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Watchmen

Watchmen Season 1 Episode Two Review: “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”

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Watchmen’s second hour is an intoxicating labyrinth of moral compromise, institutional rot, and metatextual reflections.

Where do we hide our greatest secrets, our most damning personal memories – and are they even something we can really hide at all? “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” Watchmen‘s terrific second hour, spends much of its time pondering about this question. It seems a simple idea; Angela wears a mask, Judd hides his Klan outfit, and Will simply talks around the facts of his life and circumstances. But what makes “Martial Feats,” and the young drama as a whole, so effective is how it pushes past those simple answers, for questions larger and more complicated: America refusing to acknowledge the Tulsa massacre in history books, Angela’s adoption of her dead partner’s children – and of course, the indisputable connections between white supremacist movements and their quiet power in America’s institutions, yet one of many ugly stains our country (both in Watchmen, and in our own world) try to ignore and distract from, waving the flag and touting off about blue lines and who gets to cross them.

Though occasionally awkward in its delivery, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” is a remarkably strong second episode for Watchmen, continuing to build out a world mere inches away from our own.

It’s stunning to see a series brave enough to cross that blue threshold, and challenge the fundamental truths we assume about law and justice; specifically, that it is objectively clear eyed, even handed, and honest. The mere existence of the Seventh Kavalry after massacring an entire police department, however, suggests something different – and watching Angela, Wade, and the department seek “justice” for a killer Angela knows isn’t in Nixonville only further complicates the nature of the police, who now wear masks while running around with their electronic gun safeties off (half of these things the police in our world already do).

Watchmen Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship

If there’s a knock against “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” it is how these ideas are awkwardly worked in some conversations (I’m looking at you, scenes inside Angela’s “bakery”) – but taken as a whole, Watchmen‘s second hour is another master class in building out its sardonic world. The police of Watchmen are bitter and afraid, a deadly combination for those touting the power of the written law behind them; Angela’s speech about everything being “black and white” to her adopted son might be groan-worthy in its on the nose-ness, but it’s an apt description for the police of this world (and ours) to take: everyone who isn’t a hero, is an enemy – and anyone who isn’t innocent is immediately guilty, an idea Angela wrestles with, even before discovering the crisp, well-lit linens hidden in her mentor’s closet (which she discovers by faking an illness at his wake, a juicy little mini-morality play Watchmen tucks underneath its surface-level mystery).

Like a LOST episode, “Martial Feats” utilizes a few timely flashbacks to inform the present; specifically, the White Night attack and immediate aftermath, a Christmas holiday destroyed by the Kavalry’s violent uprising. With it, we get some fine ass world building; from her (adopted) children to the close relationship between Judd and Angela, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” continues to build a fascinating protagonist with Angela, one whose cold, calculated approach to the truth is informed by her tragic past – and more importantly, complicated by her present state of affairs, a cop who adorns herself in Catholic symbolism to skirt the law and pursue her notion of justice – except, of course, when it comes to arresting her enigmatic grandfather, who admits to Judd’s murder multiple times, only to be taken in when Angela doesn’t get her other questions answered.

Will’s character, and his increased prominence in this episode, is another engrossing catalyzation of the show’s central themes of family and heroism, and how complicated those seemingly simple ideas can be. Using the lens of history as a framing perspective, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” paint a picture of a man (Will’s father, presumably) whose frustrations with his own country were verbalized in German propaganda – another fascinating little morality play, where a genocidal, racist regime turns out to have some strangely progressive views on race. Truthful or not, the words of the letter dropped on American soldiers held some truth for Will’s father, as it eventually became the infamous “Watch Over This Boy” note we see in the pilot’s opening moments.

Watchmen Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship

There’s also the debut of American Hero Story on everyone’s televisions (including the Kavalry, as they begin to build what appears to be a suicide vest), perhaps the most fascinating sequence of the episode to dissect. Opening on a lengthy, overt “trigger warning” just about everyone in the world watching casually ignores, we’re then privy to one entire American Hero Story scene: the foiling of a grocery store robbery, retold in very Zack Snyder-ish fashion, all blood spurts, exaggerated slow motion, and a muted color palette highlighted by a hero’s costume and the image of glass shattering (in super slo-mo, of course). Brutal and garish, the sequence embodies the very heart of the series: when does heroism become evil, and when does free speech just become emboldening terrible people?

Though occasionally awkward in its delivery, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” is a remarkably strong second episode for Watchmen, continuing to build out a world mere inches away from ours, with a celebrity president whose well-meaning gestures only belie the moral emptiness of the institutions still existing to protect the same people: those with money and power. The Kavalry may represent an immediate threat, but they’re but a drop in the violent bucket of systemic racism, society’s ultimate mask to hide the inter-generational betrayal, destruction, and rotting corruption at the heart of our institutions, and society.

Other thoughts/observations:

ICYMI, I’m co-hosting Goomba Stomp’s Watchmen podcast with GS legend Simon Howell – this week, we’re bringing in Managing Games Editor Mike Worby to talk about “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship.”

Speaking of the episode’s strange title: the art piece this episode is titled after is quite striking. Seeing Native Americans, riding beautiful white horses, being slaughtered on white (and black) horses is an ingenious encapsulation of the season’s deeper themes. Where are the heroes? Why can’t we see their assailants? A lot to see

Oh yeah – this episode ends with Angela’s car being lifted into the air by a giant magnet attached to a plane (or helicopter). Will’s definitely got friends in high places.

Looking Glass doesn’t even take his mask off at home to eat dinner. That boy is both committed, and clearly torn about his role in everything that’s going on around him. What are you hiding, Wade?

Veidt/Ozymandias spends the episode staging a play, acted by two of his clone butlers, called “The Watchmaker’s Son,” which tells the story of Dr. Manhattan’s origins. There’s also talk of Dr. Manhattan when Will and Angela speak; they talk of a man who can be in two places at the same time, and has every imaginable power, except to change his own form into human. Interesting…

Robert Wisdom and Jim Beaver both appear briefly, as a newspaper stand owner and disgruntled grandfather (?), respectively. Watchmen is digging into the HBO character actor bench, which can only mean good things for what’s to follow.

Though this hour barely inches the plot forward, it gives the series so much emotional and thematic depth, it’s almost impossible to notice.

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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1 Comment

  1. Mr B

    October 28, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    My dear Mr D. Your thoroughly extensive, diagnostic and enjoyable critic of this episode has me desiring to wrap my work day early and get to a screen. Very impressed with the writer you have become and the passion you thrust into your subject matter.

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Watchmen Season One Episode 4 Review: “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own”

A thick metatextual layer coats an episode of enigmatic introductions and underwhelming mystery building.

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Watchmen If You Don't Like My Story, Write Your Own

Near the end of “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own,” trillionaire Lady Trieu accuses Will Reeves of employing “passive-aggressive exposition” and tells him he’s being “too cute by a half-measure” teasing out his identity to his granddaughter. It is one of many meta moments in a Watchmen episode where Damon Lindelof’s anxieties and fears constantly bleed through the text of dystopian superheroes; and while that certainly makes for fascinating television to dissect and theorize about, it doesn’t exactly make for a neat, satisfying hour of television. In fact, much of it feels like its explicitly doubling down on its most esoteric qualities, drowning out much of its interesting character work and world building, with an ungodly amount of narrative winking and hand gesturing in the place of a coherent, driven plot.

Watchmen‘s density appears to be coming into conflict with its narrative momentum more often than it should, which could prove troublesome in its climactic moments.

It’s not necessarily bad television; but many of the bread crumbs it drops throughout the hour make “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” feel both bloated and empty through most of the episode. Even Lady Trieu, whose introduction is unsurprisingly strange and intriguing, falls victim to this by the end of the hour, becoming the author’s overt mouthpiece in perhaps the most strained exchange of the young series. After a fascinating introduction, where she convinces a couple to sell their house and land by bringing them a test tube baby (one she had made from their DNA), Trieu’s later scenes are a bit more grating, the farther they move away from defining her character, and closer to becoming a sounding board for self-critique.

Watchmen If You Don't Like My Story, Write Your Own

Lady Trieu’s arc through “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” is emblematic of the entire hour: rich subtext obfuscated by an unwieldy amount of foreshadowing and stalling. This is obviously by design – Will establishes we’re three days away from whatever event is coming, and Veidt’s timeline reveals his scenes are three years from the present – but instead of leaning on character and theme to pass the time, the fourth episode of Watchmen doubles down on objects nodding towards what’s to come. An object falling from the sky, a mention of a horseshow Veidt “doesn’t need yet,” the direct mention of nothing being able to take down the Milennium Clock, “save for a direct hit from a nuclear blast”; every object and line in “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” is a nod towards what’s to come – which, in retrospect, may make this the most important episode of the series.

But in the present, it just makes the whole affair feel a bit clumsy in its deliberate, straightforward delivery; to borrow from the episode’s symbolism, we never see any of the acorns grow into trees in this hour. We learn facts like Looking Glass is a conspiracy theorist, and Trieu’s daughter is probably some kind of lab creation who has her mother’s memories of Vietnam, and Veidt pull babies out of the water to make his clone servants in a steampunk machine; all enthralling imagery, all stepped in some of the show’s deeper thematic material about identity and purpose – but it feels laborious, and hollow, in the isolated context of “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own.”

Watchmen If You Don't Like My Story, Write Your Own

At some point, all of this will mean something; even the vigilante who lubes himself up to slide through sewer grates will hold some significance in this world, even if it’s only a cheeky side note across this hour. I just wish I felt more emotional purpose to this episode: in those terms, most of “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” is just inert, a middle-chapter episode that makes no qualms about its position as the episode positioned between the series’ beginning, and the start of its climb to the season’s dramatic apex; but that honesty comes at the cost of everything feeling just a bit trite.

The most interesting parts of “If You Don’t Like My Story” end up being in the margins; details like Angela and Lady’s shared Vietnamese heritage (and language), Will’s fears about what’s to come, and Looking Glass’s questionable living quarters stand out among the episode’s always-lush aesthetics. Even more interesting are the metatextual connotations; Lindelof as “master and not the maker,” the cheeky episode titles and closing conversations, and the synchronicity between timelines, as the episode ends three days from whatever is about to happen on Earth, while Ozymandias’ escape is clearly nearing its own apex (and with each episode suggesting another year interned, suggests he’s three years away from his own release).

Watchmen If You Don't Like My Story, Write Your Own

It all amounts to a collection of interesting moments, stranded in a forgettable episode unable to mark any important narrative shifts; it’s all intrigue and ominous language, muting the impact of Lady Trieu’s showy introduction. Piles of bloody clone bodies and Will’s pointed disappointment in “betraying” Angela makes for fascinating images and moments, but as a part of Watchmen‘s whole, feels a lot more weightless than what came before it, and what appears to be coming on the horizon.

It’s a small misstep, but an important one: Watchmen‘s density appears to be coming into conflict with its narrative momentum more often than it should, which could prove troublesome in its climactic moments. Tick tock, tick tock, I suppose – hopefully next week’s episode offers a bit more clarity and cohesion than what “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” has to offer.

Other thoughts/observations:

Who would’ve thought Watchmen would challenge Mom for the title of “most engaging, mature female lead characters on the same show”?

Lot to pull from the meaning of the episode’s title: it could hint to characters taking control of their own narratives (Ozymandias reframing his imprisonment as a challenge, Angela learning about her family’s history and grandfather’s mission, Laurie’s legacy running around “yahoos”in her past), or it is a middle finger to Lindelof’s critics. Or it is what Lindelof probably told himself every day that Alan Moore would tell him if they ever got to speak to each other.

Few scenes on TV are more disturbing than watching Veidt casually discarding infants around in the open water. Or making them into very nude adults in his steampunk magic machine.

“So you’re building the eighth wonder of the world?” “No, we’re building the first wonder of the new world.” THAT’S NOT OMINOUS OR ANYTHING.

Senator Keane clearly knows he shouldn’t be naming Angela while she’s in her Sister Night uniform… and yet he keeps doing it. Almost like he’s making a point about it… it is most certainly too clever, by at least a half-measure.

So if Ances-Tree was able to trace the “unknown” Will to his parents, why would the program think the whole family died in the fire? If Will died, he wouldn’t be a grandfather – and since her family tree shows no siblings for him, it would seem natural that he, in fact, did not die in the fire. Not a big thing, but it’s a point of logic that stuck out in the moment.

So either Lady Trieu is trying to kill Dr. Manhattan or create time travel? Those are my best two guesses, as if I have any clue what the fuck is actually going on here.

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Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “She Was Killed by Space Junk”

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Watchmen Podcast

After two episodes of intrigue and setup, Watchmen delivers its strongest nod yet to the original comic. “She Was Killed by Space Junk” spends nearly its entire runtime reintroducing us to Laurie Blake a.k.a Silk Spectre while also confirming that Jeremy Irons is indeed Adrian Veidt a.k.a. Ozymandias. “She Was Killed by Space Junk” serves to deepen the mystery, confuse newcomers and raise the stakes. There’s a lot to discuss this week including the giant blue dildo, a plethora of Easter eggs and several fan theories as to what might come next.

Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this third episode, Simon Howell, Ricky D and Randy Dankievitch, take a deep dive into “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.

And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.

Listen here on iTunes or listen here on Stitcher. 

You can also catch our show on Pocketcast and on Spotify, or simply listen via the player embedded below.

 

Before_The_Internet_Podcast-2-1024x1024

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Watchmen Season 1 Episode Three Review: “She Was Killed by Space Junk”

The surprise return of an integral Watchmen character, ignites another engaging hour of mystery building.

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Watchmen She Was Killed By Space Junk

The introduction of FBI agent Laurie Blake is an important demarcation of Watchmen‘s first season: most obviously, it pushes away from Angela as our sole point-of-view character, which offers an immediate change of scale and perspective. But “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is not only an episode of Watchmen following a different character – it almost feels like a different show, one that’s a much more direct sequel to the original graphic novel series. For fans of the book, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is a particularly fascinating hour of the young series – but for those who haven’t read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work, I wonder how effective this hour can be.

The indelible images of every consequential action in Watchmen continue to gather weight in “She Was Killed by Space Junk” – but without any semblance of release.

After all, Laurie Blake’s history is about as entwined in the original Watchmen as one can be: she’s the daughter of The Comedian and the original Silk Spectre, and former lovers with Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl II. Pushed into the family business of crime fighting by her parents, over time she was known as both The Comedienne and Silk Spectre. She became the latter after ending her long relationship with Dr. Manhattan, who then embarked on his permanent (wink wink) departure to Mars, the last semblances of his humanity gone.

Watchmen She Was Killed By Space Junk

The Laurie we meet in “She Was Killed by Space Junk,” is directly informed by all these life moments; we first see Laurie telling jokes to a Mars-based voicemail, and shooting a vigilante in the bank during a staged bank heist, immediately establishing her as a fulcrum of sorts between Moore’s Watchmen world and Lindelof’s.

In fact, understanding her position as said fulcrum almost requires some fundamental understanding of who her character is; she comes with such weight of history, and acts as such an integral connective point between so many original characters, every action she takes in “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is colored by information from the past. Her decision to join the FBI, her melancholic tone on Dr. Manhattan’s “voicemail”, the incendiary way she refers to thin line between vigilante and masked cop; all of these notes, which may seem strange in their introduction, are integral to truly capturing the gravitas Laurie has when she arrives in Tulsa, long before an SUV was dropped out of the sky next to her, like a brick hurtling down unsuspectingly onto God’s head.

It’s a rather genius integration of one of the book’s more interesting loose threads; but as an introduction to new audiences, Laurie’s past is so buried in the subtext of her actions, it may make for a confounding watch for newcomers. Her position – woman frustrated with the state of things, ponders a time when she shared her life with a quasi-god – is more intriguing to the uninitiated, which might make her a bit of a cipher to understand without the right context.

Watchmen She Was Killed By Space Junk

Thankfully, Smart’s dominating, sneering performance is more than capable of making up the emotional chasm new viewers might have in understanding her character. If it doesn’t, however, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” gives us an extra scene of her and Looking Glass trading barbs, which helps define her character’s (current) ethos and sensabilities in a rather fun way (though her dominating presence is a reminder of how Looking Glass isn’t much more than an idea and a cool mask to this point).

She also neatly ties whatever is happening with Sister Night directly to Laurie, and possibly, Dr. Manhattan: part of her investigation in Tulsa is decoding the clues around Judd’s death – and since she knows where everyone likes to hide their true identities and favorite costumes, she immediately establishes herself as someone of greater import than say, Panda or Red Scare. Her authority is federal; whatever strange experiment the state is running, with their mask-adorned police hedging the boundaries of society’s laws, she doesn’t really give a shit. She’s here to seek out the town’s true sources of power: which is why she spends so much time looking at Senator Kane (who clearly is a Kavalry member; after all, Judd’s wife ran his campaign, as telling a detail as any).

But while she’s looking for sources of power on the ground (other than the Kavalry’s suicide vests, that is), Dr. Manhattan remains the true unseen force of nature: where his presence was merely referenced in previous episodes, the weight of his influence on the world of Watchmen and its characters consumes much of “She Was Killed by Space Junk.” And again, it’s the kind of thing that might feel weighty to audiences, and amorphous to newcomers; regardless, however, his impending return can be felt throughout this hour, culminating in (what I assume is) him dropping a car near Laurie, as a reminder that he has a sense of humor, and she is as fallible as the god whose head was caved in, by a seemingly random throw of a brick.

Watchmen She Was Killed By Space Junk

If there’s a brick floating in the Watchmen air, however, it is not the man who likes flopping his blue dick around in space; by speaking his name and running an experiment to travel through space, Adrian Veidt makes his triumphant, if unhinged, return in “She Was Killed by Space Junk” – where it becomes pretty clear his current situation is one of imprisonment, rather than voluntary detachment from the world. After all, why would he shoot at the foot of the Lone Ranger (shout out to Petey) lurking on the edge of his property, and be experimenting with his “subjects” what very obviously appears to be space travel?

“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair” is not just a quote attributed to Lady Trieu at the groundbreaking of the Milennium Clock (which may or may not be a direct reference to the clock Jeff Bezo’s been building in our own world), or a reference to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s classic poem; it is a harbinger of things to come, as the powers that be in the world of Watchmen consider the passing of time and how it has affected their legacy. Has Angela spent years fighting – and loving – a Klan member? Has Veidt accomplished anything – and is his prison, actually a godsend of focusing (or unhinging) his intelligence? Or more specific to Laurie’s case: can the love of a human being, never fill the void left by the love of a god?

Watchmen She Was Killed By Space Junk

Whatever the people in the world of Watchmen think they’ve built for themselves with their structures, prisons, and identities, the world has a way of warping it: be it the body of Mr. Shadow, or the attempts to give police some sense of protection by giving them masks, the indelible images of every consequential action in Watchmen continue to gather weight in “She Was Killed by Space Junk” – but without any semblance of release. The arrival of Laurie suggests some of that weight is about to be relieved in the next couple hours – but it also suggests a further complexity being added to the narrative of the series, which is beginning to feel the pressures of its many plot lines, subtle mysteries, and growing collection of references to the revered source material.

Thanks to Smart, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is able to hold onto the thread; but with characters like Lady Trieu and Dr. Manhattan still waiting to make their official entrances, it’s hard to imagine Watchmen adding anything to the pile, without losing something in translation. Admittedly, this series’ has swiftly defied – and exceeded – expectations, but the sudden integration of so much source material begs the question of whether Lindelof and company’s eyes are starting to get larger than their stomachs. Recent evidence suggests otherwise, but only time will tell whether this strange, winding road Watchmen is taking us down will pay off all these threads and ideas in the end.

Other thoughts/observations:

Boy, that is a long and very straight blue dildo you have there, Laurie.

Fun fact: Kane’s father was the one who wrote the original anti-vigilante laws back in the 70’s. I’m sure that won’t have any importance later in the series.

Is Veidt making suits out of leathered human skin? Because that is definitely what it looks like.

Space Junk? SPACE JUNK.

There’s an interesting theory out there that Hooded Justice and Angela’s grandfather are the same person, which explains the intertwined noose symbolism.

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