Episode Title: Wonder Woman meets Baroness von Gunther
Original Airdate: April 21, 1976
Whereas other famous superheroes like Batman and Superman have some pretty iconic bad guys who have been portrayed in their various TV incarnations, Wonder Woman is a bit different. I dare say that many of the people who aren’t a part of the comic book culture would have a hard time naming any of Wonder Woman’s foes, while villains like The Joker, Lex Luthor, The Riddler, or Brainiac are much more well-known. Well, here in our first regular season episode of Wonder Woman we have one of the series’ few appearances of a villain that originated in the comics. Get ready for Wonder Woman meets the Baroness von Gunther.
In this episode the military has fallen victim to a number of recent attacks by Nazi saboteurs. In fact, the most recent occurred during a training exercise Steve Trevor was conducting, only unknown to him an actual shipment of top secret weapons was in the truck he was assigned. It’s only thanks to Wonder Woman that he made it out alive. However, Steve’s troubles are just beginning since all these attacks have one thing in common: Major Steve Trevor was somewhere in the immediate vicinity. Suspicions are starting to arise that Major Trevor may actually be working with the Nazis. In fact, a rich steel magnet, Arthur Deal III (Bradford Dillman), has been assigned to head up the investigation due to his “reputation as a patriot.”
So, Steve and Diana need to do what they can to prove his innocence before the hearing hangs him out to dry…which doesn’t make sense since the burden of proof would fall on the prosecutors, but oh well. Steve follows one lead that just lands him in a situation that implicates him further. Luckily Wonder Woman shows up to save him from a burning stable. Soon they decide to check on the villainous Nazi spy Baroness von Gunther (Christine Belford), who once headed a ring of Nazi saboteurs. One problem, though, the Baroness is safely locked up in prison. Still Steve and Diana pay her a visit behind bars and she seems to be a reformed woman. There is a bit of excitement, though, when the warden’s son, Tommy (Christian Juttner), gets into a dangerous situation as he snoops around the prison yard like Sherlock Holmes. Wonder Woman ends up saving him and, as she hurries to change back into Diana, she allows Tommy to hold on to her golden lasso for safekeeping.
Despite all seeming well to Steve, the Baroness is, in fact, responsible for the recent attacks. She is in cahoots with one of the guards and has a special key which gives her access to hidden tunnels in the prison. This allows her to sneak out and plot with her co-conspirator…none other than Arthur Deal III. So…when Steve pays Deal a visit, he ends up walking right into a trap. When Wonder Woman tracks him down, she too is captured thanks to the Baroness spraying her with some sort of knock-out gas. Soon Tommy is tied up with them since he starts mouthing off about the secret tunnels at the prison…so the Baroness’ lackey guard nabs him, too. With everyone all tied up, the bad guys lay out their plans…but these silly Nazis don’t know who they’re dealing with. Once Wonder Woman’s strength is back, she easily busts through her chains and smacks these goons around Amazon princess-style.
Some parts of this episode are really cool and others are really silly. I have a feeling that we may see that kind of balance continue throughout the series’ run. Probably the goofiest aspect this time around is the addition of a plucky (some might say annoying) little kid. First of all, the whole setup of the Tommy character is a bit outlandish. I understand that there was a time when wardens and their families actually lived at the prison, but the idea that this seven or eight year old kid has free reign of the prison yard is a bit hard to accept. When he gets himself into danger and has to be rescued, it takes for ever! Diana sees him climbing up the side of the building and then very politely excuses herself to go get her stenographic notebook. Casually she walks down to a locker room, does the spin to change into Wonder Woman, adjusts the tiara, and then jogs off to save him. Sorry, but Tommy probably should’ve plummeted to his death by now.
One of the things that is fun to see in this episode is the way Lynda Carter handles the differences in her approach to playing Wonder Woman vs. playing Diana Prince. Her take on Diana is so bookish and matter-of-fact. The very first scene of this episode is a perfect example as Diana rattles off background information on the Baroness with all the emotion of a Wikipedia page. But as Wonder Woman, Carter lets her natural charisma shine through. As Wonder Woman, Carter’s screen presence is nothing short of electric and is what keeps this episode vibrant, even through its campier moments.
Speaking of campy moments, there are some wonderful ones in this episode. First and foremost is the climactic showdown between Wonder Woman and the Baroness. She leaps out of the house and tackles the Baroness, they then two tumble down a long grassy hill, clawing at each other the whole way, before the Baroness is roped by the golden lasso and dunked into a swimming pool. The script also has some cleverly campy moments. My favorite comes when the Baroness describes Diana as being “plain and uninteresting, her coloring is rather like wet Bisquick and I’m sure she’s blind as a bat without those glasses.” I can’t say that “wet Bisquick” ever came to my mind when picturing Lynda Carter… but it’s a wonderful piece of scripting, and further testimony to how well Carter transforms when playing Diana.
We should mention a few changes that took place with this first official episode. The role of Steve Trevor’s commanding officer, General Blankenship, is played by Richard Eastham, taking over for the more jovial John Randolph, who played the part in the pilot. Also we have the addition of a new character with origins in the Wonder Woman comics. Beatrice Colen (who classic TV fans may recognize as Marsha, the carhop from early seasons of Happy Days) appears as Blankenship’s secretary, Etta Candy. In the comics, Etta Candy was a plump sidekick of Wonder Woman with a bit of a sweet tooth. She doesn’t really do much in this episode, but does often seem to be snacking on something in her scenes.
All in all this is a fun episode, despite a few goofier moments. Next time we battle more Nazis as Wonder Woman gets captured and taken behind enemy lines in The Nazi Wonder Woman.