How Do You Solve a Problem like the Scarlet Witch?

Please forgive me for a non video game related article but this is a character very near and dear to my heart and I really want to put my thoughts out there.

As you can tell from the title this will include mild spoilers for Captain America: Civil War. I will try and be as vague as possible, and as Wanda is only a supporting character none of the major plot points will be mentioned, but if you want to see the film as cold as possible give this a miss for now.

I can’t explain how Wanda Maximoff – the Scarlet Witch – became my favourite character, it just feel like she always has been. In my mid-teens I think I dedicated most of a summer to reading all of the X-Men and Avengers comics from start to finish and by the time I was done I loved her. Her comic incarnation is intelligent and passionate, if she ever doubts anyone it’s herself and she’s often the first to help a friend in need. While her powers are weird and inexplicable she is surprisingly down to earth, and when she’s sad she’s more likely to turn to a tub of ice cream than the bottle as even at her lowest she still has the sense to know that would only make the situation worse. That’s Wanda. At least it’s pre-Avengers Disassembled Wanda, but let’s not go there today.

So when I heard she was being introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron I was excited and terrified. Then Elizabeth Olsen gave us Film Wanda. This was a younger Wanda, one still in the phase of her life where she and her brother were an inseparable duo, with her almost dependant on him despite having considerably more power. She spends most of that film wavering between fear and anger. She, her brother, and their country have suffered greatly but she is also aware that her powers are not entirely in her control and that her actions can lead to the creation of even greater evils. This Wanda is afraid to fight and she bounces from protector to protector, Pietro to Clint to Vision, but she learns much and voluntarily goes out into the fray as a means of repairing the damage she has caused. At the end they put her in a costume and have her stand as an Avenger but she still looks not quite sure. It takes more than becoming an Avenger to fix her problems, but it’s a promise that she wants to follow a better path.

Scarlet Witch is a larger part of Civil War than I had expected. She is a large part of the cause of the debate, and also the one who has the most to lose from the outcome. While in no way the main protagonist she is almost the heart of the debate. What do we do with the Scarlet Witch? Someone or something that powerful needs to be monitored, but in this case that someone is a young woman who has already been experimented on, has no living family and is now in a foreign country with only the Avengers for support. She might be a weapon but she is also very human, very aware of how dangerous she can be, but she still wants to be a person.

As the Avengers begin to divide Wanda is quiet on the matter, her early opinion described only as “TBD” by Natasha. When the majority of the team go abroad to either take part in the signing of the new legislation, or simply to observe it, she stays behind at HQ with Vision and does not seem especially upset to sit out more fighting. The point she becomes uncomfortable is when she realises her staying behind is no longer her choice, when Vision makes it clear he has been given orders not to let her outside, and emphasises the danger she poses to the general public. Stark defends this order by saying the choice was house arrest or a laboratory and a straight jacket, a threat made repeatedly throughout the film. Wanda is thrown into turmoil.

Though Clint is sent to break her out it is she that has the ability to overpower Vision, making the decision to use that power against her friend and escape. She goes to support Steve because from the outset of the film he has tried to assuage her guilt and keep others from crushing her with blame. No one on Cap’s team puts blame on her or makes her uncomfortable about using her powers. When Scott Lang joins them he turns to her and says “I know you, you’re awesome,” and her unrestrained joy is genuine. Here she is a person, part of the team, not just the one with blood on her hands. For this team she fights.

For this team she ends up in the straight jacket.

When we see the image of her later, imprisoned by the forces Stark has allied himself with, her eyes are hollow. This has happened before. It will happen again. It is the outcome both sides wanted to protect her from, but which she accepted because she wanted the freedom to choose and to fight, despite the damage it does to her.

As a sufferer of mental illness this shot had a profound effect on me. I also fear the straight jacket. It is symbolic of a quick fix that does nothing to solve the problem. Put someone mentally ill in a straight jacket and you’ll keep them from doing anything, but you’re not fixing the cause of the dangerous behaviour. Put the Scarlet Witch in a straight jacket and you’ll keep her from using her powers, but that won’t help her to learn how to control them and it won’t change the fact that she is a living, breathing, person beneath them. The jacket takes away the danger but it takes away her freedom and her chance to live a regular life.

If I have one complaint about the film it’s that we don’t see her released from the jacket. In the ending it is implied that Steve comes back for his team and frees them but we do not see her get out. That Steve and Tony spend much of the film worrying about her being imprisoned, and the pain it will cause her, and then do not act when she is is disappointing, but with the number of other threads to resolve I understand. We don’t get an answer as to how the world will come to terms with the Scarlet Witch but we do begin to see the suggestion of her coming to terms with herself.

I really hope this will be character development continued through future films. I don’t know if she will feature in anything prior to the Infinity War films but I will keep my fingers crossed as there is so much more that could be explored. Though it shouldn’t come easily I hope there will be a point where she becomes the strong, more confident, woman she can be. A woman who has not only lived with her demons but who has learned how to thrive in spite of them – as all of us with demons hope to.

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