Watchmen review: Episode 3 is confusing and transfixing and riddled with mystery

Watchmen dives into its own mythology in its gripping third episode

Adam White
Friday 01 November 2019 17:03
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Trailer for HBO series Watchmen

Like the car that comes crashing down to the ground at the end of this episode, everything in Watchmen (Sky Atlantic) has weight. Its characters have wounds and scars still visible from their pasts, from newcomer Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) to Jeremy Irons’ enigmatic mansion-dweller, this week finally confirmed to be Adrian Veidt, otherwise known as Ozymandias. They hold grudges, attractions and ambitions, indicated through ambiguous dialogue, meaningful glances and, in one shocker of a sight gag, an enormous blue dildo. And we’re left to fill in the blanks.

It can be somewhat alienating. Watchmen, dubbed a “remix” of the original comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is unusual in that it feels both fiercely indebted and entirely removed from its source material. There are moments in this episode where you can’t help but feel detached, frustrated you didn’t put time aside to immerse yourself in the Watchmen storytelling of the past and the specifics of Silk Spectre II, Dr Manhattan and Ozymandias.

But my god does Watchmen still grip your attention. “She Was Killed by Space Junk” almost plays like a seduction – the show transfixing you via the artificial blues of the space-age phone service that connects Earth to Mars, or the twinkly pulsations of Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s score. And it continues to maintain its duelling tones spectacularly, becoming part heist movie, part conspiracy thriller, part dark comedy and everything in between.

Smart, as Laurie, is tremendous. One of those great, often unsung character actors, she has a hazy drawl and a forceful, commanding presence, put to dizzying use in series as diverse as 24 and Frasier, and utilised to its fullest here. Her character serves as both audience surrogate and unwelcome intruder, one step ahead of us in regards to her past and the history of the Minutemen, but ignorant enough to ask useful questions about the show’s technology, the Defence of Police Act and the intentions of shifty politician Joe Keene Jr (James Wolk).

There’s also an interesting tension between how Laurie presents herself and the response the show wants us to have to her. Her confrontation with Angela (Regina King) is terse and dramatic, Laurie all detached cool and unambiguous threats, but Angela is decidedly unimpressed, practically giggling over her warnings. It speaks to a fascinating disconnect between the show’s mythology, often revered and embodied by Laurie and the hysterics of American Hero Story, and the grim realities of the present day and the toxic foundation it has been built upon – as embodied by Angela.

Unless you’re knee deep in the specifics of Watchmen lore, there are scenes here that will leave you asking many questions. But when it’s such an alluring journey to the answers, it’s completely insignificant.

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