to fruition in the show’s eighth episode, where we spend the entirety of a forty-minute episode exploring Wanda’s past. It’s the kind of deep dive into a character’s backstory that is simply impossible to do in one of Marvel’s two-hour films. That episode is what truly made the series feel like something special, for me. And with how beautiful that episode was, it didn’t really matter how good the finale was. It would have had to fumble the ball incredibly hard to ruin the show. And that’s not really what happens. Sure, the finale is primarily an action piece, with a mixed bag of CGI, a messy plot, and nothing that lands as beautifully as the previous episodes. But it still manages to nicely wrap up Wanda’s character arc, with her ultimately deciding to give up Vision and her children for the sake of the citizens of Westview. She’s still inhabiting that juicy gray area between hero and villain, but it was immensely satisfying seeing her journey through grief unfold over the course of the series. So, in that sense, the finale is anything but disappointing.
Disappointing Unresolved Plots
It would be disingenuous to suggest there was nothing about the finale that was disappointing. As previously mentioned, the plot was kind of weak. Throughout the series, there had been all of these plotlines that seemed to be going somewhere—Monica Rambeau’s (Teyonah Parris) sudden development of powers (possibly because of Wanda’s Hex spell?), the mysterious and much-hyped aerospace engineer, Wanda’s ability to create life, what SWORD actually wants with Vision, etc. The finale deals with almost none of this, though; instead, focusing more on the culmination of Wanda’s emotional arc. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a problem, though, since the show was always about Wanda and her emotional journey, but it’s hard to say the show’s decision to leave all of these other things dangling wasn’t a little bit disappointing. Sure, we expect that kind of thing in the MCU films, where plot threads are routinely left dangling as a teaser for a future sequel. But in TV shows, we tend to expect things to be more neatly wrapped up—especially if the show is presenting itself as a one-season-only affair (which WandaVision’s creators have suggested). It’s only natural for people to want to better understand the world of the show and the stories told within it. I understand that it would have been impossible for the show to cleanly wrap everything up, especially since it’s designed as a starting point for a trilogy of stories that will culminate in the second Doctor Strange film. But I can understand why people might be disappointed by the finale’s smaller stakes and apparent disinterest in exploring some of these bigger plotlines. Whether this hurts one’s enjoyment, again, depends on what they’d wanted from the finale.
How the Release Strategy Impacted Fan Expectations
Much has been written about WandaVision’s release strategy. Was it wise to release this show weekly, given how short the episodes were and how accustomed audiences have grown to binging shows on streaming services? I’m not sure this is the best way to frame the question, though. TV has long been released weekly and, even though I often felt these episodes were slightly too short to support that model, I don’t think that’s the problem with releasing WandaVision this way. Instead, I think the danger is that for a fandom that’s used to absorbing an entire story in one sitting (with the exception of the two-part Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame), forcing them to digest something that’s more character-driven instead of plot-driven weekly can lead to an unfortunate scenario where they build up their expectations so high that there’s no way the show could ever match them. The longer something has to gestate and build up, the harder it will be for that thing to feel satisfying. For eight weeks, fans wildly speculated and overthought every little thing about the show. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s every creator’s dream to have an audience that’s so dedicated to their art that they’ll interact with it on such a level. But it does lead to a tendency to overhype things that are meant to be small, throw-away moments—like the aerospace engineer, who many figured would be Reed Richards. Too much time to build monumental expectations can lead to hard disappointments and I think that’s largely what happened here. I’m not saying this should have stopped Disney from releasing the show weekly, but I do think that the show’s release strategy created the sort of circumstances that could lead to fan disappointment.
The Evan Peters Problem
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the finale is how it handles Evan Peters’ Quicksilver—or, as it turns out, fake-Pietro. I feel this was a huge mistake, on the same level as the Mandarin fakeout in Iron Man 3. Everybody knows that Evan Peters played Quicksilver in the Fox X-Men series and everybody knows that WandaVision is the prelude for the multiverse saga that’s going to unfold across Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. So, naturally, bringing over Evan Peters in a role that is seemingly the same as one he played in an alternate Marvel universe would lead to fans assuming he is playing the same character from the Fox movies. It’s not even an unreasonable assumption, either—unlike all of the Mephisto and Nightmare speculation, which seemed fairly baseless unless you were a hardcore fan trying to piece together anything that looked like a breadcrumb. With Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, though, it feels less like a red herring and more like a slap to the face. What else are people supposed to expect, given all of these other factors?
It would have been one thing to simply not explain who Evan Peters was, leaving that reveal for a later film (like Doctor Strange 2). It’s another thing to introduce him, bank off of the fan fervor about his character being the first one to break through the multiverse, and then pull the rug out from underneath everyone’s feet and say he’s just “some guy.” There was literally no need for it. Anybody could’ve played a fake-Pietro and this isn’t the kind of show that really needed stunt casting to succeed. By doing this, it cheapens the whole thing a bit as it feels like some kind of corporate decision geared toward generating the most buzz and obtaining the most viewers (which, I guess, it is) instead of something that’s actually driven by the narrative, like most of the other decisions. And I feel it’s a big mistake and a large part of why people feel disappointed. Yes, it’s good to keep one’s expectation’s in check. But here? How could anybody realistically be expected to assume anything other than Evan Peters is playing the same character he played in the X-Men films since that’s what WandaVision telegraphed until the finale.
At the end of the day, the WandaVision finale was always going to be disappointing to some people. It was never going to be the kind of climactic ending one finds in a Marvel film. Like the rest of the show, it was always going to focus on Wanda’s character journey, at the expense of everything else. So, if you just wanted a satisfying conclusion to Wanda’s arc, you’re probably pretty happy with the finale. Now, while all of that is true, I do think it’s fair for people to be disappointed by some of the plot-related missteps. Yes, a lot of this disappointment is due to overactive fan speculation, but the show didn’t exactly discourage it with its incessant droppings of breadcrumbs and red herrings. People are always going to be disappointed when their theories don’t pan out. It might’ve helped if WandaVision hadn’t been marketed as though it was a Marvel movie, filled with the requisite twists and turns and big surprises one associates with the films. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t and it’s fair for people to feel disappointed at the lack of conclusions found for many of the plots. Plus, the Evan Peters thing absolutely feels like a slap in the face to hardcore fans who are going to be predisposed to certain conclusions. There’s a fine line between subverting expectations in a fun way or in an annoying way and the Quicksilver reveal likely crossed that line into being annoying.
So, is the WandaVision finale disappointing? Yes and no. Your mileage may vary as to how disappointing you find it. But for me, I was so pleased with how well the character work was done that I am more than willing to overlook the vast majority of my issues with the plot. I understand that Marvel is going to save the bigger stories for their movies and if the trade-off is that I get a lot of really good character work in the TV shows but not as much bombastic plot stuff, then I’m perfectly okay with that. Yes, the show made some missteps that I found particularly annoying (looking at you, fake-Pietro). And yes, I’d have loved for Wanda to have accidentally created mutants with the Hex or something like that. But I can’t pretend that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy her character arc over the series. I loved getting to see such an honest exploration of her grief and I’d gladly take all of these plot problems in order to get an episode as beautiful as WandaVision’s eighth episode. So, for me, I’m not all that disappointed.