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Wonder Woman 1.5 – The Feminum Mystique (part two)

So some Nazis attack Paradise Island. The reality of seventies television means that we didn’t get what modern superhero teevee would do in this sort of situation. I can totally imagine the team that makes those four shows on the CW pulling off a full-scale pitched battle, with Amazon archers bringing down German soldiers on the beaches. Here, bizarrely, the expeditionary force happens to choose to land on the remote part of the island where the Amazons mine feminum, from which they forge their bracelets. And so the eight soldiers run into Diana’s group of unarmed (!!!) Amazons, and they overcome the women with gas grenades.

No, nobody gets an arrow or a javelin in the chest. The Amazons are content to… well, throw the villains into the water. Oh, the seventies, how you disappoint us so. Even before the Nazis get their minds wiped before being shipped into Allied hands, they have no idea that the island has a large population.

On the other hand, our son was incredibly pleased by the stunts and the tame violence. He loved seeing the villains tossed into the pond, as well as the climax, in which Wonder Woman stops an experimental jet from being stolen by an agent by grabbing a wing and letting it spin in circles. Full credit to the producers and Lynda Carter for pulling that off: it wasn’t a stuntwoman, and it looked pretty dangerous.

Honestly, my favorite part of the episode came when John Saxon’s villainous character briefly justified the Nazi cause to Carolyn Jones’s Queen Hippolyta. I say this not because of the scene’s content, but because these are two really great actors working extremely well together. Saxon is still working; he has nearly 200 credits at IMDB and I notice that we’ll be seeing him again down the line in other projects.

Overall, it’s a good story, with some very intelligent bits – watching the villains determine Paradise Island’s location based on Drusilla’s recounting of constellations is really clever – and some very good acting, from the veterans as well as from newcomer Debra Winger. Times have changed and expectations have evolved, but for its day, this was not bad at all.

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Wonder Woman 1.4 – The Feminum Mystique (part one)

The first two-part episode of Wonder Woman is another that everybody remembers. It introduces Debra Winger as Diana’s younger sister Drusilla. In other Paradise Island news, Carolyn Jones takes over the role of Queen Hippolyta, and Erica Hagen, who had been in a couple of first season Land of the Lost episodes, plays another Amazon named Dalma.

The Queen has decided that Diana has spent enough time in America and should return home to fulfill her duties. This is set in June 1942. I was saying the other week that this show would make more sense if it had been set in ’43, but now we’re meant to believe that Major Trevor washed ashore on the island in the spring and the queen thinks Diana should have ended the war already? Oddly, that’s precisely what John Saxon’s bosses in Germany say this week: a proactive Wonder Woman would end the war within weeks.

The original story was written by Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday, who would later create the iconic cop drama Cagney & Lacey, and the teleplay credited to regular Hammer Films scribe Jimmy Sangster, who had moved to California in the early seventies and was popping around various studios writing TV episodes. The title is a cute pun on Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, but it doesn’t make any sense in this show yet. “Feminum” is the name of the indestructible metal that the Amazons use for their bracelets, but that is not explained in part one of the story.

Our son really enjoyed this one, and was excited when Drusilla does a spin and turns into a costumed hero. He was less happy when she gets into trouble and is captured by John Saxon’s gang. I enjoyed the way that Drusilla is shown to be naive and doesn’t understand our culture, the way that Wonder Woman was all too briefly in the original film. But our son is still learning our culture as well, and I had to pause a couple of times to explain things like code phrases and how Drusilla’s yellow dress is garishly unlike what teens in 1942 were wearing.

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Land of the Lost 1.15 – Elsewhen

If I cared more for American TV sci-fi of this period – I generally don’t at all – then this blog would probably see an awful lot of D.C. Fontana’s work. Yet another veteran of Star Trek, both the original show and the cartoon, to be brought on board by David Gerrold, she would go on to write for several later Trek shows and its competition / descendants / peers / ripoffs / what have you, almost none of which I’ve ever seen and have barely heard of. I’ll tell you this, though: “Elsewhen” is so darn wonderful that I’m tempted to track down what Fontana came up with in her scripts for gobbledygook like Automan and Babylon 5.

I remembered this one having the promise of being particularly rough for Daniel, and boy, was I ever right. The entire thing is set inside the Lost City, with the Marshalls stubbornly deciding to risk the Sleestak in order to fiddle with Enik’s time doorway, and then they go looking into a weird hole in the wall of a deep chasm. While they’re exploring, a strange woman named Rani, played by Erica Hagen, comes through to give Holly a pep talk and a word or two of predestination. Inevitably, for people used to television’s later embrace of timey-wimey business like this, Rani is revealed to be Holly’s future self, but for a kid’s show in 1974 this was mind-blowing.

(And I obviously reference Doctor Who in that sentence, but heck, Daniel’s familiar enough with the concept from a favorite Spongebob Squarepants that sees dozens of Mermaid Men and Barnacle Boys from different points in their history all showing up. Children’s television, across the board, may be infinitely safer and less frightening than it was forty years ago, but it also assumes a lot more intelligence of its audience.)

But yes, the Lost City is very much marked out in Daniel’s understanding as A Bad Place, and it was a little bittersweet watching him hum and sing along with the theme music, ready and hoping for more dinosaur fun, knowing that the entire episode was going to be one darkly-lit underground nightmare with Sleestak. He didn’t like this one much at all. I had to promise him the next episode is nowhere as terrifying.

Notably, though, apart from the time doorway business, this one also features that astonishingly, thunderously strange and powerful image of the sun rising while Holly is in the hole, holding on to the rope, to see that, thanks to the Land being a closed universe, she has emerged… well, it’s unclear. The obvious answer is that she’s gone down so far that she’s come back out the top and is holding on while the distant mountains rise upside down beneath her, but that doesn’t explain why the sun would rise when it was already daylight. There were two pylon keys mounted into the walls on the climb down to the hole. Was this a doorway to a parallel universe? A time doorway to an earlier, or later point in the Land? Is that upside-down landscape the ancient Altrusia of Enik’s time?

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Land of the Lost 1.7 – Album

As we sat down to watch this episode, Marie asked “Do they ever mention their mother?” I gave her a side-eye, suspecting for a second that she’d peeked ahead.

This episode is phenomenally creepy. Daniel spent most of it buried under his security blanket. It’s a great example of how Land of the Lost simply didn’t sound like anything else on TV. The occasional banjo in the incidental music is odd enough, but there’s a soundscape of ambient electronic noises that’s really eerie and unsettling, especially when so much of the story proceeds without dialogue. It sounds like a gentle breeze upsetting a badly-tuned theremin.

This is the first episode written by Dick Morgan, who’d been writing for TV since the 1950s and, while most of the other season one writers had a science fiction background, Morgan was a regular in the Jack Webb writers’ pool. In his first contribution, he has Will and Holly attracted by an illusory noise that leads them into the Lost City and into an “album room” where they can see a shadowy image of their dead mother, played by Erica Hagen, who is beckoning them into a doorway. It’s the first time that we see that the Sleestak have some understanding of the Land’s technology.

Dennis Steinmetz had directed the first five episodes of the show. The previous episode, and this one, were directed by Bob Lally, who really pushed the young actors harder and farther than the first episodes prepared us for. Last time out, Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman were screaming in horror, and this time, they’re struck mute by the illusions, unable to express anything but sadness, silence, and misery. It’s not just creepy; this episode is downright grim.

Technology note: In this episode, a blue crystal can, without being paired with another crystal, create a powerful illusion. Something must have charged or powered the crystal to generate the spell, likely the odd table in the album room, but we are not shown details.

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