Okay, I have an apology to make here. In the posts where I talked about the rumors that were circulating prior to Captain America: Civil War’s release, I rather disparaged the character of the Scarlet Witch. I was not exactly nice to some of the other characters either, and for that I also apologize. The movie did much better by its heroes than most of us thought it would. “Anger, fear, aggression – the Dark Side of the Force are they…” Obviously, I need to start practicing some Jedi calm when it comes to checking out rumors of any kind – but especially those found in the Internet mill.
Anyway, without further ado, let us turn our attention to the character that we came together to discuss: Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch!
Wanda is the first Avenger we see. Sitting at a café table in Lagos, drinking coffee (or tea), she is dressed incognito. After a moment, someone addresses her over the comm. asking her to describe what she sees. Her list of observances is small, and they add up to “a quiet day on a quiet street.”
Then the rest of the Avengers, her teachers, go on to point out what she has missed. Steve goes first, mentioning that there is an ATM up the street. He lets her remember that where there is an ATM, there are also cameras. He then draws her attention to a Jeep further up the street. Wanda says it is “cute.”
Natasha tartly breaks in and points out that the vehicle is cute and bulletproof. “Which means private security, which means more guns, which means more trouble for somebody, probably us,” she adds. When Wanda reminds them of her powers, the Black Widow tells her that “looking over [her] shoulder” has to become “second nature.” Sam lightens the mood by accusing Widow of being paranoid. Natasha turns the tables on him, and Steve reminds his crew that they are looking for Crossbones, not an afternoon chat.
This scene is sweet because it shows Wanda’s position on the team. She is the “greenie” – the new kid on the job. Her abilities are impressive, wonderful, and fascinating. But they are no substitute for training in the arts of observation, close combat, and the other fighting disciplines “normal” people must use. To over-rely on her powers puts her at risk of harm.
Another great thing about this scene is how it reinforces the relationships Wanda has with her teammates. Sam, acting in the capacity of a good friend, takes the sting off of Natasha’s brisk, motherly reprimand. Steve’s gentle questions and quiet prodding easily skid across the thin line between the positions of mentor and trusted father figure. Though Wanda’s connection to Clint is far stronger in that regard, it is impossible not to see the paternal affection with which Steve treats her.
After this brief lesson in observation, Sam and Steve figure out that Crossbones’ target is not the police. It is instead something much bigger – and far more sinister.
Following on Steve and Sam’s heels, Wanda arrives at the IFID building in time to help Cap get inside. Sam helps protect her back as she gets rid of the knockout gas Crossbones and his men, who were possibly HYDRA agents like himself, used to render the employees in the building unconscious.
We then lose track of Wanda until Rumlow tries to blow up Cap and a city bazaar. That is when the Scarlet Witch, who has followed Steve while Sam and Natasha hunt down the bio-weapon, contains the blast with her power. In order to keep the people around them safe from the explosion, Wanda throws the flaming HYDRA agent into the sky, where he can incinerate himself and no one else.
However, she throws him too close to a nearby skyscraper. Also, the bomb vest’s explosive yield is higher than anyone anticipated. Whatever explosives Rumlow used/concocted, they packed more of a bang than TNT (which rates a 1 on the explosive scale) or C4 (which rates something like a 1.4 on the same scale).
So when the bomb goes off, instead of dissipating in midair as a firework display does, it blows out the middle floors of a skyscraper. The blast, which did not look terribly big in the bubble Wanda had around it, vents sudden fury into the building. At least three floors fall victim to Rumlow’s failsafe plan.
Wanda watches in horror along with Steve as the explosion kills twenty-six people. Since he is the leader of the team, Cap takes point on the accident. It is easy for us to see he holds himself responsible for what happened. He leaves Wanda where she is, perhaps feeling that she does not need to get too close a look at the carnage. Even without her mental powers, she has to know that people have died in the blast. And, naturally enough, she blames herself for their deaths.
Now, readers, this explosion is not entirely Wanda’s fault. Sure, she released her hold on the bomb too soon. Yes, she threw the whole concoction too close to the building. But she did not intentionally blow up three center floors of a skyscraper and kill twenty-six people. It was an accident.
But the academic/journalistic complex; which in Age of Ultron would have supported and empathized with Wanda when she was an activist/HYDRA “secret weapon,” is not inclined to cut her the slightest bit of slack now. No, since she is an Avenger, they lay all the blame for the mishap on her. It does not matter to them that her desire was to save lives. Nor are her youth and inexperience factors which they will take into account. All that matters is that she is outside the control of the ‘elites.’ And whatever the ‘elites’ want, their toadies in the media will bend over backwards to get for them.
This is why there is such a large journalistic attack on Wanda throughout the first half of Civil War. As a member of the Avengers, a private police force which goes around hunting HYDRA and its allies, Wanda and her friends have a big, fat political target painted on their collective back. The media, who were wailing and screaming for heroes during Loki’s invasion in The Avengers, does not want them around for such “mundane things” as stopping the theft of a deadly bio weapon. (Gee, I wonder why…?)
Other than when aliens are raining from the sky, the Avengers are, essentially, an advanced, private police firm. Their operation in Lagos had all the hallmarks of a covert operation being run by the NYPD, NCIS, FBI, or some other agency which works in the government alphabet soup. Sam and Cap were out of sight and ready to move, while Wanda and Natasha were the undercover “eyes on the ground.” Their mission in Nigeria was no different than any other stakeout set up by the police –
Except that they were not on the leash of any government on the planet. They had no one telling them, “Do not engage. This attack has to go down so we can ride the diplomatic repercussions since we will never let a crisis (especially one created by us) go to waste.” This is antithetical to the Avengers’ creed which is the belief that every life is important, and crises are to be avoided. The Avengers were there to prevent a disaster – that bio weapon would have killed millions, give or take a few extra hundred thousand, if it had been released. The Avengers stopped it from falling into the wrong hands.
The people killed in Crossbones’ Viking funeral were an unfortunate loss. But their deaths were not the intent of Wanda or her teammates. Many, many more people would have died if Rumlow and his men had escaped with the pathogen. The death toll would also have been higher if Wanda had not contained the initial detonation and tossed the rest skyward.
Readers, we have to keep in mind that the rest of the team is not going to throw live grenades, bombs, or explosives at Wanda and tell her, “Hold the explosion in until it loses power.” That is cruel. Doing that could kill her – or them. This was something she did in a situation which required quick action and swift thinking.
Under the circumstances, Wanda did some very fast calculating. If she had not contained the initial blast, Cap and the bazaar – along with the base of the skyscraper – would have been blown to pieces. Also, given her understanding of conventional explosives, throwing Rumlow sky high should have allowed the detonation to finish in a relatively safe manner. C4 will not vent that much power, and certainly not in the direction of the skyscraper. At most, C4 would have blown out the windows and wrecked a couple of offices, probably only injuring anyone standing in those rooms.
Wanda’s biggest – and only – mistake here was that she did not throw Crossbones in the proper direction. There may be a good reason why she made that mistake. Considering how expansive the explosion which hit the skyscraper was, we can guess that the initial detonation would have been much bigger if Wanda had not contained it. It is not easy to control so large an explosion for very long by normal means. Holding that sort of thing contained with her telekinetic powers would have put a serious strain on Wanda’s mind. As the explosion gained strength, it would have become more and more of an effort for her to keep it bottled up.
If you pull a rubber band to a certain length, readers, it will snap back and sting your fingers. Pull it too far, and the rubber band breaks, stinging your fingers even more than it did previously.
Minds are nothing like a rubber band. They are not elastic; they either hold out or they break. Wanda must have instinctively felt herself coming up on her breaking point, while at the same time she was struggling to get Crossbones’ suicide pyre up where it could not harm anyone else. This is likely the reason she tossed Rumlow too close to the building. She was concentrating very hard on holding the explosion contained. Wanda did her best and held out as long as she could…
But something had to give, and her natural strength is not yet up to the task of containing such a big bang – if it ever will be. Her reasoning for throwing it into the air, far away from everyone around her, was completely sound. She cut her power when she thought it would be safe.
Unfortunately, Wanda was not aware of how big the blast would become when released. And she forgot, or did not realize, that she was holding the blast too close to the skyscraper.
Anyone else in Wanda’s position would be just as horrified by the resulting destruction and loss of life as she is. When we next see Wanda, one month later, she is “moping” in her room and accepting the slavering media’s verdict on what happened in Lagos.
Steve comes in, shuts the TV off, and sits beside her. He knows what the media and the ‘elites’ do not even deign to consider: Wanda will never be able to forget that she threw the explosion in the wrong direction, and this led to the deaths of those twenty-six people in Lagos. She will carry that responsibility with her for the rest of her life. No one can take it from her, even if they or she wanted them to do so. It is her burden to bear – and his.
As he pointed out, he is as responsible as she is. Crossbones distracted him so he would not look for the bomb vest. If he had stayed focused, he could have prevented the explosion altogether. He was sidetracked, and that cost them all – mostly the people in the building who died and Wanda, a kid he is supposed to be protecting and teaching.
But if he can teach her how to win, it is also Steve’s duty to teach her how to lose. Cap knows that wallowing in guilt gets no one anywhere. Not every battle will be a win-win scenario; the initial objective (grab the bio-weapon) may be won while the secondary goal (protect all civilians) is lost. Sometimes it will be the other way around. On really bad days, both objectives may be lost. Combat is not a sure science and it never will be. “This job,” he tells her slowly, “We try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes… that doesn’t mean everybody. If we don’t find a way to live with that then, next time, maybe nobody gets saved.”
This is what Wanda struggles with for the first half of the film. What she has to learn here is that taking responsibility for one’s actions means mourning the mistakes, recognizing them, then picking up and moving on. “Moping” will not bring back those Crossbones killed – because it was Crossbones who pulled the pin. And if she continues to “mope,” then the next time she is needed, she may not be able to save anyone because she will not be focusing on anything but her last failure.
The reason this is such a struggle for Wanda is partly because she is a young girl raised in an age that has an extreme fascination with guilt. Also, youths tend to magnify their problems – even when they think they are not trying to magnify them. Experience is what helps the young grow up, but I do not recall a phrase that said becoming an adult was easy. If it was, everyone would do it, and we know this is unfortunately rarely the case.
Another reason Wanda is struggling has to do with the fact that she is under mental pressure/assault from several directions: Ross, the media, and the Accords are all hammering home the blame factor. In the comics and cartoons, Thunderbolt Ross’ Red Hulk persona had a certain charm. But as his human self, Ross has never been anything short of a raucous bully.
Wanda may sense this about him initially in the film, but what can she do? She lacks what the academy of nihilism likes to call “authority issues.” She trusts all of the authority figures – Steve, Sam, Rhodey, Tony, Clint, and Natasha – in her life. (Vision is smart, but he is a one year old. He has even more to learn than she does.) How can she tell Ross to buzz off? In this one respect, the former General has learned something of value (to him): politicians need only speak to enforce their will on others, rather than scream their throats raw, the way he once did.
As for the media, that is the same problem, but magnified in the hundreds, if not thousands. Many television reporters seem to be under the impression that being a reporter is akin to being ordained by God, the government, or some other entity with above-human powers of insight and understanding. This is the way they treat Wanda in the film. They and the talking heads ask what “right” has she to do what she has done.
They do not care that Wanda was under a lot of strain in that moment and was not focusing on much except keeping the fireworks display contained for as long as possible. They do not care about this because they are the wise ones; they are the ones who understand all higher things and the proper uses of every thing to frame every event. They would never have been there in the first place. That would be the only thing they got right; they do not possess the courage to enter a combat situation as a participant. They would rather watch the situation from afar, after the fact, and carp about the results.
How many of these hacks have telekinesis? How many of them have been in a combat situation? How many of them have had to telekinetically restrain a violent chemical combustion in a crowd of innocent people and, finding the bang is not getting any smaller, thrown it skyward while trying to maintain control of it?
None of them have done that. What is more, none of them would or will ever do that. They think they understand when they have no idea what it takes to have and use such powers in combat for five minutes, let alone for one’s whole life.
But that does not prevent them from pontificating about how such power should be used or maintained. That does not prevent them from making Wanda out to be a bloodthirsty monster. It does not stop them from saying a twenty-odd year old girl, who saw her mistake kill twenty-six people, should be locked up in a prison somewhere as though she was Hannibal Lecter’s niece. These jackals, who have not got enough courage as a group to fill a teaspoon, are picking on a girl with more guts than many people twice her age.
The third barrier Wanda has to clear is the Accords. Ross’ handing the U.N. booklet specifically to her in the Compound is in fact a tactically brilliant move. Not only are the Accords named after her home nation, which she saw destroyed, but she holds herself responsible for the deaths in Lagos. Giving the Accords to her first, Ross probably thinks he has an easy win with Wanda. She is so distressed and confused that she will doubtless be the first to sign up.
Except that Ross, like Zemo, has placed his bets without considering Cap. In this case, he does not know how much influence Steve has over the Avengers. Cap put his trust in the twins (Wanda and Pietro) in South Korea during Age of Ultron. He trusted that they were really interested in saving lives and doing the right thing; that they were actually willing to let go of their desire for revenge and that they would not let him down. It is also very probable that he is the one who offered Wanda a place on his team. Steve has been watching her back, guiding and teaching her, since she joined the Avengers. Of all the voices raised in the debate over the Accords, his is the one Wanda harkens to first and foremost.
Also, Ross has forgotten that Wanda has been taken in by bright speeches and flowery words before. Baron Strucker called for volunteers to be tested for a human enhancement process in Sokovia, and Pietro and Wanda answered the advertisement. Taking the easy path out with Strucker went soooo well last time, didn’t it?
Once bitten, twice shy. Wanda was fooled once. She will not be taken advantage of again so easily.
So Wanda Maximoff, Ross’ oh-so-easy-mark, proves she has more mettle than he guessed. She pushes the Accords away – literally. She does not declare she will never sign them, but neither does she sign on the dotted line as fast as she can. If Steve did so, then Wanda would be inclined to follow him. But he is wary and will not sign, at least not until there are safeguards put in place. And so Wanda follows his lead….
….discovering soon afterward that Steve’s arguments have some very real-life concerns for her. With Cap and Sam abroad to attend Peggy Carter’s funeral, Natasha going to the signing of the Accords, and Rhodey and Tony off somewhere else, Wanda and Vision are left to “mind the house.” Or so she thinks. Later on, Vision admits she is essentially under house arrest until the puppet masters behind the Accords are sure she will not cause them any trouble. It is at this point that she realizes Cap’s fears are well founded.
Up until this moment, Wanda was free to go wherever she wanted whenever she wanted. While it is likely she had company on these prior outings, she has probably been out on her own just as often. And she lived with only Pietro for company from the age of ten. She is naïve and inexperienced in many things, but walking around town alone is not one of them. Now, though, she is being “locked in her room” by Tony Stark at the behest of Ross and the faceless, “silent, deadly men” who give him his orders.
Why? Why is she being interned in her own home? Lagos was a combat situation. She did not perform perfectly in that arena, but how can one equate the accident in Nigeria with running to the store to grab some paprika?
The answer is that the two cannot be equated. They are mutually exclusive events. Contrary to all the yelling on the TV, most people would probably be quite happy to either wave at Wanda or to avoid her out of fear, and that would only happen if they recognized her. It would be an idiot – or a pack of idiots – who would challenge someone with Wanda’s abilities just to show their machismo. All they would be proving was their stupidity and cowardice.
This idea that she is dangerous, however, starts to seep into Wanda’s mind after Vision’s admission. Maybe she is too dangerous to be allowed out. Maybe she is, in fact, a monster.
Into this whirling maelstrom of self-doubt strides Clint a few nights afterward. As I said before, Wanda is not inclined to laugh off the fact that she almost stabbed Hawkeye in the forehead. While she trusts Steve as a father-type guardian, this is even truer of her relationship with Clint. Cap was the first one to believe Wanda and her brother could change. Clint, though, was the first to give her direct guidance when she needed it most. Steve understood her decision to protect her country and save lives. Clint understood her when she was having an emotional meltdown.
Their bond is stronger in this area because Clint is, actually, a father. Steve can “walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,” but this is one area where Hawkeye has more experience on him. He has handled more childhood crises than any of the other Avengers for the simple reason that it comes with the territory of being a dad. Plus, Clint is practically always self-assured. Without that self-belief, he would never get anywhere.
And if she loses her own self-belief, Wanda will not get anywhere, either. Cap calls Clint to pick up Wanda for the apparent reason that he cannot just go and get her himself. But he might have had another motive for calling Clint. Even if he was not told about their “chat” in Sokovia, Cap still has to sense the fact that the two have a strong rapport. If anyone can get Wanda out of her funk, it is Hawkeye.
And he does, delivering her an ultimatum in the Compound, just as he did in Sokovia. “I need your help, Wanda,” he tells her. “You wanna mope; you can go to high school. You want to make amends, then you get off your ass.”
Though his delivery in this film is markedly different from both the comics and the cartoons, the point Clint makes is no less finely nailed home: either Wanda gets up and helps, or she stays home. Those are the only two options anyone in the Avengers’ line of work has. Do your job, or step aside and let everyone else do theirs.
Wanda does, most certainly, want to make amends for her mistake in Lagos. Wanda also does not want to get left out. And she does want to help Steve – not for the simple reasons that he is her mentor or because he took her in when she had nowhere else to go. She wants to help him because he is her friend.
She also wants out of the Compound. As she told Vision, she cannot control the fear(s) of others. But she can control her own fear. If she lets her apprehension rule her, she will become the monster others believe she is. She will fall to the Dark Side. So it is past time to put her fear aside and get on with her life.
There is no occasion for her to explain that to Vision in the Compound. Maybe she does not yet understand her situation enough to explain it at length. But she knows it, even if she cannot say it in the way I just have. She explained it to Steve in Germany as Hawkeye explained it to her: “It was time to get off my ass.”
Perhaps it is her memory of her incarceration in the Avengers’ Compound which is the reason Wanda holds nothing back in the battle at the airport. If they lose this fight, they will all get locked up – Clint, Wanda, Sam, Scott, and Steve. Bucky would most likely be killed. The stakes are too high for Team Cap to “pull… [their] punches.”
During the battle, Wanda is almost literally everywhere at once. She saves Bucky from Panther’s claws, reminds Clint that this is not a training session by tossing Natasha away, and drops about ten or more cars on top of Iron Man in quick succession. This emphasizes the point that she is not going to get locked up again. Not without a fight. If people want to be afraid of her, then Wanda Maximoff is going to give them something to fear!
If she is so desperate not to get caught, you may ask, why does she throw herself to the wolves along with Clint, Scott, and Sam? She could have bolted. She was the most powerful of the four remaining members of Team Cap. Even stunned by War Machine’s sonic weapon, she could still have made tracks and at least gotten into the city, especially after Vision left her to check on Rhodey.
The clear answer is that she is a loyal Avenger. Wanda understands the meaning of honor. She understands that when you give someone your word, when you make a promise to someone, breaking that bond of you own volition is to forever forsake faith with them to some degree. To quit when the going gets tough is to become a coward.
And while all the heroes in Marvel’s stories have flaws, NONE of them are cowards.
The loyalty aspect aside, Wanda knows as well as the others do that Steve will come back for them. The main mission is to stop Zemo and save as many lives as they can. If the price of saving lives is incarceration, then that is the price she and the others have to pay to see the job done.
And pay they do. Wanda, however, is subject to higher scrutiny than the men are. Their powers are all derived from their gear, skills, and technology. Her power comes from inside of her. There is no way to take it from her; it can only be suppressed. The way the Raft guards choose to do this by locking her in a cell, throwing an inhibitor collar on her, and wrapping her in a straight jacket.
Although she knew Steve would come for her and the others, had to know that Clint and probably Sam are very worried about her, Wanda looked pretty miserable in her cell. Of course, it would be hard not to be despondent, since she is locked up in solitary. It also appeared that Ross and his cronies were not inclined to keep the room at a comfortable temperature. But maybe Wanda was shivering with fright and depression rather than cold.
If all the Avengers had signed the Accords immediately, this might have happened to her at the beginning. I doubt that Tony came up with that “Walking Weapon of Mass Destruction” quip by himself. It sounds like something which would have come out of Ross’ mouth. Witty as Tony is, he was quoting someone else when he said that.
Remember when I said Ross wanted control of the best weapons he could find? The government took lots of blood samples from Cap in the hopes that they could make more Super Soldiers in the future. This is likely where Howard Stark acquired the five packs of the viable Super Soldier Serum which Bucky stole in ‘91; the scientists had at last managed to synthesize a working serum from Steve’s blood. In the 1940s, the government and its scientists were at least willing to ask for his blood before taking it.
But would Ross and his masters in/behind the U.N. have asked Wanda for permission to “make more” powered people like her by asking her to take some tests so they could see what makes her “tick”? I highly doubt it. If the whole team had signed the Accords at the start, then they would have also signed Wanda’s one way ticket to a cell where she could be studied as a lab rat. Ross and his handlers – whoever they are, and whether he knows they are “handling” him or not – want more people like her. They want more enhanced humans and they want to be their puppet masters.
I imagine there were some tears shed when Steve and the others picked up Wanda. In her position, tears would be totally understandable, a sign of pent up stress and/or relief. The guys are not going to let her out of their sight any time soon, this is for sure!
If the writers decide to hold Wanda on the back burner until Infinity War, we will not be seeing her any time soon. Should that be the case, then it is safe to assume, for the nonce, that Wanda will be staying with Team Cap and doing some Secret Avenging until that time. One thing is for certain: Wanda’s powers are only going to grow. This means she will be a formidable opponent when she next appears on the silver screen.
What that will look like, we can but guess. Anyway, readers…
See ya around!
The Mithril Guardian