WandaVision’s Big Farewell Feels Hopeful Yet Rings Hollow

Even as Wanda says farewell to the sitcom she’s been clinging to, she’s being yanked back into the larger Marvel universe fold. Photo: Marvel Studios

At the end of WandaVision, Wanda and Vision stand together in the world Wanda has lovingly created for them, watching it all collapse. She cannot sustain this pretense any longer, so her perfect American suburban life with her husband and two kids (and, briefly, a dog) is all dissolving. They’ve tucked the boys in and said goodbye, and now Wanda and Vision embrace, knowing that one of them is purely a figment of the other’s grief-driven magical thinking. Vision will fall apart, and Wanda will be left alone. What can they possibly say to one another? This has to be the end, and the episode title makes that plain — it’s called “The Series Finale.” Series, not season. In the TV world, we know what that means.

But Vision and Wanda stand there and Wanda grips Vision’s face the way people onscreen do when things are very intense, and Vision says, “We have said goodbye before, so it stands to reason—” … “we’ll say hello again,” Wanda finishes.

It’s the kind of line that’s meant to be hopeful, and sweetly tragic. In real life, or even in a fictional world other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s a line that makes you burst into tears. The audience knows, and the characters know, that the hope of saying hello again only exists in a great, unknown afterlife. To at least some extent, the line plays that way in WandaVision, too, and that’s a testament to how effective the series has been at dismantling much of Marvel’s typical character-development strategies and rebuilding them around a different genre.

Rather than a Marvel movie’s familiar introductory beats — a sequence where we learn how sad a character is, and then a determined growth into the superhero we all recognize — WandaVision’s first episodes took already established characters and just let them breathe for a while. They were plunked into the safe formulaic confines of classic sitcoms, which meant that although they were stuck in one kind of prison (nothing much can happen because in a sitcom everything’s fine at the end), they were freed from another one. Nothing much had to happen. For a while, everything could just be fine. Within the freedom of sitcom safety, Wanda and Vision could be a happy couple, two people with individual quirks and desires who wanted to have a family and were chastely hot for each other. So at the end, when it has all fallen apart and Wanda has to dismantle her magical Vision, those are the two people we’re watching say the line to each other. We’re sad for them, because they have this hope that they’ll be able to say hello again, but we know it’s only that: a hope, a desperate, flung-out-into-the-universe hope that somehow — maybe in an existential, first-law-of-thermodynamics way — they will be able to say hello once again. Maybe.

It’s a line that also matches up nicely with what has become the line from the previous episode when Wanda is grieving her brother Pietro’s death and Vision tries to comfort her. “What is grief, if not love persevering?” he asks her. They’re big ideas, bluntly expressed, but they’re fitting for a show about superheroes that’s really a show about death and mourning. When someone we love dies, we may hope we’ll see them again, and in the meantime, our sadness is the continued evidence of our love for them. They’re a little couplet of grief platitudes, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad. Platitudes are cheap and reductionist, but sometimes it’s the easy, simple stuff that breaks through. (Sitcoms and superhero shows are great examples. They’re accessible, and they’re typically undemanding on an aesthetic or formal level, and sometimes that’s the stuff that really, really hits.)

As an end-of-the-sitcom line (in a very sad sitcom where the TV dad and kids all die at the end and only the TV mom is left standing in the rubble of their beautiful TV home), the goodbye/hello idea is obvious but functional. The trouble is that WandaVision has been stitching sitcom structure onto an underlying foundation of Marvel Cinematic Universe content slosh from the jump, and even as Wanda says farewell to the sitcom she has been clinging to, she is being yanked back into the larger Marvel universe fold. The finale is a classic Marvel-style battle on multiple fronts, with Wanda facing down Agatha Harkness, Magical Thinking Vision facing down Airheads Mystery Flavor Vision, and the insistent looming inevitability of the external Marvel world gradually forcing Wanda to shatter her sitcom bubble. Obviously, the sweet and (as WandaVision itself suggests) outmoded form of the sitcom gives way. What was once Wanda’s refuge has become an appropriate punishment for the bad guy: Agatha is stuck forever in nosy neighbor mode. It’s not a celebration of Kathryn Hahn’s scene-stealing work with that role. It’s damnation.

In the context of the MCU, that empty but nice enough goodbye/hello line plays very differently. It’s achingly hopeful in reality and in the sitcom reality simulacrum. But in the Marvel Universe, it’s just painfully boring. This is a genre where characters who die come back, where Thanos snapping his fingers ultimately means very little, and in the specific context of Wanda and Vision, where all the groundwork is already well-established that, yeah, duh, absolutely, we will be seeing both these characters again. Westworld Credits Robot Vision is already out there, flying through who-knows-where with his new Ship of Theseus theory of identity. The second post-credits sequence gives us Wanda in a remote cabin, studying up on Agatha’s shiny magical book, and the voices of her never-quite-real kids echo in the room. The first episode of Falcon and Winter Soldier will arrive on Disney+ in two weeks, and Wanda will be showing up in the next Marvel movie. Given how bad things still look in the real world of early 2021, it’s honestly more certain that Wanda and Vision will eventually kiss again than it is that any individual one of us will still be alive to see it when it happens. (Sorry to be a bummer!)

The ending of WandaVision, and that goodbye/hello line in particular, is a punt, a classic Marvel-y way of displacing all our human anxiety about endings onto the next thing, and the next thing, and the next. Why look any ending square in the eye when you can kick it down the road a while?

The lovely thing about WandaVision is that it doesn’t have to matter that the ending is a big obvious rubber band looping this show together with all the shows and movies to come. Its episodic TV form means that there’ve been little endings all along, homey little sitcom-y conclusions that propelled the show forward into next week’s episode, yes, but which also gave Wanda and Vision a chance to sink down into a brief feeling of calm resolution. Endings of TV shows are overrated; the end of the last episode of a show is just one more ending after a whole long string of them. If a series takes advantage of that form (as WandaVision does), the finale does not need to become a referendum on whether the whole thing mattered. Finales do not have to be — should not be — pass/fail final exams. Feeling disappointed with an ending does not have to change how you felt about the beginning. Platitudes can sometimes be true! It’s the journey, not the destination!

WandaVision’s ending is annoying, and that line about goodbyes and hellos is especially so. If the last episode turned the whole show sour for you, the line is a cudgel: like it or not, there’s more on the way. In a more hopeful interpretation, though, it’s a promise. At least for now, the full experience of WandaVision’s intimacy and domesticity and playfulness and commitment to actually developing some ding-dang characters for a minute makes that line a promise that’s nice to imagine Marvel keeping for the foreseeable future.

WandaVision’s Big Farewell Feels Hopeful Yet Rings Hollow