Watchmen: Season 1, Episode 4 – If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own

“In three days, she’ll know what I’ve done. And she’ll hate me for it.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

Step forward, another major player, as this week’s Watchmen introduced us to Lady Trieu, the mysterious industrialist mentioned last time who bought up Veidt Industries in its creator’s absence. Lady Trieu made quite an entrance, in a portent-heavy prologue that incorporated many of the show’s ongoing motifs. Promising a seemingly happy (but childless) farming couple a baby of their own in exchange for their land, she’s clearly a force to be reckoned with despite her diminutive stature.

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Of course, the question remains, what is she up to? She’s obviously deeply involved in that “vast, insidious conspiracy” Will mentioned previously – she’s a corporate “trillionaire” (as she casually mentions), building a seemingly elaborate new “wonder of the world” in that ‘Millennium Clock’, which looks a bit overcomplex to be just a timepiece. And she’s doing all this in, of all places, Tulsa? No disrespect to the good people of that fine town, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of place a massive multinational corporation would set up its HQ.

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No, there must be more to it, and Angela found herself working with Laurie this week as both their investigations converged with each other – and on Trieu Industries. This was a slower, more moody ep than any of the previous ones, with more focus on enlarging the show’s mysteries than action set pieces like last week’s attempted suicide bombing. But in bringing together Angela and Laurie, it shows the plotlines starting to properly converge; there’s now only the mysterious goings on at Veidt’s otherworldly ‘manor’ that seem disconnected from all the other parts of the story. So far.

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Back in Tulsa, Angela was still trying to conceal her investigations into Jud Crawford’s increasingly suspect looking past, and the presence of the enigmatic old man who’d claimed to be her grandfather. The process of the former led her to a meeting with Looking Glass (aka Det Wade Tillman), who we saw completely out of costume for the first time, and who appears to live in an old nuclear bunker – very in keeping with the Cold War theme of the original comic. Tim Blake Nelson continues to make LG one of the show’s more interesting minor characters – I wonder whether he’ll be given more of a central role as the plot goes on?

Trying to deal with the other problem -disposing of any evidence of Will’s presence – also brought Angela into contact with another new player. Apparently just standing there watching her throw evidence off a bridge was a spandex-clad silver figure, masked up and very, very fast. Given Laurie’s presence in town, the sudden appearance of a new masked vigilante seems rather odd – but something tells me that “Lubeman”, as Red Scare jokingly refers to this skinny figure, may be there precisely because of Laurie. Let’s face it, it’s going to be a character we already know, and who do we know that’s a fanboy of masked heroes, and has the kind of skinny frame that could enable a greased up slide into a storm drain? I will be very, very surprised if this mystery man doesn’t turn out to be Petey…

Angela and Laurie’s investigations converged with the surprise reappearance of Angela’s car, plummeting from the heavens to land just next to the latter. Laurie’s slightly hysterical laughter made me wonder if she too had realised she was the butt of a brick joke; though again, it made me think of the Comedian’s blackly humorous view of events.

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The mystery of the car led, of course, to Trieu Industries, who it turns out have a fleet of massive flying drones used for constructing that overwrought clock. Drones easily big enough to pick up and whisk away a car – and to return it a few days later in the same manner.

If it seemed a little convenient to resolve that mystery in such short order, you could be reassured that it opened up plenty of others. Why do it? Surely there are less flamboyant ways to retrieve an elderly man from downtown Tulsa? And having done it, why even bother to return the car?

The answers, it seems, lie with Will himself, and the ongoing mystery of his identity dominated the ep. That’s one aspect of the investigation Angela definitely doesn’t want to share with Laurie, and just as in the comic, the answers may lie in what the characters aren’t saying to each other.

So, Laurie’s forensic examination of the now rather battered car led to the discovery of some of Will’s history; he’d been a cop in NYC during “the 40s and 50s”. Many fans have speculated online that Will could be the real secret identity of Hooded Justice – well, his outfit has a similar colour scheme, and he’s about the right age. That’s now looking even more likely, as the timeframe fits with the operations of the Minutemen, a New York-based team at least one of whose members (the original Nite Owl) was a cop in his non-masked life.

The comic never shows HJ unmasked at all, and his mask covers his entire face, while his hands are gloved. A lot of hints are dropped about his true identity – he’s a German circus strongman, he might be gay, possibly a paedophile – but his race is never speculated on, as it’s assumed he’s white. In fact, all the masked vigilantes seen in the comic are white, so it would be entirely in keeping with the TV show’s themes to discover that assumption completely wrong. I think that, however, tenuous the original clues, those speculators are spot on. Will is (or was) Hooded Justice, a character who is painted as vitally important in the comic while never given any backstory.

If so, it looks like the show-within-a-show American Hero Story (absent this week) is indeed the “garbage” that Petey claims it to be in that very revealing car journey to Trieu HQ. In an ep with fewer than usual of the callbacks to the comic, here was where we found the bulk of them this week as Angela and Laurie got to know each other, with the help of well-informed fanboy Petey. We heard the story of Angela’s parentage exactly as it was shown in the comic, her mother having been nearly raped by the man who went on to be her father – Silk Spectre and the Comedian.

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This led to the question of Angela’s “trauma” that caused her to mask up. Ostensibly, of course, it’s the events of White Night, but the script seemed to be hinting that there was more in Angela’s life that had psychologically prepped her for the vocation of being a masked lawkeeper. “Were your parents murdered by nuns, or did nuns raise you after they were killed?” Laurie sarcastically asks in reference to her ‘Sister Night’ identity; but hints dropped elsewhere about her meeting with husband Cal, and some sort of ‘accident’ in which he was involved, suggest there is indeed more to it.

Family secrets were key to the plot of Moore’s comics, and it looks like they’re vital to it here as well. With that in mind, there was a bit more focus on Angela’s home life this week, building on what we learned previously. Traumatised adopted son Topher was foregrounded again (a good performance from child actor Dylan Schombling), but his sisters still have no depth at all; a bit of a failing in a show that gives most of its other characters at least hints of background.

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This week, however, shone a bit more of a spotlight on Cal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who’s previously seemed rather thinly drawn. We know he’s “hot” (Laurie’s description) and that he’s almost preternaturally patient with his wife’s danger-filled occupation. That air of patience and understanding was prevalent again this week, but Cal finally seemed to (ever so gently) stand up to his wife in that revealing conversation between them as she tried to start an argument. He couldn’t be baited, but his calm recounting of the conversation with Laurie led him to reveal a capacity for lying and subterfuge in the protection of his wife that wed previously been unaware of. Clearly, he’s the peacemaker of the family – witness his defusing of the children’s argument at the breakfast table. And his gentle assertion that “Heaven’s just pretend” was interesting – is atheism more widely accepted in this USA than the real one?

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It was other branches of her family that were concerning Angela this week. She was only present for the return of her car because she’d broken into the Cultural Centre to chase up another lead about her errant grandfather, following an automated tip that more info had been found. That holographic family tree seemed a ridiculously overcomplex way to present a fairly simple set of information; but it did confirm that Will’s father was the young soldier who’d caught the German propaganda leaflet in WW1, and that Will himself was indeed the boy seen escaping the Tulsa Massacre in 1921. I did wonder, as the computer voice calmly asserted that “tragically, the whole family was killed” in the riots, how it squared that with the presence of another two generations; perhaps it was trying to reconcile two, mutually incompatible, histories.

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So, bit by bit, we’re learning more about Will. And, as our dogged investigators finally met the influential Lady Trieu, it became clear that she was a part of his story too. As both she and Angela hailed from Vietnam (a state of the US in this history, after Dr Manhattan won the war for them), they traded barbs about Will in Vietnamese to keep them from Laurie. Angela, her world turned upside down by the unexpected intrusion of a hitherto unknown family member, would rather have little to do with him; but Lady Trieu seemed to be trying to drip feed her more information.

It was obvious at that point that Lady Trieu was indeed responsible for the car-based retrieval of the old man, something confirmed later as we saw Will chatting with her late at night. She referred to his deliberate planting of his bottle of pills as “passive aggressive exposition”; an amusing and possibly self-aware concept, given the show’s general lack of exposition of any kind.

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Their discussion led to talk of a very important event that’s due to happen “in three days”. So it does indeed look like Tulsa is the centre of a vast conspiracy – and that Will himself is an integral part of it. “She’ll hate me for it,” he mutters; so whatever it is that’s going to happen, it won’t be nice. But equally, it seems like something both he and Lady Trieu believe needs to be done. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like Adrian Veidt’s original plan from the comic?

Voyage to Veidt-ville

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Speaking of Adrian Veidt, the interludes in his unearthly ‘paradise’ continue to be the weirdest aspects of the show – and potentially some of the most revealing. This week saw more details added to his enigmatic place of confinement, as he found himself having to obtain a new Mr Phillips and Miss Cruickshanks, having brutally killed his entire staff in what seemed like a fit of pique.

I’d speculated that these off-kilter servants might be robots; then, with their organic nature revealed, maybe clones. It’s a testament to the imagination behind this show that their origins appear to be far weirder than even that. It looks like whenever Veidt needs new staff, he fishes them out of the lake as foetuses, who must crawl into those lobster pots he leaves lying on the lakebed. Then he selects a suitable pair, by criteria as yet unknown, throwing the rejects back into the lake, and puts them into what looks like a giant, steampunk microwave that gestates them to full grown adults within minutes.

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Like I said, weird. But as Veidt commented, “I might be your master, but I am most definitely not your maker”. So who is? Last week, I theorised that his captor might actually be Dr Manhattan, and maybe he was actually on Mars, where the good doctor currently resides. This week, another possibility presented itself. Laurie was surprised to discover, in Lady Trieu’s vivarium, a statue of none other than Veidt himself – but at his present age.

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So is Lady Trieu the one who’s been holding him captive, for, as he reveals, four years now? Was this part of a deal for her to acquire his company? Or was he aware of whatever she’s planning, and trying to stop it? Veidt has twice now given great significance to that horseshoe, this week muttering, “I don’t need it YET”; it looks like it’s a vital part of his escape plan, but in what way?

Questions, questions. Wherever he is, though, Adrian Veidt is obviously keen to escape from it. Hurling corpses into the aether with his trusty trebuchet, he watched via telescope as they flew into the sky – then simply blinked from existence. Clearly this is what happened to the environment suit-clad Mr Phillips last week. But he returned, albeit in a very cold and dead way. So it looks like there’s not only a way out, but a way back in. And as the telescope-eye view cross faded to an image of the Moon, it gave another possibility as to its location. There was talk, in the original comic, of moonbases being established, and we know both Lady Trieu and Veidt himself are keen on vivariums – could this little slice of pastoral paradise be in an even bigger one, somewhere on our nearest celestial neighbour?

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Episode title significance

This episode is entitled If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own.

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That’s a quote from classic novel Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe and being read this week by Cal (Angela spoilers the ending for him). It’s an essential part of the black literature canon, examining the impact of British colonialism on the author’s native Nigeria. Needless to say, the assessment of its impact is pretty negative. It fits neatly into the theme of racial conflict, but the choice of quote might itself be significant. I get the feeling there’s a lot of unreliable narrators in this story – perhaps all those conflicting accounts are a result of people writing their own stories.

Callbacks and references

Far fewer than in previous episodes, but there were still quite a lot. That revealing conversation in the car had plenty; not just the discussion of Laurie’s parents, but also her mention of “thermodynamic miracles”, as raised by her ex – Dr Manhattan. In the comic, he posits her birth as being one of these very phenomena, and it’s a crucial moment that causes him to reassess his relationship with humanity.

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Laurie also mentions that he could often be found messing around with quarks too; in fact, many of his earlier appearances in the comic show him fiddling around with one subatomic particle or another. It was notable that, while disclosing Laurie’s family history, Petey neglected to mention that she also used to be in a relationship with the planet’s most powerful being. Could it be that he doesn’t know? Angela certainly doesn’t, and I wonder how she’ll react when she inevitably finds out?

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For added geek points, the whole conversation was soundtracked by a Billie Holiday song that all fans of the comics would have recognised – ‘You’re My Thrill’. This was played in the comic to calm the rescuees Dan Dreiberg and Laurie had just transferred to his owlship from a burning building, and faithfully replayed over that event in Zack Snyder’s movie version.

Lady Trieu’s vivarium, recreating a slice of Vietnam in Oklahoma, was an obvious reference to the similar one Adrian Veidt constructed in the wastelands of Antarctica, and named Karnak after Alexander the Great’s retreat in Egypt. As mentioned earlier, it also raises the possibility of Veidt himself being kept in a much larger vivarium, like a captive butterfly.

Outside of references to Watchmen itself, there were a couple of others that were intriguing. The childless farm couple at the start, the Clarks, were plainly meant to be analogues of the Kents from the Superman stories (Clark Kent, see?). Just like the Kents, the Clarks ended that night with a child from elsewhere than usual. But was Lady Trieu’s gift meant to parallel the arrival of the kid from Krypton, or subvert it? It looked rather as if her haste to grab the Clarks’ land had more to do with foreknowledge of that mysterious landing from space – could that have contained the actual Kal-El of this story?

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If so, what does Lady Trieu want with it? As her clock was referred to as still being built, it seems this vignette took place in the past; and as it’s called the ‘Millennium Clock’, presumably prior to the year 2000. So if there was an analogue to the baby Superman in that falling object, he or she would be about 20 by now. Doesn’t that seem like the age that her elfin daughter Bian could be?

I might have imagined it, but it seemed to me that there was another, meta reference to Superman in the reveal of Will’s surname – Reeves. Most of us know that probably the most famous actor to play Superman was Christopher Reeve; but before him, in the 1950s TV serial The Adventures of Superman, he was played by an actor called George Reeves. Coincidence?

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One more reference might be entirely in my head, as it’s so obscure I wonder whether Damon Lindelof would put it in. Or it could, I suppose, have been a choice by this week’s director, Andrij Parekh. Whichever, as the solemn Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony swelled on the soundtrack, and the camera panned across the still, formal-clad corpses of the multitude of Mr Phillips and Miss Cruickshanks, I was inescapably reminded of the end of John Boorman’s trippy, pretentious sci fi dystopia Zardoz. There, as here, that piece of music was played as the camera slowly tracked over the bodies of the Immortals who had finally achieved their dream of dying; many of them clad in the same formal, Edwardian-style dress as the identical minions here.

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If this ep had a theme, it was about family, and babies, and the beginning of life. To be fair, these have been integral since the first ep, but here they were foregrounded like never before. The void in the Clarks’ life where a child should be; Angela’s adopted kids; Lady Trieu’s daughter Bian, who sleeps with an IV drip in her arm; and most bizarrely, the foetuses Adrian Veidt was pulling up from the lake.

A recurring visual motif to represent this was the egg. I hadn’t really thought about it till this week, but the show’s been featuring eggs for a while now – remember the smiley face created by egg yolks way back in ep1?

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This time, there were egg references all over the place. The prologue showed us that the Clarks’ primary farm produce was eggs; perhaps there was a greater significance to the moment when Katy tripped and broke several. Cal was seen beating eggs to make an omelette at the breakfast table; Angela had a bright yellow carton of them on the stove as she cleaned up the bakery. That hourglass used by Lady Trieu to heighten the tension over the Clarks’ decision was so fast that its intended purpose was surely as an egg timer.  Angela’s family tree in the Cultural Center was generated from a data ‘acorn’ resmebling an egg. And lastly, and most weirdly, the ‘baby microwave’ Veidt used to gestate his new servants was itself shaped exactly like an egg.

So what relevance will all these references to children, and birth, and the continuation of life have as we go on? At the end of the comic, the departing Dr Manhattan remarks of life, “I think I’ll create some”. I’d always taken that to mean giving the now together Dan and Laurie a child; but maybe he meant it in a wider sense?

It’s still all clues, but they’re tantalising. I’m seriously hoping this doesn’t go the way of Lost and never provide us with adequate solutions to its puzzles. But I think Damon Lindelof has learned from that experience, and the hints being dropped here do give the impression that they’re part of a bigger picture that was worked out from the outset. There are few answers yet, but each week is adding more pieces to the puzzle…

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