“You want my autograph?”
Watchmen got really ambitious this week, and I’m not just talking about the way Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) was eyeballing that gigantice metallic blue dildo at the end of the episode.
The episode, titled “She Got Killed By Space Junk,” took a step back from the story it has been telling and shifted gears by introducing Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) aka Silk Spectre II, one of the main characters in the original graphic novel. Obviously, a lot has changed since she last donned a crime fighting mask, as she now leads the FBI’s Anti-Vigilante Task Force, reenacting bank heists from The Dark Knight in order to catch “rich assholes wanting to play dress-up.”
This might seem strange to people new to the Watchmen Extended Universe™®, but vigilantes were also illegal in the original graphic novel. Following the Police Strike of 1977, Congress passed the Keene Act, banning masked vigilantes unless they directly served the US government. Ironically, the act was written and proposed by Joseph Keene Sr., the father of the senator we met last week and got to know a bit better in this episode: Joseph “Bob Benson” Keene Jr. (James Wolk). Yes, I will bring up the fact that he played Bob Benson for at least another week.
I say “ironically” because Keene Jr.’s trademark piece of legislation is the unfortunately acronymed DOPA (Defense of Police Act) which put Oklahoma police in masks. As Laurie so eloquently points out to Angela later in the episode: “You know how you can tell the difference between a masked cop and a vigilante? Me neither.”
The entire episode is interspersed with a phonebooth conversation Laurie is sending to Dr. Manhattan on Mars, her former lover. In it, she tells a joke that serves as a multilayered backbone to the episode. On the surface level, it’s about how all heroes are doomed — each of the three heroes sent to be judged by God are condemned to Hell, from Nite Owl to Ozymandias to Dr. Manhattan himself. God himself is eventually killed by someone he overlooked and ends up in Hell. Good joke.
What feels so strange and ambitious about this episode is how little it focuses on our main characters and mysteries. Sure, there’s an averted assassination attempt during Judd’s funeral, but Angela is a bit player in this episode (even though Regina King does get a stellar scene sparring Jean Smart in a mausoleum).
We don’t get any closer to understanding Judd Crawford’s death. We don’t learn anything new about the 7th Kavalry or the White Night. This week on “what the f**k is going on with Jeremy Irons” somehow multiplied the questions I have about his character (detailed below in my Less-Organized Thoughts). While Laurie is sure to figure into the show heavily going forward, the third episode feels like an odd introduction point.
“She Was Killed By Space Junk” doesn’t choose to develop those mysteries in its third episode but to expand the world and to literally insert its creator Damon Lindelof. Lindelof comes to this project fresh off his critically acclaimed masterpiece The Leftovers, a story about the existential questions that surround us and learning to live with the idea that there might not be any answer at all.
While that idea definitely feels relevant to Laurie’s message to Dr. Manhattan, the God of this world who “likes to stroll around with his dick out,” it actually reminds me more of Lindelof’s beautifully messy work before The Leftovers: Lost. Lost was not as clearly focused on shouting into the void as The Leftovers was, but it absolutely put characters in crises of faith.
An avatar for Lindelof himself can be found in Agent Petey (Dustin Ingram), Laurie’s partner on her trip to Tulsa, himself a student of history. But he’s not interested in an autograph from Laurie, he wants to find out what’s next, to understand her as a person, not just an idol. This is the same approach Lindelof articulated in his open letter to fans when he announced he was working on the project.
The Leftovers can be read as a kind of spiritual sequel to Lost, and this episode continues that evolution. All three of these shows are about, as Emily VanDerWerff points out, “people who talk to God and find out God would rather talk about anything else.”
Watchmen clicks into this M.O., perhaps no better than in Laurie’s literal one-sided conversation with God. Even as he lives on Mars, caring little for humanity, Laurie can’t escape her need for connection, whether through phone booth conversations or aforementioned dildo.
She might think that it’s her blue boo who sent the car crashing down in front of her, but it looks an awful lot like Angela’s car from last week. He’s probably not listening. Good joke.
Watchmen is already figuring to be a pretty confusing show that’s juggling a lot at the same time. I have the luxury of watching each episode twice before writing these recaps and I still need to do a fair amount of research to figure out what stuff I could know and what stuff is a brand new mystery. It’s an Easter egg hunt, but instead of empty calories, each reference opens a portal to a whole new perspective.
That might not work for everybody. It’s work to watch this show and connect the dots, and while it’s incredibly rewarding and exhilarating to dive in (thus the recaps here), I have to assume that not everybody wants homework alongside their Sunday night TV schedule.
“Space Junk” is a big swing at the idea that Watchmen can work for the more casual viewers. It’s quieter than the first two episodes, with less action to speak of. It references the source material even more directly, spending time exclusively with reimagined characters from it (Veidt and Blake). But it also includes a ton of expansion, colouring in some details while also tracing the outlines of shapes and themes on the periphery. That’s really exciting.
- Laurie has adopted the last name Blake, as opposed to Juspeczyk from the graphic novel. This makes sense though as she is the bastard daughter of Edward Blake, The Comedian. This is also notable as the “joke” that Rorschach tells in the comic is written over illustrations of The Comedian’s murder. Foreshadowing?
- Okay, Veidt.
- Wherever he is, he’s considered a “captive,” was that part of his terms so that he could disappear from civilization?
- We see a flag with a skull and crossbones hanging from a scythe. Could be the Black Freighter.
- Who is the game warden and why does he wear a mask?
- Why does Veidt use a bow & arrow while the warden uses a rifle?
- Why does the game warden refer to himself as a “servant” when he is also seemingly Veidt’s captor?
- “He’s underscored consequences”
- Where is he trying to send this clone? To space?
- At Judd’s funeral, Angela sings “The Last Round-Up” from the 1941 film The Singing Hill, another musical about cowboys. The man certainly had a brand.
- Speaking of Judd’s funeral, the cemetery they plan to bury him in (you know, before Angela uses him to dampen the 7th Kavalry’s bomb) is called Tartarus Acres. Um, what? In Greek mythology, Tartarus is basically Hell, an abyss of suffering and torture where the wicked were punished and the Titans were held prisoner. While I expect this to be some kind of foreshadowing towards Judd’s shady past, who in their right mind would ever bury a loved one here? Were all the plots in Purgatory Plains taken?
- Looking Glass, man. What a character. Tim Blake Nelson’s deliberate approach to this character works for both delivered lines (“I did not personally observe any violence against the subject”) and as a reaction to other characters (“You know you wear a mirror on your face, people are gonna use it”) so, so well. Get this man his own episode!
- In the press conference after the attempted assassination of Senator Keene, a reporter asks if he has any comment on the Russians building an intrinsic field generator, which is the same device that created the accident that led to Dr. Manhattan. Russia is a key figure in the original Watchmen, as the world inched closer and closer to nuclear annihilation. While Veidt’s plan was to give humanity something to fear and pull everyone closer together, it’s clear that was not a permanent solution. Keene is quick to brush off the question, but don’t be surprised to see the Russians pop up in this story before the end of the season.
- For the second straight episode, a character has listed Dr. Manhattan’s powers. Last week both Cal and Will rattled off all of the things he could and could not do, and this week Laurie notes a few more. Whereas the rest of the heroes in Watchmen do not have “superpowers,” Manhattan does, and the outlining of them seems to be preparing us for a return that seems like it will be more than a small cameo.
Watchmen continues Monday at 9.00pm on Sky Atlantic.
Contributed by Jackson From Skip Intro