Watchmen‘s first season is somewhat short at just nine episodes, but given the layers and complexity of the show, I don’t think anyone will be left wanting for more to talk about. Episode 2, “Martial feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” features another excellent use of bookends opening and closing the episode to make it feel singular in its message. Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse write this episode, which features a strong theme of stories within stories. It makes you ponder the power of propaganda across mediums, from flyers thrown from airplanes during World War II to TV shows with mature ratings.
The episode opens by explaining the backstory behind the paper we saw Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.) carrying after his parents and the town of Greenwood were slaughtered in episode 1. We learn the Nazis were attempting to sway black American soldiers to their side by offering a better deal via flyers. This flyer, fluttering down as a promise to the soldiers, makes its way to the current story and flutters down again in the final scene as Angela Abar (Regina King) can’t believe her eyes as superheroes appear to still exist. The show continues to layer in meaning as we attempt to make sense of the major players of the story.
It’s all about propaganda — and comics source material
From there, the episode reveals more about Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) after he was hanged in the last episode. We learn a bit through flashbacks during the “White Night” incident that forced cops to hide their identities as well as Crawford’s connection to a very dark time in American history. Overall this show has a Westworld feel in that it’s playing around with what America will be in the future by mixing in new events, presidents, and government to show how the world has changed.
Watchmen also hints at the original comic source material quite well. In an opening scene, we meet a young African American chatting with a newspaper stand salesman, which harkens back to Bernard in the comic. The headline of the day reads “Squid Falls Baffle Scientists” which seems to be a nod to the giant alien squid that killed half the planet at the end of the comic series. We also get a taste of the American Hero Story which was teased the last episode which tells the tale of the original Watchmen.
The thematic element of exploring the story within the story is at its full force during the snippet we get to see. In it, we see the glorification of a hero who ruthlessly beats robbers–to the delight of onlookers–as well as a reveal of some deep mental illness going on within the hero. A point is made about how wearing a mask shows you lack the ability to know your own identity, which plays into both the police force wearing masks and The Seventh Kavalry wearing Rorschach masks. There is also the idea of false identity by the narrator, who is presumably the original Rorschach, who dumps a body hoping the police will think it’s him.
A TV show within the TV show is a nice touch, but how about a play on the TV show too? Jeremy Irons, who we have to assume he is Ozymandias, puts on a little play he hinted at writing last episode. The play is quite a sight and will have fans of the comic talking. It’s basically the origin story of Dr. Manhattan, complete with an actual man being killed in a box. This scene not only shows Ozymandias is up to his old tricks playing around with clones and gene splicing, but also how he’s as cruel and evil as he ever was. One might assume he’s up to something now that his little play comes to a finish and it’ll be exciting to see how Lindelof utilizes this mad scientist who has been shuttered away for decades.
The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also continues to be excellent. Reznor’s industrial stylings work well when heroes are on the screen, giving them a cool vibe that isn’t necessarily the typical heroic theme. The blurred lines of what a hero is continue to be strengthened by his sound. Also, shout out to the end credits song, “Eggman” by the Beastie Boys. It’s not only a clever choice that connects to Reeves eating an egg, but also gives the song a new kind of meaning as the lyrics somehow connect to the narrative. That’s quite a feat given the song was intentionally silly.
This is an interesting show, and a highly enticing one for those who enjoyed the source material. I do wonder if the multiple timelines and seemingly disparate character plots can continue on disconnected for much longer, as it’s already growing tiresome to ponder when this tapestry of mystery will make sense. That said, the pop culture implications and layered storytelling are easy to appreciate as we seek answers in the dark and oppressive world Watchmen is revealing.