Watchmen was in danger of settling into a predictable rhythm last week – start with some misdirection, an obligatory Ozymandias scene toward the end, a little detective work, finish with a revelation. However, episode three blows away any preconceptions you may have already formed. Enter Laurie Blake, a character Watchmen comic book readers will know better as the crime-busting vigilante Silk Spectre. Jean Smart gives an award-worthy performance as the character, single-handedly elevating a good episode into a great one.
“She Was Killed by Space Junk” begins with Blake cracking a joke to Doctor Manhattan via an interstellar phone call. She starts by describing a man who decides to build a house, plans everything to the letter, yet finishes with a single brick left over, which his daughter throws in the air. Blake flubs the punchline.
While this could have been a relatively low-key opener, at least compared to the Black Wall Street massacre, we know instantly Blake’s going to make a huge impact on the show. Director Stephen Williams makes this clear with a series of angled, close-up shots of her pursed lips curling over every word and sentence, imbuing each syllable with real poise and purpose. We’re meant to pay attention to every word she says. If we’ve learned anything from these first three episodes, it’s that the little things matter – even a supposed failed comedy routine that would make even Eddie Blake roll his eyes.
Blake’s soon parachuted into Tulsa, Oklahoma alongside rookie agent Dale Petey to investigate Judd Crawford’s murder on behalf of the FBI. The dynamic between the older and younger detectives – one an ex-superhero, the other a glorified projectionist – does feel a little cliched, though it serves to shine a spotlight on how the hardened Blake is paradoxically both in control and seconds from breaking down. We see this again as Blake recounts to Doctor Manhattan a joke about himself, Ozymandias, and Nite-Owl (who we now know is in prison) meeting God.
Later, Blake begins to unravel at Judd Crawford’s funeral. When she decides to shoot the Seventh Kavalry member with a bomb rigged to him, things almost backfire quite literally. This should have been tense, but there was never a chance that the writers would kill off another major character so soon into the series. However, we do learn that, although Blake may be whip-smart, able to crack a case far faster than Angela Abar, she’s not infallible (unlike a certain blue demi-God on the other end of the phone). Smart does a masterful job at juggling all these conflicting emotions, and it speaks volumes that she already acts as a natural evolution to the character from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal work, not an alternate version of her.
Despite the fantastic performance, there’s another that almost snatches the episode from Smart: Jeremy Irons. Again. Who else? The Astonishing Adventures of Adrian Veidt take a surprising turn this week. While out hunting, the former Ozymandias is given a warning shot by a masked man, who we later find out is the game warden seemingly keeping Veidt captive on this country estate.
It’s another interesting twist from a show that knows how to keep us guessing in new and imaginative ways. Irons brilliantly fumbles and bumbles his way through an overly-formal written reply, with loyal Cruickshanks tap-tap-tapping away at a typewriter, each line delivered with the frail gusto of a man who, ironically, has been left to live out the doomed fate as written in Shelley’s Ozymandias, the poem from which he draws his persona.
Veidt, though, is looking to reclaim his place in the world. He puts on his mask and again adopts the somewhat ill-fitting Ozymandias guise for the first time in decades. It’s a shame to cut off there, just when it looked as if we would get an extended dose of Veidt, though there may be a danger of Irons over-awing the episode. Still, next week is shaping up to be a doozy thanks to the well-measured, forward-looking plans laid in this week’s episode.
If “She Was Killed by Space Junk” has any failing, it’s the final act. Angela and Blake’s face-off was supposed to be a climactic moment, yet this fails to materialise. For one thing, Angela looks miniscule in the grand web of conspiracies and costumed heroes, lacking agency with each subsequent reveal by the FBI’s finest. Meanwhile, Blake breezes over last week’s big Klan-shaped gotcha moment by saying she’s already figured it out, which feels cheap and reduces the impact of Angela’s detective work last week.
Each actress also seems to hold something back, presumably because their time to properly throw down is just around the corner. The scene merely acts as an excuse to get the pair together. Again, like Petey coming along for the ride, it’s an awkward fit that doesn’t quite come together. In a series that has made each action feel decidedly inevitable, their meeting seems at this stage seems like a small oversight, but one that can be forgiven when you have two top-tier talents such as Jean Smart and Regina King feeling each other out in preparation for something meatier down the line.
As for the punchline to the episode-spanning joke? A brick – presumably the one flung by the perfectionist handyman’s daughter – flies through the air and kills God. If it’s intended to be a warning to Doctor Manhattan that not even Gods, both blue and “normal”, can account for random actions, the meaning was lost on the blue-hued omniscient being. In a twist of fate, the car carrying Will Reeves from last week’s finale crashes down right in front of Blake. Her response? Laughter. Someone up there is clearly playing a joke on her, dropping the apparent answer to her investigation before her.
From the opening telephone call, to the absurd image of her unleashing what can charitably be described as a monster Doctor Manhattan dildo, it’s difficult to understate just how much Smart’s Blake expertly shakes things up. It remains to be seen just how far her journey can go without drawing too much focus away from the show’s main narrative, Regina King’s Sister Night. But this first impression is supremely confident, enough to suggest that she’ll be just as richly-drawn as everyone else on Watchmen, which, after just three episodes, is already filled with characters you can’t wait to spend some more time with every Sunday.