WandaVision: The Sitcom Influences of Episode 8
WandaVision returns to the confines of The Dick Van Dyke Show to reveal how one very special sitcom episode may tie-in thematically to Wanda Maximoff’s story.
This article contains spoilers for WandaVision episode 8.
Like episode 4 before it, WandaVision episode 8 drops the show’s sitcom homage format entirely to delve deeper into the context of the world outside the hexagon and Wanda’s own history. That doesn’t mean, however, that “Previously On…” still doesn’t find the time to shout out some classic television.
In fact, this penultimate installment may feature WandaVision’s most important sitcom reference yet by taking things back to the very first episode with the help of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Allow us to explain…
The Dick Van Dyke Show
As Agatha takes Wanda on a Christmas Carol-style trip through her past, the first stop is naturally in Sokovia, where they witness the day that Wanda and Pietro’s parents died. Before the violence in the streets escalates and a Stark bomb destroys their home, however, we see how Wanda came by her love for American sitcoms.
Her father is a DVD salesman, and on the days that he isn’t able to sell his wares, he settles in for Maximoff family TV night. On this particular day, it’s Wanda’s turn to pick what to watch and she selects what seems to be a recurring favorite for her: The Dick Van Dyke Show. Wanda also has a very specific episode in mind: season 2 episode 21. “Oh, the walnut episode!” her father happily exclaims.
Now, anytime a Marvel property takes the time to mention another bit of media, specifically by name, it’s probably worth noting. In this case, Wanda’s choice of episode seems particularly important. For not only is “It May Look Like a Walnut” one of the best Dick Van Dyke Show episodes ever and a TV classic, it also has some surprising thematic ties for WandaVision itself.
“It May Look Like a Walnut” can be found just about anywhere on the Internet in its entirety, including on YouTube or via a Hulu subscription. The episode opens with Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) and his wife Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) in bed (or in separate beds, rather, as was customary on television at that time). Rob is watching a sci-fi movie that is apparently so eerie and terrifying that Laura can’t bear to look at the TV. Thankfully, Rob describes the plot of the film to his wife in detail.
The unnamed film is about a civilization of aliens from the planet Twilo who send their representative Kolak (who looks like actor Danny Thomas) to Earth to disrupt humanity’s development. Kolak does so by introducing tainted walnuts into our food supply. When opened, these walnuts contain a grape-sized seed made up of the Twilo-ian chemical element “absorbitron.” Anyone who eats the walnuts slowly takes on the appearance of Kolak, which means developing eyes in the back of their head. Those who eat the walnuts also lose their thumbs and sense of imagination. Rob notes that those are the two factors that allow humanity to enter into space and are therefore threatening to the Twiloites.
The next morning, Rob walks into the living room, only to slip on a pile of walnuts. He congratulates Laura on her very funny joke but she insists that the Twiloites must have put them there. She then reveals that their egg carton is filled with walnuts and packs a walnut in his breast pocket for work. At work, all of Rob’s co-workers seem to be in on this prank. Rob’s desk and bookcase are full of walnuts. Then, none other than Danny Thomas appears, speaking in a British accent like Kolak. Rob loses his thumbs (which consists of the actor merely tucking them onto his palms) and runs home terrified. There he opens a closet door only to find a mountain of walnuts cascading down upon him with Laura atop it. In WandaVision episode 8, Wanda sees this scene on the still-operating television in the crater of what was once her home.
Rob then finally wakes up to discover that this was all a dream. Despite Laura worrying about the film giving her nightmares, he was the one it really tormented (though she says she had a nightmare about Danny Thomas too). Not knowing what else to do, the Petries do what just about anyone would: turn the TV back on. They watch some mindless late night exercise program and the episode ends.
So why would showrunner Jac Schaeffer, writer Laura Donney, and the rest of the decision-makers at Marvel decide to reference this particular episode during a formative moment in Wanda’s life? Well, for starters: it’s great. In 2009, TV Guide ranked “It May Look Like a Walnut” as the 13th best episode in television history. If Wanda Maximoff was going to develop a lifelong TV obsession, then we had to be assured that she was watching the good stuff.
But in addition to its general quality, “It May Look Like a Walnut” has some real thematic similarities with WandaVision. Marvel has made it quite clear that Phase 4 is destined to spend more time among the stars in outer space. Captain Marvel is still out there, playing intergalactic cop. Her little buddy Monica Rambeau is now grown up and seemingly just received powers (and an appropriately spacey outfit) that should make space-travel possible. The Eternals are also out there, in parts unknown. And not-for-nothing, but sci-fi concepts like multiverses will clearly play a big role in the MCU going forward. Wanda, herself, is even set to join Doctor Strange and his Multiverse of Madness soon.
To put it lightly: there aren’t many episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show or any other classic sitcom that rely on the plot of a fictionalized sci-fi movie. In choosing this particular installment, WandaVision clearly wants to highlight that science fiction aspect of it. In some ways, that episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show is like an episode of WandaVision, itself. They both marry the mundane with high concept (and quite frankly, silly) science fiction.
The plot of one unnamed fictional sci-fi movie isn’t all that “It May Look Like a Walnut” is about though. In fact, most of the episode takes place after Rob has watched the movie and described its plot to Laura. Most of the installment’s running time takes place in what Rob thinks is the real world but is really a dream. Rob therefore has a sense through most of the episode that something is really off…and that his reality may in fact be fabricated. Now, who on WandaVision does that remind you of? That’s right: pretty much everyone. But Wanda in particular, of course.
In hindsight, WandaVision’s first episode, inspired and modeled after The Dick Van Dyke Show, now feels particularly resonant. Wanda watched Rob Petrie lose his mind over walnuts countless times in her childhood. And then in episode 1, there she is in that same living room (or a close facsimile of it) – with her mind thoroughly lost…even if she doesn’t fully realize it yet. At least she still has her thumbs…for now.
Since, WandaVision doesn’t fully embrace the sitcom format this week, there aren’t many other shows to mention. But just about every sitcom that was previously featured on WandaVision does return in some fashion.
In addition to The Dick Van Dyke Show, Wanda’s father’s TV box set options include: Who’s The Boss?, The Addam’s Family, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, Malcolm in the Middle, and I Dream of Jeannie. Wanda is also seen watching episodes of two series beyond just The Dick Van Dyke Show.
During her time as a HYDRA lab experiment, Wanda watches some of The Brady Bunch. The episode in particular appears to be season 1 episode 7 “Kitty Karry-All Is Missing.” The plot of “Kitty Karry-All” features Cindy Brady’s beloved doll going missing. Naturally she suspects her brother Bobby stole and hid it. In reality, however, the Brady family’s dog Tiger took the doll and hid it in his doghouse.
Finally, when Wanda is a newly inducted Avenger, she spends her time watching Malcolm in the Middle with Vision at Avengers HQ.