Hutch Watches the Watchmen Ep. 2: Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship
I suppose it should have been inevitable that the second episode of Watchmen would not be as good as the first. The first episode was an incredibly strong start and put its very best foot forward. What I didn't expect was to find myself a little concerned about how the second episode sets up the rest of the season. To put it most simply: it was a little busy and that made it so that everything was a little rushed. There wasn't much time to let character moments linger as scenes often felt hustled along. This isn't to say that it was a bad episode, it just had a very tough act to follow. It makes me concerned about whether the show is going to be able to keep up the momentum or if it will collapse under the various narrative threads that it is putting forth. The most interesting of these threads is clearly the central relationship between Angela and the mysterious Will. The show is asking a lot of interesting questions but is still being incredibly guarded about giving away many (or any frankly) answers. That will start to become a problem more and more as the show goes along if it keeps things too under wraps without providing some narrative progression. Previous shows from Lindelof have done a good job of balancing this, The Leftovers, while others like Lost have not. I hope that this show will fall into the category of the former. It is still early but I am looking forward to the answers to these questions with hopes that the rest of the season doesn't get caught up in too many B plots to lose sight of the main storyline.
Getting into the development of the plot more broadly, what still gave this episode some narrative heft was the fact that Angela is operating outside the law and going ahead with her own investigations into the death of the Chief. She didn't turn Will over right away and lied to Glass about what she knows. Their conversation was a standout scene and is one of the moments that I wish had been given more time to breathe. The closing line from Glass about crying under his mask was a surprisingly impactful end gut punch to what began as a confrontational discussion. These characters have a particularly interesting dynamic and it hints at an incoming schism in the police department. Both Regina King and Tim Blake Nelson embody the roles incredibly well. I also appreciate both of their commitment to continue acting with their faces obscured through most scenes. Too often, a less disciplined story would be inclined to just remove the masks because they want to show off their famous mugs to the camera even if that goes against the rest of the story. The rest of the episode consists mostly of the police force attempting to get answers from the residents of Nixonville and Angela reflecting on her relationship to her now deceased Chief after they both were survivors of the previous attack from the Seventh Kavalry. Oh, and Jeremy Irons does some things all by himself. I will get to that, but I want to focus primarily on the most interesting dynamic of the show thus far.
Will is the bridge between the past and present
Will is perhaps the most important character that has been introduced thus far and seems to be the key to the story. After all, he has "friends in high places" that most certainly are going to come into play later. He also seems to be the child who survived the Tulsa massacre in the shows stunning opening scene. The reveal that he is Angela's grandfather, while not shocking, is still effective and will likely expedite the conflict she is going to face. The show is planting seeds that she will likely have to choose between her own family and her job as a police officer in which she has risked everything. Considering that she is already obscuring information from her colleagues means that she is likely going to choose her family and will have to face the fallout from what will certainly be treated as a betrayal. The fact that she found the letter from Will about the United States not caring about people of color and also Klan robes in the Chief's closet is laying the groundwork that this could be a dangerous choice for her. It is interesting that when Angela brought up the Klan robes to Will, he seemed completely unaware of them or at least pretended to not know. Their scenes were the best executed and well written of the show thus far. They are at conflict but seemed to have some shared understanding.
It is unfortunate that the show literally airlifts him out of that dynamic at the end, but it was clear this was coming when Angela decided to take him in. As soon as the show made an effort to show her walking outside the car to put Will's wheelchair in the back of the car and suddenly was unable to fold it up quickly, I knew that she was never going to make it back into the car. He gives her a knowing smile and it certainly will not be the last time we see him again. He is too important and crucial to not just the literal plot. The fact that the show is interested in time and the legacies of historical violence means he serves a thematic purpose. Even with the Redforations and museums devoted to reconciliation, there is still an underlying violence that is hard to ignore. Will serves as a reminder of the persistent proximity of this violence, making it clear that it is not all sunshine and rainbows as the show keeps telling us. Even though he seems to not have been aware that the Chief had Klan robes in his closet, it is significant that he was the one who pushed Angela in the right direction. It complicates the mourning over his death and possibly serves as motivation for why he might have been killed. It is not unlikely that the Chief had ancestors who may have killed Will's parents. That is not something that can be forgotten and I hope will be explored more especially over less *ahem* interesting storylines. Yes, it's time to talk about the most extraneous plot thread.
It's time to address the Ozymandias in the room
This is perhaps the biggest problem and possibly fatal flaw of the show thus far. I don't know what show Jeremy Irons is in right now, but it is not the same show as everyone else. This isn't even to say he is bad, I think he is actually great in the role. But it feels so disconnected and tonally different than everything else. Not only is it likely not even close to in the same time period but it feels narratively way out of left field. Yes, the rest of the show is about superheroes but this feels more fantastical than anything. There seem to be multiple nods to it being not real in the same sense as the rest of the show and may even be a creation of some kind that is not of this Earth. Considering that the show keeps coming back to these moments with Irons chewing up the scenery in his castle full of clones, it is likely going to be the main threat that will come into play later. It is not entirely clear what he is plotting, but it is sure to harm the established order in some way. The only problem is that his motivations and developments are too all over the place to be threatening. He seems to just like celebrating his birthday (without eating his cake), riding his horse around while partially eating a tomato before crushing it, and forcing his cloned servants to perform plays of Doctor Manhattan's origin story. I don't buy into the theory that Irons is secretly playing Manhattan as his characterization seems primarily to be a much more power hungry and violence driven man which is never something that drove Manhattan.
Irons is playing Ozymandias but I wish he wasn't. The rest of the show had been at its best when it was charting its own new path. The fact that other previous characters like Hooded Justice exist only in a fictionalized television show give me hope that this is some sort of misdirect and will play out differently than it seems to be setting up. However, it seems more likely that the desire to put in characters that are already known may be too strong for the show to resist. It still can be done well, but it will likely draw away from the new stuff that had seemed to be the focus of the show from the start. It will just be ultimately be a letdown if the climax of the show pushes Sister Knight to the side in favor of having yet another battle between Doctor Manhattan and Ozymandias. It would be much more interesting to see the personal dynamic between Sister Knight and Glass play out in a smaller, more personal story than an overly bombastic conflict that we have already seen before. It could be that Irons is playing a rich fanatic or a pretender of some kind who is bankrolling the resurgence of the Seventh Kavalry. There would be some interesting things you could do with that as their coming back is still something that hasn't been explained. The reason I float that possibility is because then it would better tie the two (potential) timelines together. For now, the two storylines are just floating too far apart and have the potential to hinder the show's potential to explore much more interesting dynamics.