watchmen Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship

One thing is becoming apparent as Watchmen airs its second episode: it’s going to be exhausting trying to keep track of every single reference, Easter Egg, historical element, and beyond packed into this show. Much like Alan Moore’s work (see not just Watchmen but also From Hell), the Watchmen series is not just mere entertainment – it’s like a crash-course in, well, almost everything. There’s so much going on in every frame of every scene that it can become quite daunting. But that’s part of what makes the show so exciting. After a stunning premiere, episode 2, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”, takes us further down the rabbit hole.

Hello, Boys

Last week’s Watchmen opened with a historical event that many people were unaware of: the Tulsa massacre. This week’s episode also kicks-off with another historical moment that might be lost to time for some. Its World War I, and a German officer instructs a secretary to write a note – in English. The note is directed directly at the “colored soldiers of the U.S. Army”, and asks them why they’re fighting for a country that treats them so poorly and denies them basic human rights. This indeed did happen – although some of the wording of the letter has been changed from its historical counterpoint.

The letters are dropped from airplanes onto black soldiers – one of whom is the father of the boy we saw in the first episode’s prologue. The boy who grew up to be the mysterious man in the wheelchair. The man who called Angela out to the old oak tree, where she found the wheelchair-bound man sitting beneath the hanged corpse of her police chief, Judd Crawford.

Angela should probably take this elderly man – who says his name is Will – into the station. Instead, she takes him to her bakery/lair, where she proceeds to interrogate him. The man claims that he’s the one who killed Judd (he also claims to be Dr. Manhattan, before walking that back; he also claims he’s 105-years old). Angela isn’t buying it – but she still wants to find out who the hell this guy is, so she takes a DNA sample in the form of a mug of coffee.

This episode is a real showcase for Regina King. She gets two moments of anger-fueled outbursts – one when she comes back to her bakery, goes into her back room, and pounds on the caged walls, screaming, her voice hoarse. Later, she brutally beats a suspected 7K member with similar ferocity. But beyond the rage there’s also sadness and confusion. She’s hurt at Judd’s death – the two were close, and we see the beginnings of their friendship in a flashback to the infamous White Night, when 7K members attacked 40 police households on Christmas Eve.

One of those households was Angela’s, and a 7K member busts into her house with a shotgun. Angela is able to get the upper hand and stab him to death, but she’s then shot by another 7K member. Curiously, this masked figure does not kill her. He looms over her with his gun pointed right at her face – and then next thing Angela knows, she’s waking up at the hospital with an injured Judd by her side. What happened to the shooter? Judd doesn’t mention him at all. He says they only found one 7K member in the house – the one Angela stabbed.

It’s just one of several questions this episode asks. Little by little, it feels like Watchemn is giving us puzzle pieces and we have yet to learn how to put them together. “There’s a vast and insidious conspiracy right here in Tulsa,” Will tells Angela. “But I can’t tell you about it or your head will explode. So I have to give it to you in pieces.”

“You haven’t given me shit,” Angela retorts.

“Yes, I have,” Will says, and he might as well be talking directly to us. “You haven’t been listening.”

Skeletons in the Closet

One of the pieces Will gives Angela is an explanation as to why he killed Judd (if he did, indeed, do the deed). “He had skeletons in his closet,” Will says. Angela, good detective that she is, goes to Judd’s house to investigate and finds something literally in Judd’s closet: a Klan robe on display, with a police badge pinned to its chest.

Rather than think ill of her late boss, Angela’s jumps to the conclusion that Will planted the Klan robe to tie Judd to the Seventh Kavalry – an accusation that Will plays off as nonsense. What other secrets was Judd hiding? Is that robe really is? And was he part of the “vast, insidious” conspiracy going on in Tulsa? None of these questions will be answered this week, but here’s something we do learn: Will’s identity.

Angela takes the mug with Will’s DNA to the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage, a museum built on the spot of the Tulsa massacre. There, she interacts with a computerized version of historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. – playing himself – who is the United Statues Treasury Secretary in Watchmen‘s Redford administration. The DNA test comes back not long after and drops a bomb on Angela: Will is her grandfather.

This revelation appears to be the last straw for Angela, and she decides to finally take Will in officially. But before she can do that, an unidentified flying object descends, drops a magnet on top of her car, and hauls it away – with Will still in it. Right before she arrested him officially, Will told Angela that he had “friends in high places” – and he wasn’t kidding.

As the car floats off, a piece of paper rains down. It’ the WATCH OVER THIS BOY paper from the pilot. It’s also the same German letter dropped onto Will’s father all those years ago. Like the hands on a clock – an object that is seen all over this show – everything comes around eventually.

The Watchmaker’s Son

Before we go, let’s check in with the most befuddling Watchmen subplot: Jeremy Irons‘ mysterious character. In case you didn’t pick up on it in the pilot, this week’s episode hammers home what a cruel sociopath Irons’ character is. He’s overly mean to his servants, and then he flat-out kills one of them during a performance of the play he wrote – The Watchmaker’s Son, a re-enactment of the creation of Dr. Manhattan.

This leads to a big reveal: the servants (played by Sara Vickers and Tom Mison) are clones, and Irons’ character has a whole slew of them all over the castle in different roles. Just what in the hell is going on here? We don’t know yet, but according to Irons, “It’s only just begun.”

Watchmen’s Journal

  • Dig all those split diopter shots!
  • We get to watch an entire scene from American Hero Story, the show within a show here. It showcases a moment mentioned in the Watchmen comic when Hooded Justice stops a robbery at a grocery store. The scene is shockingly violent, and comes preceded with a long-winded disclaimer that the show is not for children of any age, and that it’s loaded with disparaging remarks towards “persons of color and the LBGTQ+ community”, features “hate crimes”, and more. The scene kicks-off with a dead body floating in Boston Harbor, and a narrator telling us he planted the body to make everyone think he’s dead. The narrator identifies himself as Rolf Müller, who was suspected of being the true identity of Hooded Justice (his true identity was never revealed in the comics). It’s worth noting that the narration voice of Rolf Müller does not sound like the voice of Hooded Justice we hear here, indicating they’re not the same person. So who is he? As Müller says: “I’m not ready to tell you who I really am – if I did, you wouldn’t watch until the end.”
  • In this same episode, we see a newspaper headline about Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds hoax. Which, of course, makes one think of Watchmen‘s own alien invasion hoax.
  • Tim Blake Nelson continues to be the show’s secret weapon with his deadpan delivery of nearly every line.
  • We learn this week why all of Angela’s children are white: they’re not really her kids. They’re the offspring of her partner, who was murdered – with his wife – during the White Night. Angela is now raising the children as her own.
  • One of those kids, Topher, is building a castle-like structure with a futuristic floating Erector Set. Upon learning of Judd’s death, the child destroys the castle in a fit of rage. This mirrors a shot from the first episode of Dr. Manhattan on Mars, destroying a giant sandcastle. And hey, Jeremy Irons’ character lives in a castle too! I wonder if this is all connected somehow?
  • When Irons asks one of his clones to dispose of the dead body, the clone asks, “Shall we put him in the basement with the others?” Just how many poor clones has this guy killed?
  • The episode title is a reference to the George Catlin painting “Comanche Feats of Martial Horsemanship” (which hangs in Judd’s home), although the wording has been altered.
  • We get a quick scene with a newspaper salesman and a delivery boy talking about the mysterious rain of squid. These people mirror two similar (but dead) characters from the Watchmen comic.
  • Speaking of mirrored moments, it’s quite haunting how this episode has three match-cuts involving hugging. First, Angela hugs Judd’s dead body while lowering it from the tree, which triggers a memory of hugging her husband on the White Night. At the end of the episode, she has to lift Will from his wheelchair and put him in the car. As she’s lifting him she pauses, hugging him to her body. The look on Regina King’s face says it all. Give her all the awards.

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