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Watchmen 1.3 Review – ‘She Was Killed by Space Junk’

November 4, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Watchmen - She Was Killed By Space Junk Jean Smart Laurie Blake
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Watchmen 1.3 Review – ‘She Was Killed by Space Junk’  

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

It’s not as easy to tell a joke as it seems. There’s a lot that goes into a really good one, and there’s a reason not everyone can do stand-up no matter what their friends tell them about how funny you are. You have to get so much right to really make it work. There’s the set-up, for example; you can’t go too long, but if you cut it short than you miss out on properly prepping for the punch line. The punch line itself has to have that twist or revelation that ties it all together. And if you don’t have any sense of comedic delivery, it doesn’t matter how funny the whole thing is; it’ll fall flat.

The other thing about a joke is that you have to know your audience. The kind of thing that makes your frat brothers laugh won’t necessarily play so well with grandma. If there’s one thing that Watchmen is doing right (and there’s more than one thing), it’s that it knows its audience. HBO has obviously inherited fans of the source material as a big part of the show’s audience, and much of that fan base wants to know what’s happened to the characters in the last 30 years. While the first couple of episodes only hinted at a thing here and there, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” finally brings the threads from the past into focus here in the present through Laurie Blake and – we can say it for sure now – Adrien Veidt.

This is, for a lot of people, the thing they’ve been waiting for. Sure, we’ve seen a few tidbits here and there that have referenced the events of the graphic novel, and no one really thought Jeremy Irons wasn’t playing Ozymandias. But that was being kept veiled within the series itself (admittedly, not well) and we had only really seen aftereffects as opposed to anything really tangible. The arrival of the former Silk Spectre, now an FBI agent on the Anti-Vigilante Task Force, changes all of that. Jean Smart, fresh off of her run in Legion, embodies Laurie in a show-stealing performance that immediately puts her front and center in the action.

Watchmen Laurie Blake

“Front and center,” in this case, means that Laurie is sent to Toledo on the request of Senator Joe Keene to look into the death of Captain Crawford. Along the way, we learn a lot about what’s happened to Laurie in the past three decades. At the end of Watchmen, Laurie was heading out to adventure with Nite Owl, though she was considering changing her look. (She apparently became The Comedienne).

It’s safe to say that her opinion on vigilantism has changed since 1985, or at least the majority of it. Her conversation with Senator Keene suggests that Nite Owl is now in prison somewhere, and the episode is set around her sending one-way calls to Dr. Manhattan in a special booth for members of a program to tell him jokes. At the same time, she has no problem taking out most vigilantes, because as she says to Angela, “You know how you can tell the difference between a masked cop and a vigilante? Me neither.”

With Damon Lindelof & Lila Byock’s script providing her a strong road map to work from, Smart adds an instant kick to the proceedings the second she steps onto the screen. Laurie feels very much like the old Laurie from the book, but she’s also developed a killer wit since the events in New York and Antarctica. Smart plays well off all of the characters; her interactions with Dustin Ingram’s Agent Dale Petey are a delight.

But nowhere does she match up better than against Regina King. When Laurie encounters Angela at Judd’s funeral, the sparks start to go off and it’s non-stop between them. Angela finds someone with authority who doesn’t buy into what Tulsa PD is selling and quickly learns what’s going on, while Laurie finds a cop who isn’t the least bit intimidated by her. It’s important that we see Laurie being so competent throughout, because when Angela sets her on her heels a bit by no-selling the intimidation line in the mausoleum where a 7K suicide bomber hung out before trying to blow up the funeral, it helps lift up Angela without hurting Laurie.

Watchmen Adrian Veidt

Meanwhile, the worst-kept secret on television is finally revealed when Adrien Veidt finally says his name. It’s interesting that he does it in a way that implies a great revelation, because no one watching who is remotely familiar with the source probably suspects he might be anyone different. That gives it sort of a meta aspect. One of the recurring motifs in Watchmen is that, for all of his success, Veidt is always a little disappointing. He’s not quite the villain that any of the characters were expecting, and one of Dr. Manhattan’s big lines is literally about how disappointed he was in Adrian. I don’t know if this was an intentional wink to the audience that way, but it amused me nonetheless.

We also learn a lot more about Veidt’s situation. Apparently, our former (?) archvillain is a prisoner somewhere, in a situation where he negotiated for his captivity. But he rather longs to be free now, so he’s using his army of Philips clones to experiment on a way to get away from the estate in which he lives. There’s a lot of room to speculate here on who the Game Warden is. Clearly Lindelof wants us to wonder, or he’d just give us a name. Is he on Mars, and is the Game Warden a creation or just an alternate name for Dr. Manhattan? Is he in Argentina like Petey’s source suggests? There’s not enough information for us to know, and I would be willing to bet that the obfuscation won’t be revealed for at least a couple more weeks.

Watchmen Adrian Veidt Mr Phillips

This episode definitely has a lot of sizzle to it in how it steeps the audience in those dopamine-releasing connections to the graphic novel that we’ve craved. But if you look past that, there isn’t really a ton of steak there. There’s nothing entirely wrong with that, to be fair. I certainly enjoyed spending time with Laurie, and Irons is having so much fun with Veidt that it’s hard not to be swept away with him. Not every episode of a series has to be deeply substantive, even a series as ambitious as this one.

Still, there is a such thing as being too stuck into connecting the narrative dots. As good as Laurie is, and as excited as I am to see her face off with Angela some more, there was very little plot momentum for a series that only has nine episodes. Lindelof and Byock are so clearly enjoying reaching out to fans of the graphic novel that the constant callouts get a bit excessive. I appreciated Laurie referencing Dr. Manhattan’s line about how a live body has as many molecules as a dead one. Doing the Rorschach line from the end of the Dr. Pagliotti joke seemed a bit too precious to me, especially when – character-building as they are – we’re spending so much time in the episode on the calls to Mars.

But again, these aren’t the biggest sins in the world. I don’t hugely mind that we’re taking a week off from figuring out where Judd’s murder is going if it’s to introduce elements that will be important later. I’m still not sure how Veidt fits into the main plot; it seems entirely possible that those stories are taking place out of time synch with the main story arc, but that’s impossible to know for sure. There are a lot of hints as to what might be going on in Tulsa – the dropping of Angela’s car right in front of Laurie is a big one – and that will do me as long as Lindelof effectively folds this all right back into the main narrative.

Watchmen Laurie Blake Senator Keene

Some Final Thoughts:

• I kind of enjoy how clearly the Shadow was supposed to be a Batman analogue, right down to the need for a lozenge.

• “Chief of Police got hung.” “Hanged.” I’m a sucker for a person with good sense of how to use tense.

• Veidt’s experiment with Mr. Philips left the latter frozen, leading me to believe he’s in space or perhaps in another dimension. The latter would seem improbable at first glance, until we remember that the squid rains are believed to be the result of a dimensional alien who was not dimensional at all, but rather a genetic creation of Veidt’s.

• As good of a story as the extended joke Laurie says is, the best joke of all is the comically large Dr. Manhattan sex toy that Laurie carries around in a briefcase. Not everyone will love that, but I laughed.

• Music references this week include Laurie listening to Devo, whose “Space Junk” provides the title of this episode and refers to a thing from space that kills a woman named Sally – the name of Laurie’s mom. The others are “The Last Roundup,” which is a cowboy song performed by the likes of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and is sung by Angela at Judd’s funeral, and Veidt listening to Desmond Dekker’s “Poor Me Israelites” while he works.

• Listen Agent Petey, I think most of us of the appropriate sexuality would gladly trade places with you in terms of ending up in Laurie’s bed. But wearing the domino mask to sleep in afterward just seems like a faux pas somehow.

• Next week, we head to the Millennium Clock, Veidt uses a catapult, and Angela tells Looking Glass about Judd’s KKK robe.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
"She Was Killed by Space Junk" seems destined to be a fan-favorite episode of Watchmen, and for good reason. Jean Smart is already killing it as Laurie Blake, and the many connections to the source are sure to be appreciated. There are times where that dances just on the edge of being overload, and the lack of plot progression or even much table setting isn't ideal for a nine-episode limited series. But those flaws aside, there's too much fun here not to be considered another very good outing for this series.