Watchmen isn’t wasting any time racking up plot points and potential reveals, and Episode 2, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” is packed with plot begging to be sifted through.
The pilot worked hard to make us love Chief Judd (Don Johnson) right before coldly killing him off via hanging. Everyone, including Angela, wonders why they gotta do our boy Judd like that. Judd is hanging next to Will, the grown-up version of the young boy who survived the Tulsa riots that opened the pilot. Will is now an elderly wheelchair-bound man, but he’s definitely got something more going on besides sitting outside of a bakery.
American Hero Story
American Hero Story feels like it may be shaping up to be a spiritual sibling to the graphic novel’s Tales of the Black Freighter. That side-story had thematic parallels to the events of the main story, mirroring some of the experiences and feelings of the characters. Likewise, Hooded Justice monologues at the end of the episode of American Hero Story, describing how he looks in the mirror and feels nothing but anger, and “slipping into a new skin” and not knowing who he is as a result of wearing a mask. This plays over Angela driving to Judd’s house for a posthumous gathering hosted by his widow, and is compatible with how all of law enforcement and the vigilantes that work with them are compelled to wear their own masks. Tales of the Black Freighter was a comic widely popular in the world of Watchmen and issues of it found their way into many hands and background images. American Hero Story enjoys a similar popularity here, so I expect the vignettes in this show-within-a-show to continue to reflect the ongoing themes of Angela’s world.
In the pilot, Veidt announced to his servants that he was writing a play, The Watchmaker’s Son, and that they would star in it. Here, we get to see what he was writing. His play appears to revolve around the creation of Dr. Manhattan, formerly known as Jon Osterman. He has Mr. Phillips (Tom Milson) and Ms. Crookshanks (Sara Vickers) play the roles of Jon and his fiancee Janey Slater, respectively. The scene we’re shown is Jon stepping into the chamber that transformed Jon into Manhattan. Then, Veidt presses down a plunger and incinerates poor Mr. Phillips. An expected reveal comes shortly after when several of Veidt’s masked stagehands remove their masks, and we see that Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks are two of a multitude of identical clones.
Now, the way that Ms. Crookshanks reacts to Mr. Phillips’ incineration as well as another Mr. Phillips alluding to several other charred corpses implies that this play has been performed several times with identical outcomes. At the outset of this performance, Veidt and his servants celebrate another “Anniversary,” this time with two candles on the cake. We still don’t know what this Anniversary is supposed to be. Finally, Veidt seems to be obsessed with Manhattan’s creation. He is deeply invested in the performance, even coaching as he watches and whispering along with the lines of dialogue. Why is Veidt so enamored with Manhattan’s origin to the point of scripting a play that the clones act out, ending in the grisly demise of one of them? His ongoing fascination with Manhattan feels like more than that; does he have more in mind for the reluctant god?
Of note, I continue to assume that Jeremy Irons is playing Adrian Veidt, but this hasn’t yet been specifically alluded to in the show. Is it possible that “Veidt” is either a clone of Veidt, or someone else entirely?
‘I’ve Got Friends in High Places’
As Will says this line, he looks expectantly at Angela. At that moment, the egg timer goes off and the phone rings. Angela learns from this phone call that she is Will’s granddaughter based on a DNA sample of Will she had processed at the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage.
It would take more than one hand to count the number of misdirects Will throws out in just this episode. He initially insists, without providing context, that he was the one that strung up Judd, which Angela immediately discounts as Will is over 100 years old and wheelchair-bound. They have a very interesting back-and-forth about whether or not Will has powers, and some limits of Dr. Manhattan’s abilities. It’s an interesting exchange, but it seems to me that Will is doing something that scammers often do: just as some credit card thieves will start with small purchases to test the waters with their abilities, Will seems to be throwing out some weird fibs just to see how much Angela will push back. Push back she does, but Will still has plenty to say, calling out a “vast and insidious conspiracy” in Tulsa and insisting that he can only feed it to her in pieces, lest her head explode. Will knows a lot more than he’s willing to say at this point, and it has me suspicious.
And of course, there was that whole “getting picked up by a ship” thing…which affirms his “friends in high places” line.
Skeletons in the Closet
Angela’s dope X-ray goggles reveal that Judd does indeed have skeletons in his closet, as Will stated. Hidden in his bedroom, Judd has a KKK outfit. From what we’ve seen of Judd in the first episode and the flashbacks in this one, he has genuine love for Angela and seems like one of the last people on the show to harbor any sort of racial prejudice. So he is either hiding a very dark secret or he has the garb to infiltrate the KKK and the Kavalry to investigate from within. Take note of how the KKK hoods have the same function as the masks that law enforcement and vigilantes, to conceal the wearer’s identity. Isn’t it also interesting that Judd appears to be the only member of law enforcement that doesn’t wear a mask?
There’s a flashback to an event known as The White Night, a coordinated attack on 40 police households that put Angela in the hospital. It’s in this scene that she first truly bonds with Judd, gets on first-name terms with him, and becomes his friend. Judd shows a great deal of empathy and care for Angela in this scene, and it really helps connect us to him as a character and feel his loss more heavily (until later when she finds the KKK robes). I think it’s very important to note that Angela passes out and wakes up in the hospital; there is no scene of her getting rescued. Judd only mentions the first Rorschach thug that she stabbed, but not the one that almost shot her. So who saved Angela, and why didn’t we see it?
Will casually munches on hard-boiled eggs as Angela processes the reveal that she is Will’s granddaughter, and the end credits loudly feature Beastie Boys’ 1989 “The Egg Man,” a song about egging people. Like many of the Beastie Boys’ best, it is catchy and has a goofy energy to the writing, until the last few lines:
You made the mistake you judge a man by his race
You go through life with egg on your face
The song’s entire narrative is throwing eggs at peoples’ faces and how stupid they look afterwards, and states that prejudice produces a similar look.
Speaking of eggs, we’re now two for two in terms of episodes featuring eggs. Is Lindelof yolking around or is this going to have some significance later on? My guess is misdirection.
I really like how the show seems to be using a shot of an inciting action to incorporate the episode’s title card. It evokes the rhythm of a graphic novel’s title panel without trying to ape the exact style and be overly showy.
If Looking Glass gets killed off I will riot. So far he seems like a more righteous Rorschach surrogate—he pulls up his mask to eat, just as Rorschach would do—and the motif of a reflective Rorschach-style mask is just too perfect as an antagonist to the extremist Rorschach disciples.