Watchmen is coming close to trailblazing, appointment television, by creating more questions than giving us answers.
This recap of Watchmen Season 1, Episode 2, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Watchmen’s pilot episode, like most, was cluttered with information trying to establish its main characters’ backgrounds and sets the tone of the overall series. While it may not have the same breathtaking pace of Lost’s first outing or the well-developed intrigue of The Leftovers, the episode is pure Lindelöf; watching any of his episodic shows, it will always create more questions than answers. Tonight’s episode, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” demonstrates exactly that by answering a few lingering mysteries from its initial outing, and creating more than we thought possible.
Watchmen’s heavily-weighted storylines of ethical dilemmas remain in full swing, with another flashback storyline to an African-American regiment marching in Europe during World War 2 and being showered with fliers written with German propaganda (but is it really that?). Soldier Steven Northfleet (Shooter’s O.B. Williams) grabs the piece of paper, floating down like the feather on top of Forrest Gump’s shoe; the flyer contains “lies” of the United States and asks why these soldiers of “color” are fighting for a country that won’t even let them sit in a movie theatre with “white” people?
Meanwhile, the show flashes forward to where we left off last week, with Judd Crawford still hanging like an ornament on Christmas morning and Regina Hall’s Angela Abar/Night, scooping up Will Reeves, wheelchair and all, taking him to her bakery and serving him a cup of black coffee without any sugar (“Some bakery”). Reeves frustrates Night with glib responses since he contains even fewer answers than why her boss was murdered than the initial pilot, but leaves him in the bakery after again changing into her superhero’s Sunday best, and heading back to “officially” cut down Crawford with the rest of her official masked policing vigilante force.
In the pilot, Sister Night explained in that class of pre-teens she retired from being a cop after a bunch of bad guys pumped her insides full of piping hot lead. In “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” the showrunners depict just that, going back to the home invasion of the Abars enjoying a quiet night at home during the holidays. When Abar wakes up in the hospital, it’s Don Johnson’s Crawford at her side. In the episode’s best scene, Crawford explains that he survived an attack as well. Her partner has been killed, and the entire force has gone into hiding after a coordinated attack on Christmas Eve. Her partner, Doyle, was killed, along with his wife in bed, and their son Christopher took his sister and the baby and hid in the closet. “Topher, he goes by Topher,” she replies. Even more eye-opening, after visiting her chief’s widow and meeting Senator Keanne, she gathers information looking through her former bosses’ bedroom, looking for any hidden clues, and comes across a complete Seventh Cavalry sheet and hood, encased in glass, over a manikin, with a police badge pinned to the left side of its chest.
Watchmen Season 1, Episode 2 also delves more into the history of the hate crimes in Tulsa, where members of the Seventh Cavalry (think of a re-imagined Ku Klux Klan) attacked the town of Greenwood, a vibrant African-American community that was known as the “Black Wall Street.” Sister Night visits the memorial, bringing in a DNA sample from the coffee mug Will Reeves drank from, to see if he is in the system to gather information on Reeves. Here, at the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage, she submits the sample, were victims of that attack or would be eligible for “Redforations.” It’s later confirmed with an automated phone call that he was indeed a child during the attacks, and is granted financial restitution, as are two of his descendants, one of them being his granddaughter, Angela Abar. If that weren’t enough, when she takes Reeves back out to her car and puts him in the passenger seat, a giant magnet drops from the sky, attached to some type of ship, carries him off, with no way to go after him. Talk about friends in high places.
All that and we haven’t even touched on the Jeremy Irons’ storyline or what I would like to refer to as the story inside the story. Iron’s Adrien Veidt has finished his play, his maid Ms. Crookshanks and assistant, Mr. Phillips, having changed into their customers and memorized their lines. They play out “The Watchmaker’s Son” in front of their master and four hooded members of his staff and then, in a scene of art imitating life, Veidt pushes down on a hand detonator that sets Mr. Phillips ablaze, and asks Ms. Crookshanks to give him the real tears his play deserves. Meanwhile, a man “dressed” and playing Dr. Manhattan is lowered from the ceiling, as Mr. Phillips’ character has now turned into, “The past, the future, and the present all at once.” After congratulating his cast on a transcendent team effort, the rest of the masked staff reveals that they are all clones, two of Ms. Vickers, two of Mr. Phillips, along with the two left on stage, while all of them have different names they have to remind the master of.
As I stated last week, Watchmen is really better suited for a good binge. Watchmen Season 1, Episode 2 is not restricted by the chains of pilot etiquette, and moves at a brisker pace, answering a handful of questions, while raising even more in the process. I wonder how they will incorporate Beaver’s Andy (with court-ordered visits, we can only assume he was a former member of the Seventh Cavalry) fits into the equation? Where will Senator Keanne (Mad Men’s James Wolk) fit into the power structure of the show’s narrative? Now that we know Sister’s Knight’s grandfather is Will Reeves, and her kids are her former partners, will we find out what happened to her parents?
“Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” is a stellar and satisfying follow up to its abnormally strong pilot episode. The way that Lindelöf and its writers touch on censorship compared to incitement (when it comes to the blackout of the media and its televised programming called “American Hero”, that’s something we haven’t seen in an episodic series, and certainly not in any broadcast network show) is interesting. The moral questions it sparks by showing a paid police force that has to hide behind a mask to enforce the law, so they can’t become targets, now allowing them to violate the rights of its citizens (for instance, when they attack a trailer park, which we can only assume is full of Cavalry members) is a confounding one, making it that much more interesting. Perhaps what makes the show even more daring is the way it has taken issues of racial, economic disparity and flipped it on its head by incorporating the issue of restitution for racially related financial crimes (the scene with Supernatural’s Jim Beaver accepting a “Redforation” check in exchange for not seeing his grandson).
It’s looking like Watchmen is going to be a trailblazing show and appointment television.