Five months after they aired the (re)pilot, ABC added Wonder Woman to their primetime lineup. Lynda Carter returned as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Lyle Waggoner carried on as Major Steve Trevor, War Hero. The role of General Blankenship, Steve’s boss at the War Department, is now played by Richard Eastham. The General’s secretary, Etta Candy (Beatrice Colen), rounds out the cast. These four characters anchor the rest of first season, which is set in 1942. 1942 is also the number of times it seems like Steve Trevor is knocked unconscious in the 1st season.
“Wonder Woman Meets Baroness Von Gunther” (1.2) was written by Washington, D.C, native Margaret Armen, whose previous writing credits include Star Trek, Land of the Lost, The Bionic Woman, the Six Million Dollar Man, and Fantasy Island. Armen was a worthy cheesemonger for the first regular episode of the fledgling series, which gives viewers their first (and last) look at Wonder Woman’s comic book frenemy Baroness Paula Von Gunther.
In the comics, Wonder Woman helps the Baroness see the error of her ways. In return the Baroness attains Amazon powers and a place in the sisterhood as the Amazon’s chief scientist. If by “sees the error of her ways” you mean “was possibly brainwashed depending on which storyline you’re reading.” It doesn’t really matter, since the nefarious TV Baroness is not a recurring character and we don’t see her again in the series.
When I saw the Wonder Woman (2017) movie, I realized I’d conflated Dr. Poison and the Baroness, whose face was also scarred during one storyline in the comics, although not on the TV show.
The episode begins at the War Department, where General Blankenship tells Diana Prince he thinks a busted-up Nazi spy ring is trying to get the band back together to frame Steve Trevor for espionage.
Nazi spies! In D.C.!
Aghast, Diana dashes into her office, spins into Wonder Woman, stashes her clothes, and races out to find Steve Trevor, who is out on a canyon road near Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia. The Washington, D.C. area is hilly, but it is not mountainous, and we certainly don’t have any canyons. I showed scenes from this episode to a friend who works at the base. She enjoyed it a lot. The Los Angeles-area shooting locations are pretty obvious in this episode.
Out in the canyon, Steve has one job: protect a truck delivering weapons to Fort Myer. Steve fails, although Wonder Woman arrives just in time to save his sorry hide.
Was it an act of sabotage? Is someone trying to frame Great American War Hero Steve Trevor as a Nazi Spy?
This isn’t the first suspicious accident Steve has been connected with and rumors are flying. Probably also rumors about why this guy has a reputation as such a great hero and spy, because seriously?
To make matters worse, the files Steve Trevor needs to prove his innocence are all missing! Considering the number of times Diana Prince types something and then shoves the papers randomly into a file cabinet drawer without looking, this shouldn’t be a mystery. Diana may have the wisdom of Athena and the speed of Mercury, but she seems to have the office skills of Chaos.
At the War Department General tells Steve that the President has called upon Super-Patriotic Steel Magnate Arthur Deal III (Bradford Dillman) to investigate. Deal will get to the bottom of these accusations about Steve Bannon, er, Trevor, and Nazis in Washington once and for all!
Steve follows an anonymous tip to a munitions depot at an old stable near Fort Myer. Alone, one presumes, because he realizes he hasn’t been rendered unconscious yet today. The anonymous caller is a Nazi spy! He knocks Steve out, sets the barn ablaze, and calls the IADC with an anonymous tip that Steve is at the barn trying to destroy the munitions.
Luckily, Wonder Woman is on the scene and whisks Steve away in a jeep. It’s unclear whether Diana/Wonder Woman learned how to drive on Paradise Island or if that’s a skill she’s acquired since arriving in D.C. She’s been here long enough to get an apartment, so let’s not think to much about her mad driving skills or how uncomfortable it must be to drive an army jeep through a dusty canyon wearing Wonder Woman garb.
Steve awakens in Diana’s apartment. Diana tells him Wonder Woman rescued his dumb ass from the fire and left him on her doorstep. It doesn’t occur to Steve to ask Diana how she got him into the apartment after she found him out there with a note. No, really, there’s a note. Does he really think Wonder Woman wrote a note, rang the bell, and ran away? I’d like to think Diana actually left his unconscious carcass out on the steps with her note pinned to his shirt all night.
Steve is at least smart enough to suspect incarcerated ex-Nazi spy Baroness Von Gunther (Christine Belford) may know something about his predicament. She was, after all, the ringleader of the Nazi spy ring that the General suspects is framing Steve for espionage. Plus, Steve arrested her and she’s probably out for revenge.
Steve and Diana head to the Federal Women’s Penitentiary at Fort Myer. I didn’t find any historical evidence that there was ever a women’s penitentiary at Fort Myer.
Fort McNair, which is only a few miles away, was the first Federal Penitentiary in the U.S. – it was also where Mary Surat and the other co-conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination were held, so now you know that.
At Fort Myer, Steve and Diana chat with the Warden, a widower raising a young son in a prison, which is super-weird, and only gets weirder later in the episode when we see young Tommy (Christian Juttner) casually hanging out in the yard with the adult inmates. The Warden wishes there were more kids in the Pen for Tommy to play with, which seems like a pretty messed up thing to wish for, although Husband and I couldn’t decide if that was more or less weird than letting him play with America’s most dangerous enemies.
Seriously, people of 1970s Hollywood, had you never met any children?
Steve meets with the Baroness, admiring the giant metal key she’s allowed to wear around her neck. Steve is a terrible spy and I have questions about the Warden. Many many questions.
Steve remarks that the Baroness’s pendant looks just like the Medieval Austrian keys he saw in Europe. The Baroness tells him it’s just an heirloom necklace. Oh, Steve, you’re not very bright.
Steve and the Baroness bond over their shared opinion that poor Diana is an ugly duckling with a complexion the color of “wet Bisquick.” That hair! Those glasses!
Meanwhile, Diana dashes away, spins into Wonder Woman, hides her clothes, and runs out to save Tommy from falling off of a building. Since she has to run back inside and change back into her clothes before Steve notices she’s missing, Wonder Woman doesn’t have time to retrieve her golden lasso. She asks Tommy to untie it and hold onto it for her. What could possibly go wrong with entrusting a powerful magical object to a small child? (Hint: the Nazis trick Tommy into giving up the lasso).
Tommy likes to play Sherlock Holmes, taking notes on the activities at the prison. Tommy even has one of the special keys, which he picked up after the Baroness’s henchman dropped it. (spoiler alert: The Baroness has henchmen).
The key is exactly like the key the Baroness wears around her neck.
Tommy tries to warn his father about the tunnel and the hooded figure being snuck in and out of the prison under cover of night. That Tommy is a scamp!
The Warden thinks Tommy has an over-active imagination, but we know better, because we’ve seen the Baroness sneaking out to meet with a mysterious Nazi collaborator who goes by the name Thor, which is much sexier than Arthur Deal III.
The night before Steve’s Congressional hearing, he’s summoned to Arthur Deal’s estate for a preliminary interview. When Steve arrives at Deal’s estate he discovers that Deal is a Nazi spy!
While steel was a powerful industry in the 1940s, the show is a product of the late 1970s, when the U.S. was in the throes of a steel crisis. Making a steel magnate a Nazi spy was perhaps a little on-the-nose, but (spoiler alert) this show is not known for nuance.
The Baroness is there! She and Deal/Thor take Steve hostage.
Luckily, Tommy is a better Spy than Steve Trevor. When Tommy saw the Baroness sneaking out of the prison, he took down the license plate of the car that picked her up. Tommy has the good sense to give it to Wonder Woman instead of his dad. Wonder Woman uses her Terminator voice imitation skill to impersonate General Blankenship, tricking the DMV into running the plate.
The car belongs to Arthur Deal III!
At last, the Warden believes his weird lonely son about the secret tunnel that allows the Baroness to come and go as she pleases. Too bad it’s after the Baroness leaves for the night. And also after one of her Nazi spy/prison guards apparently whisks Tommy away during a commercial break.
As my friend Beth remarked: “That’s not so much a tunnel as it is a door.”
Indeed. And it’s not just a door, it’s a gigantic door that has escaped detection since the prison was built years earlier by Austrian stonemasons who apparently had a well-known tradition of creating large artistic keys and secret doors in prison walls. It’s so well-known that even Steve Trevor knew about it!
So who hired these dudes to build a super-max penitentiary for America’s most dangerous war criminals?
Wonder Woman dashes off to Arthur Deal III’s estate, where the Baroness has some knock-out gas at the ready. Is this the end of Tommy, Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman? It sure looks like it, since they’re all loosely tied to ornate chairs in the house where Steve Trevor went for his pre-trial hearing.
Who’d ever think to look there? Whatever will happen? It looks like you’ve won this one, Baroness…
Ha-ha, Baroness! It was a trick! Wonder Woman is stronger than your Nazi super-strong elephant chains!
After Wonder Woman breaks free and rescues Steve and Tommy, she and the Baroness have an epic fight, in that they crash into a bunch of furniture before taking their fisticuffs out on the lawn, where they roll down a hill together.
Wonder Woman captures the Baroness with her golden lasso and shames her with a lecture about her “unwomanly mistakes.”
Wonder Woman never gives up on another woman, assuring Steve: “Where I was raised we were taught that good must triumph over evil” and that “women and men can learn!” Well, except for the Baroness, I guess, because Wonder Woman gives up on her pretty easily.
Although I’m not wild about this video compilation title (“Wonder Woman chick fights”), it does include the full fight scene with the Baroness, addition to a few other stellar moments of 70s TV combat:
Wonder Woman comic readers may remember that the Baroness was one of Wonder Woman’s original enemies. Thanks to the Amazon’s re-education skills, the Baroness changes her evil ways, gets Amazonian powers, and is (usually) an ally in Wonder Woman’s fight against evil. In this episode, she just goes back to jail. In what may be a nod to the comics, she tells Tommy she’s one of Wonder Woman’s best friends in order to trick him into giving up the lasso, so that’s amusing.
This episode contains:
Note: I’m using the names of military installations as they’re used on the show and as they would have been known in Washington, D.C. in the 1940s.