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Watchmen 1.2 Review – ‘Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship’

October 28, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Watchmen - Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship
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Watchmen 1.2 Review – ‘Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Sunday’s episode of Watchmen.]

The season premiere of HBO’s Watchmen gave us our first look into Damon Lindelof’s take on how the world of the graphic novel might look twenty-plus years later. There was, to put it lightly, a lot going on in that episode. But that was largely to its credit, as the series gave us a fairly clear idea where the fascist society that was forming in Richard Nixon’s 1980s was headed if mixed with modern-day sensibilities and political climates. Coming out of that episode, I felt like the audience probably had a good idea of what the world was like and where the story would go without telegraphing what the various plot twists might be.

Of course, this is a Damon Lindelof show so it’s not going to be that easy. Sure enough, it’s only a week later when “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” turns what we know on its head a little bit. Angela’s investigation into the death of Judd – both her real one and her playing along with the Tulsa PD – gives us a new look at the police officers in her life. That most clearly plays out with Judd himself, but also in Looking Glass and Red Scare, the other two main named police officers. That is obviously not the only thing that changes our perspective (hello, flying abduction ship!), but we’ll get there.

Watchmen Sister Night Looking Glass

The episode title, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” is a curious choice. It clearly refers to the 19th century painting by George Catlin, which depicts a Comanche dropped down on the side of his horse as a shielding tactic. However, that piece is actually called “Comanche Feats of Horsemanship.” Adding in “martial” – a redundant word, given the context – just serves to put the spotlight on the fact that it is a war tactic; an unconventional way of getting advantage on your enemy.

We see no small number of unconventional tactics in this week’s episode of the show. The first is when the German army during World War I drop propaganda in at attempt to cause racial dissension among American forces. Like last week’s Black Wall Street Massacre, this was a real thing that was almost word for word accurate to the original. Obviously, the rise of the Third Reich would throw a damper on that whole idea that Germany was a place where people of color could find equality, but it’s hard not to understand why the man who turns out to be Will’s father sees a lot of truth in the points made against the United States.

In one fashion, even the Tulsa PD’s (and the Seventh Kavalry’s) entire practice of hiding behind masks could be seen as a corollary to the Catlin painting, shielding themselves from their enemies behind something much larger than them in masked vigilante personas. Angela hides herself behind Sister Night, painting what little exposed skin she has to deflect the fact that she’s black. Red Scare hides his identity behind an entire country in Russia, which is almost certainly not where he’s actually from. And the Kavalry hides behind the mask of a far-right fascist, misappropriating his image because like a lot of people who read Watchmen, they saw Rorschach and believed he was the hero of the story. Ultimately, these suggest that painting reference is about hiding yourself so you can more effectively wage war – which also fits with Angela’s off-the-books investigation of Will.

Watchmen Night Sister

It also begs the question, since we see that painting hanging in Judd’s home when Angela comes by to pay her respects to Jane: was Judd hiding behind the mask of a Klansman to fight undercover, or was he hiding in plain sight as the public face of the police while secretly doing the white supremacists’ work? If we assume that he’s not being set up (which would be a cop-out), has to be one of those two things. The only other option is that he’s reformed – but while I don’t personally know any former Klansmen to the best of my knowledge, I feel like they don’t keep the robes around as a memento.

Of those two options, the latter – that he was not undercover – is the better story, and the story that is truer to the source. Watchmen was never interested in telling stories about white hats, and his death has more impact on Angela if she has to come to terms with the fact that the man she looked up to as a father was a white supremacist. The other way lets him off the hook and while Don Johnson’s performance makes me want Judd to be innocent of that, the more potent story is in the murkier areas of perception and morality.

That’s also what makes the Tulsa PD’s “investigation” – aka, their raid on Nixonville – effective. The police are the characters we’re spending more of our time with, and the show is asking us to see them as people and not just the masks they’re wearing. We sympathize with them, and we understand why they’re going right at what they see as a hiding place for Judd’s likely murderers. But by no means are we supposed to be okay with what they do when they’re there. Red Scare is practically begging them to give him a reason, and he gets one. Even Angela, who tries to practice some restraint, finds herself losing control when she and Looking Glass are attacked. Watchmen is a world where there is no pure right or wrong side, and if that wasn’t clear in the first episode then now you know.

Watchmen WIll

We have a pretty clear direction on the investigation – or at least, we thought we did before the end. We’re still not entirely certain what we should be taking from the Adrian Veidt scenes. It’s clearly Veidt at this point, and Jeremy Irons is playing him wonderfully. He has every bit the sense that you see from the comic, just aged a few decades.

And here, we learn what the play that Veidt was writing is. The Watchmaker’s Son is, of course, a reference to Jon Osterman, aka Dr. Manhattan before he became Dr. Manhattan. We only see one of the five acts, but it is the critical one in which Dr. Philips as Jon gets stuck in the intrinsic field chamber and is vaporized while Ms. Crookshanks as Janey Slate watches. Vaporization means fire in this case, leading to the revelation that Adrian’s servants are clones – because of course they are.

At this point, the Veidt scenes are largely providing the connecting tissue between the original comic and the show. We already knew (even if we didn’t know) that Irons was Veidt in the first episode, and this episode brings in the Dr. Manhattan story. It’s a nice bit of work to catch new viewers up on what is the one of a couple really out-there aspects of the comic, (the other being Veidt’s “alien attack.” There’s still not an obvious larger connection to the main thrust of the plot, but it’s staying engaging and serving an important function regardless.

Watchmen Adrian Veidt

There’s a lot more going on with this episode, which has absolutely no problem taking shots at extremism on both sides. The exceptionally long viewer warning before American Hero Story: The Minutemen is absolutely a jab at content warnings. And the “Redfordations” touches on an issue with strong opinions on both sides while showing both the good and bad that has come out of it.

The presence of Jim Beaver in a small role (for now) as the assumed biological grandfather of Angela’s adopted kids is a delight. And that’s not even getting into the whole story of Hooded Justice, which could feature an entire piece unpacking everything that goes on there (along with how well it fits the continuity).

But the big moment happens in the end when Angela learns that Will is her grandfather. This puts her in a difficult situation, obviously. On one hand, her grandfather murdered the man she looked up to, largely as a father figure himself. On the other hand, Will clearly knows some things about Judd that Angela doesn’t. It’s that level of conflict she feels when she takes Will off to drive him to the police department, only to have a flying craft come in and literally pick Angela’s van up to fly away.

That’s a hell of a way to finish off an episode, and it adds a strange element that was largely on the sidelines up to now. Is the craft something akin to the Owl ship that we saw in the first episode? Is it related to the dimensional stuff with the raining squids? Something related to what Veidt is doing as of late? At this point, it’s very difficult to say. What I can say is that Watchmen has stuck close enough to its off-kilter source that anything seems possible, and Will’s being carted away doesn’t seem like a narrative breaker. That’s a credit to the show, and I’m definitely curious to see where it goes next.

Watchmen Hooded Justice

Some Final Thoughts:

• Tom Mison wants you to know that that was not actually his blue penis.

• “There’s plenty of good reasons for a man to hide a Klan robe in a closet, but I just can’t think of any.” I like Will, even if he is a potential murderer.

• Not gonna lie, I beat Angela to the punch by saying out loud, “What the fuck?” about a second before she did at the end.

• For those unaware, The Secretary of the Treasury as seen in the Greenwood Center video is Henry Louis Gates Jr., a real person. He is the director of the Hutching Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University and hosts Finding Your Roots on PBS. He also, relevant to this episode, wrote a famous and controversial op-ed about the idea of reparations to descendants of American slaves.

• The closing credit song was Beastie Boys’ “Egg Man,” which I appreciated.

• Jane worked for Joe Keene, the son of the person who outlawed vigilantism and the man who is running for president. I’m sure that won’t come up in a crucial way soon enough.

• Topher’s floating toy set is called “Magna-Hattan Blocks.” I was honestly surprised that anything Manhattan-branded would be used considering Veidt’s cancer hoax, but that apparently died down in the universe sometime after the events of Watchmen.

• Next week, Laurie Blake finally shows up! Looking forward to seeing how she’s changed since the ‘80s.

8.5
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
"‘Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship" does a nice job reinforcing the themes of Watchmen's first episode, then upending most of what we thought we knew in a narrative sense. Damon Lindelof's adherence to the source material's refusal to let anyone off the hook is paying off in spades right now, with the performances and direction keeping it all moving ahead swimmingly. There are a lot of questions that will need to start getting answered at some point, but for now, Watchmen is hitting all the right notes.
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