10.11.2014

Wonder Woman - The Feminum Mystique

The TV Tomb of Mystery is an ongoing attempt to stave off acquisition of any more impulse-buy DVDs by taking better inventory of the ones already in hand. 

Today's excursion:

(1976)
Season 1, Episodes 4 and 5.
While the title invokes Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, nothing else in this story does. "Feminum" is a precious metal found only in one place in the world:


It's called Amazonium in the old comics - no idea if it's still around in the New 52. Prolonged exposure to it is the source of the Amazonians' enhanced speed, strength, and agility. It's also the material with which they make their bullet-deflecting bracelets.

See?
Wonder Woman aired from 1975 to 1979, first on ABC and later on CBS. Sooner or later, CBS ends up with everything. It starred - like you need me to tell you any of this - Lynda Carter as Diana Prince.


Personally, I feel the most interesting portrayal of Wonder Woman was in the 2009 animated film where she was voiced by Keri Russell. I never would have credited Keri Russell with the range she's shown since her Felicity days, but she's done some great work in recent years. And she's great as Wonder Woman. Everyone's great in that movie, actually.

Nice review here, and I nicked this pic from there, as well.
Anyway, none of this is to say Lynda Carter's stronger association with the character is undeserved. She is the reigning Wonder Woman champ and likely will be for some time, given Hollywood's inability to get a movie or TV show together for the character. Sooner or later, inevitably, the right reboot will connect with the right audience. But until then:


"The Feminum Mystique" is campy fun. It suffers from the same things most episodes of the series suffer from, namely, a poor script and generic visual design. The first point is unremarkable for its era; that's just the way 70s (and a lot of subsequent) TV went. The second is less excusable, as the concept itself - a statuesque demigoddess from an invisible island of statuesque demigoddeses descends upon WW2 America to wage her own war against the Nazi war machine and make her way in the world -  demands a certain amount of style that never quite gels. Too many props and costumes from other shows, too many 70s haircuts for stories set in the 40s. The show is somewhat tone deaf to its own possibilities.

Attempts at meta were almost always accidental. (From "Wonder Woman vs. Gargantua," s1e6.)
Another underutilized aspect of the show was Wonder Woman's relationships male characters. If this was all done with a bit more panache, it'd be hilarious fun - even better than Buffy, potentially. Instead, we get better than Charlie's Angels.

The other lead of the show is Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor, who constantly needs rescuing by Wonder Woman.
She flirts with him/ holds a torch for him - naturally! - but this shot pretty much sums up who needs whom in their relationship.
This should have been exploited a bit more cheekily. The only men Wonder Woman meets (in season one, anyway) are benevolent himbos, Nazi bastards, and wannabe-Nazi-bastards done in by their arrogant short-sightedness. But all she does is leap over them and deflect their bullets with her wristbands, then don her glasses and tie up her hair and make googly eyes at Steve.

The original comics are better-known these days for the pro-bondage stance of their creator, William Moulton Marston, than their WW2 themes.

This is well-mapped terrain, so I won't dwell on it.
The TV show went for a best of both worlds approach. (From "Fausta, the Nazi Wonder Woman," s1e2.)
"The Feminum Mystique" introduces that heroine-to-cosplayers-everywhere, Wonder Girl:

Played somewhat improbably in retrospect by Debra Winger.

In the comics, Wonder Girl is (or was - it changes often) Donna Troy, her kid sister. Here she is still her kid sister but is renamed Drusilla, for some reason.

Drusilla thinks back to seeing her sister change into Wonder Woman once.
So she tries it.
And voila:
Instant costume, replete with Feminum bracelets.
Even for its era, this displays a rather dogged disregard for viewers' intelligence.
She travels from Paradise Island on the advice of Mama Wonder Woman aka Queen Hippolyta.
Played by Carolyn Adams (aka Morticia Addams)
Once in America, her sister takes her under her wing and shows her around the office. (Naturally. Diana only works at the State Department during World War 2 - I'm sure kid sisters from out of town with no identification were welcome at the office.) She plays the fish out of water, fascinated by ice cream and the curious idea that her sister works for a man in the outside world. Then, of course, she's captured in the same manner Wonder Woman's always captured - knocked out by chloroform.

This was over-used an awful lot.
 

Drusilla reveals the existence of Paradise Island, whose paramount rule, reiterated by her mother in this very episode, is You must never reveal our existence to the outside world. She's meant to come across as the country mouse, I get that, and the guy sent in to her cell to get this info uses subterfuge, sure. But come on. The script even has her lament her lapse in security/ duty - directly before giving the exact coordinates of the island to the Nazi spy. Phwew.

Winger returns for another go-round as Wonder Girl in another episode, but - according to her, anyway - she feuded too much with Lynda Carter and was never asked to return.

When asked on Larry King about the feud, Lynda Carter seemed surprised to hear it and denied any alleged bad behavior on her part. She seemed pretty sympathetic, so I'm Team Lynda on this one, if we're breaking into teams.
To the episode itself.
Diana is on hand when the Nazis try and steal the XPJ-1, an experimental jet fighter. Said Nazis basically just drive up on a jeep. Sure, they had men on the inside, but seriously? On an air base? During wartime? And during a top secret test flight? There's, like, four dudes here for security.

Never mind that the Nazis were well ahead of the Allies when it came to jet fighters, nor that the chief engineer of the project (in this episode) is a Nazi himself, i.e. he probably could have just built one for them.
The Nazis are more interested in these indestructible bracelets they saw on Wonder Woman.
Oh yeah - John Saxon is one of the Nazis.
Although he's identified as an officer, he doesn't have a Luger. Deduct appropriate points.
This leads to their eventually kidnapping Drusilla, as mentioned above.

Just two Nazi dudes trying to figure out this Feminum business.
Achtung!
The symbolic awesomeness of Nazis trying to determine the chemical formula for Feminum for their own twisted purposes through a cheap, phallic microscope prop is probably unintentional, but I'm happy it's there.

The Allies intercept transmission of the captured coordinates of:
Off she goes.

She attempts to rouse the fighting spirit of her fellow Amazonians, but somehow the non-super-powered Nazis (all twelve of them) manage to subdue the island with their cunning use of gas grenades.

The problem might be the "crack team" Wonder Woman assembles to guard the island.
The blonde girl in that picture above is Pamela Shoop, aka the horny nurse with the hornier boyfriend who both die in the hot tub in the original Halloween 2. Before she or any of the other Amazonians know it, the Nazis have them mining the Feminum.

"When zey are done," says Nazi John Saxon -
"ship zem all to Berlin. For study... and possible breeding." Nazis, amirite?
Thankfully, Wonder Girl returns, and with her help, the Nazis are defeated and their memories erased.
I didn't bother screencapping it, but this reversal of fortune for the Nazis happens when John Saxon dares refer to Queen Hippolyta as "old." Earlier, he taunted her with news of capturing and torturing Drusilla, her youngest daughter, and she shrugged it off. But call her an old woman? Now it's time for action.

Oh yeah, the experimental jet. They go back and save it and capture the last baddie.
Wonder Woman and General Blankenship watch Steve Trevor walk away.
And that's a wrap on that. Here are some screencaps I had leftover, since what this post needs is obviously more screencaps:

The Wonder Sisters!

William Marston once said that Wonder Woman was psychological propaganda for "the new type of woman who should run the world." If he had been alive to see this, I wonder what he'd have thought?

"The Feminum Mystique" aired on November 6th and 8th, 1976 and was

with
from a

13 comments:

  1. I think I have seen, like, two to three episodes of this show in all, really. For me it was just another in a long line of other seventies shows along with such luminaries as The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

    I'm not sure whether or not I knew about the politics surrounding the character back then. I can't recall making much of it at the time. Still, the greatest thing I've taken away from what other people say is just how hung up on sex in comics really are. Seriously, the more I read, the more it resembles one of those Peyton Place type deals where it's all Puritan piety on top and...just weird beneath the surface.

    I'm not sure I can convey just what I'm talking about, except to say that most comics fans seem unable to enjoy their supposed favorite medium, or to not take themselves too seriously, and all seem to have various neurotic hang ups every time sex is broached in comics.

    And then of course, there is the eyebrow-raising way sex is treated in some, not all, comics themselves. I have a vague theory about all this, and it comes from reading Gerard Jones' Men of Tomorrow.

    Feel free to shoot this down, but from Jones' book I began to wonder if the comics may not have, at least in part, had certain connections with the then nascent...well, porn industry. It's just that Jones notes people like Harry Donnenfeld, who helped create DC, had connections to the "other" industry, and I wonder if it wasn't at least "part" of the publishers intentions to try and make the comics a sometime extension of that industry.

    Yeah, I don't know how that must sound (like I say, don't go by me), however it's just a question Jones' book planted in my head.

    Personally, even if any of that were true, I still think fans need to take their favorite characters with a bit more light-heartedly and should heed the advice of MST3K and "Repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax".

    Then again, I'm the same moron who still gets upset over Denny O'Neal's Batgirl/Killing Joke matter. Go figure.

    If any of this seems rambling, chalk it up to a Male psyche still trying to figure out that much fabled "Mystique" of the fairer half of life.

    ...I'll go take my meds now,

    ChrisC

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    1. There really is a sameness to much of the tv of the era - from Wonder Woman to Love Boat to Fantasy Island and what not. Or even to Knight Rider and The A-Team. It's as if the SoCal location shooting just streamlines everything into one boat. I know the current crop of USA shows all shot in Miami all seem to look and feel exactly the same to me, so maybe there's something to it. Though these days that's true of a few other cable channels with original programming, as well (looking at you, SyFy.)

      Of course I've heard that said of CBS shows, as well, and I can't disagree. Maybe there's a template/ rulebook shared by them all.

      As for Feminum, it's just swapped in for the TV show, for some reason, based on the old DC continuity of Amazonium.

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  2. "Down the coast line near the feminum mine" -- looks like it's time for me to break out my Butt-head laugh again. "The feminum mine" -- uh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh.

    Butt-head was in full force for much of this post, actually, and I'd pay good money for him and Beavis to do an MST3K-style commentary on the episode. That'd be great.

    I know I saw a few episodes of this series at some point in my childhood, but I can't claim to remember anything at all about it except from having an image of Lynda Carter permanently burned into my brain. And it's welcome there.

    I know nothing about the Debra Winger / Lynda Carter feud, but I instinctively take Carter's side.

    At some point, I'd like to watch some of this era of superhero shows -- this and Bionic Woman and $6 Mil Man, etc. Greatest American Hero would be the capper to that exploration, I suspect.

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    1. That would be a fun project and definitely GAH would be a logical ending point. That's one I haven't seen almost since the time it went off the air. There was a local station that showed reruns sometime around 1988 that I remember tuning in for a few weekends, but I've yet to revisit it.

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  3. As for that whole Feminum deal. It's in none of the New 52 that I've read, and I never noticed anything like that in any of the older ones. As far as I can tell, the writers for the show literally tossed that into the script. If there's supposed to be some metaphor for that idea, it went right over my head, thought that sounds like giving the writers more credit than due, really.

    I can say this. I mentioned a popmatters article that mentioned the 52 reboot of the character, and noted how it sounded a lot like a Neil Gaiman premise. Strangely enough, that idea sort of holds in the comics themselves. One thing of note about this incarnation is how they eschew a lot of the original mythos of the character and ground the stories more in the vein of the actual Greek myths. True to the original myths, most of the Greek pantheon are backstabbing and petty, and yet that seems to be what makes it such a novel concept. As some other readers noted, the whole thing does seem almost more like a Vertigo series rather than your normal superhero story. It's not the original, but it can be said to be somewhat in the vein of Gaiman.

    Incidentally, does anyone else think the American Hero theme would work great for an Incredibles TV series?

    ChrisC

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    1. I read the first 5 or 6 issues of the New 52 Wonder Woman, and it was pretty good. I stopped spending money on New 52 after OMAC got cancelled. That was the only one I genuinely enjoyed - though a few (Wonder Woman, Action Comics) were definitely decent work.

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    2. p.s. I forgot: yeah, the Greek mythos angle of the New 52 one is pretty Vertigo. I prefer the Perez post-Crisis one for the Greek angle, for my own tastes. (Probably no surprise I enjoy the 2009 animated movie as much as I do, since it follows those pretty well.)

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    3. There is actually one character who isn't a part of the original Greek, or any myths that I've been able to find, and quite frankly I think she's the best character out of all that I've seen.

      Her name is Siracca, and her story is told in just two issues, part 1

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivw8Nm-pOpc

      and part 2:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-c0b0xZEqNY

      Yeah, that is weird, warped, and very cool all at the same time. I have to admit, I wouldn't if Alan Moore did something with this character.

      ChrisC

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  4. I would watch this show as a young girl all the time. I have not seen it as an adult though. I look at these pictures and have fond memories!

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  5. I loved this show as well as The Bionic Woman and The Secrets of Isis. I didn't see them until I was a kid in the late 80s and watched them on Nick at Nite. Powerful women are what the world needs.

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  6. With regard to "Sooner or later, inevitably, the right reboot will connect with the right audience." it certainly seems from all accounts that Gal Gadot has proven to do just this. I haven't seen it, but I'm happy to see this. In an era that has set a very low and dangerously politicized bar for "powerful women", Wonder Woman is the heroine the times need! A powerful character with a rich history steeped in time-honored ideals and fantasy.

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    1. She is indeed terrific. And it's worth adding that so far, the movies she has been in have not gone overboard in the way of sexualizing her. When I watched her solo movie, I expected to enjoy it if only for the cheesecake. I was surprised to find a near-complete absence of cheesecake, and was then doubly surprised to find myself applauding the absence, and was then triply surprised by how I found myself looking up to her as a hero in a manner similar to the way I've been doing my whole life with characters like James Bond or Luke Skywalker or Superman or whoever.

      That was cool for me, a man in his early forties. I can't even imagine how cool it must be for women, or (especially) young girls.

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    2. While I certainly applaud what you say and by no means point these comments in your good direction:

      There's such gender/race-segregated conditioning going on these days, and it saddens me. As a father of two young girls - and thankfully they're too young to notice this stuff: they love Batman and Batgirl and black/white, etc. Content of the character/ heroism, in other words, which will always be what I believe in, regardless of how out of fashion that is - I am definitely wary of the sort of "Ghostbusters" fabricated-heroism/neoconfederate-feminism so en vogue these days. I say en vogue, but that implies it's merely a fashion instead of a cancerous ethos, mindlessly affirmed and applied down the line, where a film with a male hero is seen as depriving women of a heroine, etc. It's such a reactionary and superficial and stupid way of viewing the world.

      Anyway it all leads to running everything you see, read, or hear by a Committee for Public Safety in one's head, comprised by Samantha Bee's JV team, or worse. It drives me up a fucking wall. We were at a playgroup the other day and one of the other moms was talking about how every morning she plays "Who runs the world" by Beyonce to her two under-5-year-old children. This is the mentality I'm talking about, where trying to condition one's kids via fucking-Beyonce-Knowles is seen as some kind of empowerment strategy.

      Ay fucking caramba. (While I'm swearing.) I will raise my girls to be Wonder Women in the truest sense, thank you, and put these half-wits to the sword...!

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