Monica Rambeau still deserves so much more

This post contains major spoilers for “WandaVision.”

I was always a bit skeptical about “WandaVision.”

To be fair, I was a bit skeptical about almost all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe television shows when they were announced. Reports of “Falcon and the Winter Soldier”, “Loki” and even “What If . . .?” all drew skepticism from me. My relationship with Marvel has always been ambivalent; there are aspects of Marvel’s content that I greatly enjoy, and there have been aspects that I have heavily criticized.

The format of Marvel’s films is also something I’ve struggled with. I’ve always felt that Marvel movies have a tendency to rush (or sometimes forego) emotional development for their characters in order to speed through the plot and get to the giant, action-packed third act. I was worried about how this format would translate to a television series.

And honestly, the tiny bit of information Marvel released about “WandaVision” before its premiere made me skeptical. The only thing I’d heard was that the first episode of “WandaVision” was going to take place in the 1950s, and I immediately had questions, comments and concerns.

But then I heard that Teyonah Parris would be playing Monica Rambeau in the series.

After having been so bothered by Monica Rambeau’s depiction in Captain Marvel, I was very eager to see her return to the MCU as an adult woman. I was ready to see the woman who is a powerhouse with or without powers. And I’ve long felt that Teyonah Parris is a perfect candidate for the job.

And she is! Teyonah Parris was stellar as Monica, imbuing her with a sense of authenticity and power. And I largely enjoyed the series. I felt that most episodes of “WandaVision” demonstrated a needed departure from Marvel’s storytelling format; the show prioritized the character’s interior lives and emotional journeys over action. I was pretty satisfied with the series.

But, in the same way my opinion of Captain Marvel began to change upon deeper interrogation of the movie, my opinion of “WandaVision” has changed after a few weeks of thinking about the series. And Monica Rambeau’s treatment is the reason why.

Monica’s journey in “WandaVision” was promising at the start. Initially introduced in the second episode as a woman named “Geraldine”, the sweet new girl in Wanda’s surprisingly-integrated 1960s sitcom neighborhood, Monica and Wanda become fast friends.

The third episode, now set in a 1970s sitcom, is more of an uncomfortable watch where Monica is concerned. “Geraldine” returns embodying the stereotypes many Black actors and actresses have been forced to perform: the loud, over-the-top Black best friend who’s quick to let an “Outta sight!” jump out of her mouth. She gets roped into helping Wanda give birth to her twin sons, complete with giving Wanda an inspiring pep talk to get her through labor.

But the third episode ends with a twist: Monica lets it slip that she remembers that Ultron killed Wanda’s twin brother Pietro, causing Wanda to realize Monica isn’t who she says she is. Wanda kicks Monica out. Not just out of her house, but out of the false reality Wanda has constructed to avoid dealing with the pain of having lost Vision as well as the rest of her family.

The fourth episode of the series is what originally made me excited about the direction I thought they were going to take Monica’s character. The episode opens with Monica returning from the Blip, rematerializing in the same chair she was sitting at when Thanos snapped her and billions of others out of existence. Monica’s in the hospital, waiting for her mother Maria — also known as Carol Danver’s best friend — to come out of her most recent surgery.

But mayhem has broken out in the hospital; everyone’s coming back all at once, confusing the hospital staff and filling the hospital to capacity. After several moments of disorientation, Monica finally runs into a doctor she recognizes. That doctor sadly tells her that Maria died of cancer three years ago, two years after Monica was taken in the Blip. It’s an absolutely devastating moment that seems to set Monica on her emotional journey for the series.

The fourth episode remains largely focused on Monica and her time inside of Wanda’s reality. We see Monica return to work at S.W.O.R.D, the organization Maria founded to study and respond to happenings in outer space. We meet S.W.O.R.D’s acting director Tyler Hayward, who sends Monica to help with a “missing person’s” case in Westview, New Jersey. We learn that Westview is the real town where Wanda has created her false reality, eventually dubbed “The Hex” by astrophysicist Darcy Lewis.

Monica meets FBI agent Jimmy Woo, tries to fly a drone into the Hex, and is quickly sucked into the Hex herself. The rest of the episode is a showcase of Jimmy, Darcy, Hayward and S.W.O.R.D trying to understand the Hex while getting Monica out of it.

Again, I really loved the fourth episode. I loved that Monica was the show’s anchor to reality, and I was really eager to watch her grapple with her grief while helping save the residents of Westview. The fourth episode presented Monica as a full woman who was just beginning her journey to becoming the superhero she was meant to be.

Unfortunately, the rest of the series didn’t live up to the standard set by the fourth episode. From the fifth episode on out, Monica seemed to only exist to further Wanda’s development.

Monica spends the rest of “WandaVision” fighting to save Wanda from herself. Almost every word out of her mouth has something to do with helping Wanda. Monica literally puts her body on the line to help Wanda.

Building a relationship between Monica and Wanda isn’t inherently a bad thing. A fully-developed relationship between Monica and Wanda would’ve only helped the series. Monica actively working through her grief and accepting the loss of her mother could’ve been a perfect foil to Wanda’s refusal to confront her grief and accept her reality. And it’s clear that was what the series was going for. At first glance, I thought they’d accomplished that.

But upon rewatching the episodes and really considering Monica’s presence in the show, I realized that somewhere along the line, Monica began to only exist for Wanda. Monica’s emotional journey isn’t for her own benefit: it’s for Wanda’s.

The sixth episode is where the issue started to become apparent to me. There’s a point in the episode where Darcy tries to dissuade Monica from re-entering the Hex. She shows Monica blood work and test results indicating that the Hex has rewritten Monica’s cells twice. The Hex is literally changing Monica on a molecular level. Monica looks at the test results and declares she’s seen enough images of cells changing to last her a lifetime, making a reference to Maria’s cancer treatments. Monica tells Darcy and Jimmy that she knows what Wanda is feeling, and she won’t stop until she helps her.

That scene gave me pause for a few reasons. On its face, a statement like “I won’t stop until I help her” is a noble, heroic thing to say, and it’s inline with Monica’s determined, courageous spirit. But considering that Wanda had been nothing but antagonistic and harmful to Monica — that she’d literally used her powers to throw Monica out of the Hex, that her grief had caused Monica and nearly 4,000 others to be in an “excruciating” and violating state, that Wanda didn’t trust Monica despite Monica’s assertion that Wanda subconsciously knows Monica is her ally — it doesn’t make much sense that Monica would be so devoted to helping Wanda that she’d disregard her own health and safety.

I also found the mention of Maria’s cancer to be an odd choice. It felt like a very weak explanation for Monica’s actions; a feeble attempt to tie Monica’s pain to Wanda’s. It was as if the series wanted us to believe that Monica had some intense connection to Wanda by this point when she didn’t. Monica understood Wanda’s grief, sure, but the series needed to have built a much stronger connection between the two to make Monica’s sacrifice believable.

The seventh episode only made the problem even more obvious to me. After a failed attempt to drive into the Hex using what is essentially a space rover, Monica runs into the Hex, pushing past the barrier and fighting her way through.

We see Monica struggling through the Hex, splitting into alternate versions of herself as she goes. We hear voice overs from Captain Marvel; we hear young Monica encouraging Maria to go into space with Carol and Nick Fury, Nick Fury teasing Monica about learning to “glow like your auntie Carol.” We hear Jimmy Woo’s voice giving Monica his condolences and telling her Maria was truly an inspiration. Finally we hear Carol’s voice telling young Monica, “Your mom’s lucky. When they were handing out kids, they gave her the toughest one.”

At those words, all the alternate versions of Monica snap into one, and Monica is able to push through the other side of the Hex, coming out with bright, glowing blue eyes. Monica Rambeau now has super powers.

On its own, it’s an incredible scene. We finally get superpowered Monica, and we finally see Monica grapple with her pain and use it to move forward.

But what I can’t get past is that she’s only doing all of this to get to Wanda. Monica’s actions and her emotional journey aren’t for her own betterment, but to protect Wanda from Hayward’s dastardly deeds. Wanda’s even the reason Monica gets superpowers, since it’s the Hex that’s rearranged Monica’s cells.

The rest of Monica’s scenes in the series really drive the point home for me. After pushing through the Hex, Monica rushes into Wanda’s house to try to warn her about Hayward’s plan to get to Vision. Wanda attacks her, but Monica’s newly-acquired powers protect her. Monica then delivers a passionate speech about how she knows Wanda isn’t a villain, that she understands Wanda’s pain because she also lost the most important person in her life. She tells Wanda she can’t control that pain, and that she doesn’t even want to anymore because it’s her truth, and she has to accept it.

The speech is less of a turning point for Monica and more of a device to further the plot. Monica’s trying to get through to Wanda, but Agnes, who is later revealed to be antagonist Agatha Harkness, shoos her away and takes Wanda to her house. As Agatha leads Wanda away, Wanda turns around to threaten Monica one last time, pointing her finger at her and saying, “Don’t make me hurt you.”

But Monica is undeterred. She follows the two women and arrives at Agatha’s home, leading to her capture at the hands of the man posing as Pietro.

We don’t see Monica again until the series finale, and it’s truly the most disheartening episode in terms of how Monica is portrayed. Monica’s locked up in Fake Pietro’s house. She tries to leave, but he knocks her to the ground. Later in the episode, Monica learns Fake Pietro’s real identity and figures out how Agatha is controlling him. She takes him down and leaves the house.

Monica’s next scene is the one that disappointed me the most. Wanda is fighting Agatha while Vision is dealing with the version of himself Hayward and S.W.O.R.D created. Meanwhile, Wanda and Vision’s children, twin boys Billy and Tommy, are fighting the S.W.O.R.D and military personnel who have arrived in Westview.

Billy and Tommy have superpowers. Similar to his mother, Billy has telekinetic and telepathic abilities, as well as the ability to manipulate energy. Tommy has the same super-speed as his uncle Pietro. Billy and Tommy can handle themselves. The series proves that by showing Billy mind controlling the military personnel while Tommy speeds around stealing their guns and other items.

But, apparently, they still need Monica to throw her body on the line for them. When Hayward arrives on the scene and starts shooting at the kids, Monica throws herself in front of the bullets.

Thankfully, Monica is bulletproof; her body absorbs the energy from the bullets as they make contact, rendering them useless. But Monica didn’t know that before jumping in front of those kids. Her powers are still extremely new to her. So, she was willing to get shot up for kids who are not only not “real” (Wanda literally created Billy, Tommy and this version of Vision using her magic, and they disintegrate whenever she removes the Hex), but are more than capable of protecting themselves. We even see Billy manipulating the same bullets Hayward is firing at Monica, moving the bullets away from them.

Monica becomes a bullet shield for seemingly no reason, other than the creators not realizing that the optics of a Black woman getting repeatedly shot by an authority figure to protect the children of the white woman who has repeatedly harmed her are uncomfortable at best and demonstrative of a lack of any type of anti-racist politic at worst.

There are a myriad of ways the show could’ve demonstrated Monica’s powers. In the comics, Monica Rambeau has a very wide skill set: flight, energy duplication, energy absorption, energy blasts, invisibility, intangibility. Monica could’ve blasted Hayward into a new state instead of taking those bullets, but that seems to be beyond the creators’ imaginations.

Once all the fighting is over and Wanda has finally removed the Hex and said goodbye to her family, Monica tells Wanda that the townspeople — the same people Wanda held in captivity, controlled and tortured — will “never know what you sacrificed” for them. Monica also tells Wanda that if she had Wanda’s powers, she would bring her mother back to life, directly contradicting the passionate speech she’d given just two episodes prior. Instead of using the moment to make an attempt at holding Wanda accountable for her actions or at least having Wanda express gratitude to Monica for being so willing to help her, the creators decided to have Monica attempt to make Wanda feel better.

The only moment that seems to move Monica’s story forward comes in a post-credits scene. An agent approaches Monica and tells her she’s needed in the movie theater. Once inside, the agent reveals herself to be a Skrull and tells Monica someone wants to talk to her “up there”, pointing to the ceiling, strongly implying that someone (most likely Nick Fury) wants her to travel to outer space. Monica looks up and smiles. It’s the one moment in the series finale in which the creators seem to remember that Monica is her own character who should have her adventures for the advancement of her own journey.

I understand the creators wanted to demonstrate Monica’s abilities and heroism, but turning the show’s lone Black female superhero into a bullet shield and comforter for her white counterparts plays into racist tropes.

Monica’s entire presence in the show reminds of me of the Magical Negro Trope, or as I’ve taken to calling it, the “Bonnie Bennett Treatment.” A Magical Negro is a Black character who only exists to help their white counterparts complete their journeys, sometimes using supernatural abilities/superpowers.

I call it the “Bonnie Bennett Treatment” because the first example of the Magical Negro trope I think of is Bonnie Bennett, a character on the hit CW series, “The Vampire Diaries”. Bonnie, a witch played by actress Kat Graham, spends almost her entire time on the show using her magic to help her white human and vampire friends. Bonnie (literally) sacrifices herself repeatedly in order to advance the stories of her white counterparts. She has virtually no journey of her own and seems to only exist for her friends.

Kat Graham as Bonnie Bennett

In several ways, Monica’s arc in “WandaVision’’ reminds me of Bonnie Bennett. Nearly everything about her and her arc is tied to Wanda, to the point where I wonder what Monica’s story would’ve looked like without Wanda.

Honestly, a few small changes would’ve helped avoid this issue. Having Monica actually talk about Maria a little more, having Jimmy and Darcy try to check on Monica’s mental/emotional state a little more, and really focusing on Monica’s interior life would’ve made a big difference in Monica’s portrayal.

There’s a moment in the fourth episode that suggests that Monica is eager to get back to work because she doesn’t want to directly deal with her mother’s death. The series could’ve focused on that; have Monica be hyper-fixated on helping the 3,892 citizens under Wanda’s control only to realize she’s using it as a distraction from her own pain and grief.

Even though the series is about Wanda, Monica is shown to be a prominent side character. The show just needed to let her be her own character, not a tool to develop Wanda’s.

Despite being not totally satisfied with Monica’s portrayal, I’m still very glad we got her in “WandaVision.” I’m glad Teyonah Parris was given the opportunity to bring an adult, superpowered Monica to life. And I’m still holding out hope for her portrayal in the Captain Marvel sequel, which is set to be directed by Nia DaCosta.

Monica Rambeau still deserves a lot more. And I’m hoping that the next time we see her, she’ll get just that.




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