“Watchmen – Episode Two: Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” (2019)
Developed by: Damon Lindelof based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Directed by: Nicole Kassell
Featuring: Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tom Mison, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Louis Gossett Jr. and Jeremy Irons
Rorschach’s Diary: “Soon they will shout, ‘Save us!’ And we will whisper, ‘No.’”
The Story so far…
The Watchmen series is based on the comic of the same name, taking place in an alternative, contemporary reality in the United States. Masked vigilantes became outlawed due to their violent methods. Despite this, some gather around in order to start a revolution while others are out to stop it before it is too late. In this reality, the Watergate scandal never happened, allowing President Richard Nixon to dismiss term limits and run for five terms and lead the United States to a decisive victory in the Vietnam War with help of some of the vigilantes that sided with the government. The comics events end in 1985 after Adrian Veidt, a former vigilante known as Ozymandias, created a fake alien attack in New York City with millions dead in the resulting psychic shockwave, leading to a new accord between the United States and the Soviet Union ending the Cold War and avoiding a potential nuclear holocaust. Veidt asserts his actions were for the greater good, but they disgust his former allies; Rorschach seeks to tell the world of Veidt’s misdeeds but is vaporized by Doctor Manhattan before he can do so, after which Dr. Manhattan decides to depart Earth, seeking a place less complicated than Earth. Unaware to them, Rorschach had sent his journal to be published before he accosted Veidt.
The second episode of the HBO series “Watchmen” has aired, following on from last weeks shock episode where much was revealed about this alternate present as well as the death of what many people may have thought was going to be a main character. In the last episode we were introduced albeit briefly to the Jeremy Irons character who resides in England, this week we were exposed to more of his narrative which for me was not only a flashback of sorts but surprisingly intriguing with him using clones and telling the story of Dr. Manhattan in a most unique way which again hints at his own character as well as his motivations. We also follow Angela as she unwraps the mystery of Will the man taking responsibility for her boss’s death, he makes claims of being Dr. Manhattan as well as superpowered which he does seem to be. We also get more information about the reparations act, how it works and the feeling that in this new liberalised world there is much boiling below the surface, not just in the US but globally. Motivations of all the characters remain shrouded in mystery but like the best noir tinted narratives the only element that is solid is that nothing is at it seems.
Within this second episode there is much to unpack, I am not going to offer any spoilers but to be honest there is quite a bit of plot within this narrative so that will not be an issue this early on. Some of the themes that occur within this first episode are of course some of the same that we face today, politics, social commentary, past actions having real effects on the modern world, the reliability of news, forgiveness, racism, left versus right and one of the more important, that of decision making and the outcomes of those decisions. There are of course a multitude of others which will become apparent on repeat viewings and as the episodes unfold from week to week.
Some important aspects to consider in this alternate present:
- The series takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma;
- Vietnam is now a U.S. state;
- Fossil fuels have been eliminated by Dr. Manhattan;
- Robert Redford is the President and has been in office since 1992, he is now the longest-serving President.
- There is an Act named as the ‘Victims Of Racial Violence Legislation’ designed to give reparations for those affected from past racial injustice, which is seen as unfavorable by a large portion of the white population.
- The ‘Seventh Kavalry’, a white supremacy group in Tulsa has taken to the writings of Rorschach and use masks similar to his own.
- Laws are passed to allow the police to take extra precautions to protect themselves and their families, including wearing their own masks.
Whilst there have already been readings of this being about possible white power as well as a variety of what could be called anti-left stances this is far too simple. This new world is not just a place where we have back versus white, but there are serious political, economic and social realties that have come to the fore which like today is something that divides people along rigid lines. Unlike the world in which we live where there is a right wing President in office who seems at peace with disrupting the left as well as behave like some new millennium Nixon this new one is run by the left, so a figurehead like Robert Redford is apt to be able to embody this for all audiences who know his obvious allegiances. This is a world we can see what would happen to the right if the left were in charge, making laws that were not agreed with and where the price for disagreement can be ultimate. We live in an age where right wing politicians globally are making a comeback in many countries and hard liners are making their feelings grow. At the same time we are also seeing the lot flex their own muscles in social media where they are negating others opinions so that wokeness and SJW are able to influence where there should be none, these are juxtaposing narratives which exist in “Watchmen”. I am looking forward to how these dichotomies shake out in weeks to come and if they can be brought together somehow, unlike in real life.
Like the previous episode this one has been directed by Nicole Kassell who was responsible for the excellent “Woodsman” (2009), that actually covered some similar themes around identity, responsibility as well as payback. Since her debut she has almost only worked on television which is a great loss, but with this episode she flexes her muscles creating a look, feel and style that I hope continues through to the rest of the season.
Episode Two: Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship
During World War I, an African-American soldier, the father of the black child from the Tulsa riots, pockets a piece of German propaganda challenging their racial equality. In the present, Angela takes the elderly man to her hideout, where he says his name is Will and claims to be her grandfather; she takes a small DNA sample to confirm this. Will mentions that Crawford had “skeletons in his closet”. Crawford’s lynchers appear to be tied to residents of Nixonville, and the police round up several subjects. During Crawford’s wake, Angela feigns illness and examines his bedroom closet, discovering he had been a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, shocking her. She tries to ask Will how he knew, but he remains aloof, and she goes to arrest him. As she places him in her car, a flying craft drops an electromagnetic and takes the vehicle with Will in it, dropping the paper Will had been given by his parents from 1921, the German propaganda sheet. Meanwhile, the Lord watches Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks perform his play, the retelling of the origins of Dr. Manhatten. Unexpectedly, the Lord incinerates Mr. Phillips as part of the play, and names one of the other servants, apparent clones of Phillips and Crookshanks, as the new Mr. Phillips.