Warning: This article contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are feelings we hear rattled off again and again in discussions of loss. As conversations around mental health and self care became more prevalent, so too became discussions around common trends like the five stages of grief. With those stages in mind, it’s odd to hear the idea that Wanda Maximoff’s story in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was poorly handled or that it somehow betrays her arc in WandaVision.
Most of us lauded WandaVision for its incredible portrayal of Wanda’s grief. Though the arcs of certain supporting characters could have been better handled, the writing for the grieving Wanda Maximoff was a revelation. The Disney+ series have allowed the MCU to explore loss in a way that the sprawling epic has never been able to adequately tackle in the past. But remarkable portrayals and the incredible performance of Elizabeth Olsen aside, WandaVision never really took its title character through the stages of grief. Westview was created wholly out of Wanda’s denial. We do see a moment of feigned acceptance in the end, but it comes because of the realization that she’s hurting people. And even that acceptance is soon shattered by the presence of the Darkhold and the idea that she can have her boys back.
Many of us agree that there is no one in the MCU that has lost more than Wanda Maximoff. Why, then, are conversations about regression happening in the wake of Multiverse of Madness? Scarlet Witch isn’t slipping back in her progress after WandaVision, she’s simply hit the next step in the grieving process. A grief which is finding itself further twisted by the Darkhold.
It’s hardto watch a hero you love go darkside. Then again, it won’t be much of a shift from viewers who felt Wanda should have been persecuted for Westview.
Wanda Maximoff lost her parents to tragedy, her brother to war, joined Team Cap in taking the brunt of the fall for the Sokovia Accords in Civil War after it was Stark and Banner who created Ultron, was forced to murder the love of her life in an act that was ultimately useless and then had her children tragically ripped away from her. Her anger stage isn’t just a bullet point in a psychology textbook, it was a well earned inevitability.
The kicker is, she deserved to go full-on villain mode. But her heartless vendetta in Multiverse of Madness isn’t even entirely her doing.
The Darkhold’s Influence
Scarlet Witch has been manipulated by folks spanning from her mentor Agatha Harkness to Chthon, the God of Chaos, in the comics, but there’s something more interesting about the outside influence that led to her wrongdoing in Multiverse of Madness not belonging to a sentient being. (In MCU canon, the Darkhold is still created by Chthon, but the god has no presence on Earth.)
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness goes out of its way to highlight that Wanda Maximoff is the most powerful being in the MCU. A third act reveal that she was being manipulated by another person would have cheapened her arc. But an all-powerful object infused with untold darkness helping influence her uncontrolled grief? That’s the good stuff.
It’s easy to fall back on the idea that it doesn’t matter if she’s being influenced by a being or a totem, but shifting Scarlet Witch away from the comics’ proclivity for seeing her manipulated by living entities and tying her decisions to the Darkhold instead gives the character more autonomy than she’s been allowed in the past. No one blamed Frodo for briefly giving into the One Ring, after all.
It Doesn’t Seem Fair…
The Scarlet Witch makes it very clear to Doctor Strange from the jump: All she wants are her babies, and she’ll sacrifice whoever and tear apart whatever universe it takes to get them.
Perhaps if Stephen had emotional range wider than a teaspoon, a more complex conversation could have unfolded between the two before hundreds of Kamar-Taj’s warriors fell, but the film’s illustration of the power that the Darkhold has over people falls short. This is both an empathy problem (Strange has very little, as highlighted throughout his tenure and very specifically in Spider-Man: No Way Home) and a weak script issue, but the bottom line is this: Doctor Strange is fully aware that Scarlet Witch is under the control of the Darkhold, and at no point does he even consider trying to free her from the book’s grasp.
The hypocrisy Scarlet Witch calls out with the already iconic “it doesn’t seem fair” line is on full display throughout the film’s runtime, as a matter of fact. The person who manages to get closest to killing America Chavez is a variant of Doctor Strange, not Wanda. The film is then bookended by the 616 version of Strange using the Darkhold, the very thing he knows is corrupting Wanda (and the very thing that has led to alternate versions of himself destroying entire universes on his own).
With or without the Darkhold’s influence, Wanda’s perception of Stephen is correct: a man who has never lost anything that he didn’t directly take away from himself (with the exception of the sister who acts as a throwaway moment in Multiverse of Madness and is never discussed prior) is taking every step in trying to coach her on right and wrong. Protect America Chavez at all cost, obviously, but I can’t say I’d react kindly if I were in her boots.
One Mean Mother
While House of M can’t get a successful adaptation in the MCU until the mutants are finally introduced, tinges of it are present throughout Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Wanda Maximoff wants her boys back, and she will raze every universe (and every Charles Xavier and Reed Richards) it takes to see them again.
Scarlet Witch, though twisted by the Darkhold, represents a part of the human condition a lot of us would rather not think about. How far would we go, if we knew we had the power to get back what we loved most in the world? If we could protect it from future harm, no matter what may happen to us?
The answer from the outside looking in is, obviously, “you leave America Chavez alone, we love her!” But in execution? Well, that’s a little bit more complicated.
The Scarlet Witch
This isn’t The Wizard of Oz. While we won’t know the specifics of Wanda’s fate until she returns in a later chapter, it feels pretty obvious to say that the Scarlet Witch — specifically the Scarlet Witch we know rather than a variant of the character — is crawling out of the rubble unphased. (Well, physically unphased that is.)
The MCU isn’t above unceremoniously offing its female characters, but it feels especially strange to spend an entire film making it clear that she’s the most powerful being in the multiverse to only drop a house on her with any lasting effect. Besides, this is a comic book film. No body? No death.
Elizabeth Olsen seems to agree, though is unsure if we’ll get our Wanda back or if we’ll be seeing a different one. “No. I don’t think of this either as the end,” she said in an interview with Collider about her future with the franchise.
Either way, we can’t lose our Scarlet Witch just yet. The next stage in her grief is bargaining, and we all know how badly y’all want Mephisto.
For more on the film, have a look at our Multiverse of Madness ending explained, find out who exactly Charlize Theron's Doctor Strange character is, discuss our Doctor Strange WTF questions, read our review of the movie, or check out how Multiverse of Madness lets Sam Raimi be the strangest of them all.