WandaVision creator breaks down the finale's grief and moral 'gray areas'
Jac Schaeffer opens up about fan theories, cut scenes, and love persevering.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for WandaVision episode 9, "The Series Finale."
WandaVision has been hard to classify ever since it first introduced us to the wild world of Westview. Billed as part sitcom homage, part fourth-wall-breaking mystery narrative, and part superhero epic, Marvel's first Disney+ show debuted in January and quickly became one of the year's most talked-about TV shows, following troubled witch Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and naïve synthezoid Vision (Paul Bettany) as they tried to carve out a slice of domestic bliss in the suburbs.
But as the show's mystery deepened – and Wanda's grasp on Westview started to unravel — WandaVision proved itself to be even weirder and more wonderful: an ambitious and frequently funny meditation on grief, culminating with an action-packed finale that sees Wanda saying goodbye to the
man android she loves.
It's the brainchild of Jac Schaeffer, the show's creator and head writer who helped shepherd Wanda's emotional journey through the TV decades. Here, Schaeffer breaks down WandaVision's moving finale and opens up about fan theories, cut scenes, and love persevering.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you ever entertain any other possible endings for Wanda and Vision's story?
JAC SCHAEFFER: The emotional arc of it was always what it was. It was always moving toward a place of acceptance, and it was always going to go toward this big goodbye, and she would also say goodbye to the children. Those scenes were written very early and stayed pretty much as is. Almost everything else shifted. We knew there would be the big Vision-on-Vision battle, and the big Agatha versus Wanda battle, and we knew we had to service all these other characters. But there were many, many iterations of it through production — and then again more revisions during the COVID hiatus that we had.
Did filming during the pandemic affect story in any way?
Not in a big way. There were small things — the staging of the townspeople as they approach Wanda, that originally was more of a physical attack. So there were staging issues. But the story beat is still there, and I would argue very successful because those actors are really good at their jobs and conveyed so much with their performances. So we didn't take huge hits on stories. It was just really challenging to shoot with the restrictions.
One thing that's interesting about the finale is the moral ambiguity. The show is very sympathetic to Wanda, but it still holds her responsible for the pain that she's caused in Westview. How did you want to find that tonal balance where she's not a villain, but she's not your traditional hero, either?
What we wanted was for her to be a fully realized human. That was always the goal. And thank you for speaking on that because it is tricky. She's done some really awful things, and she's acted selfishly. We had a lot of concerns about: Will the audience hate her? Will they be with her? It's funny now because audiences love her and love Lizzie so much, so that was never going to be a problem. But I find it very gratifying that audiences are latching on to her misdeeds and discussing them because that's what was interesting to us as the creators: those gray areas. The gray areas of all the characters, but especially Agatha and Wanda.
Grief also plays a big role in Monica's journey, too. Did you always want to construct her story so that it ran parallel to Wanda's?
We did. That was always the goal, the grief thread of it. In early versions, it was a little bit more on the nose and got more sophisticated as we moved forward. In the beginning — like in early drafts, nothing that was ever shot —she had to have a psych eval, and there were brief therapy pieces inside of the [S.W.O.R.D.] base, and we talked about that, like, do we play that sincerely? How will that affect pacing? Ultimately, we decided that it would negatively affect the pacing, so we pulled those things out, and we felt that Teyonah [Parris] certainly could play all of the nuance of her journey in performance, without having a lot of the heavy-hitting dialogue.
But as far as her power origin story, that shifted considerably as we moved forward. It was really a question of, how far can we go? What can we do? [Director] Matt [Shakman] was really inclined to take it as far as we could. He's so great with power sequences, so that was kind of the thing that shifted in her storyline.
One thing I loved about Monica getting her powers is that she makes that choice. She's not caught up in some accident and inadvertently exposed to some terrible power source. I loved that idea that she decides to make that sacrifice and go through the Hex, and that's how she gets her powers.
We really loved the idea that her power origin story is actually tied to her processing her own grief. She has to travel this gauntlet of grief and feel it and fight her way through it, and on the other side, she's changed. So it's a fast-tracked version of something similar to what Wanda is going through, and it seemed to align nicely with the general story.
The end-credits scenes clearly set up Captain Marvel 2 and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. How closely were you working with the other teams at Marvel, like Nia DaCosta or Sam Raimi, to make sure that all these stories intersect properly?
I haven't been lucky enough to interact at all with Nia, and I'm a fan and am so excited to see what she does. I of course know [Captain Marvel 2 and WandaVision writer] Megan McDonnell extremely well, so I know just a little bit of what's going on with that. My interaction was more with the Doctor Strange 2 crew, the producers and writer on that and making sure that we are approaching the runway correctly for them.
We have to talk about Evan Peters and the Ralph Bohner reveal. From the beginning, was that always your plan to introduce him and have him be this Fake Pietro?
The thematics that were in play, we always wanted to illuminate how memory plays with grief. There are studies about people misremembering people's faces or blocking people's faces as a protective measure. The idea [was] that at that point in the story of the series, Wanda would be doubting herself and would be sort of confused and would start to have misgivings about what she's doing and not know how much is in her control and how much isn't. It just seemed that it would be so much fun for the audience and the fanbase, but it would really be a terrible mind scramble for Wanda. It would really be pulling the rug out from under her inside of this world that she created explicitly to be a safe haven. It just became this sort of terrific turning point inside the series, where we slightly spin in a new direction.
It was always the dream to have Evan do this role, for sure. And then where that goes, we knew we wanted him to be a sort of Uncle Jesse/Joey/boyfriend Nick amalgamation from those shows. We always wanted him to play that version, but the larger trajectory after that was more of a discovery along the way.
Matt Shakman spoke about reading all the fan theories and immersing himself in all the memes and discussions after every episode. What was that like for you week to week, watching everyone speculate and theorize about X-Men and Mephisto?
It was crazy! [Laughs] It was so much more than I anticipated. The theorizing just got bigger and bigger and bigger. That was a little dizzying and disorienting, but by and large, it was incredible. People were so invested, and their passion was so evident. And people are so creative! The fan art, the memes, the TikToks… I can't describe the pleasure that I feel and that all of my writers feel poring over all this content. We made a thing, and it's out in the world, and now people are making things on top of it. It's hard to find a sense of community in today's world, and this has been a really incredible gift in that way. It's a way of feeling a bizarre togetherness while we're so isolated.
You talked about this before the show came out, but now it's even more evident: You made a show about using art as escapism — and that's what we're all doing right now in the middle of the pandemic. Has the reaction to the show surprised you in any way, given the environment it was released into?
Yeah, I think the depth of the response is greater than I anticipated. The number of texts and posts and things where people discuss their own experiences with grief and loss and how hard this year has been and how meaningful the show has been — you hope for one or two things like that, but the sheer volume of that kind of response is really beautiful. It's really, really beautiful, and it's not something that I take lightly. It's something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
I love that line that's sparked so much discussion: "What is grief, if not love persevering?" Were you surprised that it resonated with so many people?
I'm surprised that it became a meme! You never think that [about] a line of dialogue. When Wanda did the "no" in episode 2, that wasn't a surprise because that's a moment. But to have a piece of what is essentially poetry celebrated in this crazy viral way, that's a real surprise. I do remember the sensation of knowing it was right. I've told this story with Laura Donney's blessing of how the line came to be. It was a real collaboration. And I remember: When something feels right, there's an internal click, like, "That's it." I remember that sensation, and I remember Paul performing it. That scene was about, retrospectively, Vision giving the Wanda the tools she needed to complete this journey. Agatha's not lying when she says the only way forward is back. The point of it is that Wanda had everything she needed inside of her all along, and I think that's positive messaging for all people. We're all so much stronger than we realize. I don't wish grief on anyone, but I do take comfort in the idea that what's beautiful about grief is that it is essentially born of love. That's really all that it is: love. So that whole process was really special, and the opportunity as a writer to be a part of something that becomes this impactful is really special.
The ending seems pretty final, but is there any world in which you would be interested in making a season 2?
[Laughs] I am interested in these characters. Just as a fan, I want to know what happens next. I'm very invested in them, and I love them and I love these performers as well. So what I can tell you is whatever they do next, I'm first in line with my ticket, no matter if I'm involved or not.