‘She Was Killed By Space Junk’ finally does a bit of the rug-pulling we’d expected from Watchmen from the start. Even more impressively, this isn’t strictly related to the episode unveiling not one but two of the original Watchmen lineup. Three if you count those who are offscreen but definitely there.
The bulk of my criticism of the show thus far has been related to the masks and the cops being far, far too cosy. So to have a new character turn up and voice pretty much this sentiment may be a mite on the nose, but also gives me confidence that the creators know what they’re doing. No longer is it a morally simplistic tale of the heroes fighting the bad guys who are bad, although it says something it’s taken two episodes to get here.
‘Space Junk’ is never stronger than the opening. Initially, it appears as if it’s your usual situation of a superhero foiling a bank robbery. Who is that masked man? It doesn’t really matter, but he’s clearly doing Christian Bale’s eminently mockable Batman voice. And then it all gets turned on its head. It’s half genre subversion, half Jackass-style prank, and all quality. If all of Watchmen had been like this, I’d already be banging on the Oscars’ doors, shrieking ‘what do you mean, you only do films’.
At the risk of giving away the twist there, the existence of tension between the police and the superheroes had been a subtle but significant undercurrent in the comics. It had actually led to rioting at least once. So, in a perverse way, it’s good to see that making a return.
The cold opens of Watchmen’s two previous episodes were reenactments of events from the perennially underrepresented history of black America. It’s a shame to say they felt like something of a misstep – not because of any fault in their performance, shooting, or design, but because they were unvarnished slices of our history, not of the history of the subtly different world of Watchmen.
The indisputably strongest part of Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Watchmen was the opening credits, which explained the different timeline in a stylised montage without any clumsy ‘as you know’ exposition. However, that was using some of the most recognisable moments of the 20th century – VJ day, the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, etc – whereas the TV Watchmen has been using some of the least. Apparently Google searches for ‘black Wall Street’ spiked after the premiere, so had the show included superheroes in that event, there’s every chance the less informed viewer would have come away thinking that’s how it really went down, or, more depressingly, that Tulsa’s black Wall Street was just an invention of the show.
There’s a wider debate to be had as to how far, or whether, you should modify the history of black America for the purposes of a superhero show. I’m not the best man to have it for at least two reasons. But at any rate, the cold open of ‘She Was Killed By Space Junk’ is, strictly speaking, more in the spirit of the thing. And this week’s new protagonist, Agent Blake, is being a fair bit more proactive about things than Angela’s been so far – though curiously, she ends up channeling Rorschach too, deadpanning out a bad joke as she attempts to make sense of the whole awful situation.
(Although the joke’s hampered by being split up and drawn out through the whole hour-long episode.)
And Blake finding herself falling into Rorschach’s old rhythms and grooves cuts a little closer to the bone, for no other reason than that unlike Angela, or even the Seventh Cavalry themselves, she knows Rorschach was right.
In taking the lead, Blake also finds herself falling into Angela’s role, and supplanting her place in the narrative – which makes the episode feel a bit like a support mechanism for them confronting each other at the climax. Likewise, the rest of the cast feel decidedly like supporting roles, your ‘also starring’s. We finally get a few of Angela’s mask mates to actually introduce themselves, and it’s them setting themselves up to be knocked down by Blake. It’s fun to watch her do it, but it also feels a bit too easy.
You might say it’s only appropriate that a show about the perils inherent in watching the Watchmen should have such a stark division between the player characters and the no-name background fools – and that’s true, but you need a few more real people to work with. It has at least moved on from being the Sister Night Show (the policewoman who solves crimes in her spare time), but it’s still just a two-hander. And looking at the production values, it’s not as if they can’t afford more people.
On the lighter side of ‘She Was Killed By Space Junk’, we finally find out who old Jeremy’s Iron is actually playing. But even discounting all the hefty hints, there’s a far more startling revelation in that his idyllic existence at stately Penrhyn Castle is, rather than a cushy retirement, actually some form of exile or imprisonment. Given the surreal nature of his sections, this development can’t help but be reminiscent of The Prisoner – especially since that was set in another North Wales landmark, the town of Portmeirion. If he starts screaming that he’s not a number, he’s a free man, remember that I called it.
Look, this isn’t me acting as a catspaw for the North Wales Tourist Board (note to self: see what the buggers are paying these days), it’s just that when you see Jeremy Irons hanging out his washing in a courtyard you’ve walked through many times – hell, one you’ve rushed through looking for the bathrooms as a ropy pint and a bad sandwich start to repeat on you – it can’t help but invoke a little emotion.
While ‘She Was Killed By Space Junk’ hasn’t moved the plot much further forward, it has given a better idea of the wider shape of the thing. The links to the original are getting clearer, and no less so because of the glimpse of a ridiculous blue dildo, which could have been too silly if, in context, it wasn’t sort of sweet.
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Watchmen gets some more wind under its wings - coincidentally, as it features more superheroes.
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