Spoilers for the finale of WandaVision follow!
When a good show ends with a thud, who is to blame?
Is it the creators for failing to live up to the expectations of its fanbase? Or the fanbase for having sky-high expectations bereft of what the creators actually set out to do? Few pieces of media intrigue more than series finales, whether they are good or bad, it’s rare to find one that is generally agreed upon in its quality. In nearly every case, it’s either because the story went too big or didn’t go big enough. We want the fireworks, but don’t want to lose sight of the characters we have grown to care about. It’s an arduous task for any show, but when you’re talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universes’ first foray into television, coming off the franchise’s biggest film to date… it’s pretty much goddamn impossible.
It should be noted instantly that this a really enjoyable finale. As a massive Marvel fan, it’s hard for me to not have enjoyed it on a visceral level with the great character beats and genuinely emotional closing. But this show has made a few things about the MCU apparent in ways more glaring than ever, that can’t help but take all the focus now that the credits have rolled and we are left only with what was, what could have been, and what happens moving forward with these characters and the franchise.
It’s no surprise to hear that much of the reaction to the WandaVision finale has been lukewarm at best and downright frustrated at worst. So much of what drives the cultural buzz and conversation around the MCU is fan theories, hopes, and expectations. There’s always a sense that any promises made will always be made good on eventually, with major red herrings almost unheard of in the films. Captain America tips Thor’s hammer in Avengers: Age of Ultron, only to beat the living hell out of Thanos with it in Avengers: Endgame. A wall-crawling hero is mentioned in Ant-Man, only for Spider-Man himself to swing onto the screen in Captain America: Civil War.
It’s the kind of no stone left unturned, “We know what you want” storytelling that has made the MCU a juggernaut and created a culture of expectation towards always getting what we want. Which isn’t even necessarily the fault of the fans. It’s not unreasonable to have assumed Mephisto would appear in WandaVision or that Evan Peters’ Quicksilver wouldn’t end up being some random dude named Ralph Bohner with seemingly no ties to Fox’s X-Men universe. When the MCU doesn’t make good on the expectations of its fans, it becomes a question of did they f*ck this up or are we missing something?
The answer is… yes, it’s mostly on them.
The job of a Marvel film on a cultural level, at its most simple, is to answer enough questions to feel cathartic and ask more to keep the conversation going with audiences coming back. WandaVision took this formula and applied it to every single one of its episodes, but left out the answers, pointing to a finale that surely must be gargantuan and incredible to warrant such a choice. What we got instead was just sort of a Marvel third act on autopilot, bookended by a truly affecting final moment between Wanda and Vision.
It makes one wish that the show could be just that. Those smaller moments where characters are allowed to breathe and just be human. Superheroes doing Malcolm in the Middle riffs is fun, but what would truly set apart the next Marvel project from any of those that came before is not apologizing for being different and actually committing to the story it means to tell. No “We know this is weird folks, don’t worry, a messy CGI battle is coming soon enough.”
What might be the most surprising is that this series finale is still satisfying. It’s fun and the emotional catharsis of its ending is enough to excuse the tedious third act-isms. However, it’s undeniable that Marvel simply failed to deliver on the expectations of its fanbase and has left many of us feeling a bit hollow, waiting for the next Marvel project to continue the cycle of discourse and buzz around the next Marvel project and the next. They will all probably be entertaining and good, but there is simply only so much you can do with a story that has no end.