The second episode of Watchmen, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”, deepens our understanding of this alternate America, while setting up the mystery of the show: Who is Will, and, Who is Angela, really? Building off the first episode, “Horsemanship” is also directed by Nicole Kassell, and it answers a few of the questions from the pilot. Yes, Will, the old man, is the little boy who survived the Tulsa massacre in 1921. What’s more, he is Angela’s grandfather. And Will seems to have some superpowers, as he plunges his hand into boiling water with no effect, has some dexterous ability with handcuffs even at a hundred-plus years old, and he has friends in high places as he escapes Angela’s custody thanks to a GIANT MAGNET. If the whole underpinning of Watchmen wasn’t so apocalyptic and dark, that would be an incredibly fun detail. As is, it’s creepy and unnerving. Who is Will, does he really have superpowers (they exist in this universe, so it’s possible), who are his friends with the magnet? Is Will a villain? Or is Will telling the truth about the “vast conspiracy” and Angela’s world is not what it seems?
As for Angela, we get to see the Christmas night attack that critically injured her and left her partner dead (this is how Angela came to be the mother of three white children, she adopted her partner’s kids). We also learn that Judd survived the “White Night”, and was there for Angela when she woke up, thus cementing their bond. But…we see this scene after Will has stated there is a conspiracy in effect, and there are “skeletons in the closet” that Angela does not know about. Now, we can’t trust anything. If there is a conspiracy, then everyone is a suspect except for Angela, our protagonist and now, obviously, the character who will take us through unravelling this as-yet-unseen web. The first step is Angela’s trip through Judd’s actual closet looking for actual skeletons, and she finds one. Thanks to x-ray goggles—this world is dark but it is FUN—she finds an old Ku Klux Klan outfit. She shows this to Will, who is surprised by the revelation that Judd has a connection to the Klan. Is this not the conspiracy? Or just a piece Will doesn’t know?
With questions piling up, and all of them centering on Angela, “Horsemanship” gives us more context for the topsy-turvy politics set up in the pilot. There is a “survivors of racial violence” act responsible for doling out reparations to those harmed by past injustices—Angela technically qualifies as the descendant of a survivor of the Tulsa massacre. We also see more of the white outrage swirling around Tulsa, with protesters outside the Greenwood Center declaring “Redfordations” unjust. This dynamic of a disenfranchised white citizenry going against a minority population bolstered by reparations actually has a real-world counterpart in Indigenous communities. I have seen—I have known—white people angered by the perceived success of their Native neighbors who receive stipends from successful tribal casinos. That the casinos only exist as a legacy of white violence against Native communities doesn’t register. It’s all about the “injustice” of Native families receiving money for “nothing” and having a (supposed) more comfortable life while a white family struggles next door. All the white people in this alternate Tulsa bitter about a black community being lifted up the social ladder by reparations rings uncomfortably true. This is a world of flying vehicles and x-ray goggles, but it is grounded in some of America’s nastiest truths.
So we have the mystery of Angela and Will and what’s really happening in Tulsa, but we also have whatever the f-ck is going on with Adrian Veidt. So far, Veidt seems completely disconnected from the action in Tulsa, except for the squid rain which is definitely, somehow, his fault. What is evident, though, is that his big plan to force world peace as depicted in the graphic novel has backfired. Sure, there’s no sign that this is a world at war, but America is not a peaceful place. Everyone is tense, on edge, prone to conspiracy, and the same racial tensions we have in the real world still exist in the future resulting from Veidt’s global peace plan. The America of Watchmen is just like real America, but with the addition of x-ray goggles and superheroes, except the superheroes all seem kind of unhinged and borderline villainous.
That’s probably a function of the superheroes existing within an authoritarian police state. In the good superhero universes, such as the worlds of the Avengers and Justice League, superheroes function as extra-judicial representatives of a higher moral calling, something that transcends any one nation or creed. Watchmen, both the novel and the show, presupposes that superheroes can never be separate from politics, and the end result must always be a world where superheroes are symbols of oppression that inspire only distrust and paranoia. I would like to know who, within the world of Watchmen, the people look to for hope. In tone, Watchmen is not bleak. It’s dark, certainly, and has pointed echoes of the worst elements of our own society. But elements like the x-ray goggles and magnet-escape plans are fun touches that remind us that this is also a world of expanded possibility. But does it expand far enough to include hope?
New feature! This is a space for stuff that doesn’t quite fit into the review but deserves a shout. Such as…
• Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’s absolutely STELLAR scoring through two episodes. Hands down the best composing for television I’ve heard this year.
• Also stellar is the costume design. Sharen Davis did the pilot, and Meghan Kasperlik takes over for the rest of the season. The detail is exquisite, right down to how Angela’s skirt at Judd’s memorial echoes the movement of her Sister Night coat.
• Sleepy Hollow’s Tom Mison stars as the many clones of Adrian Veidt. Remember Sleepy Hollow? WTF ever happened with that show?