Friday, March 16, 2018

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scenes 21-22

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 21 (British War Council) and Scene 22 (Doctor Maru's new poison) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Doors and barriers to the halls of power
  • Diana's intrusion into the council meeting
  • Sir Patrick (aka, Ares) calling for armistice
  • Steve's "blind sister"
  • Sir Patrick foreshadows Steve's death and meets Diana
  • Doctor Maru tests her new poison gas
  • David Thewlis

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Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd
Episode artwork by Matthew Rushing (@mattrushing02)

<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast provides analysis of the DC Films produced by Warner Brothers. This episode was written by myself with Alessandro Maniscalco, Rebecca Johnson, and Sydney. You can find us on twitter @ottensam, @raveryn, @derbykid, and @wondersyd. You can also follow the show at @JLUPodcast.

In this episode, you’ll hear from me and Alessandro as we cover Scenes 21 and 22 of Wonder Woman, which is when Diana interrupts the War Council meeting and then meets Sir Patrick for the first time and also the scene where we see Doctor Maru’s new batch of poison. These scenes follow right from the alleyway scene where Diana saved Steve’s life and showed her power and skill, yet in this scene the norms of society will try to put her back down into place, and Steve doesn’t do a very good job yet of sticking up for her.

Scene 21 - Council and Sir Patrick

Going into Scene 21, we just saw that Steve, Diana, and Etta successfully protected the notebook and now Steve is trying to get the notebook to his Colonel because it contains some important and time sensitive intel. So this is yet another chapter in the epic saga of this notebook, which will conclude soon in Scene 23 when they finally find out the details of its contents.

Scene 21 is the first of two main scenes with the War Council and the generals in the British military. At the beginning of the scene we are met with a rabble of noisy men setting the tone for what will end up being a commentary on gender roles and a look into the foolery of men.  Confusion and discord pervade the assembly, both of which are weapons of Ares and both of which are characteristic of blameless, self-serving men who are clearly very separated from the grit and danger of the front lines. Patty Jenkins said that it was important for them to show that none of these men, not even the military leaders, would ever personally go to the front or personally take on the Germans. But Diana very much will. It becomes abundantly clear that she has more courage and conviction than they do, and it really makes Diana stand out as a hero when we get there to the front.

We’ve talked many times about how important contrasts are in this film. And there’s not only Diana’s active bravery contrasted with the safety and comfort of the male leaders, but there is also an important contrast in the production design. Back on Themyscira, we had a scene in the halls of power, so to speak. It was Hippolyta’s throne room in Scene 10 and it was literally an open space where people could freely enter and where she took open advise from associates, Senators, soldiers, and citizens. But just physically, it was a naturally open space. That contrasts sharply with the door that is featured very prominently here in Man’s World. The door is an explicit element of this scene, at the beginning and the end, and it serves as a clear separator that is meant to keep people such as women out of the chamber -- excluding people from the “room where it happens,” so to speak. Now, you may be thinking that of course there’s a door there because important things are being discussed and sensitive national security decisions are being made. It’s just taken for granted that you would have a door and you would keep most people out except for the privileged few. But that is just a cultural convention -- it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, as illuminated by thinking about a completely different society like the Amazons.

And this point about including or excluding multiple voices in the halls of power is not just a side note -- this exact relationship between the people and those who rule over them may be why Man’s World is facing a world war whereas Themyscira had centuries of peace.

Now, Diana, of course, is from Themyscira, so she just ignores the door. It doesn’t really make sense to her that she should stay out, even though Steve tries to tell her to wait outside. Her ignorance of British protocols and her pro-active, somewhat rebellious personality, that we’ve already seen from her from childhood all the way through to the present day, means that she’s going to let herself in.

At first Sir Patrick can’t be heard over the commotion, but things quiet down a bit as Diana enters and another council member pleads for Sir Patrick to be heard. The filmmakers do a nice job of using Diana’s footsteps to audibly represent her presence and the chatter dies down right as she steps farther into the room, unaware that it is abnormal for her, a woman, to be there.

Sir Patrick is speaking and, ostensibly, he’s arguing for an end to the war. He says that the majority of soldiers don’t know what they’re fighting for, which is basically true about World War 1. Countries ended up getting involved as a result of pacts with other countries, but the front lines didn’t really move much over months and even years. So by the end it seemed to many as though the fighting was just continuing for the sake of fighting.

Sir Patrick then says that Germany is immensely proud and so the only way to achieve peace is with an armistice. What he means here is that it’s not feasible to secure a full surrender from Germany, so the best they can hope for is an armistice -- a cease to the fighting so that longer-term peace may be negotiated. In our reality, an armistice is what happened -- at 11:00am on November 11th in 1918, and it wasn’t until the summer of 1919 that the actual Treaty of Versailles was signed. Speaking of a prideful Germany, many historians and economists say that the treaty was too punitive on Germany and so set the stage for the nationalist, populist rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, leading to World War 2.

Although Sir Patrick is talking in this scene about peace, we of course know that he is actually Ares operating in disguise to push for a temporary peace that will fuel the flames of war in the long run. He knows the peace he is advocating will be tentative and punitive, and will actually lead to further violence later. Moreover, by advocating to negotiate an armistice, Sir Patrick is positioning both the Germans and the British into a weakened state of unpreparedness for an attack like the one Ludendorff and Maru are cooking up. That devastating attack would not only result in a high number of fatalities, but would stir further discord and confusion and reinvigorate and revitalize war efforts.

Now, the reason we can hear Sir Patrick say all this is because Diana quieted the room down.
With her disrupting presence, the Colonel tells Steve to get her out. And Steve tries to excuse the intrusion by debasing Diana as the lowly thing she is viewed to be. He apologizes for his “blind sister” and says she “got lost on the way to the bathroom.” This is a pretty offensive excuse that undermines her intelligence and vision. It also makes it seem as though Diana is helpless, and Steve is the man who has to be her caretaker.

Although these self-proclaimed gentlemen view themselves as superior to women, they are in fact acting childish, indecisive, and arguably cold as they erupt at the suggestion of peace at any cost.  Diana, in contrast, is grounded with compassion and intolerant of their apparent aversion to peace.

As Diana is escorted out, Sir Patrick collects his thoughts and completes his sentence suggesting their only aim at this time should be Peace at any cost.  With Diana no longer serving as a distraction to the room, the council hears Sir Patrick’s words and the chaotic uproar returns to the room.

Diana, never the pushover, resists being led out and turns back into the room to observe.  She sees the renewed chaos and asks Steve why they aren’t letting Sir Patrick speak since he’s calling for peace.  Diana sees no reason for conflict as she hasn’t been exposed to the selfish and greedy personality of men. So for her, Sir Patrick’s words about peace ring true.

Outside of the council chamber, Steve is waiting for the Colonel who comes over aggressively and emphasizes that it was the fact that Diana was a woman, and not because she was simply an outsider, that left the council aghast.  Diana seems to gain a better understanding of this gender division hearing these words, the first real gender-based discrimination she has ever had to face. And coming from another land, the concept seems very foreign, indicating the notion that discriminating is by man’s design. And although Steve tries to explain the importance and urgency of Dr. Maru’s notebook, his superior is more concerned with decorum, which further emphasizes the callous nature of the council.
Coming over to diffuse the tension is Sir Patrick, aka Ares, and he likely recognizes Diana or at least senses who she is. As an authoritative figure he elevates himself above the other men by forgiving Diana’s intrusion. As the saying goes, to err is human, to forgive, divine. And being as Sir Patrick is actually the God of War, he is indeed divine. He of course is also relying on his charisma as a tool for persuasion and manipulation. And he seems to know Captain Trevor, as revealed by his remarks, “Here you are, back from the dead” which also acts to foreshadow Steve’s real death at the end of the film.

Sir Patrick Morgan introduces himself and Diana follows suit.  Steve once again tries to cover for her behavior by cutting her short and claiming her name is Diana Prince in order to avoid the further embarrassment by associating with a seemingly senile woman.  Although in the comics Wonder Woman originally took the alias from a World War II nurse, this is an interesting way for the film to explain the surname. Steve says they are, uh, “working together.” So she went from being his blind sister, to a work colleague, and next she will be a secretary. This pattern of Steve being unsure how to explain their partnership emphasizes that we are seeing them grow in their relationship together, and by the end, they will know more clearly what they are to each other and Steve won’t be so uncomfortable about it in front of others.

In this dialogue, Steve asks for an audience with the generals, which sets up Scene 23 in a few moments. And right at the end of Scene 21, Sir Patrick, whether actually surprised or not, conveys himself as such and offers up the pseudonym Dr. Poison, which perfectly segways into the next scene of her and Ludendorff.

Scene 22: Doctor Poison’s New Batch (0:56:25 -- ) [0:56:39 on digital]

Scene 22 begins with Dr. Maru attaching a canister of gas to the test enclosure to see its effects on the gas mask inside. As we can conclude thus far, this is the “terrible” idea that she saw from her crumpled note back in Scene 17, and she is attempting to create a poisonous gas which would render masks useless. Therefore she need only to test it on the mask itself revealing the truly malicious nature of testing on a human subject earlier in the film.

The gas fills the chamber, and the glass lenses of the mask shatter. Dr. Maru makes some kind of adjustment which sounds like it could be a knob being turned with clicks at each interval, but more likely it is an ignitor for a pilot light to test the combustibility of the gas. This of course plays a factor in Steve Trevor’s final scene and sacrifice as he is able to ignite the payload in order to eradicate it. The gas quickly catches fire and burns the mask to a crisp leaving Dr. Maru and Ludendorff pleased.

The new gas also crushes the mask for some reason. While this is a work of fiction, we wanted to point out a few things about the accuracy of the gas in the film.  Dr. Maru aims at creating a powerful hydrogen-based gas, but the sulfur-based mustard gas used in World War I already consists of hydrogen, and the sulfur particle is necessary to keep the molecules together.  It was also already quite potent as it was technically not a gas but liquid droplets that can penetrate through leather, rubber, and most textiles. There was however a new “gas” that was introduced during the war to replace the sulfur-based mustard gas which consisted of chlorine and tear gas that penetrated gas masks. So although scientifically inaccurate, the movie does manage to maintain some historical accuracy with the introduction of a new gas that would render gas masks useless. We can of course suspend disbelief and consider Dr. Maru’s supposed hydrogen-based poison gas had something else going for it which may have been inspired by the God of War to make it act the way it does.

End of Episode

That is our analysis of Scenes 21 and 22. And we are getting into the heart of Act 2 here, with the final few new characters being introduced and put into place. Recently we met Etta Candy, and here we meet Sir Patrick Morgan. Sir Patrick, of course, is played by David Thewlis, the English actor who is most famous for playing Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter series. I also love his small role in The Big Lebowski, but I do admit that when I see him here in Wonder Woman, I often think of Lupin. Nevertheless, I think he is a great fit for the friendly, wise, sort of disarmingly charming British politician who is seemingly a voice of reason and who wants to help Steve and Diana. He also seems plausible as an early 20th Century type of person, and overall, this good fit for Thewlis as Sir Patrick makes it more of a surprise that he ends up being Ares, because we tend to think of Ares as a big burly man, or at least physically imposing and kind of mean in some intrinsic way. Someone more like Ludendorff, for example. So later on, we might get suspicious that Ludendorff is almost too obvious as Ares, but right now, as we first meet Sir Patrick, he really doesn’t seem to be the God of War at all.

But anyway, we can wrap it up now. Next up we will see Diana shift from meeting the British leadership to giving them a piece of her mind. That episode will be coming out very soon. But in the meantime, thanks for listening and if you’re looking for more DCEU content, we recommend the Suicide Squadcast, Man of Steel Answers, and DC Cinematic Minute.

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