“What the fuck?” Angela aka Sister Knight closed a mysterious second episode of HBO and Sky Atlantic’s Watchmen reboot by echoing the thoughts of many viewers.
But that’s not a bad thing, Watchmen wants to keep you in the dark and keep you questioning. So far, the show is striking a good balance between dispensing enough coherent story to give you a traditional ‘action TV show’ viewing experience, and parachuting in apparently random elements that may ring bells with fans of the comics but will need to be explained to everyone else. So far, it’s avoided ‘Westworld Syndrome’, where everything’s so convoluted and pseudo-philosophical that you kinda stop caring. But hey, we’re only two episodes in, so there’s still time for the show to disappear up its own metaphysical backside.
What happened in Watchmen episode 2?
Episode two, ‘Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship’, maintained its detective drama narrative – with Angela investigating the hanging of the Tulsa police chief and the possible involvement in it of white-supremacist group the Seventh Cavalry. Episode two also doubled down on the show’s race politics focus, which will probably prove the most controversial departure from the source material. Not controversial because of the sensitive subject matter, but controversial in the sense that it will no doubt be accused of chasing ‘woke-ness’. Riffing on 2019 politics worked for The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s not an easy ideological game that this version of Watchmen has chosen to play.
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Is Will actually Dr Manhattan?
Into the meat of the episode, and a captivating new character by the name of Will (ambiguity of this name probably not accidental) has appeared. The wheelchair-bound 105-year-old claimed responsibility for the police chief’s hanging, but Angela deferred the usual roundhouse kick of justice because: a) it turns out Will is her grandfather and b) the police chief might have been a secret Klansman all along. Will claimed to be Dr Manhattan in disguise, which seemed absurd until a spaceship liberated him from Angela’s arrest at the close of the episode using a giant magnet (i.e. bound for the doctor’s Mars home?). Shortly before this, Will claimed to want to teach Angela about her family history and how it intertwines with the 1921 Tulsa race riots. If indeed Will is Dr Manhattan, this would seem a pretty low bar in terms of goals that bring you back to Earth, so clearly there is more plot to this that is yet to be unspooled (honestly, just so much spool in this show).
Elsewhere, airborne leaflet propaganda dropped by the Nazis during the Second World War targeting black soldiers was used to highlight how things haven’t gotten a whole lot better for people of colour in Watchmen‘s 2019. Police raided the Nixonville trailer park, in a move as much about revenge as it was locating Cavalry members, and we got a flashback to a Christmas Eve where the white supremacist group simultaneously attacked the homes of 40 Tulsa police officers, almost killing Angela.
What is Adrian Veidt doing to his servants?
The, for now, thoroughly standalone sub-plot with Adrian Veidt continued meanwhile, and we learned that the Howard Hughes-esque billionaire is cloning his servants and employing them with the same disposability one might a dish cloth.
It might get tiring if Watchmen becomes simply a sequence of mysteries to unravel and characters to decode, but for now it’s proving an intriguing puzzle. From flying “moth” paparazzi strapped with wings to “Redfordation” reparation payments being used to settle minor custody disputes, the show has a richly-built world which it’s fun to try and get a sense of, just as a freshly-landed alien might.
Does Watchmen have the best score on television?
Finally, a word on the score. It’s rare that you can call a soundtrack the single most compelling element of a TV show, but that was the case this week. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ moreish piano themes and warping synth lines will surely live on outside of the show – and that seems to be the plan, with a triple album of music from the show set to be released this winter.
‘Watchmen’ premieres on Sky Atlantic in the UK at 2am each week and is repeated at 9pm on Mondays