The Madwoman in the Multiverse: Lamenting Wanda’s Arc in ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ (SPOILERS)

This post contains catastrophically massive spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It also contains discussions of mental health issues and violence. Please proceed with caution.

In the months building up to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I have been a vocal Wanda Maximoff apologist. WandaVision remains, for my Disney+ dollars, the best of the MCU Phase Four shows, up to and including the excellent Moon Knight. And I’m not alone in being an impassioned defender of the woman who has been carrying Phase Four on her back. When the streets started saying Wanda would be the villain of the Doctor Strange sequel, loads of fans brushed it off. Villain? Maybe to you. But that’s our woman and we’re going to stand beside her.

But the movie did not stand beside Wanda Maximoff.

Oh, it did deliver on the Scarlet Witch kicking ass in a fabulous costume, making us feel her bottomless grief and rage and need. Lizzie Olsen remains the most impressive performer in a franchise stacked with top tier talent. The range she exhibited in this outing, the emotion she pulled out of me, deserves to win awards that haven’t even been created yet.

And yet, I walked out of the theater feeling absolutely betrayed. Among the movie’s successes, none received such high marks as its ability to punish Wanda Maximoff.

If you’re reading this from the nebulous future, let me set the stage for what’s happening the week this movie is released. On May 2nd, 2022, as we were all tweeting about how the Met Gala attendees once again ignored the theme, a draft opinion from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, hereafter referred to as That Bitch Ass Motherfucker, was leaked outlining his argument for overturning Roe v. Wade. The nonsensical argument that would strip people with uteruses of their bodily autonomy because it’s not “deeply rooted in history” — which isn’t quite as much a dog whistle as it is a dog megaphone — also opens the door for overturning marriage equality, sending interracial marriage back to the states, etc., etc. You know, just completely normal state of affairs here in the land of the free.

This weekend is also when Mother’s Day happens. Just to contextualize this movie further and for extra absurdity, May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

So, the week that we found out how That Bitch Ass Motherfucker and Friends plan to overturn Roe, ahead of Mother’s Day and in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Month, the MCU sent a fan-favorite character on a killing spree to reunite with her children, then had her seemingly die by suicide to atone for her sins.

What, and I mean this as disrespectfully as possible, the fuck?

Let’s for a second put aside my own personal Big Feelings about how much this is actively messing with me. Let’s for a second put aside that I was so pissed off after the movie last night that I’m pretty sure I forgot to take my 150 mg of Zoloft. A bad move, considering. 

Let’s just talk about this from a storytelling perspective. At the end of WandaVision, we saw Wanda step into her power as the Scarlet Witch, release her unintentional prisoners from the false reality she created, and give up her husband and children, willingly, because it was the right thing to do. A woman so choked by her grief that she couldn’t control her powers and turned a dissociative fantasy into an alternate pocket reality was still strong enough and good enough to try to move on. That is where we left Wanda — at the acceptance stage. Not happy, but at peace. Not healed, but knowing how badly she needed to heal.

There is a lot of hand waving that needs to happen for us to skip from that to Wanda being so corrupted by a magical book that she would conjure multiversal demons to kill a teenage girl and take her portal powers. The last time we saw Wanda, she was undone by guilt when the people of Westview told her how she was making them emotionally suffer. Yes, we saw her reading the Darkhold, but a momentary glimpse of her reaction to hearing her children from across the multiverse isn’t enough setup for this Wanda. This Wanda gleefully shredded Mr. Fantastic into ribbons and sliced Captain Carter in half with her own shield. This Wanda massacred the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj. This Wanda was willing to possess and replace an innocent variant of herself to get what she wanted.

This movie was just over two hours long and the pacing didn’t drag once. I think there was room to add, if not a full-on flashback to how the Darkhold gradually corrupted Wanda, then some moments of ambivalence or doubt to show how our Wanda was still there.

But instead, it was decided Wanda was too far gone to do anything other than die by suicide. And that’s what has me messed up.

As a fan, I have a hard time believing that Wanda is going to stay dead. We did not see a body, and this is comic book media after all. Very few characters stay dead, especially when they’re as powerful as the Scarlet Witch. There’s precedent in the comics for Wanda to do something reprehensible and then try to redeem herself, as well as precedent for her being resurrected. Elizabeth Olsen is a moneymaker for Marvel Studios. There have been unconfirmed rumors of her contract being extended. If she does return, I hope we see this Wanda, not a variant without the blood on her hands, a blank slate onto which we can project whatever we want.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with Wanda’s possibly-dead-for-now ending. What does it say when the worst version of Loki — from right after destroying New York in Avengers — gets to have a silly, goofy redemption story on Disney+, but Wanda has to die? (Side note: The Loki show was written by Michael Waldron, who also wrote Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.) What does it say when Clint gets to act out his grief by murdering a bunch of people of color and entrenching the Kingpin’s power during the Blip, and then gets to have a lovely farm Christmas with his family and his new 20-something bestie, but Wanda has to die? What does it say when Marc Spector gets to be a deceptive god’s gun for hire and still be the one with the moral upper hand, but Wanda has to die?

The message seems to be that no matter how much good you do, the sins of your past can only be atoned for with your death. Wanda didn’t even get a chance to try. Will she get to? Or is the takeaway for the little girls who dressed up as Wanda for Halloween that they better not get too powerful, lest they become the villain?

A woman does not get to have a past and live to make a better future in the MCU. Not for long, at least not so far. We haven’t forgotten that while Clint tried to wash away his sadness with other people’s blood, Natasha tried to keep the post-Snap world together and be of service to the survivors, just to die for the cause of bringing everyone back before getting to see their victory. She had red in her ledger, after all.

In the pivotal emotional moment of the movie, Wanda realizes what she’s become because of the terror in her children’s eyes. They beg her not to hurt them. Without an ounce of insincerity, Wanda says, “I would never hurt you. I would never hurt anyone. I’m not a monster.” And then she sees the variant version of herself who she did hurt, and surely must realize the death toll behind her. There is a disconnect between how Wanda sees herself and what is reality. It’s a moment that makes us question whether she’s delusional, or whether she’s even fully in control of her actions. It’s a moment that signals that Wanda would have felt remorse or ambivalence at everything she did in the movie up until that point. So why didn’t she? 

And then, to try to undo the damage she did, Wanda appears to level a building onto herself to destroy the Darkhold. This is presented as atonement, as the only way. She made this mess, she has to clean it up. 

But in a more sinister way, I read this as the movie offering up ending it all as the only solution to such unfathomable grief. Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch, most powerful Avenger, is just the latest incarnation of the madwoman in the attic, of Bertha leaping to her death because her life was too unbearable.

My bodily autonomy is actively being taken from me by the country I Iive in. It makes me and every woman I know terrified. It is incredibly damaging that even our fictional characters seem to lack agency except when it comes to the option of ending their own lives. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was a visually arresting, genre bending horror comedy that pushed the MCU forward in interesting directions. It was a fascinating film. And yet, I don’t know whether I’ll remember it as anything other than the movie that suggested some women aren’t worth saving.

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