Watchmen recap: The hero (and Laurie Blake) goes to hell
Welcome to EW’s weekly recap of HBO’s Watchmen. Each week, EW’s resident comic book obsessives Chancellor Agard and Christian Holub will be breaking down the loaded drama.
Watchmen continues to expand its world and forge stronger links to the comic in its third episode. Titled “She Was Killed by Space Junk,” Sunday’s hour was tightly focused on FBI Special Agent Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), a character from the original comic who makes her way to Tulsa to investigate Crawford’s murder, tell some jokes, and mock the local law enforcement while she’s at it. Let’s get into it.
Chancellor: Christian, I want to start this week’s chat by doing something I don’t think I’ve done yet: Professing how much I’m enjoying this show. Three episodes in, I’m loving Watchmen. I tweeted this already, but I feel like I’m back in high school and reading the graphic novel for the first time. Coincidentally, this week’s episode actually boasts the show’s strongest connection to the comic yet with the introduction of Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, a.k.a. the former Silk Spectre, a.k.a. the former Comedienne, and Jeremy Irons proudly proclaiming he’s Adrian Veidt while wearing his old-school Ozymandias costume.
I want to zero in on the Laurie Blake of it. At the end of the comic, Laurie and Dan (Nite Owl) talk about getting back into the vigilante business, but Laurie, who recently discovered the Comedian was her real father, says she wants to change her name from Silk Spectre and get a gun. Then, the week 1 Peteypedia documents revealed she adopted “The Comedienne” as her new alias before she and Dan were arrested in the early ‘90s. At some point in between her arrest and when we meet her in tonight’s episode, she joined the FBI’s anti-vigilante task force and developed a very wry sense of humor. In fact, the episode is structured around humor. As we see her travel to Tulsa with Agent Petey to investigate Crawford’s death, the episode flashes to her calling Doctor Manhattan via a satellite phone and telling him several long extended jokes. There was a palpable, very Leftovers-like loneliness in those scenes that I found pretty compelling because of the close-ups on her face.
To start, Christian, what did you make of Laurie’s jokes? Did you love Smart’s performance as much as I did?
Christian: They may not have shown us Laurie Blake right away, but they sure made her entrance this week worth the wait. I loved the opening scene where she staged a fake robbery in order to murder a vigilante named “Mr. Shadow.” You can understand why the crowd starts booing her afterward: It sure seems like the only justification for spending that many resources to get a guy who’s trying to fight crime is if you have some deep-seated problem with superheroes.
We learn a lot about the nature of Laurie’s superhero problem from the story she tells Doctor Manhattan over the course of the episode. It’s about four people appearing before God for judgment. Although she doesn’t use names, it’s pretty easy to figure out whom she’s talking about. The first is Dan Dreiberg a.k.a. Nite Owl, her ex-boyfriend who is apparently still in jail (which explains why the Tulsa police have possession of the Owlship). In Laurie’s story, Nite Owl tells God that he did his best to help the world. He didn’t kill anyone, usually a superhero virtue — but in this case, it’s damning, because how can you change the world without killing anyone? So Laurie’s God condemns him to Hell.
Next up in the judgment list is an analogue for Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, who did change the world and killed a hell of a lot of people to do it. Too many people, perhaps, because he also gets sent to Hell. Then it’s Doctor Manhattan’s turn. Laurie directly quotes one of his original Watchmen lines (“a live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles”) but more important is the aspect of the character we discussed last week — from Doctor Manhattan’s perspective, everything that has happened or will happen already is happening. So he doesn’t bother putting up much of a defense, because he already knows he’s been sentenced to Hell. Those were the three people God intended to sentence, but he didn’t notice the little girl until it was too late. That’s Laurie’s own analogue, a carry-over from her previous telling of the classic “shaggy-dog” story that ends with throwing a brick into the air. Now the brick comes down and kills God.
This extended joke seems like Laurie’s way of trying to process her superhero past. Is there any way to be a superhero and make out okay, or is it a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation? Nite Owl, Ozymandias, and Doctor Manhattan took three different approaches to superheroics and have all ended up in some kind of prison. Maybe that’s why Laurie has chosen the merciless FBI route: She thinks this is her way of killing God, cutting the Gordian knot, and getting out of this mess alive.
Another benefit to Laurie’s presence on the show is it creates a connection between Veidt and the rest of the cast (though as she tells Petey, she is “not a fan”). Veidt’s situation is clarified a bit this episode. After he gets shot at by a figure known as “The Game Warden” when he tries to hunt, we learn that he is in some kind of captivity. He’s not just putting on deadly plays and freezing servants to death for the hell of it; he’s trying to escape! To that end, we even see him put on the classic Ozymandias costume, which gave me my biggest nerd howl watching this show since the aforementioned Owlship appearance.
Chancellor: What a glorious moment! Yes, I really liked how this episode painted two very distinct portraits of how these comic book characters, Laurie and Veidt, are making sense of their costumed pasts. Throwing on the Ozymandias costume clearly gives Veidt some much-needed juice to plot his escape, whereas Laurie, as you pointed out, is still struggling with it. In addition to her joke, I think that idea is also conveyed in the shot of her sitting in front of pop-art portraits of her, Manhattan, Rorschach, and Nite Owl; her past was literally hanging over her.
Laurie’s complicated relationship with her past comes through in how she approaches her investigation into Crawford’s death. There’s an undercurrent of contempt in almost every interaction she has with the Tulsa PD, from her chat with Looking Glass, in which she mocks his “racist detector” and reflective mask, to her initial conversation with Angela at Crawford’s funeral. “You know how you can tell the difference between a masked cop and a vigilante?” “No,” replies Angela. “Me neither,” says Laurie. The shade! (Laurie’s dig also reminded me of how up in arms people got over Spider-Man willingly working with cops in last year’s Spider-Man game).
Even though Laurie clearly has contempt for vigilantes, she still hasn’t shaken off some of their behaviors. Look at how she put three bullets in Mr. Shadow’s back with little regard to whether or not she would paralyze or kill him. More blatantly, though, is what she does when a Rorschach attacks Crawford’s funeral in a suicide vest connected to his heart-rate: She cavalierly puts a bullet in his head (tango down!) without any kind of warning — which then prompts Angela to go into badass mode and dispose of the bomb (read: toss it in the grave with Crawford’s casket on top of it) before it explodes.
Christian: I am loving the dynamic that is emerging between Angela and Laurie. The fun of this episode is that, after two weeks of set-ups and introductions to all these deadly serious new characters in the Watchmen world, Laurie comes in to just take the piss out of everyone. She’s definitely taking after her dad, and not just in that she’s murdering people for the federal government. Her attitude towards the cops in this episode, particularly in the hilarious Looking Glass confrontation you mentioned, is definitely reminiscent of the Comedian’s actions at the “Crimebusters” meeting in Watchmen. Like her father, Laurie has no patience anymore for superheroes’ pretensions of importance.
But then, after Laurie mocks everyone from her former comrades to her current co-workers, she finally runs into someone she can’t intimidate. Talking to Angela in the mausoleum, Laurie is forced to admit her mistake in shooting the suicide vest-wearing Kavalry member. That undercuts the holier-than-thou position she’s taken with everyone else so far. Nevertheless, Laurie still thinks she can intimidate Angela by saying that Crawford’s death indicates he thought of himself as a good guy, and Angela’s reaction to it implies she does too, and Laurie “eats good guys for breakfast.” Angela’s reaction is absolutely incredible: Saying “oooooh” in a fake scared voice and then pouring Laurie’s coffee down the manhole she just crawled out of. When’s the last time Laurie got checked like this? I love that no one on this show is unbeatable.
Laurie is clearly shook after her confrontation with Angela, and…well. I suppose it falls to me to talk about the dildo, doesn’t it? When Laurie gets back to her hotel room, we find out what resides in her briefcase: A big blue dildo modeled after Doctor Manhattan’s world-famous penis. Anyone who’s read or seen a previous version of Watchmen knows that the big blue superman loves to let his dick hang out. Although he wore a full-body costume when he first emerged on the superhero scene, Doctor Manhattan’s growing detachment from humanity eventually led him to abandon clothing altogether. I love the idea that the symbol of his masculine solitude has now been appropriated as a source of female pleasure. Laurie’s mother Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre, is surely long-dead by now, but she would be delighted to know that her daughter has become the subject of porn parodies just like she herself once was (from Tijuana bibles to life-size dildos: Plus ça change!).
And yet, Laurie doesn’t ultimately go through with it. Instead of pleasuring herself with the big blue boy, she hooks up with Agent Petey instead. This is not that big of a shock when you remember that Laurie’s exes are Nite Owl and Doctor Manhattan. Despite her take-no-prisoners attitude, Laurie clearly has a weakness for nerds who think of themselves as good guys.
After Laurie finishes her episode-long voicemail to Doctor Manhattan, she leaves the Blue Booth Network and finds Angela’s car dumped in front of her. Looking up, all she sees of the departing deliverer is a yellowish orb that conspicuously reminded me of Watchmen’s iconic yellow smiley-face symbol. No wonder she bursts into laughter.
Notes from the Black Freighter:
- No better way to kick off this week’s edition than to note that the flag of the Black Freighter, the pirate ship from Watchmen‘s comic-within-a-comic and the namesake of this section, was finally visible in this week’s episode when Veidt gallops past it. The original Watchmen draws many parallels between Veidt and the marooned protagonist of the Tales of the Black Freighter comic, but it’s unclear yet if its appearance here is just an Easter egg for book readers or something more. Either way, it certainly excited us!
- Laurie directly quotes other characters’ Watchmen lines twice in this episode. The first is the aforementioned Doctor Manhattan line about the negligible difference between a dead body and a live one. The second comes at the end of her story, after God has been killed: “Roll on snare drum. Curtains.” That is a quote from none other than Rorschach, and it comes after the vigilante tells his iconic joke about the clown Pagliacci (which you may know from Twitter memes even if you haven’t read the comic). Unlike the Manhattan quote, that line wasn’t spoken aloud in Laurie’s presence. It was written in Rorschach’s journal, so the only way Laurie would know it would be if she read the journal. We saw Petey get chewed out by his FBI boss for thinking that Rorschach’s journal was a good insight into the Seventh Kavalry’s mindset, but clearly, Laurie agrees. Her decision to recruit Petey onto this mission was probably not nearly as cavalier as she pretended.
- When Senator Joe Keene, Jr. is giving his press conference after the funeral shoot-out, one of the reporters asks him about rumors that the Russians are trying to build an intrinsic field generator. Keene brushes it off and refocuses the conversation on the Seventh Kavalry, but it’s worth noting that Doctor Manhattan originally gained his powers from being atomized by an intrinsic field generator. Are the Russians trying to create their own Doctor Manhattan…? It remains unclear whether the Soviet Union also collapsed in the Watchmen world or not, but either way, the country still seems to be America’s biggest geopolitical threat here.
- Hong Chau is coming. On their way into Tulsa, Petey points out the Millennium Clock to Laurie and mentions that Lady Trieu (Chau’s character) quoted the poem “Ozymandias” there as an homage after she purchased Veidt’s business holdings. We should expect to meet her soon, and I’m sure it’ll go great. If there’s one thing this increasingly-tense Tulsa situation was missing, it’s an unfathomably rich megalomaniac!
- The more things change, the more they stay the same: After all these years, Laurie is still a huge fan of Devo.