The Spool / TV
Watchmen Recap: “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own”

Legacy and memory rise to the forefront of an intriguing Watchmen concerned even more directly with the shadows of the past.

“The only thing more important than money… is legacy.” This phrase, uttered by eccentric billionaire (“actually, I’m a trillionaire”) Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) in the beautifully tense cold open to tonight’s episode of Watchmen, cuts to the heart of a slower hour that nonetheless crystallizes a lot of the show’s concerns.

Eggs are a central visual motif tonight: they’re used to make waffles for the Abar family, they coat the cheeky title card for this week’s episode, and they provide the meet-cute for the Clarks, Jon (Robert Wade Pralgo) and Katy (Christine Weatherup), the pleasant couple whose modest farmhouse plays home to Lady Trieu for a late-night visit. She wants their house to expand (or perhaps hide the true purpose for) her massive clock-tower tech project, and they’re not willing to give it up. Unfortunately for the Clarks, they’re promised something more important than a payoff to the infertile couple: the chance for a child, which they’ve helpfully already created for them thanks to some eggs taken from a fertility clinic she owns.

With only three minutes to spare, and the chance for legacy dangled in their face, the Clarks desperately sign the deed over to her. They get their baby, but at no small cost and more than a bit of pain. It’s an incredible cold open, one that functions as a brilliant short film in its own right: capitalism is callous, preying on people’s desperation to pressure them into rushed decisions that impact their own well being.

Photo: Mark Hill/HBO

Legacy’s on Angela Abar’s (Regina King) mind too: a day after losing her newfound, wheelchair-bound grandfather Will (Louis Gossett, Jr.) to a mysterious light in the sky that took him in her car, she breaks into the Greenboro Cultural Center in full Sister Night garb to check out Will’s DNA against her family tree. In fitting Watchmen fashion, the mechanism is suitably macabre and darkly twee: Will’s DNA is encoded onto an “acorn” (another seed, like the egg?), which she can plug into the “Ances-Tree” and pull up a holographic family tree where Will can fit in. It’s there she sees the connection between Will and the Greenboro Massacre, getting a rare glimpse at her great-grandparents (whom we followed in the series premiere), and a young picture of Will. Instead of clarity, though, Angela is no small amount of confused: “Whoever you are, leave me the fuck alone,” she growls, with her grandfather’s face layered over her own. Legacy is complicated: the past can be painful for those left to experience it, their legacies tarnished by hate, hurt and fear. In Angela’s case, Tulsa (and America’s) haunting history of racism surrounds her, especially in the cultural center, and Will’s presence in her life has upended no small number of her assumptions about her worldview.

Before long, she’s caught up with Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), who’s just finished her grim joke from last episode and seen Angela’s SUV drop like a stone from the sky. I love the two of them together: they’re both recovering from haunting legacies that haunt them on a day-to-day basis. For Angela, it’s Greenboro and Redfordations and the lingering sting of the White Night; for Laurie, it’s her past as Silk Spectre, her loss of Dr. Manhattan, and as Petey (Dustin Ingram) explains to Angela, her legacy as the child of rape. Neither woman shies away from these legacies, though Laurie uses humor to work through her pain. “People who wear masks are driven by trauma,” Laurie spells out matter-of-fact. “They’re obsessed with justice because of some injustice they suffered, usually when they were kids.”

Both find a lead in Trieu’s headquarters, where they get a visit from the woman herself. Watchmen just keeps introducing delightful new women to the ensemble: as Trieu, Chau is calculating, laconic, and more than a little stylish (she looks like she’s ripped right out of the futuristic segments of Cloud Atlas with her bob and futuristic white robes). She hides capitalistic pragmatism behind a hollow smile, and the moments it occasionally breaks (“I call BULLSHIT!”, she says to the Clarks about their infertility) are wonderfully arch. There’s at once volumes of subterfuge behind her, and none at all: it doesn’t take long for her to cop to Angela that she does, in fact, have Will, and is more than eager to give up that info in Vietnamese to Angela, who shares a home country with her. One wonders how this will tie into the clock tower project, touted as “the first wonder of the new world.” Its true goal? “It tells time.” Like so many things with Trieu, there’s almost certainly a million things behind that statement, and yet it will remain essentially true. She’s mercurial to a T, and it’s an intriguing addition to the show.

Legacy is complicated: the past can be painful for those left to experience it, their legacies tarnished by hate, hurt and fear.

And what about poor Ozy (Jeremy Irons), whose company Trieu bought a few years back and is now languishing in a mysteriously palatial prison? We finally see where he gets his clones from: fishing fetuses from the river, and throwing them in a kind of clone Easy-Bake Oven, where they quickly grow into his Mr. Phillipses (Tom Mison) and Ms. Crookshankses (Sara Vickers). “I’m your master, not your maker,” he growls to them, and quickly puts them to work loading dozens of dead clones into his custom-made trebuchet, from which he launches them at the sky, only to see them disappear. It’s clear now that his captivity is within some kind of construct: is he on Mars with Dr. Manhattan? Does Trieu have him held captive somehow? We’ve yet to see, but at least we see how Veidt treats legacy: killing and commoditizing the closest thing he has to children.

And as the hour winds down, “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” throws in a few more curveballs and intimate moments at Trieu HQ. Legacy and memory are closely intertwined, we realize, as Trieu reveals to Will (who is, indeed, being hidden in her vivarium) that she’s using memory pills — the same Will left for Angela — as “passive-aggressive exposition” to impart the reality of her past onto her daughter’s memory. Take a pill, relive a memory. For Trieu’s daughter, she has a ‘nightmare’ about a Vietnamese village burning, something Trieu presumably experienced: “my feet still hurt.” One can only presume that Will intends Angela to do the same, despite Trieu’s protests that it’s “too cute by half.” Still, as Will reveals that he doesn’t need that wheelchair like we thought he did, tonight’sWatchmen closes by reminding us that, even if its own plot reveals are too cute by half, they’re steeped in a strong thematic concern about the scourges of time and trauma.

Random Thoughts:

  • Laurie’s new position as Tulsa’s replacement chief of police should put her at loggerheads with Angela no small number of times. I can’t wait.
  • Angela’s bakery is taken right out of the Good Place book of cheeky puns: “The Milk & Hanoi Bakery, where we let Saigons be Saigons.”
  • Who *is* Lube Man, the silver-suited reject from a Beastie Boys video whose superpower seems to be running really fast and slicking himself up to slide through sewer grates? Since he was following Sister Night and witnessed her disposing of Will’s wheelchair, I can only presume it’s Petey. He’s got the figure for it, after all.
  • Cal’s (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) callousness in calling out the absence of Heaven and Hell for their kids is suitably nihilistic for this kind of show. “What? It’s the truth.”
  • “Did you know [Judd] was a racist?” asks Angela to Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), whose doomsday bunker we see for the first time. “He was a white man in Oklahoma,” is his matter-of-fact, incredibly accurate reply.
  • Comics readers (and watchmen of the Snyder film) will recognize the Billie Holiday classic “You’re My Thrill” playing in Laurie’s car as the soundtrack to her fumbling encounters with the impotent Dan Dreiberg.

Watchmen, “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” Trailer: