An old character from the comics arrives reinvented, as we see the other half of the story thus far.
Up to this point, Watchmen has been working hard to establish itself as a story existing within the periphery of the comics’ usual signposts. While we get the occasional glimpse of Dr. Manhattan, and this week finally confirms that Jeremy Irons is, in fact, an exiled Adrian Veidt, Damon Lindelof‘s erstwhile sequel has allowed a post-squid Tulsa to exist on its own terms. With “She Was Killed By Space Junk,” that equation changes with the arrival of Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), formerly Silk Spectre II — a woman with intimate knowledge of the world-shattering events at the core of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comic, and consequently someone who has quite the jaundiced eye toward superheroes.
So what’s Laurie been up to since Squidgate? Well, as per the Keene Act, Laurie (who now goes by the surname Blake — presumably in acceptance of her father, the Comedian) has given up the superhero life, and now works for the FBI tracking down vigilantes. Called to Tulsa by Senator Keene Jr. (James Wolk) to help cool the chaos down there in the wake of Judd Crawford’s death (which would presumably bust up the cops-in-masks program he innovated there), Laurie immediately insinuates herself in the extrajudicial actions of a now-unhinged Tulsa PD.
Smart’s take on Laurie is wry, acerbic and thoroughly unimpressed with the Halloween shenanigans on display: she writes off Lookingglass’ (Tim Blake Nelson) pod as a “racist detector,” and generally has no reverence for TPD’s gimmick. “You know how you can tell the difference between a cop and a masked vigilante?” she asks Angela (Regina King) at Judd’s funeral? “No,” she replies. Her response? “Me either.” It’s a joy to see someone like Smart swagger her way into the self-serious world of the show and shake things up; I can’t wait to explore how she fits into the story.
But of course, the 7K try to pull a suicide bombing at the funeral, which Laurie upends by just shooting the guy, thinking his claim of a dead man’s switch is bullshit. In classic Watchmen fashion, it’s not, and the show has to kill another of its sacred cows by throwing Judd’s coffin over the vest to muffle the blast. Angela and Keene look like heroes in the wake of the attack, but Laurie knows better: “people who wind up hanging from trees and have secret compartments in their closet tend to think of themselves as good guys,” she says of Judd. Which, okay, I’ll need more time to unpack how that makes sense, but it fits with Laurie’s bleary-eyed cynicism of the corruption inherent to those who call themselves protectors.
While the Tulsa-set series is already deeply entrenched in questions of racism, white supremacy, and the compromised ethics of modern policing, it’s not till “She Was Killed By Space Junk” that Watchmen follows in its source material’s thematic footsteps. The original comic was a sneering, self-reflexive look at just how grim a world with superheroes might be: they’d either be “millionaires playing dress-up,” as Keene describes one recently-arrested vigilante, or godlike beings like Dr. Manhattan who’d completely upend our ideas of the Universe.
Tonight, the show finally dug deep into the idea that — like Laurie’s ‘joke’ about the owl, the genius, and the God who fail to get into Heaven — narcissistic power trips are baked into the very premise of the superhero genre. Not one of them is good or honorable; they just use the mask to work out power fantasies. The same could be said of cops, both in the masked world of Tulsa and in our own Blue Lives Matter-riddled world.
It’s a joy to see someone like Smart swagger her way into the self-serious world of the show and shake things up.
And of course, there’s an additional punchline to the proceedings: unlike her three former compatriots, Laurie manages to (figuratively) kill God with a thrown brick he never saw coming. She clearly sees herself as the one who sees behind the curtain to the ugly truth of the world, and that gives her power. And yet, providence falls from the sky in the form of Angela’s SUV, lifted to the heavens last week and dropped at Laurie’s feet tonight, with no Will to be found. Is it a just a clue that will bring Angela and Laurie closer together in their investigations? Or a sign from Manhattan that God is indeed watching?
But of course, that’s not all to the story: what about Ozymandias’ Batshit Power Hour? This week, we get to see him jam out to Desmond Dekker and the Aces’ “Israelite” as he fashions some kind of makeshift space suit out of heat-treated fabric, a suit of armor, and a fishbowl. It’s presumably for a spacewalk of some sort, with the all-too-willing Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison) as a guinea pig. One comedy smash-cut later, and he’s a Phillips-icle; “we’re going to need a thicker skin,” he muses. Between this latest experiment, and the arrival of a mysterious ‘game warden’ who warns him off such schemes, it’s clear that Irons is less a bored aristocrat than he is a prisoner in a gilded cage.
- The episode’s framing device, set in a branded phone booth meant exclusively to send messages to Dr. Manhattan from Mars, is a nice little bit of worldbuilding that lets Lindelof explore the idea of talking to a God that doesn’t care, but doing it anyway. It’s even riddled with graffiti.
- I’m very curious to see how FBI researcher and super-fan Petey (Dustin Ingram, giving off Big Middleditch Energy) fits into the overarching aim of the show: for what it’s worth, you can see some of the character’s own blogging at “Peteypedia”, a neat little bit of ARG worldbuilding on HBO’s website.
- Love the not-so-subtle dig at the Christian Bale growl and tactical-bro armor of “Mr. Shadow”.
- The briefcase Laurie opens up in her apartment is a neat little Pulp Fiction riff, with its ‘667’ combination and eerie blue glow whose source we don’t get to see.
- I’m in love with the show’s love of split diopter shots – the closeup of Will’s pills last episode, the faucet this episode. It can’t be overestimated how sly and effortlessly stylish the show’s visuals and editing can be — a crisp, detail-oriented Fincheresque aesthetic, Mindhunter meets Minutemen.
- “Judd Crawford in a tree… H-A-N-G-I-N-G.”
- That long pause after Laurie goads Lookingglass to reveal that Sister Night is Angela Abar before he answers… so delicious.
- The cemetery where Judd gets buried is called Tartarus Acres, presumably in reference to Greek mythology’s rough equivalent to Hell. Which makes sense, considering the framing device points out how every kind of hero, no matter how they dispense their heroism, is destined to go there eventually.
- For her eulogy, Angela sings Gene Autry’s “The Last Roundup” in honor of Judd; fitting for the guy’s Okie pride and cowboy affectation.