Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Almost Classic Wonder Woman Episode: The Feminum Mystique


Last week I finally popped open my Blu-ray set of the Wonder Woman series, knowing the show would look better than it ever has, and hoping that improved picture quality might offset some of the deficiencies in scripts, supporting cast and special effects that, despite Lynda Carter's sheer perfection, have nudged the series into 'missed opportunity' status. 


There was no question about which episode I’d check out first: “The Feminum Mystique, Parts 1 & 2.” These were the shows that featured a German invasion of Paradise Island, the introduction of Debra Winger as Wonder Girl, and one of the very few moments in the series in which Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman displayed superhuman strength on par with Gal Gadot in the movies. 



I’m still not quite ready to call it a classic, but I do think it’s as close as this show got.


We’re in the first season, which was always more interesting than the two that followed because of its World War II-era setting. The dashing but ever-useless Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner) is part of a project to develop an experimental aircraft that could help the Allies shorten the war. One of his trusted crewmembers is Peter Knight, played by Charles Frank, one of those all-American type actors that you’d never suspect might be a Nazi spy. So of course that’s exactly what he is.


Meanwhile, back on Paradise Island, Queen Hippolyta (Carolyn Jones, right at home in over-the-top material) decides it’s time Princess Diana stopped cavorting among all those X chromosomes and returned home. She selects Diana’s sister Drusilla (Debra Winger) to deliver the message. 



After the two sisters are reunited Diana ignores the message to leave, and instead allows Dru to discover the joys of ice cream and men (in a family show-friendly way, of course).


Colonel Radl (John Saxon), another German saboteur, sees Wonder Woman in action and realizes the potential in building submarines and tanks from the bullet-deflecting metal in her bracelets. That’s something that never occurred to Steve Trevor, even though he spent more time with Wonder Woman than anyone else. I guess we should be glad he wasn’t in charge of D-Day. 



Radl kidnaps a general to lure Wonder Woman into a trap – he gets Drusilla as Wonder Girl instead, and with Peter Knight’s help tricks her into revealing the location of Paradise Island, the only source for the metal “feminum” used to make the bracelets.


What happens next I’ll leave for you to discover. What makes “The Feminum Mystique” arguably the best Wonder Woman show is how the story unfolds on a grander scale, with more Nazis and more amazons than you’d find in a typical episode, and a challenge more befitting to one of the world’s most powerful superheroes. There is also some really clunky dialogue, but if you ever read sliver age DC comics you know that’s also pretty accurate to the source material.


For some reason, knowing how much Debra Winger allegedly hated her Wonder Girl days just enhances my enjoyment in these shows.  



She didn’t like a lot of her movies and most of her costars so this was true to form, but I thought she fit the part well and I’m glad she returned for one more appearance, in the final first season episode “Wonder Woman in Hollywood.”


There are some nice moments between Winger and Lynda Carter, and between Carolyn Jones and John Saxon, two actors frequently trapped in substandard material that always manage to rise above it. 



Does all of that add up to a classic episode? It still falls short for me, but for what it’s worth, I enjoyed it more than Wonder Woman 1984.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the Winger ones too (I mean, LOVED) and can still remember Debra thinking hard how her big sister spun into WW and can she do it too? Yup! Years ago Debra was on Letterman being pretty snarky about Lynda Carter not being upstaged by her little sister when she guested, and I'm sure fans can recall Debra's exit from Dave's show! ☺️💕