Looking at Trauma and Grief Within ‘Legion’ and ‘WandaVision’
In early 2017, I was very depressed, and it started getting to a point where I didn’t know how I’d find a way out. Around the same time, I stumbled upon Noah Hawley’s Legion and as I was watching the pilot, I fell into a trance. Hawley’s dialogue (and screenplay) felt as if it was written specifically for me. It felt as if I was watching magic happen on-screen, and it gave me a reason to believe in it. What spoke to me most, after a few repeat viewings, was David (Dan Stevens) asking Syd (Rachel Keller) to take a moment out of a shootout to find out if everything that was happening around him was real, but more importantly, if she was real.
In Legion, David’s life has been one trick after another being played on him by his own mind. It morphs and changes his reality to make him question himself and his values. These are things that I still find myself questioning. My mind is similar to David’s (not the mind-control part). My mental illness has the power to stop me from accepting any form of praise or seeing my value that I still end up having to pinch myself in an attempt to stay in tune with reality. Sometimes the things we go through also make us question our reality, or try to change it if we are able to do so.
If we were to look at another show that features the child (at least, comic canonically) of a prominent and strong Mutant, we’ll be able to see what someone might go through when dealing with loss. In WandaVision, we get to see Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) go through the five stages of grief, whilst we’re already amidst the process. Wanda tackles the process in ways that nobody else can, by literally changing reality around her. When writing and developing the show, Matt Shakman (director of the series), Jac Schaeffer (showrunner) and Victoria Alonso (Executive VP of Production) pitched, workshopped and built the idea that the series would be about grief and loss.
Wanda is one of the most powerful characters in the MCU, but the franchise has never given her time to shine and show it. Instead, we see glimpses of her power and bigger glimpses at what she has lost. By the time we meet her, she and her brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) have already lost their parents and have been living in an orphanage for most of their life. Before we’re truly introduced to either character, we watch Wanda lose her brother, and this brings us our first true glimpse of her using her now dubbed “Chaos Magic” as she wrecks a dozen Ultron bots in the process. As the MCU progresses, we watch her fall in love with Vision (a synthezoid that was originally meant to be Ultron’s final form) and she finds peace, if only for a moment.
Vision and Wanda run away together, they fall in love and devote themselves to each other, only before she watches the love of her life die, twice. Once, by her hands, after he begs her to do so, and the second because Thanos literally rewound time to make her watch him do so all over again. It is all this set-up and the repetition of feeling love, before having it being taken away, that finally leads up to the moment that Wanda takes over the city of Westview. At first, unknowingly.
On some of my darkest days, I have found myself being absolutely positive that I would bring no value. Just like David does in the pilot of Legion and would continue to do so, it is the voices that overpower and keep me lying in bed and paralysed. It’s the constant shouting and berating that my mind would try to make me feel less than I am. It’s a narrative that I began to believe and resonate with. As the season progresses, there are full moments and aspects of his childhood that are revealed to have never existed. One of them being his beagle, King, and the reveal of which is absolutely the most terrified of a dog I’ve ever been. Not because of the dog itself, but more so what it represents. It’s how even from a young age, David wasn’t aware of the lie he was living through, how one of his supposed best friends was in reality, a demon tormenting and feeding off of him. It’s these demons that hide in plain sight in front of us, but invisible to everyone else. We’re in a constant fight of trying to find out what is real and what tricks our demons are playing on us.
Meanwhile, in Westview, by the time we watch the Dick Van Dyke episode, Wanda is in the first stage of grief: denial. She’s pretending her life is normal by hiding who they are, but she’s happy and in love. In the most classical sense of living the ideal perfect life, she and her husband have a house together, and soon, they’ll have two children to make the house — and themselves — feel fuller. At first, she was willing to give up — or presume to give up — her abilities in order to be happy. But, eventually, she stops hiding who she is, and who her husband is. She’s becoming more and more aware that the life she’s living is a lie, one that she’s in control of, and has under her thumb.
Throughout the season, we witness Wanda quickly go through the five stages of grief. At first she throws Monica out of the town because she is angry that the mirage and hard work she’s doing might be broken. She then finds new happiness with her twins but is soon reminded of her brother, when Fake Pietro (Evan Peters) makes a recasted appearance. Eventually, she bargains for that sense of normalcy for her brother to stay, before realising it’s not her really him. It’s then, in the seventh episode, that she again is in a place I know too well: one without hope. She has “a case of the Mondays” and wants to lie in bed and be alone. As she watches TV, the house cycles through the ages, and it falls apart, no longer making any sense. Her reality is being warped even if she were in charge, she has lost control and her will because there are some days it’s easier.
“It’s just like this wave washing over me, again and again. It knocks me down, and when I try to stand up, it just comes for me again. And I… it’s just gonna drown me.”
Wanda Maximoff, WandaVision, “Previously On”
“I’ve never experienced loss because I have never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?”
After losing someone, the pain will always stay present. How we move forward isn’t so much about waiting until it’s less painful but rather when it doesn’t weigh us down completely. There will be days when the weight is so heavy, we are trapped in bed, or stuck on the shore drowning trying to stand up. On other days, it washes over you. As Vision says, it’s a reminder of our loved ones, it’s feeling their presence surround us and holding us to inform us that they were here — and we were there with them.
Farouk (or the Shadow King) latched onto David very early in his childhood. It was his monster in the closet, the one that always scared him. It fed off him and his lies, and near the end, David began to not know where he ended, and his walking demon began. Watching the first season of Legion was monumental for me understanding my own mental health better. It’s a strange distinction to make when trying to figure out who you are in regards to what I bring with me. Watching Legion, I realised that I’m not solely my mental illness, I am not simply depression or anxiety, but rather, I’m Andres who has depression and anxiety. It sounds really simple in retrospect but realising that it wasn’t what would define me, but would be part of my definition, allowed me to move forward.
It helped me understand that sometimes, it’ll feel like I’m drowning, frozen by my trauma or grief. It’ll be okay for me to allow myself to sit in these moments, not wallow, but acknowledge what I’m going through and try to figure out what triggered it. But on the days that it feels like the sun is shining directly on me, it would be a reminder of what I’ve been able to do and how far I’ve come, and the loved ones I have around me. I can’t begin to fathom what it would be like to lose my parents, brother, synthezoid partner and eventual kids that I created, but in the final moments of the series, when Wanda has to say goodbye to them. I can feel the humanity, pain, and extreme loss that she’ll continue to carry, but will no longer drown in. She’s stronger than that now. I’m stronger than that now too.
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