TV series: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF WONDER WOMAN
Episode: “The Man Who Could Move the World” Season 2, Episode 3 (aired September 30, 1977)
Director: Bob Kelljan
Writer: Judy Burns
Plot Synopsis (via IMDb): A Japanese man, bitter over the grief that he believes Wonder Woman caused him in W.W.II, unleashes his telekinetic powers against her.
Any recap of the 1970s WONDER WOMAN TV series has to start with the iconic theme song. There were a number of different versions of the opening credits sequence during the show’s run from 1975-1979, but a version of the one below is what would have played to open this episode:
The first season of the series was set during World War II with Lynda Carter’s Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) working as an assistant to Lyle Waggoner’s Colonel Steve Trevor (something the WONDER WOMAN movie pays homage to but in a WWI setting). Starting in the second season, the show was set during contemporary times (the 1970s) with the ageless Wonder Woman back to help the government agent son of the original Steve Trevor (conveniently also named Steve Trevor and played by the same Lyle Waggoner) fight the bad guys (and sometimes space aliens). This episode has its roots in Wonder Woman’s original WWII setting.
We open after midnight at the Inter-Agency Defense Command (IADC) where Diana Prince works with Steve Trevor Jr. and Joe Atkinson (Norman Burton). The three have been called in after hours due to a dire emergency: Dr. Kenneth Wilson (Lew Ayres) who has spent the past 14 years evaluating the psychological status of astronauts for the U.S. space program has recently retired to study “matters of the mind” aka telekinesis. But the good doctor along with two associates have just vanished from their lab at the Washington Institute for Behavioral Research and foul play is suspected.
Diana and Steve head over to the Institute where a guard takes them into Wilson’s lab which has been trashed as if it had been “hit by a cyclone” as Diana remarks. The guard says Wilson was with his assistant Taft (J. Kenneth Campbell) and the subject of Wilson’s experiments, Takeo Ishida (Yuki Shimoda) whom Steve describes as a “Japanese national”, at the time of his disappearance.
They are interrupted by the sound of an alarm. The guard says that means someone is trapped inside the basement vault which can only be opened the next morning because its on a timer so whoever is inside could suffocate and die. While Steve and the guard head to the basement to see what they can do, Diana telephones for help. Afterwards, she does that iconic spin thing–you know what I’m talking about:
And transforms into…WONDER WOMAN!
It turns out it’s Wilson’s assistant, Taft, who is trapped in the vault and he suffers from claustrophobia so he’s freaking out. Steve tries to calm the man, but probably doesn’t make the situation better when he tells the guard within earshot of Taft that “he may be running out of time”. Luckily, Wonder Woman arrives ’cause apparently she was just hanging out near the institute at this ungodly hour (at least Steve seems to be satisfied with that explanation) and breaks Taft out of the vault.
Wonder Woman makes a quick exit and Diana enters shortly afterwards (nothing suspicious about that, Steve?) to hear Taft explain how some unseen force grabbed him and locked him in the vault when he went to check on the commotion from Wilson’s lab. Taft also says Wilson has a security camera in his lab so while Steve returns to IADC to review the security footage, Diana heads to Wilson and Ishida’s homes for clues.
Back at IADC, Steve and Joe review the tape–which somehow has been neatly edited together with footage from various angles even though it was shot from a single security camera. Wilson has invented a “machine” (that’s literally what it’s called and it resembles an old CB radio) that will trigger Ishida’s “dormant” ESP abilities. At first, the experiment is a bust and Ishida can’t even make a pair of dice move with his thoughts (loser!), but eventually Ishida’s ESP abilities fully manifest themselves– he can move the dice, a book from a shelf, a chair across the room–all with his mind. But as Wilson is about to call the Pentagon to give them the incredible news of this breakthrough, Ishida flings the phone to the floor with his mental powers and topples a bookcase when Wilson tries to leave.
“I have use for this (the machine),” Ishida says menacingly, “and it’s not in a lab.” Then, Ishida looks right at the security camera and shorts it out with his mind making the footage go to black. But what’s truly amazing is that in the security footage is a shot of the camera itself shorting out, which–if you think about it–is simply mind-blowing: somehow the camera captured footage of itself being destroyed. Whoa…
Meanwhile, Diana arrives at Ishida’s house. We know it’s Ishida’s house ’cause it’s all “Japanesed” out. The architectural design is Japanese, there’s a koi pond in the backyard, bansai trees, etc… After all, it’d be weird for an Asian person to live in a regular Western-style house like everyone else, right?
The door is locked so Diana changes to Wonder Woman and leaps across the wall into the backyard and enters through an open sliding door. Inside, she finds a Japanese-y shrine which includes a bunch of vintage WWII Wonder Woman memorabilia: a WW doll, magazines, toys, posters. Either Ishida is WW’s biggest fan or “creeper alert”. Stranger danger, Diana Prince!
Steve arrives to join WW. Ishida and Wilson (who is Ishida’s hostage) watch from a
serial killer nondescript van down the street. This prompts a quick flashback to WWII for Ishida–a shot of WW running through a field while mines explode around her. “Long years, endless years,” Ishida says while seemingly lost in his memories. “And within a few hours it all comes together.” Now, we know whatever evil Ishida has planned, it involves WW. Let’s go with “creeper alert” over WW’s biggest fan then.
Wonder Woman shows Steve the creeper shrine–she can’t remember ever meeting Ishida and has no clue why he’d be obsessed with her. Because Steve is an expert on all things Japanese, he tells WW that oftentimes the Japanese devote one room in the house to the dead and that includes the custom of draping black cloth over pictures of the dead. And quite conveniently right after Steve says this, they find two pictures draped in black cloth. One is an old picture of an unknown Japanese man in a kimono and the other is a picture of…WONDER WOMAN!
Yup, Ishida means business!
Diana heads over to the Japanese embassy with the picture of the unknown Japanese man to see if they can help her identify him. There, she is helped by Oshima, the embassy liaison, who is played by veteran actor James Hong (and yes, James Hong apparently has been the same old man his whole life because he looks almost exactly the same then as he does now). Oshima identifies the photo as being from the years right before World War II and gives Diana a bunch of microfilm of visas from that period to look through to see if she can ID the man. Oh, he also hits on Diana; offering to show her how to properly “use the new microfilm machine” so you go, Oshima!
Meanwhile, Ishida and Wilson are parked outside the IADC and Ishida uses his ESP to activate a typewriter in Steve Trevor’s office. He mentally types a letter from “Wonder Woman” asking Steve to head over to Los Alamos, New Mexico asap to meet her because she has an urgent lead on the case. Steve and Joe are suspicious about the origins of the letter (how could WW enter Steve’s high security office with no one noticing and type the letter?), but Steve heads to New Mexico anyway.
Back at the embassy, Diana finds a visa for an “Ishida” family that looks like a match. Oshima says the parents died in a “Japanese relocation camp” in New Mexico and their two sons ran away afterwards and were never heard from again.
When Diana returns to the IADC and Joe informs her that Steve went to Los Alamos after getting a letter from WW, Diana puts two-and-two together: Ishida must be one of the boys who escaped from the New Mexico camp and he’s luring Steve out there into a trap.
So as WW races toward New Mexico in her
clear plastic invisible jet:
Steve has already arrived in Los Alamos just in time for Ishida to take mental control of his jeep and “drive” him to the entrance of the “Los Alamos Relocation Center”. The location looks less like an internment camp and more like an abandoned Old West set from BONANZA, but whatever…TV budgets.
Ishida uses his ESP to trap and capture Steve and locks him in a building with Wilson, but not before telling him he’s basically using Steve as the bait to make sure WW shows up. Nice to see the guy be the damsel-in-distress who needs to be rescued for once.
Ishida changes into a Japanese “samurai” outfit and pulls out his family katana (sword) because…well, he’s Japanese and this is Hollywood in the 1970s so there!
Wonder Woman enters the camp and finds an old Japanese doll and it triggers her own flashback: yes, she has been here before during WWII. We see the same images of her running through the field while avoiding the exploding mines that Ishida previously saw.
Then, Ishida shows up looking all badass purple samurai and gives her (and us) his villainous backstory. “Welcome to my old home,” he says. “it has been a long time since my last visit.”
Ishida says this is all about “revenge”. WW says she wasn’t the one who “put you in this camp” so why is any of this her fault?
Ishida blames WW for “destroying” his family. After his parents death, he and his brother tried to escape across the minefield outside the camp and Ishida accuses WW of killing his brother there.
“I was trying to save him,” she explains. “And I did.”
And indeed in the full flashback that we next see, WW runs after the two boys–Ishida’s older teenaged brother Maasaki (Peter Kwong) and the six-year-old Takeo Ishida–to rescue them. Maasaki is injured in a blast, but when WW goes to rescue him, Takeo falsely assumes she killed him. Takeo runs away and Ishida explains he was later taken in by some Mexican workers who helped him get back to Japan where he presumably spent the next 30+ years plotting revenge against WW and somehow developing super ESP abilities.
Ishida uses his ESP to take control of WW’s body. “You will only move when I command,” he tells her. He reveals that he has laid mines in front of her and will make her walk into the minefield where she will be killed as he believes his brother was.
Meanwhile, Steve and Wilson try to stop the machine that is powering Ishida’s ESP abilities, but can’t reach it from the cage they’re imprisoned in. As Ishida commands WW to walk into the minefield, all seems lost until this happens:
Yup, the machine conveniently “overloads” depriving Ishida of his powers. Cool…
“You have no powers now,” WW says. To even the odds (and prove a point), WW takes off her bracelets and belt (the implication being those things give her her strength) and says, “I have no powers now too.” She tells Ishida to kill her if he wants. He approaches her with his drawn katana, but, alas, can’t do it.
“You’re right, I can’t strike.” He’s a good
Oriental guy after all.
In fact, when the building that Steve and Wilson are locked up in goes up in flames, Ishida helps WW rescue them thus helping to save the day.
Later, Diana and Steve visit Ishida at his home where he’s busy pruning a bansai tree ’cause he’s Japanese and this is Hollywood in the 1970s. He’s ready to pay for his crimes, but Steve and Diana say all charges have been dropped and he is free. Nevermind that he kidnapped someone, tried to murder WW, and possesses incredible ESP powers that could literally destroy the world–hey, all is forgiven ’cause this is a 1970s TV show and the storyline needs to be neatly wrapped-up before the end of the hour.
But one final thing: Diana and Steve reunite Ishida with his long-lost and still living brother whom WW did indeed save ’cause she’s that awesome and the storyline needs to be neatly wrapped-up before the end of the hour.
Firstly, let me just say how much I loved this show as a kid and that there has never been a better Wonder Woman nor will there ever be (all apologizes to Gal Gadot) than Lynda Carter. This is about as perfect as casting gets. She hits all the right notes as both Wonder Woman and Diana Prince and watching this 40 years after it first aired does not diminish that fact even if the series itself has not aged well (more on this later).
I should also add that when it comes to its portrayal of a female protagonist, WONDER WOMAN is more progressive than most of what comes out of Hollywood today, which is a sad statement. Not only is WW a true hero equal to any of her male counterparts, not only is she never defined by her relationship with any man (things between her and Trevor remain platonic), but the character of Diana Prince is as much an active protagonist in her own right as Wonder Woman is. Diana may have started the series as Trevor’s assistant, but by the time second season rolled around, she was a full blown IADC agent who was Trevor’s peer and partner, not his subordinate. It’s cool to see how much agency Diana herself has–she’s as much of a hero as her more super alter ego is.
And despite the fact that Lynda Carter is smoooookin’ hot and WW runs around in a skimpy outfit, her sexuality is never exploited. Unlike her TV peers at the time like the ladies of CHARLIE’S ANGELS, neither WW or Diana ever use their sexuality to advance the story and it’s always WW and Diana’s strength and ingenuity that saves the day.
But with that said, did I mention that Lynda Carter is smooookin’ hot and made my 10-year-old nether regions tingle in a strange but pleasant way whenever I saw WW running across the screen:
However, as much as I have fond memories of the show, this episode is not one of its finest hours. Like the George Takei-starring/Japanese American WWII-themed TWILIGHT ZONE episode I previously rewatched (you can read it here), this episode tries to offer a more “liberal” take on the injustices suffered by Japanese Americans during WWII, but it’s undone by the producers’ own inability to see beyond stereotypes.
In this case, its the show’s inability to view the Japanese as nothing more than foreigners even though the majority of the 120,000 who were sent to “relocation camps” were Japanese Americans.
Never is Ishida once referred to as a Japanese American. From the Japanese embassy scene, we can infer he was a Nisei who was either born in the U.S. or immigrated at an early age, but he’s characterized throughout the episode as a “Japanese national” (to quote Steve Trevor’s own words). His house looks Japanese, he dons the samurai outfit and wields a katana, and enjoys hobbies like pruning bonsai trees–all that’s missing is a gong whenever he enters a scene so let me provide one to complete the picture:
And it goes beyond Ishida. None of the other Japanese characters are referred to as “Americans” though it would make sense that they are (I’m looking at you, James Hong) and it was a little uneasy hearing the internment camps referred to as “Japanese” instead of “Japanese American”.
While the undercurrent is that the internment camps were awful places that were at least partially responsible for Ishida’s problems, the show’s attitude about the camps feels a little…blasé. At the end of the episode, this exchange happens between the IADC’s off-screen boss (presumably the President of the United States) and Diana:
IADC Boss: There were some tragic errors after the hysteria that followed Pearl Harbor.
Diana Prince: Well, I guess that’s why pencils have erasers. Its a shame, but we learn from our mistakes.
I’m not sure that using the “pencils have erasers” analogy to justify the mass incarceration of 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans is the right metaphor to employ here. I understand that this was the 1970s–a more “unenlightened” time and a few years before the redress and reparations movement brought the “shame” of the internment more fully into the public consciousness, but considering how progressive the show was when it came to its depiction of a strong and three-dimensional female, it’s too bad the same courtesy wasn’t extended to it’s depiction of an Asian American character.
Still, this is nowhere as bad as all the times in the Wonder Woman comics when she fought a giant Oriental egg:
Yes, that really happened…MULTIPLE TIMES!
FUN FACT #1: Both James Hong (Oshima) and Peter Kwong (young Maasaki) would go on to star in the 1986 cult classic BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA as the main baddies.
FUN FACT #2: There was no Los Alamos Japanese Relocation Center. However, there were two internment camps in New Mexico: The Santa Fe Internment Camp (technically a DOJ prison camp) and the Lordsburg Internment Camp.
FUN FACT #3: I’m pretty sure none of the internment camps in New Mexico or elsewhere were surrounded by deadly minefields to discourage the Japanese Americans from escaping.
FUN FACT #4: Our YOMYOMF Blockbuster Showdown team will be reviewing the new WONDER WOMAN film this weekend so check back for that.
So smoooooookin’ hot!