In setting up WandaVision’s life-inside-a-sitcom conceit, the series’ first episode brandished a number of classic television reference points. But one title stood out as most obviously impactful on Wanda’s magical machination: The Dick Van Dyke Show. The premiere’s bouncy theme song felt like a direct descendent of Earle Hagen’s 1961 composition; the even bouncier banter of Wanda and Vision no doubt took lessons from the like of Rob and Laura Petrie. And the choice made perfect sense. The Dick Van Dyke Show is the epitome of the wholesome (yet still funny!) household comedy of television yore.
And yet, WandaVision chose a strange episode of Dick Van Dyke to acknowledge outright in its eighth chapter. For those only casually familiar with the early ’60s series, the clip glimpsed in “Previously On” may look somewhat jarring. Particularly the shot of Laura Petrie riding an avalanche of walnuts out from within the couple’s living room closet.
As mentioned on WandaVision, the Dick Van Dykeepisode in question was “It May Look Like a Walnut.” (“Season two, episode twenty-one,” as young Wanda proudly recalls in a flashback sequence.) On one hand, the episode is not a terribly surprising choice; it remains one of the series’ best-remembered and most highly regarded entries. But that’s partially because it broke from the show’s typical happy-go-lucky format to deliver something far stranger.
The premise follows Rob Petrie losing his wits after watching a scary science-fiction movie on TV. The movie, as he relays to a terrified Laura, centers on an alien invasion; one extraterrestrial visitor “with a British accent” arrives on Earth with a mission to stop humankind’s meddling in outer space. (Space travel was something of a hot button controversy in the ’60s and ’70s.) He brings with him a chemical element from his home planet, disguised inside a walnut shell.
Somehow, the element spreads by way of the Earth’s walnut supply, infecting humans across the globe with alien characteristics. Specifically: a second set of eyes on the back of the head; a loss of thumbs; and a loss of imagination. Additionally, Rob mentions that the visiting alien race breathes water, not air, and only eats walnuts. (There’s a lot of walnut material in this episode; it gets kind of exhausting.)
Rob wakes up the morning after watching this movie to find its facets overtaking his reality. His wife and child gorge themselves on walnuts; his friends gradually develop strange behavior and robotic cadence; he discovers a glowing gem inside a walnut shell; a British-accented Danny Thomas refers to Rob as the last remaining Earth human. And then Rob himself, through a manner of visual effect rivaled by the MCU itself, loses his thumbs; this solidifies his fate as “one of them.”
So who cares? Well, the kind of people who’ve come to believe that the Marvel minds don’t make hollow choices. One may reasonably assume that WandaVision chose “It May Look Like a Walnut” as its late-season Dick Van Dyke shout-out simply for the iconic Mary-Tyler-Moore-walnut-avalanche shot. But there’s enough material in this uniquely sci-fi-oriented episode of the classic series that harks back to Marvel gameplay. Heck, the mere mention of a four-eyed British-accented alien who can disguise himself in human form should rev mental engines.
The very premise of the Dick Van Dykeepisode harkens back to Captain Marvel‘s central sci-fi concept of body-snatching. Likewise the notion that aliens have come to Earth to deter our kind from problematic space exploration; “looking like humans” and “wanting to be left in pace” are the two big things for the MCU’s Skrulls.
That said, the only properly four-eyed aliens in Marvel Comics are the Quo Modari from the Force Works series. But they’re traditionally quite nice. As for villainous water-breathers, Marvel has Attuma. This Namor baddie has tried to conquer the human realm; he even sicced brute force on Scarlet Witch once. So… you know. Carl Reiner was really playing the long game.
Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the matter of the tiny but powerful glowing orb that offsets a race of otherworldly humanoids. That one’s tough to ignore, given that exposure to an Infinity Stone may be what kicked off Wanda’s superpowers. (And perhaps even a lineage of mutants in the MCU.) A more substantial connection than to the Walnut Diamond of The Spectacular Spider-Ham, anyway.
But the most sizable piece of the puzzle may be the episode’s climax. As the third act picks up, Rob finds out he’s the last remaining human. Does this suggest an Age of Apocalypse-type ordeal to befall the mutants, witches, or mortals of the MCU? Could this story meld with the elements introduced in Captain Marvel to create a deadly alien invasion? Could walnuts come into play whatsoever?
Only time will tell. For now, back to the Dick Van Dyke reruns for more clues. (Special thanks to Rosie Knight for helping me concoct this madness.)