Setting up a whodunnit is one thing, but – as Watchmen’s second episode shows – following up on it is another matter entirely. "Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship" dives straight into the aftermath of Chief Judd Crawford’s brutal demise, making for a solid second chapter to the year’s most captivating mystery – but one that increasingly goes round in circles.
After a flashback to Germany, the episode kicks into gear with Regina King’s masked vigilante Sister Night wheeling a mysterious elderly man, Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.), to her ‘bakery’ where she begins interrogating him. What follows is the episode’s most entertaining, instantly rewatchable moment. Will – a possible descendant of Bass Reeves from the series’ opening black-and-white movie, and definite ancestor of Angela/Sister Night – prods and pokes at Sister Night, as if he knows the cosmic punchline to a joke that no one else can comprehend. Each enigmatic answer poses more questions, especially when we find out who apparently killed Judd. Will admits to the murder, yet whether that’s the truth remains to be seen.
King’s on scene-stealing form, quickly switching from being composed to overcome by raw, guttural rage. The recent Oscar-winner is working at the top of her game, yet the rest of the episode does nothing to utilise her talent as Sister Night, real name Angela Abar, heads out on a wild goose chase that leads to a revelation – Will’s her grandfather – that doesn’t quite illicit the emotional response the show expects us to have. After all, we’ve only known these people for two hours. At this point, why should we care that they’re related?
The episode’s narrative also unfortunately suffers without the right propulsion. There’s little substance to grab hold of as the majority of scenes are mostly filler. Fascinating filler, but filler nonetheless. The flashback to White Night is a particularly troubling offender. The scene shows that, yes, the Seventh Cavalry are indeed Bad People and fills in the blanks of a Christmas Eve massacre. Here, the Rorschach-masked vigilantes massacre 40 police officers, an act that led to the majority of Tulsa PD (fearful of their homes being raided again) resigning en masse and, presumably, why they now all wear masks. It’s a breathless action-packed sequence, but comes from the heavy-handed “show not tell” school of televisual exposition.
Later, we see Angela retrieve Judd’s supposed Klan outfit, which she then throws into Will’s lap. “Are you trying to make me think he’s one of [the Seventh Cavalry]?” Angela laments. Has Judd been set up or not? It’s almost too early to tell. Where most shows would have laid down thick bread crumbs, Watchmen throws in a left-field KKK suit to keep you guessing. At this stage, the show has not signposted Judd’s allegiances enough, making this scene feel unearned. Perhaps if there was more evidence, this wouldn’t seem quite so cut-and-dried misdirection.
Another scene that falls perhaps a little short is Jeremy Irons’ reappearance as Adrian Veidt. Having an interlude in roughly the same place two weeks in a row gives the episode a paint-by-numbers feel, rather than ground-breaking multi-layered serial teased last week. At least we get one definitive answer in the form of Cruickshanks and Phillips’ identities: they’re disposable The Prestige-style clones.
Putting the slightly predictable format aside, the rendition of the play “The Watchmaker’s Son” is as absurdly entertaining as the pilot’s thorough thigh-rubbing session. The scene runs through Jon Osterman’s transformation into Doctor Manhattan, complete with hammy acting and even the trademark flaccid blue penis, and marks the shows first direct use of dialogue from the source material. Irons, again, chews just as much of the scenery as the robotically-recited lines spewing out of his on-stage servants. If we got a series of increasingly surreal Adrian Veidt scenes and nothing else, it’d be the best thing on television, such is its dazzling display of what-the-fuckery tinged with a foreboding sense that everything could come crashing down at any moment.
Perhaps the highlight of the episode, though, is the fictional American Hero Story, a spoof on American Horror Story that covers the secret history of the crime-fighting group The Minutemen. The segment charts the life (and possible faked death) of Rolf Muller, the apparent secret identity of Hooded Justice. It’s here where we dip into what made the premiere a masterpiece. There are clues aplenty for hardcore fans amid the flurry of individual scenes that will confuse and captivate in equal measure, yet remain energetic in its delivery. One particular highlight is Hooded Justice (or is it?) repeatedly dishing out his own brand of knife-edged redemption to a small-time set of criminals in a 1940s-era convenience store. How this ties into the story-at-large remains to be seen, but it’s a neat curveball in an hour that so desperately craved one.
Even with that rollercoaster of a respite, the episode ends in the same place where we began, fittingly enough for an episode that occasionally span its wheels: Will and Angela are outside in the dark. As she goes to join him in the car, her vehicle is scooped up with Will inside and hoisted to the heavens by something – a junkyard magnet attached to a helicopter-type ship seems the most likely possibility. Angela says what we’re all thinking: “What the fuck?”
The second episode may lack the deeper, more dense allusions as, say, the premiere’s raining squid, “Oklahoma!” or the Tulsa Race Riots vignette. Yet, Watchmen still manages to pull one last rabbit out of the hat, much like the final splash page in a comic, to make sure you won’t be able to think about anything else until next Sunday. Showrunner Lindelof expertly throws out enough bait to have us trawling forums and Twitter threads for theories well into next week. As a watercooler show, there’s been none better this year.