Watchmen: 1.02 Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship
Only two episodes in and HBO’s take on Watchmen is already shaping up as one of the great superhero television series. Hell, it’s just a great series full stop. Especially as the notion of superheroes, villains, and the law is becoming further and further blurred. Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship (the title comes from a painting seen hanging in the Crawford residence) is structured very similary to the opening episode. A flashback kicks things off again, this time as we are shown Germans targeting black soldiers during World War 1 by dropping propaganda leaflets on them.
“Hello boys. What are you doing over here? Have the Germans ever done you any harm? But I ask you boys, what is democracy? Do you enjoy the same rights as white people in America?”
Much like the shocking Tulsa massacre opening scenes of the series premier, we are given a glimpse into America’s dark past. Black soldiers did indeed die fighting for a country that still segregated them and treated them very much as second class citizens.
I was surprised to see Lindelof start to connect some dots together in just the second episode. The soldier seen reading the pamphlet is the father of the little boy fleeing Tulsa in the previous episode. This boy then grows up to become the character Will, played by Louis Gossett Jr, who phoned Angela at the end of the last episode and told her where to find Judd’s lynched body. Will quickly establishes himself as a very intriguing character as Angela decides not to hand him in to the police straight away and instead decides to do a little investigating of her own. Louis Gossett Jr. puts in a fantastic performance as the one hundred and five year old Will, someone who at once seems both ancient and devilish but also has a youthful jovial streak as he teases Angela that maybe he’s Dr. Manhattan.
Again, like the previous episode, we also take a strange side tour to visit Jeremy Iron’s still unnamed but very probably Ozymandias character. Just as bafflingly as before this time, we get to see his maid and butler act out a play he has written for them. It tells the origin story of Dr. Manhattan as John Osterman gets trapped inside the intrinsic field generator. In a completely surprising move, the play involves the butler being burned to death. It seems that the ‘very probably’ Adrian Veidt actually has himself a bunch of clones who quickly dispose of the corpse of their brother. Things are very definitely not right in these little trips to Veidt’s castle and Iron’s plays off-kilter perfectly even if his accent does wander into Die Hard With A Vengeance territory sometimes. I can’t wait for this little side story to intersect with the main plot, something I suspect we’ll be waiting a little while for.
We also get more backstory for Angela and her family, as Judd’s death forces her to relive the traumatic memories of “White Night”. This is when the Rorschach masked thugs assaulted the homes of all the Tulsa police officers on Christmas Eve, leaving Angela wounded and her partner dead. As we learnt last episode, this is the event that led to all police officers becoming masked and anonymous. It also led to Angela and her husband Cal adopting her dead partner's children.
Regina King’s portrayal of Angela continues to be a powerhouse performance that the whole show rests on. Like most of the characters in Watchmen, she is a conflicted and deeply flawed individual. Whilst telling her adopted son Topher that Judd is dead, she states that the world is black and white. This couldn’t be further form the truth. Initially stating that rounding up all the inhabitants of Nixonville, a haven for white supremacists, is wrong she quickly changes her tune when attacked there and viciously beats her assailant to a bloody pulp. Duality is obviously one of the main themes in Watchmen, especially with its secret identities, but there are many other degrees on the spectrum.
Again we are treated to lots of little nods that remind us of the original source material. A newspaper vendor is waxing lyrical about the squid showers being a white flag. Cal is playing with his kids, one dressed as an owl and the other as a pirate. With talk of ghosts, sharks and walking the plank, you can’t help but be reminded of the Black Freighter side story from the comics. Taking the place of that side story seems to be a dramatisation called American Hero Story. Mentioned on an advert last episode, this time we get to see a retelling of Hooded Justice stopping a robbery at a grocery store. Hopefully we’ll get to see some of the other original Minutemen in further episodes.
Watchmen seems to be doing everything right. Backstory is being dealt out in interesting ways. The world building continues organically. I particularly liked the motorised moth men paparazzi trying to get a shot of Judd’s hanging body. The best part is that questions are also being asked. The ongoing madness at Castle Veidt is an incredible hook that begs you to keep watching. Wills true identity and relationship to Angela are starting to be revealed. She realises he could have escaped at any time but chose not to. Mysteries are piled upon mysteries but for once I get the feeling that just maybe Lindelof has some answers this time. In an incredibly fun and unexpected final scene, a giant magnet descends from the night sky and whisks a grinning Will away. I suspect much of the audience can only echo Angela’s sentiment “what the fuck?” Compelling, intriguing and beautifully made, I can’t wait to see what Watchmen has in store for us next.