HBO’s Watchmen TV series continues to break new ground with its continuation of Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel. And Doctor Manhattan, who’s the only superpowered being who exists in this series, still looms large despite never actually making an appearance. We’ve only seen news coverage of him along with occasional memorabilia, and last week, we saw a replica of that famed blue appendage appear as part of a twisted production (“The Watchmaker’s Son”) by Jeremy Irons’ still-fixated character. This week in the “She Was Killed By Space Junk” episode, we not only see Irons finally articulate his long-obvious-but-secret identity, but we witness the debut of Jean Smart’s character, who’s obsessing over Doctor Manhattan (her former lover, and she definitely fondles a blue, dildo-looking object) as well.
The episode’s framing device — a series of expository “jokes,” with the first one being about a bricklayer who’s a meticulous planner but still screws up and ends up with a leftover brick, which gets tossed at the end — serves as a relatively breezy rundown of some key Watchmen history though a series of callback-filled, hero-based jokes. We’ll talk those out here, but first, a bit about Smart’s character.
– Smart plays FBI agent Laurie Blake, who’s revealed during the episode to formerly be Silk Spectre II, as portrayed by Malin Ackerman in Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie. Laurie’s original surname(s), Juspeczyk/Jupiter (from her mother), has been discarded for that of her father, Edward Blake, and there’s our first tie-in, given that his alter-ego was The Comedian (who already received a reference in the pilot, when the blood of Don Johnson’s police chief dripped onto his badge, as a nod to the blood-spattered smiley face of the comics). Blake, of course, died at the beginning of Snyder’s movie with his demise spawning the mystery that fuels most of Rorschach’s actions in the story. At one point in her history, Laurie performed vigilante work, but it must be a nod to her father that showrunner/writer Damon Lindelof has her tell jokes about heroes while leaving a series of phone messages for the Mars-residing Doctor Manhattan.
[A side note: Laurie makes at least one of these phone calls in front of a restaurant called The Iberian Pig, a real establishment located in Decatur, Georgia (part of the Atlanta metropolitan area). I can’t tell you the true relevance of plopping a spacey, blue phone booth in front of this restaurant, but Reddit’s been digging it.]
– Hero #1 — Nite Owl II: Laurie’s first sardonic, rambling joke tells the story of “Owl Guy,” i.e., the costumed vigilante persona adopted by Daniel Dreiberg, who was played by Patrick Wilson in Snyder’s movie. A former lover of Laurie’s as well, this character doesn’t actually appear in the Watchmen series, which is actually pretty relieving. It feels more than like enough “owl” that Laurie’s the owner of a caged bird whose name is “Who,” as revealed to James Wolk’s senator character. Like every other hero in Laurie’s jokes, Owl Guy apparently goes to hell after God snaps his fingers.
– Hero #2 — Ozymandias: This one’s much more antagonist than hero, but Laurie talks about Veidt on the flight to Tulsa while taking in a birdseye view of the Millennium Clock. This provides an opportunity for an explicit shout-out (Laurie’s “not a fan” of the guy, who’s been officially declared dead but is actually the twisted lord of his own manor, portrayed by a gleefully scenery-guzzling Irons). Laurie discusses this supposedly “smartest man in the world,” who (as fans will recall) unleashed an enormous alien squid on New York City, killing 3 million people. And that’s why we’re seeing the show’s squid-rain, which is somehow still falling due to somebody‘s power, although we don’t yet know whether it’s Veidt pulling these strings or not. However, Veidt finally utters a formal declaration of his identity to the audience. Most everyone who’s followed Watchmen knew this already, but it’s still a nice touch to see this display of smug triumph.
– Hero #3 — Doctor Manhattan: Laurie doesn’t refer to this fellow by name, but obviously, she’s sending a dig to Doctor Manhattan, since no one else can manage to be a blue, god-like creature “who likes to strut around with his dick hanging out.” She drops a verbal primer of his superpowers, including teleportation and seeing the future — you know, all of the abilities that former mere mortal Jonathan Osterman gained after unwittingly turning himself into a radioactive, blue-penised juggernaut during a lab catastrophe. Laurie’s clearly in the habit of sending messages to the guy, who’s exiled himself for 30 damn years on Mars. It feels like an exercise in futility for her, and she’s not even sure that he’ll ever hear her words, but then she receives a very clear sign that he does receive her messages. Here’s one enormous brick.
Well, Doctor Manhattan does have a sense of humor after all, and it sounds like the bricklayer of the joke might be Osterman’s father, whose father was a watchmaker. In the comics, Dad tossed a bunch of watch pieces off a fire escape, which thwarted his son’s quest to be like his dad, and all of that led to Osterman’s actual career, including the accident that turned him into Doctor Manhattan. Or the figurative bricklayer might be Laurie’s mother, Sally, who wanted her daughter to continue the vigilante legacy.
– I love, love, love this moment when Laurie goes to meet Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson as a character new to Watchmen lore) and uses his mask as a mirror to check her teeth while delivering pointed comments about his “racist detector.” Ouch.
– Sister Knight/Angela Abar (Regina King) sure as hell isn’t intimidated by Laurie, who’s leading the Anti-Vigilante Task Force. Their interactions, including at Judd Crawford’s funeral (where a Rorshach-mask wearing Seventh Kalvary member goes full-on terrorist), are filled with mutual pushback. We learn that Laurie is aware that Sister Knight removed something from Judd’s closet, which is, yeah, a literal Ku Klux Klan robe. We don’t know if Laurie knows what the item was or whether or not this ensemble was planted by Will, who had ominously suggested that Judd has “skeletons in his closet.” Yet we do know that Laurie saw wheelchair tracks close to where Judd was hanged. Furthermore, the verbal barbs between Laurie and Angela — with the former insisting that there’s no difference between a cop and a masked vigilante, and “I eat good guys for breakfast” — end with a very unimpressed Angela. (This isn’t over.)
HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ airs on Sunday evenings at 9:00pm EST.