By Kerensa Cadenas and Noel Kirkpatrick
Season 3 Episodes 23 and 24: “The Phantom of the Roller Coasters” Parts 1 and 2
Original airdates: Sept. 4 and Sept. 11, 1979
Noel: Well, this episode has everything: Disfigured Vietnam vets, roller coaster stock footage, an orphan, spying on people, the Watergate hotel, a cripple, and Wonder Woman’s motocross outfit (which is just her underwater outfit with helmet and goggles).
What did you think?
Kerensa: I mean I assume they thought they were getting another season? Cause it seems like a super weird episode to end a season on.
But the episode really did have EVERYTHING in it–there were parts that were pretty good and others that were kinda whatever.
Did you like it?
Noel: Well, this episode was filmed before the episode was discussed last week — say hi/good bye to Steve! — but was aired after it, making it the finale of the show! Again, who cares?
I thought it was okay. It didn’t feel as padded as their other two-parters have, which was good. My favorite bits were the the scarred Gurney brother and that someone would buy an entire amusement park to use it as an information trafficking spot, which struck me as particularly brilliant.
Kerensa: I thought it was okay as well.
Right? The whole time I was like an AMUSEMENT PARK, really?! I really liked the scarred Gurney brother as well–very Phantom of the Opera/David Lynch-esque. And I particularly liked his rapport with Randy the missing kid. When they talked about making roller coasters was just such a great moment. And I liked the kinda mentor relationship it kinda established.
What did you like about the brother?
Noel: One thing that we discussed at the start of Season 2 was how the show couldn’t get away from World War II immediately, and how it played with those plots — resurrecting Hitler, internment camps — to sort of deal with its own past. To that end, I was glad to see the show address another, more contemporary war. The notion of the scarred brother hiding out because he was afraid of what people would think of his appearance provides a nice way of visualizing the shame/isolation many a Vietnam vet felt after they returned. The show hit the right notes on this, I think, with the younger generation with Randy, being cool with him, and Diana, in both her personae, encouraging him to be proud, no matter what. It’s good stuff, without actually being heavy-handed.
I was like that about the amusement park, too! I was glad they spelled it out for me, though I refuse to believe that that dumbass computer figured it out. I was waiting for the show just to make up some really dumb reason why Fynch wanted it, but the actual reason made sense in a clever way that the show doesn’t always demonstrate.
What else worked for you this week?
Kerensa: I agree–I thought it balanced it really well, especially considering that we are so used this show being extremely heavy handed with topics that it doesn’t need to be with.
I was glad the spelled it out for me as well. I probably would have never understood why he wanted this park that to me seemed a little run down and kinda whatever. I kept wondering why is this such a thing for him! When I should have been like CLEARLY IT IS A FRONT FOR SOMETHING. I remember reading about this pizza buffet that I went to in college was a drug front and was closed down a couple years after I graduated. So I should have really figured that similar things were happening with this park.
Well, all the roller coaster/theme park stock footage they used was really kinda funny. Mostly because they used SO much of it. One scene I do want to talk about was when the hitmen went after Diana in that car chase scene which was a pretty brutal car wreck. I know that Diana/Wonder Woman are pretty indestructible, but it was a bad enough accident that I thought it should have least stunned Diana more than it did especially enough to where it would have been difficult for her to change into Wonder Woman–let alone get out of that car!
What did you think about that scene? Am I just being extremely nitpicky?
Noel: I don’t think you’re being nitpicky as that first episode was a little extreme with the vehicular violence. There was the car crash at the end of the episode, which is what you’re outlining, and there was the car and motorbike chase that involved Wonder Woman kicking a Jeep down a very steep hill, but the guy is a-okay! It was doubly weird since the action in that first episode was really pretty good with the car chases (I’m they’re not Rockford level car chases, but whatever), but the ramifications of those car chases were a little too family-friendly, possibly.
The plot needed spelling out to be sure, but it paid off real dividends, between the foiled bombing attempt and then hypersonic sabotage. They actually managed to get a lot of well-structured mileage out of this. I say well-structured because the computer monitoring the stress of the Super Loop (I loved how everyone said Super Loop as if it were the most ridiculous thing the world) was introduced pretty early compared to when the hypersonic device was introduced instead the computer just beeping madly when it was time for Wonder Woman to do something.
Which is generally something the show can pull of, if the script was written by Anne Collins. We’ve actually watched a number of her episodes (I think 6, including these two), and she served as the show’s story editor and later consultant over the courses of Season 2 and 3. Indeed, the last five episodes of this season were written by her. She also worked extensively on Matlock, and was still working up to a few ago, writing for the Nancy Drew computer games! I think that’s a pretty neat career trajectory, really.
Kerensa: Yeah, the action with both was really great but then like you said, so family-friendly in their aftermath.
It was certainly one of the better executed plots on the show I think. I thought all the Super Loop stuff was pretty cool and I laughed a lot during the scene where Fynch is shown the hypersonic device and then bends the metal it’s destroyed. His reaction to it was so funny.
That is a great career trajectory! I was super excited to see that this final episode was written by a lady.
What else stood out for you? I really enjoyed the scene where Diana and Steve were having lunch together and listening to the .50 cent piece when they overhear the guys talking about how Diana Prince was much better looking than they expected. Just their banter during that was so great. Diana’s shrug then Steve’s shake of his hand. It was great. I never would have believed that this is how their relationship would have turned out when we first began the show, but I love it.
Noel: That scene was great! I love how Steve even arranged lunch for the two of them to listen to coin’s surveillance feed as if it were a scheduled luncheon between the two of them. . So much fun, easy chemistry between Diana and Steve, Jr. Makes you wonder all the more why they kept scaling Steve back.
I don’t know that I have much else but to ask what you think about the show as a whole, and its depiction of Wonder Woman.
Kerensa: Yeah, I don’t really understand why they kept scaling him back either, especially when they do have such a good rapport. Behind the scenes drama?
Before we get to the show as a whole, there are a couple outfits We need to discuss. I mean Wonder Woman’s motorcycle outfit! Holy crap. MATCHING GOGGLES. But my favorite outfit was when Steve was wearing that letterman jacket with flared pants! It was AMAZING. Any outfits you liked?
Noel: I read on IMDb that was was tension between the Carter and Waggoner, but Carter’s apparently dismissed that notion.
I think Steve’s outfit was probably the winner of the episodes, too. It’s just so bizarre, and I refuse to believe that any self-respecting roller coaster inspector would dress like that.
Kerensa: I agree. It was so so bizarre!
So Wonder Woman as a whole–here we are 😦
What are your final thoughts?
Noel: My thoughts are odd. Wonder Woman is a character that people are so worried about “getting it right,” and that desire is routinely positioned as a barrier to the character existing beyond the comics. When the new Flash show was announced this summer, there wasn’t any discussion about getting Barry Allen right, and this was a show being spun out of Arrow, a show with no superpowers. Really, the whole “getting it right” feels like so oh much sexism, a weird double standard that enshrines Diana as this thing you have to do right by instead of just a character you have to respect, like any other.
At the same time, we certainly have a concept of what Wonder Woman is. I think we’d both agree that we much prefer the Season 1 Wonder Woman, with her compassion and feminist message and lady bad guys. It says Wonder Woman to us in a way that Diana as a secret agent, using Wonder Woman’s powers when necessary, doesn’t. As the show progressed, it de-emphasized an overt political bent, which is about par for the course of the character even in the comics, and instead rested (can we say rested? Am I bad ally for saying ‘rested’?) on its laurels by having Diana being a super-professional agent, and without help from anyone, save for a smart ass computer.
So, in a lot of ways, I think of Wonder Woman has a three-season microcosm of how Wonder Woman has been treated in the comics and in the media…except for the current more violent iteration currently happening, of course.
Kerensa: I think that’s a really interesting and correct way to look at what we’ve just watched.
There is so much importance placed on Wonder Woman “getting it right” and the same thing goes for ANY female superhero. That always seems to be the argument. Of course you want someone to get it right, but like you mentioned look at how many male superhero things that are being developed into television and films and that’s never a question. It reeks of sexism. And I may be the only one with this opinion, I’d almost at times want the risk to be taken of making a Wonder Woman or another female superhero anything, even if it failed. Because at least it WAS OUT THERE.
That’s kinda how I feel about this Wonder Woman. It certainly wasn’t perfect by any means. I obviously preferred the first season with it’s more political and feminist tone, campy plot lines, Drusilla! and even Diana’s naivete. I mean that’s not to say that there weren’t good things since then but a lot of that is gone.
You aren’t bad for saying that it rested because that’s precisely what it has done. It basically tried to turn itself into that awful Wonder Woman movie we watched. But despite all my problems with it, I’m so glad it happened even if it unraveled at the end. It serves a purpose–that Carter played a great Wonder Woman throughout the series–and played a huge role in that respect in media history. We can look back to Carter as a vantage point and discuss Wonder Woman. It certainly helps that Carter is always talking about it and in particularly feminist and nuanced ways. If it never existed, then there wouldn’t be that tether to discuss when we are talking about why there isn’t a Wonder Woman movie or TV show, etc.
We have no idea what we’re doing next, but we’re doing something. We’ll figure it out soon. If you have a suggestion, and it’s readily available on free streaming options, let’s hear them.