This Week's 'Watchmen' Grappled With the Literal and Figurative Masks Its Characters Wear
This week’s episode of Watchmen, “She Was Killed By Space Junk,” was a very unique episode in this series. Admittedly, this is only one of three episodes to air thus far. But what made it unique is how it utilized the traditional “character study” episode to not only push the story forward, but also reveal the show’s thesis statement. Here’s what I uncovered.
Removing the Masks
Laurie Blake is not a character that merely exists in this new series just to provide fan service. She is a character that will serve a big purpose as a catalyst for truth-telling. The show is using Laurie’s familial history as The Comedian’s daughter to expert effect here. If we recall from the graphic novel, The Comedian was a nihilist who served the purpose of telling a particular truth about humanity. I don’t think it was the truth, because, as far as I’m concerned, there are multiple truths about humanity, as we are capable of good, evil and everything in between. But in any case, The Comedian’s truth was how humans will destroy each other all in the name of “patriotism,” “nationalism,” or even “the common good.”
Laurie, on the other hand, isn’t quite like her father. But after everything she’s been through (what with Adrian Veidt launching a humongous squid on New York City to stop a potential global nuclear war), she’s bound to feel some level of cynicism regarding the human condition. Her pathway to cynicism wasn’t through her father’s toxic lens of the world. It was, instead, created from being disillusioned with the act of “heroes” wearing masks. The hero that seemed the cleanest of all of them, Veidt (aka Ozymandias), was the most diabolical of them all, committing genocide for the purpose of “the common good.” How could she believe Senator Keene’s belief that the good guys needed protection behind masks, especially when vigilantism is now outlawed? While Keene’s law might be seen as helping keep police safe, it also creates an even worse problem: state-sanctioned vigilantism. To me, that seems as bad as folks in masks running around of their own free will.
Because of her trauma with her father and living through Veidt’s genocide, Laurie has no time to play games with anyone, especially people hiding secret identities. She quickly sees through Angela, Looking Glass, and even her FBI partner (who is an undercover superhero fan and, I’d imagine, has some other secrets as well). She also sees through the mask Angela is trying to hold for Judd. Both Angela and Laurie know that Judd had a Klan outfit in his closet. But while Laurie wants Angela to admit the truth, Angela is determined not to let anything or anyone sully her image of the man she’s called friend. Clearly, Laurie’s relationship with Angela is going to cause Angela to take that hard look at the people she has aligned herself with. Will she want to continue being Sister Night if all it means is upholding a violent law enforcement regime that had a Klan member at its head?
Veidt’s Mysterious Purpose
One of the most important unmaskings involves “the Lord of a Country Manor,” who I can finally call by his true name. We have learned that Veidt is living under house arrest. A splendid house arrest, indeed, since his incarceration is on verdant, rolling acreage, but house arrest nonetheless. We can presume that his clones were created by him to keep himself company. But as we can see, his mind is still at work, planning something else nefarious.
What’s annoying (in a good way) is that I’m sure the answers around Veidt’s plans will be so obvious in retrospect. We’re only missing one key element that would tie everything together. But for now, let’s go through what we do know. Veidt has clones. Veidt is doing some experiments with his clones, probably concerning Dr. Manhattan. The last experiment we saw involved Veidt putting one of his many Mr. Phillipses in a homemade astronaut suit. Does Veidt want to go to space? Does he want to become Dr. Manhattan himself? Or does he want to create a Dr. Manhattan he can control? I don’t know, but to me, it seems like he is preoccupied with Dr. Manhattan in some shape or form.
In the graphic novel, Dr. Manhattan unwillingly had a role in Veidt’s squid plan by inadvertently helping him with his genetic engineering advancements and even giving him a leg up on mastering the art of teleportation, all of which helped his squid land on New York City. I’m going to have to go back to my copy of Watchmen to determine what other powers Dr. Manhattan had that could be of use to Veidt, but if he wants to go into space, perhaps Veidt wants to create his own utopia somewhere else in the universe? It would be a utopia he could control, and I’m sure that would appeal to him. So for now, that’s what I’m going with until we get more details.
Being Happy Behind the Mask
It seems like another part of the show’s thesis is analyzing how and why people are more comfortable with masks than accepting the truth. The mask is a comfort blanket for the police, vigilantes, and non-masked people alike. It would seem that the show is positioning that masks are for people who don’t want to face the truth, seeing as how the people who are the most uncomfortable with masks are Laurie and Will, both of whom would rather talk to Angela without her physical and figurative masks on.
The person who is the most comfortable behind the mask is Veidt, who relishes putting his Ozymandias garb back on. This raises the question: how much do the masked police have in common with someone like Ozymandias? Of course, I’m not saying the masked police are genocidal, like Veidt. But on a lesser scale, the police exhibit the same penchant for violence to serve “the common good.” Sure, the Kavalry and the Klan don’t need to be treated like they’re going to a five-star hotel when they’re in police custody. But the mercilessness with which the police operate is commenting on when violence is deemed “necessary” or “unnecessary.” When it comes to something on the scale of Veidt’s diabolical plans, the violence is, of course, wildly unnecessary. But the amount of violence the police inflict on their suspects is torturous. Yes, the suspects are domestic terrorists. But doesn’t the exaggerated violence only make things worse?
In any case, these are the inferences I’m making right now, only three episodes into the season. I feel the season has a lot of complex things to lay out to us in terms of its feelings about torture and state-sanctioned violence, vigilantism, and the pros and cons of living behind an alter ego. But I also feel like the show will not give us a lot of answers. The graphic novel didn’t; it was its own Rorschach test in which the individual had to find their own meaning in the story’s sensational ending. I’m sure this series will also have a sensational ending, but I’m almost afraid to know what the climax will include. It can’t be another squid. But what could be more terrifying than that?
What are your thoughts so far in the series? What conclusions are you drawing from everyone’s actions? Let me know in the comments section below!
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