I thought the Watchmen comic was really impressive when it came out, while I was a bit underwhelmed by the movie. When I heard about the HBO show, I wasn’t sure what to think about it, but I’m a hero geek, so it was foregone conclusion I was going to watch. So far, it’s been better than I hoped, and I’m really finding myself absorbed by this world and story. The first episode ended on a tragic note and covered a lot of territory. The surprises continue with another somewhat unwieldy title: “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship.” The Comanche were supposed to be among the finest mounted warriors in the world, so it’s an interesting choice of title.
Continuing the tendency to jump around in time, even without the benefit of Dr. Manhattan’s powers, the episode kicks off in World War II, where a German commandant prepares a leaflet to be dropped on the enemy, seeking to heighten racial tensions among the Americans. While I truly loathe the concept of agreeing with the Nazis on anything, they make a fair point with this. One soldier reads it, suffers more racial abuse even as he does, and then we move to his son reading it while trying on Daddy’s uniform. This, in turn, brings us to the scene we saw at the end of last episode, as Angela rolls up, sees Will in the wheelchair, and Chief Crawford hanging from the tree.
For reasons I don’t quite follow, Angela stuffs him in her car and brings him to her bakery shop, which is the front for her masked cop activities, instead of arresting him. She cuffs him to his chair, changes to her work clothes, makes coffee, and even gives him a cup. For someone she doesn’t know who has killed a man she clearly liked and respected, it’s an odd choice they never quite explain. Then again, the man in the wheelchair claiming he hung the police chief is clearly preposterous. The two of them argue about who he really is, the extent of Dr. Manhattan’s powers, and cursing in conversation. She repeatedly demands to know who he is, and he continually evades the question, hinting at things that would blow her mind if she knew. Angela gets officially summoned to the scene of Chief Crawford’s death, and takes off, showing at least part of her plan with what she does on the way out.
There’s an odd interlude involving two men at a newsstand, conspiracy theories about falling squid, and a young girl with a voracious appetite for the printed word. The scene of the hanging is a zoo, with many, many cops who are trying to investigate, control the scene, and keep the ever-hungry media back. Looking Glass gets in Knight’s car as she arrives, and brings her up to date. They do a great job with Looking Glass, because he sounds like a dumb redneck who should be one of the racists that are part of the plot, but instead is clearly intelligent and a caring, committed cop. Their conversation starts turning ugly, but this gets interrupted by a unique form of media intrusion. There’s some discussion about who is in charge, because apparently there’s no chain of command here, which is really odd and unprofessional. Emotions are running high, and Red Scare takes charge, playing to the desire for revenge. Before things go entirely to hell, Sister Knight convinces them to take down the body, and she, Red, and Looking Glass attend to their fallen leader.
Knight hugs the body as it comes down, which launches us into a flashback of an earlier time. Angela and Cal are dancing together on Christmas Eve. Banter about presents and sex gets shattered by what we gradually learn is the White Night attack, when a 7th Kav man in Rorschach mask bursts in and starts shooting. She gives a good accounting of herself, but Angela goes down, badly injured, and I’m not clear on who saves her. She opens her eyes much later in the hospital with Judd Crawford, then a captain, sitting by her bed and giving her the grisly details of the night. They both resolve not to quit, and Judd seems to be taking a lot of blame for this on himself, despite his own apparent injuries.
Back in the present, Judd is placed in a body bag and taken away. There’s a lot of argument, and Looking Glass is acting a lot like a different character with a featureless mask: the Question, who Rorschach was based on. Things get ugly in “Nixonville” a trailer park on the edge of town that’s a cluster of racists and outlaws. Sister Knight shows a great deal of restraint until she gets attacked by one of the idiots, at which point temper and fists fly. Later, after that bit of chaos, she brings the mug to a special center, walks through protestors, and does a test to get some answers while still staying outside official channels. It’s a clever way to do things, and makes sense in the context of this world. Not done having a bad day, she gets home to a disagreeable domestic issue, and has to deal with it. It’s a tense scene and, coupled with the flashback earlier, explains a bit about the family makeup.
That dealt with, she goes inside, plays referee/coach to a game in progress, and then brings Calvin up to date on what’s happening with the mysterious old man. Her next unpleasant task is going up to Topher’s room, and sharing some bad news with the clearly already troubled boy. He’s playing with a cool toy that shows, once again, this world has a higher tech level than ours, and has a bad reaction to Crawford’s death. Finally, he goes down to watch tv. Angela goes over to the Crawford home as the American Hero Story begins playing. That show chronicles Hooded Justice, the first masked hero in the Watchmen Universe, and shows him brutally beating some would-be robbers. There’s an interesting voiceover that hints at more mysteries to come. Besides Topher, also watching the show are Looking Glass, eating a lonely dinner at home with his mask on, and the 7th Kav men, working on some kind of device. Whatever it is, it bodes ill for someone.
Crawford’s wake, or memorial, or whatever this is, is very well-attended. There’s even a Senator there who seems to know more about Angela than she likes. Angela has a reaction to all the stress and grief, and ends up in one of the bedrooms upstairs, horribly embarrassed. This proves to be a ruse, and she uses some more high-tech, which looks like part of Nite Owl’s costume, to prowl around and makes a shocking discovery. She flees the house, passing a painting that appears to be the inspiration for this week’s title.
Then it’s time for our weekly English interlude, as we go back to the castle and the evidently wealthy man who rides his lands and stops at a most unusual tree. Going inside, he has a celebration that seems to indicate it’s been a year for him since we last saw him, while the main story has only moved along a few hours. He stages a play he talked about last time, and it’s an interesting spin on a major event in this universe. It also shows how indifferent he is to his staff, and how conditioned they are to obey him. In the credits, he’s listed as a very important man in the Watchmen universe, believed to be dead.
Returning to her bakery, Angela gets several surprises from her “guest.” There’s a really entertaining scene about a turn of phrase being taken literally and the results of it. The man continues to make odd, contradictory claims, and seems amused by her questions. Angela gets a call from the place she went earlier, and gets some surprising information. Tired of his evasions, Angela threatens to take him in. His amused and unrattled reply is if she wanted to do that, she would have already, and he’d be rescued if she tried. She tries to follow up on her threat, and Will makes a very unexpected exit, leaving Angela behind, utterly baffled, and with the note that has shown up prominently several times now.
What I liked: It’s an odd world, but a well-built one that I can follow easily enough. They are doing some interesting story layering, and hinting at a lot of interesting connections. I was stunned by Angela’s discovery and really want to see how this plays out. Will’s departure was utterly unexpected. I’m intrigued by Looking Glass. The American Hero Story was well done, and a story in a story was an important part of the original Watchmen series. The White Night was ugly, but sadly believable and, in that world, I can see how it led to the masked cops.
What I didn’t: The police department not having a chain of command is the most unbelievable thing they’ve done. The situation Angela came home to was ugly and I have no doubt will get worse. I’m still not sure why we’re spending so much time with the Englishman, even if he is who they list him as. The news vendor scene and the odd young girl seemed utterly unconnected to anything.
It’s an intriguing, multi-layered world, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops. I’ll give this a 4 out of 5.