This article contains SPOILERS for WandaVision, and the Avengers movies.
“I think something’s wrong here, Wanda,” mutters a puzzled Vision in episode three of WandaVision, contemplating the past few episodes of inexplicable hijinks. Fair assumption, that. It’s not just that Vision (Paul Bettany) is an android and his wife Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) is a witch. That’s normal enough for a Marvel Cinematic Universe property, which these two have been a part of since 2015. It’s that the seams of their pristine world are fraying, tiny glitches in the matrix disrupting the easy-peasy sitcom flow. You can hear it in the neighbors, whose friendly laughs frequently turn unnervingly plastic. You can hear it on the radio, where strange frequencies are picking up frantic cries. And you can see it on Wanda’s body, which goes through a nine-month pregnancy in a span of hours.
WandaVision, of course, exists as a show within a show. A show within several shows, actually, as the season takes viewers on a tour through sitcom history, beginning with 1960s Dick Van Dyke pastiche before tipping its hat to classics like Bewitched and The Brady Bunch. Black and white turns to color and capris to bell bottoms, but Wanda, Vision and their friends’ lives remain bound to the tried and true formats. Mostly. The whole thing got just wobbly enough that Vision sensed something was amiss. And Wanda, sensing his discomfort, blinked a tiny spell and reset the script about ten seconds earlier, a minor re-write of their scene, so she could assuage his concerns before he voiced them and they continued towards a pat ending and rolling credits.
As the show teased out its mystery, it became clear that Wanda isn’t under a spell here; she’s the spell caster. In Marvel Comics, Wanda has “reality manipulating” powers that are vaguely defined enough that they can be the catalyst for pretty much any fantastical plot the writers are interested in concocting. In this show, the extent to which Wanda is in control of this hyper-normal sitcom reality is unclear. Reality manipulation is about as sci-fi as a franchise can get but then, manufacturing a happy reality that exists in defiance of a frequently cruel and uncaring world is not exclusively the domain of superheroes. Not by a long shot.
Over the last few years, a good deal has been made of “fake news” — the proliferation of highly biased if not outright fake narratives from news media. That’s a problem, but I’m less interested in that brand of fake news than I am of a more insidious version of fake news that is a bigger problem precisely because it’s smaller. They’re the little stories we tell ourselves and the people around us in order to get by. Tiny spells to manipulate reality in small ways, writing our own scripts in defiance of the real world in an attempt to cope.
The little spells we cast for ourselves can look like any number of things. We create little realities about our countries, our communities, our traditions and even our families to avoid facing the truth.
It’s not my problem. Don’t get involved.
I can stop whenever I want.
There’s no point in asking for help. Nobody will understand anyway.
Telling yourself that the people you love don’t actually care about you.
Telling yourself that things will never get better, so why bother trying?
Telling yourself it wasn’t your fault when you know, deep down, that it was.
Even more deceptively, telling yourself it was your fault when you know, deep down, it wasn’t.
We have our reasons for telling ourselves all these things, of course, as does Wanda. Few Marvel characters have been put through more of a ringer. Her twin brother, Pietro, was killed off in his first appearance. In Infinity War, Wanda killed Vision to save half the universe, only for Thanos to immediately undercut her sacrifice, rendering it useless, and kill Vision all over again before her horrified eyes. One of Endgame’s most satisfying moments was seeing Wanda exact a little revenge on Thanos, but does revenge bring any lasting sense of peace? You know the answer to that. No surprise that someone with the ability to create her own reality would give in to such a temptation when the actual reality had proven to be so horrible. No surprise that we would either. After all, that was the first temptation.
The snake slithering up to Eve in the Garden, casting an idle “did God really say..?”, giving the first woman an excuse to create the second world — one all her own, that was just a little more to her liking than the one that’d been created for her. A small invitation. What’s the harm in entertaining it?
You can keep these spells spinning for quite a while. Most of us are pretty good at building little worlds. But that little whisper in the back of your head when the narrative starts to get wobbly? The one that’s telling you “I think something is wrong here”? It’s right and you know it.
The value in breaking your own spell goes far beyond the good it would do you. One of the worst things about reality manipulation is that you really can’t do it alone. You have to bring in some unwitting accomplices. We see it in WandaVision, when a hapless doctor confesses to Vision that it’s “hard to escape.” We see it in Vision himself, left in the dark about what’s really going on. Wanda’s reasons for keeping these people clueless might be understandable, even justifiable. But she is their keeper and they are her prisoners. It’s not all that different from the lies we have to spin to maintain our own realities. We may be stuck in our own prisons, but others are stuck in there too. We become like the Queen of the Underland in C.S. Lewis’ Silver Chair, trying to keep everyone else under our control, hoping they don’t wake up.
“The truth shall set you free,” Jesus said in John 8. They’re among his most famous words, but people forget the rest of the passage: ““If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Truth isn’t a passive energy in the universe. For it to do its freeing work, it has to be sought and internalized, obeyed and known. It takes work. It will, in all likelihood, take seeking counsel from God, friends and possibly even professionals to fully recognize what artifices you’ve set up in your own life and what needs to be done about them. It’s not easy to let yourself be known before others and before the God who “reveals deep and hidden things;” (Dan 2:22) but the alternative is spending your life an unknown stranger to even yourself, creating a fake happy ending that will be neither happy nor the end.
WandaVision’s mystery wasn’t really being solved so much as unravelled, as Wanda’s tenuous hold continued to slip. That was the good news for everyone around her and it was good news for Wanda too, whether or not she’s realized it. However painful it is to see the little realities we build fall apart, the truth is worth it. And once the false prisons we’ve built around ourselves and others fall alway, we’ll emerge — a bit more vulnerable, as all real things are — into the sun.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.