How the MCU Deals With Grief in the Multiverse - VRGyani News and Media

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Sunday, September 26, 2021

How the MCU Deals With Grief in the Multiverse

While Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame represented monumental financial gain for Marvel Studios, they also marked tremendous loss for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Characters that had been in the MCU since the very beginning were given heart-wrenching sendoffs that turned The Avengers into a broken team and left audiences the world over with teardrops in their popcorn. Robert Downey Jr.’s tenure as Tony Stark came to a poetic end as him and fan-favorites Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and The Vision (Paul Bettany) paid the ultimate price in trying to save the entire universe from utter extinction. After such a conclusive chapter that definitively wrapped up what has now been christened as The Infinity Saga, Marvel has promptly moved on from the story of the Infinity Stones and is teeing up their next sprawling epic: a war in the multiverse.

Through Disney+, Marvel’s foray into the streaming world has given the MCU the freedom to discover new story potentials and dive deeper into more of its beloved secondary characters. Just in 2021 alone, WandaVision, Loki, and What If…? have each explored exciting new facets of the Marvel multiverse that not only set the groundwork for things to come, but also spotlight how its characters respond to the world-shattering loss seen in the blockbuster films. Be it through alternate timelines or reality-bending shenanigans, for as much as the universe has been expanding, the farther inward the exploration of its characters’ grief becomes.

WandaVision

WandaVision follows Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff as she picks up the pieces of her life in the wake of Endgame. Having been “blipped” back into existence after 5 years, Wanda is left only with the memories of fallen loved ones and a plot of land that was going to be her and Vision’s new home. Devastated by the events of her recent past, Wanda uses her powers to hold an entire suburban town hostage so that she may craft her own false present. In this reality, Vision and her brother Pietro are still alive, she is the mother of twin boys and is adored by a community of friendly neighbors that decorate a practical living soundstage of sitcom settings and tropes.

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Over the course of the Infinity Saga, Wanda has suffered tremendous amounts of loss. She witnessed the death of her parents as a child, she lost her brother in the fight against Ultron and worst of all, she lost the Vibranium-clad love of her life at the hands of Thanos. In WandaVision, Wanda puts herself in denial of all that she’s experienced to avoid processing her staggering grief. She fabricates an idealized reality for herself to run away from the truth; a reality where nothing can go wrong that, much like a TV show, can go on forever in reruns. Along with resurrected illusions of loved ones, her reality is built out of childhood memories of watching American shows like Malcom in the Middle and The Dick Van Dyke Show with her family, bringing her back to a nostalgic place of emotional security and the only pleasant memories she has left. It is when her magic fa├žade of denial begins to hurt those around her and threaten reality itself that she begins to process and accept the loss she endured, becoming the all-powerful Scarlet Witch in the process. She may have become a witch of otherworldly power, but the heartbreak of her grief is what keeps Wanda Maximoff human.

Loki

Loki’s approach to grief is unique. First off, the ever-mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston), that the MCU has followed across five films, was killed in Infinity War’s opening scene! This series follows a new variant of Loki that was the result of a new branch in time created in Endgame. By trying to escape his punishment for the 2012 attack on New York in The Avengers, this Loki acted against the sacred timeline and was promptly arrested by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), essentially severing him from history. While in the TVA’s custody, Loki learns of his ultimate destiny in the succeeding events he was fated to live out: the death of his adoptive parents, the fall of Asgard and even his own death. After being given this spoiler-filled insight, Loki begins to question what his values are and how he processes trauma.

The series presents a multitude of Loki variants of different shapes and sizes (and a crocodile, too), but what is persistent in all of them is their inability to gain and maintain trust. They lie, they betray and they act only to their own benefit to achieve power. It is the very nature of a “Loki” to be a trickster, but the series’ main Loki begins to recognize within himself and his other selves that their compulsion for treachery comes from a lack of control. What makes Loki a “Loki” is the fear of powerlessness and the belief that having power will resolve their insecurities and past trauma. It is when Loki is brought into the TVA that he is faced with the most powerful force in the universe: the absolution of time and events. All at once, Loki experiences the loss that built his character up in the previous films, concentrating all that heartbreak into one moment. It is here that Loki realizes the folly of his character: he manipulates and hurts people as a way to bargain for control of his own existence. He denies and barters around the trauma that defines him to amend or make sense of them, but when faced with the certainty of death (even his own) and the grief that comes with it, he learns that he is unable to control the nature of these events and must accept them. The driving force of the series then becomes Loki facing his own worst traits as personified by the rogue-variant Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), who jumps around alternate realities in a ploy for absolute control of her destiny, even at the expense of the very nature of time and existence. Loki, no matter the variant, is fueled by grief, but what makes the series’ Loki different is his ability to accept their grief and not let it drive further pain in an illusion of control.

What If…?

In the wake of the reality-shattering season finale of Loki, Marvel’s first animated series What If…? takes a look at the alternate timelines and stories created by the newly expanding multiverse. Familiar plotlines and characters are taken to bold new places to tell stories born out of simple changes and altered moments. If Thor had been an only child, he wouldn’t have become a hero. If Yondu had landed in Wakanda instead of Missouri, T’Challa would have become Star Lord. If Hope Van Dyne was killed in action, Hank Pym would have taken his revenge on Nick Fury by killing the Avengers. Most What If…? episodes use the death of its heroes to tell unexpected stories, particularly the zombie one, but one episode stands out as the most heartbreaking exploration of loss.

In “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”, the car accident that originally cost Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) the use of his hands instead takes away the love of his life, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Grief is now what drives Strange down the path to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme and with his newfound power, he seeks to accumulate enough dark magic to change the past and save Christine. Strange learns that Christine’s death is an absolute point in time that cannot be changed. No matter how many times he goes back to relive and amend the night of the accident, death still comes for her in one way or another. In defiance of the objective nature of time and events, Strange risks his own humanity and the existence of the universe to save Christine. Much like in WandaVision, Doctor Strange outright uses his powers for selfish means to deny the weight of his grief. His love for Christine turns into an obsession for control; that death is something that can be fixed and bargained with because he wills it. The narcissism that initially defined his character is amplified here as he victimizes himself and asserts that his love and grief are enough to justify his actions. In the end, his arrogance to accept his loss leads to the destruction of his entire universe, along with Christine. By continuing to make sense of the past and "fix" it, he poisons the future.

Through Wanda, Loki and Strange, each of these series show that while the fabric of the MCU’s fantastical reality is fallible, the nature of mourning is still very real and identifiably human. Each series demonstrates that while denial is a definite stage of grief, acting on to it and perpetuating it to ignore the objectivity of life is unhealthy and could cause greater harm, even on a universal level.

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