By Kerensa Cadenas and Noel Kirkpatrick
Season 1, episodes 4 and 5: “The Feminum Mystique” Parts 1 and 2
Original airdates: Nov. 6 and Nov. 8, 1976
Noel: So what say you, Kerensa, about this episode? Last week’s episode was the pits, but I think the show properly redeemed itself with this pair of episodes. There was action, humor, and while I found some of part two sort of maddening from a superhero-ing perspective, I generally really enjoyed this pair of episodes.
I should make a quick correction as I said that Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday co-wrote this episode. They actually came up with the story and Jimmy Sangster — an old hand from Hammer Film Productions from way back in the day — wrote the actual teleplay. (I was woefully mislead by Wikipedia. DAMN YOU, WIKIPEDIA.)
Kerensa: I really liked it. Although the end of the second episode dragged a bit for me. I mean, honestly, I feel like anything had to be better than last week’s episode. But I really liked getting more of an insight into Paradise Island (MISS U CLORIS) and for me the Diana/Steve dynamic is getting a bit less maddening which is nice. And so much twirling! I drank every time there was a twirl! And it was awesome.
Let’s start out with the biggest plot point of this episode–meeting Diana’s sister Drusilla. What did you think about her?
Noel: Well, the comic nerd in me was annoyed she was named Drusilla. Wonder Woman’s sister is named Donna, dammit. But, really, that’s just a silly quibble. I really liked Drusilla, and Debra Winger, in her first major role based on the “Introducing” credit she received. There’s an innocence to the character, and in Winger’s portrayal, that gives the episode a lot of levity. Her love of ice cream, her desire to fit in with the other teenagers, and her child-like questioning of Blankenship, it’s all such a breath of fresh air (and her questions are still decidedly Amazonian/feminist, but we can get to that), and very funny. And she and Carter have a very easy chemistry that make them feel like sisters even though this is the first we’re hearing of her.
What did you think about her? Did you drink when she twirled, or just a half drink?
Kerensa: I loved the chemistry between Winger and Carter–they were so great together. I really loved Drusilla–her innocence was adorable. And I really loved the whole “teenager” portion of the episode (cause duh). I liked Drusilla also because I felt like it was an insight into what Diana maybe was like pre-Wonder Woman–almost like her origin story I guess. I liked seeing Diana’s world through Drusilla’s viewpoint because I feel like in some senses (re: dudes) it echoes the audience viewpoint.
And I totally drank when she twirled. Obviously. I’m really hoping she comes back.
I don’t know if this is jumping the gun–but I want to talk about Drusilla and her reaction to guys versus Diana’s, especially in context of Peter Knight’s using his “masculine charms” to get secrets out of her. Also, Peter Knight was totally hot. I feel weird about it.
Noel: It’s not jumping the gun at all. How do you feel about it? Drusilla’s certainly more…forward and aggressive, and prone to using her good looks and charm to get what she may want (“There still three flavors I haven’t tried yet!”), but there’s still a bit of naiveté about her as well. Diana is decidedly not those things, but she’s also older. Or am I off-base?
Kerensa: No, not at all. I think that’s exactly how it is. However, I kinda like that Drusilla is more forward and aggressive about her feelings. Because while we are very aware of Diana’s feelings for Steve, she just kinda sits there and stews in them, which obviously has a lot to do with the secret identities thing and her Paradise Island upbringin,g but it’d be nice to see her be a bit more forward. And as you said, she’s also older which totally has something to do with it as well.
So, Diana/Drusilla representing different emerging waves of feminism? Yes/yes? What else did you like about the episode? I also want to hear about your nitpicky superhero-y problems with the second half.
Noel: And I like that Drusilla wasn’t even completely aware of how her feelings were working, and spoke without thinking (“I shot one of those [a stag] once. With my crossbow.” I died, Kerensa. I died). I think she wanted to be noticed by boys, but wasn’t sure how to achieve that. It had more to do with her being a teenager than with her being an Amazon. Plus, I’m sorry, but you have to wonder about boys in the 1940s as they’re depicted in this show. Young girl in barely-there Amazon gown loses out to young girl in a baggy sweater, a long skirt, and saddle shoes?! I call shenanigans!
I want to hear more about this different emerging waves of feminism idea. Where would you place Diana and Drusilla? This might be something we need to really lay out, because Diana’s discussion of men (“They’re like children, they’re like gods, they’re like geniuses, and fools. They are all things.”) needs some discussion. I was also thinking about Drusilla needling Blankenship about the reasons for the war. He says it should be obvious to anyone, but Drusilla (and Hippolyta, I suppose as well) don’t work within or agree with this sort of hegemonic thinking, and bring a decidedly different view of things, one that Diana has somewhat internalized a bit in her conflict with the Nazis.
Kerensa: I agree completely. Also loved when she said the thing about shooting the stag. So funny. And EXACTLY. She’s walking around in that flimsy dress and these dudes ignore her. But she still got a lot of soda buying offers.
I was thinking about it more in terms of sex–but I would see Drusilla in much more of a 3rd wave and Diana in 2nd wave. I liked when Drusilla asked Blankenship about the war–and I agree with you that she (and Hippolyta) would work within, I guess, alternate ways as opposed to within the institutionalized structures to make change happen.
And Diana is doing the exact opposite of that–working within the structure–and she tells Drusilla as much when explaining her secret identities. Drusilla’s response is pretty perfect and indicative of the differences between their politics I think.
“You work for a man? He tells you what to do and you do it?”
Although, we never really saw Diana much on Paradise Island so all this could be from her time in America and the ways in which that’s changed her.
Noel: Well, let’s turn to the book we’ve been reading — Elana Levine’s Wallowing in Sex — for an idea? She discusses Diana and Drusilla’s attitudes toward men, and how they respond. I’ll quote this section from page 142:
Although Diana and Drusilla were raised to distrust men and their difference from women, one of the lessons Diana learns from her work in the United States is that men’s sexual difference is not all bad. In fact, she learns that men’s difference from women is what makes them such fascinating and likeable creatures. In Wonder Woman, sexual difference is kept from being the kind of lesbian separatist difference espoused by some cultural feminists through its links to heterosexuality. While Wonder Woman values women for their essential femaleness, she also learns to value (at least some) men for their essential maleness, a celebration of sexual difference more in keeping with anti-feminist than with cultural or “difference” feminists.
Kerensa: There’s a lot to unpack (LOL grad school terminology) here. While I do agree with Levine to a degree, especially when later she discusses how these “sexual differences” of men are solely attributed to the individual not the larger patriarchy that is the immediate catalyst for these “differences.” I found this especially interesting because Diana constantly talks about how the Nazi regime is bad for women (duh) but also can’t recognize the inherent problems with the democratic process and the ways that it also negatively effects women. I think that moment you bring up with Drusilla questioning Blankenship is the anti-Diana in that it questions a political process that Diana is so gung-ho with that she can’t critically look at it.
Also, that quote from Diana you mentioned about men being gods, etc. –I groaned. What do you think about this quote?
Noel: So are we thinking that Diana’s attraction to Steve has sort of…bamboozled her a bit? Certainly we could make the cause that something similar may be happening to Drusilla here, even if she’s just using the boys to eat as much ice cream as she can (and who can blame her?). I’m just reminded that Hippolyta thinks that they can reason with the Nazis, and Diana’s all, “Er, um, no, mother” and as a result, Diana’s ready to take a very aggressive stance to ward them off, something that feels out of character for the rest of the Amazons (some of whom were playing jacks — JACKS! — while on guard duty). She’s seen some value in using that “masculine destructiveness” she mentioned to Fausta a few episodes back.
I’m not sure that Diana can’t look critically at it, but she hasn’t. Some of me wonders if that’s just a handy reason for the 1940s setting: The Nazis are a way more horrible threat than the inequities occurring in the U.S. by comparison, and so Diana’s more concerned about protecting the lesser of two evils (for lack of a better phrase), and at least an evil that has some avenues for change available to it through that democratic process, even if it could take years upon years.
I didn’t groan so much as I thought it was sort of in-keeping with a woman who has had no previous knowledge of men and recognizes her superiority, but remains seduced by them. It’s alternately maternalistic and wistful. Do you think it weakens Diana’s message of sisterhood and feminine strength…?
Kerensa: I think it certainly has. Although, you know I don’t get the whole allure of Steve Trevor. Yeah, I think that the “masculine destructiveness” has maybe rubbed off on Diana to a degree especially in the whole attack on the Nazis. I wonder how this will continue to shape Diana and her thoughts about the U.S. and men–and if we get to Paradise Island again change her interactions with the other women.
I think that’s an excellent point re: the 1940s setting. I’ll be really curious to see how when the show shifts in later seasons to the 1970s time frame if issues of the time are mentioned at all.
I don’t think it weakens her message. I mean her response to Etta when she says “You aren’t a man,” and Diana says “I’ve always been very happy about that,” pretty much cements it for me. I think it seems unfair to say that her attraction to Steve or to men weakens her message of sisterhood. I feel like that’s such a simplistic reason, if that makes sense? Because, and I think Diana would agree, we are much more complex and layered and are attracted to/interested in things that may not always line up perfectly, but that what makes us interesting.
Do you have anything else to say about this? I want to hear your nitpicky superhero problems.
Noel: I don’t see Diana getting much aggressive than what she is now — though I think that would have more to do with concerns over TV violence at the time and less to do with her Amazon philosophy. But it definitely makes me wish the show were more deeply serialized, and that we saw an arc of Diana dealing with these issues and how man’s world is challenging her, influencing her, and making her question her beliefs. I wouldn’t want her to abandon them, of course, because they’re the entire core of her being, but a ideological conflict is something I love in my media.
I don’t think it weakens her message either, but I could see it as connected to something Levine mentioned in that quoted section (indeed, that section is a response to Diana’s word). It really seems like an attempt to acknowledge, as you note, the complexity of people and issues of gender. It’s a decidedly complicated feminist message, I think, for the 1970s (and maybe even now?) where depicitions of feminism may’ve bogged down in feminazi straw men that doesn’t always show men as allies.
And, yeah, part 2 may be a weakness of the pair (you mentioned that it dragged for you?). I was mostly flummoxed that the Amazons were so ready to admit defeat. I was fine with the gas grenades as it was a previously established weakness, but they suddenly lose all their strength and power because they lose their bracelets? Eeeehhhhhhhh. I get that the Hipolyata was held hostage, but even she couldn’t deal with Radl without a single bracelet?
Superhero media (especially TV and film) often have to find ways to take their most powerful players out of the narrative to make the narrative compelling (think about how Professor Xavier was somehow incapacitated (or killed) in X-Men media), but at least there’s an effort to make it seem sort of sensible. Here, it just felt really nonexistent/inconsistent.
What else stood out for you? I thought this was one of the most quotable episodes as well. We already mentioned Drusilla and the stag, but I loved Rahl’s casual “The Third Reich needs living space.” He had a very different, deliciously villainous vibe from anyone else so far. Oh, you mentioned you found the traitorous Steven Knight hot…?
Kerensa: Yeah, I’d love to see Diana dealing with these issues as well. I, like you, also love an ideological conflict. Maybe we could get that in an eventual movie?
And it is a complicated feminist message, one that I think is still apparent now.
Part 2 dragged for me. I was just kinda bored. I agreed with you on the superhero things, especially the bracelet parts. If you are a bad-ass Amazonian woman, not all of your strength could merely come from those bracelets, right? Also, what was the gas/ether budget of this episode? High, I assume because it was always being used.
For me, there were some quoteables and things I found kinda silly. Like for instance I laughed when we see the card that said “at a deserted warehouse on the other side of town,” because that’s ALWAYS where these things go down. Loved seeing the invisible jet again. I also liked at the end when Diana, Drusilla and Steve are at the soda shop, Diana seems to finally be more comfortable in calling Steve out, which I think is a good sign.
Yes, I totally found Steven Knight hot. I would have succumb to his masculine charms, which weren’t very good by the way.
A reminder that we’ll be taking a break from Wonder Woman while Kerensa is at SXSW. Noel will discuss the Justice League episodes “Paradise Lost” (S01E10-11) next week and “Fury” (S01E16-17) the week after next. Our normal Wonder Woman coverage should resume by the end of the month.