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Family secrets inspire more questions on Watchmen

Regina King
Photo: Mark Hill (HBO)
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This week on Watchmen, writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, along with director Nicole Kassell, give a one-two punch reveal. First, I called it: Chief of Police Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) lived crooked as a three-dollar bill. The series continues to draw parallels from Crawford to the OG graphic novel character The Comedian, as Angela (Regina King) finds a secret panel in Judd’s closet that holds a KKK uniform. The second blow comes in the form of a giant freaking magnet suspended from the sky rushing in to sweep William—played by Louis Gossett Jr., as the nonagenarian version of the little boy who escaped the bombing in episode one—off to some untold land. And let me not forget, William is Angela’s grandpa! It’s all about family secrets and repressed rage this week. Let’s get into it.

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The title of this week’s episode, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” references the painting hanging in the Crawford’s living room. Comanche Feats of Horsemanship, a painting by George Catlin between 1834-1835, depicts four members of the Comanche Tribe demonstrating their skill on horseback. In Catlin’s own words, “...he will hang whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and his shield, and also his long lance of fourteen feet in length, all or either of which he will wield upon his enemy as he passes.” Angela’s stunned expression when she discovered the white robes in her chief’s closet mirrors the feeling of shock that both enemy and prey felt when the Comanche revealed themselves.

It’s a shock that continues to hit the further I contemplate Angela and Judd’s relationship. First, Judd filled the role of mentor, father figure, chief, and friend to Angela. When Angela tells Topher (Dylan Schombing) what happened, she mentions that both of their parents met untimely ends. Judd also shaped her understanding of the events that occurred on the White Night. In a flashback, the audience sees Angela knife one of the Seventh Kavalry members in the face. Another terrorist takes her by surprise, shooting her in the stomach. As soon as Angela woke up, Judd assuaged her fears; her husband lived, and she got the bad guy. Crawford gave her something else to worry about—all the other officers had quit. Her mind would be distracted with rounding up the rest of the Kavalry members and healing for some time to come.

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The show’s creators begin to have more fun playing with time in this episode, not just in the flashback, but by revealing little bits of information that make a bigger impact during a second watch. As William says during his imprisonment at Angela’s bakery: “There’s a vast and insidious conspiracy in Tulsa. If I told you about it, your head would explode. So, I have to give it to you in pieces. I have (given you information.) You’re just not paying attention.”

Regina King
Photo: Mark Hill (HBO)
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Despite the promise of slow reveals, William drops a lot of knowledge to consider given his wild disappearing act. Not only does William claim to have hanged Judd himself, but he also insists that he did it with his mind. At 105, reaching into a boiling pot of hot water without inducing injury proved a simple task. “Friends in high places,” must be an understatement given the perfectly timed phone call. Dr. Manhattan evolving to look more human proved to be the most hysterical claim; but if true, this could be a game-changer. Could he be walking amongst the characters we’ve already met? After all, the only clip of him available is a three-second loop of him building the same sandcastle on Mars. From the novel, we know he’s built much more extravagant floating cities. Something smells like a cover-up.

Now I’m going to step outside of the immediate show and draw your attention to peteypedia. This website, run by FBI Agent Dale Petey, contains all the basic information an agent working in the Anti-Vigilante Task Force needs to know. I highly recommend reading through the documents, particularly if you’ve read the graphic novel. There’s a lot of information bridging the gap between 1985, where the book left off, and 2019 where the TV series picks up.

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One of the most defining moments of the last three decades (in the series) came in the form of the Blue Wave. After the events of 11/2 (which is when the squid dropped on NYC), and the public relations catastrophe that suggested Dr. Manhattan caused cancer in those he was closest to, American citizens became terrified of technology. Concerned they would contract cancer, or bring forth another hellspawn from an alien dimension, they cut themselves off from technology. That’s why there are beepers, landlines, and a police Panda carrying the rules of engagement in a physical binder.

Photo: Mark Hill (HBO)
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President Redford, commander in chief for over thirty years, announced he would not run for office again. With decades of rule at stake, tensions between conservatives and liberals exist at an all-time high. Adrian Veidt, recently declared presumed dead, could incite conspiracy theorists if he were to suddenly re-emerge, according to Dale Petey. Most people don’t believe the journal Rorschach published to be real, but the Kavalry does, and a whiff of another conspiracy could launch them into deadly action. Invading their Nixonvilles won’t quell those tensions. At first, it looks like Red Scare (Andrew Howard) will have all the fun. But, as soon as the opportunity to throw a punch arrived, Angela takes it. Hooded Justice (Cheyenne Jackson), the lead character in American Hero Story—the show within the show that’s an interesting satire of American Horror Story and American Crime Story—narrates Angela’s rage as she pummels one of the Nixonville residents shortly before they’re all rounded up in vans. There’s an interesting juxtaposition: where viewers may be obsessed with crime and things that go bump in the night, the factions of this world are drawn to superhero lore.

Once again, the creators have fun playing with time. Gibbons and Moore’s original telling used the Tales Of The Black Freighter, a collection of comic book stories about pirates, to draw comparisons to the struggles of many of the main characters. By taking viewers back in time in multiple ways—through TV series, first-hand accounts, and historical reimaginings—and layering multiple disguised heroes’ stories and showcasing how they relate, time becomes a flat circle, to borrow a phrase from another popular series. When Hooded Justice says, “Who am I? If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be wearing a fucking mask,” he speaks for every masked individual seen so far. Looking Glass (Time Blake Nelson) cries under his mask as he interrogates a colleague. Angela wavers between unlawful arrests and solid police work. The very need to have a costume indicates a problem.

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One of the most clever reveals in the peteypedia comes in the shape of a man named Fredric Wertham. In the fifties, the psychiatrist fundamentally changed the industry when he suggested that lewd imagery and violence in comics caused juvenile delinquency. This created the Comics Authority Code, which nearly killed the industry with its rigid rules about how people were to behave on a comic book page. But, in Watchmen, he went on to psychoanalyze real cape and cowl crusaders. Hooded Justice, for example, carries the label incalculable, because his identity never reached public knowledge. For now, it’s unclear whether or not American Hero Story came after new information came to light, or if it’s an artist imagining the situation. The only thing I know for sure about HJ is that he was gay.

Jeremy Irons
Photo: Colin Hutton (HBO)
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Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons) carries the label of savior/narcissist. Since no one believes in Rorschach’s journals, no one questioned Veidt’s sincerity. The marketing genius stumbled after the squid drop. He predicted his master plan would lead toward futuristic thinking and a desire for a bright new world. Instead, everyone wanted a taste of normalcy, much like the U.S. after 9/11. Eventually, Trieu Industries bought his company. Before he could be ousted, he vanished.

As promised last episode, Adrian puts on his production of The Watchmaker’s Son, but it is wildly inaccurate: When John got locked in the test chamber, Janey ran away, unable to watch him meet his demise. It took weeks for John to materialize as Dr. Manhattan, not seconds. The “Ride Of The Valkyries,” which plays as the clone descends in blue body makeup, was considered the saddest song in the world by the first Nite Owl, Hollis T. Mason, for the role it had in embarrassing a former employer, much like these clones have been shamed and put aside. Dr. Manhattan’s last words to him were, “Nothing ever ends,” a line repeated in the play. But, Ozymandias changes the phrasing later to “It’s only beginning,” which leads me, once again, to suspect new evil plans brew in his old mind.

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Welcome back to appointment television filled with never-ending questions. What kind of message did William intend to leave with Angela? Will she tell the rest of the detectives about what she found? Is Ozymandias romanticizing the creation of Dr. Manhattan because he used that same method when he tried (and failed) to kill the superpowered being? Was that a spaceship?! Until next week.

Stray observations

  • Anyone else worried about Topher and Angela’s ability to move from outraged violence to calm and collected so quickly? That’s going to escalate, and it’s either going to be terrible or Topher will become Robin to Angela’s Batman.
  • Fun fact, Tales of The Black Freighter is named for a song in Bertolt Brecht‎ ‘s Threepenny Opera. Pirate Jenny (Jessica Camacho), the officer who flew the Tulsa police’s Archimedes, also got her name from the same opera. Nina Simone does a killer rendition if you’re interested in learning more about that backstory.
  • Trieu Industries comes up A LOT in the four documents available in peteypedia at the time this piece was written. With so many mentions of conspiracy, I’m starting to think they might be the place to start looking for additional information.
  • Remember last week when I said citizens were vital to the emotional storytelling of Watchmen the graphic novel? Well, this week we got to see two recreations of those citizens: a text hungry youth and a newsstand operator make a brief appearance. Hopefully we’ll see more of them and fill in the realities of the civilian world.
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About the author

Joelle Monique

A contributor for Playboy and Hollywood Reporter Joelle writes about film, television, and comic books. A speaker, host, and avid podcaster her reviews have been featured on NPR, BBC1, and ET.