‘Watchmen’ recap: Meet the world’s first trillionaire
Welcome to EW’s weekly recap of HBO’s Watchmen. Each week, EW’s resident comic book obsessives Chancellor Agard and Christian Holub will be breaking down the loaded drama.
The original Watchmen comic was finely-tuned to its time and place. Originally published in 1986, the story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons was heavily concerned with that decade’s anxieties, from urban decay to potential nuclear disaster. Damon Lindelof’s stated goal in creating this Watchmen TV show was to do something similar with the 2019 zeitgeist; hence the show’s preoccupation with reparations, racial resentment, and other modern (yet familiar) concerns. This Sunday’s episode is a testament to how well he and the other people making the show have succeeded. After a week in which the news cycle was dominated by billionaires worrying about the direction of the Democratic Party and the rise of a meme about young people dismissing old people, we get an episode featuring the world’s first trillionaire and a heavy dose of generational conflict. Let’s dive in.
Christian: Well, this was a weird one. Last week’s focus on Laurie Blake made that episode feel very focused and streamlined. By contrast, this installment (titled “If You Don’t Like My Story Write Your Own,” which sounds like something Alan Moore might say to Damon Lindelof) is all over the place. We even meet a brand-new character, Hong Chau’s Lady Trieu, who appears to be the world’s first “trillionaire.” We’ve heard talk of Trieu before, particularly from Agent Petey last week, but now we see her in the flesh.
She is a striking presence, and certainly not someone concerned with meddling in other people’s lives. The opening scene introduces us to a Tulsa farming couple who, despite their production of eggs, are incapable of conceiving children themselves. Lady Trieu has a fix for that, and her only price is that the couple give her their land. Something I find interesting is that even though Adrian Veidt managed to save the world of Watchmen from nuclear apocalypse — and despite the publication of Rorschach’s journal, people like Looking Glass still believe the Squid(s) hail from another dimension, so the ruse remains intact — he did not solve every global crisis. Economic inequality is apparently worse than ever, but then again, the then-richest man in the world wouldn’t see that as a problem, would he? Trieu is his heir, and she believes she has a right to everything, from the land in Tulsa to objects that fall from the sky. The most interesting thing about Lady Trieu, though, might be the way she treats her daughter. As we see later in the episode, she literally hooks her daughter up to a chemical IV at night that feeds nightmarish memories of the Vietnam War directly into her brain. This is certainly a more direct method of passing on trauma than Laurie Blake’s parents took. Given Trieu’s admiration for Veidt, it may even owe something to the way Ozymandias originally designed the Squid to psychically spread maddening visions of alien worlds.
Chance, after a week in which the internet has seemingly been driven mad by the phrase “ok boomer,” what did you think of this episode’s attention to the relationships between different generations? What do parents owe their children in that regard?
Chancellor: Based on this episode, I think the answer to your question is: to know where they came from, even if that means revisiting or learning about past trauma. As you mentioned, Lady Trieu is sharing her own traumatic memories with her daughter (maybe clone??), but then we also see that when Petey discusses Laurie’s past and, more importantly, with Angela’s experience this week. Will explicitly told Angela he wants her to know where she came from, and she finally gets that answer in tonight’s episode when she breaks into the museum and uses those DNA results to see her entire family tree (literally). Through this late-night excursion, she meets her great-grandparents, who were murdered in the Tulsa massacre. Sure, she’s pissed about how Will’s arrival has turned her life upside down, but she can’t help but be moved as she looks at holographic renderings of her ancestors. Both Angela and Lady Trieu’s daughter’s experiences with the past in this episode reminded me of Transparent’s second season, which explored how trauma is passed down via genetics.
Of course, Veidt takes this idea of making sure the next generation knows where they came from to dark extreme. He creates brand new versions of Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks and doesn’t even bother easing them into the traumatic experience of life. As they enter the corpse-ridden dining room, he shamelessly and carelessly reveals that he murdered dozens of Phillipses and Crookshankses, much to the new clones’ horror. Christian, I’m sure you have many thoughts on this…
Christian: Here’s an indication of how insane this week’s Veidt sequence was: When I was watching the advance screener for this episode in my office this week, I ended up having multiple co-workers gather around to watch the scene unfold because they were just so intrigued/horrified. That’s what I get for pausing a screener on a shot of Jeremy Irons putting a fetus in a microwave!
In last week’s recap, I celebrated that we were finally getting some information about the nature of Veidt’s situation. I feel almost ashamed of saying that then, given how much more we’ve now learned. We now know where his inexhaustible supply of servants comes from: He literally grows them in a giant microwave! First things first, of course, he has to actually fish the fetuses out of some kind of strange lake. Then he loads them in the machine, takes a bite of that gross cake, and once they’re fully grown, he dresses them up like dolls and introduces them to their new lives.
The newest servant-clones have a particularly gruesome task ahead of them: Loading up their own identical corpses into a catapult and launching them into the air. Veidt observes the trajectory through a looking-glass and jots down notes. Perhaps he’s seeing something we’re not, but as far as we viewers can tell, the bodies just fly through the air until, after a certain point, they vanish. This heavily reminds me of the Dark Horse superhero comic Black Hammer by writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dean Ormston, which centers on a group of former superheroes who are trapped on a farm. The characters die if they try moving past a certain perimeter, much like how Veidt’s servants disappear into the ether. Like the Black Hammer heroes, Veidt has been restricted to this rural property for a while now (four years, to be exact) and though he initially welcomed it as “paradise,” he now sees it as a “prison.” I won’t spoil the twist of Black Hammer because it’s excellent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the explanation for Veidt’s situation turns out to be a bit paranormal. Is the visual transition from his looking-glass view of clouds to the moon just a cool shot by director Andrij Parekh, or does it hint at Veidt being trapped somewhere away from Earth? Perhaps a pocket dimension of some kind, if not the moon itself? I mean hey, Doctor Manhattan lives on Mars, so anything is possible right?
As long as we’re trying to figure out answers, it’s worth examining the slight parallels with Veidt’s storyline in the original Watchmen comic. Killing servants is not a new thing for him, you may remember. Just before destroying New York with his squid, Veidt took his most loyal servants out to the vivarium of his Antarctic base and poisoned them before opening the habitat’s glass dome so their bodies would freeze over in the snow. Is Veidt now the one trapped in a vivarium of some kind? The way the flying corpses disappear could indicate some sort of barrier or dome. The gruesome spectacle of dead servants in the dining room also bears no small resemblance to the horrific splash pages that open the final issue of Watchmen, featuring New York residents splayed and destroyed amidst the squid’s wreckage. All these years later, Veidt is still creating carnage.
Anyway, who sent Veidt to this prison in the first place? Lady Trieu is the obvious candidate, given how much she gained from his disappearance, but we’re also still waiting on Doctor Manhattan to show his cards. One of the final scenes in the Watchmen comic is a conversation between Veidt and Manhattan. After the former points out that Manhattan has “regained interest in human life,” the big blue guy replies, “Yes, I have. I think perhaps I’ll create some.” Could his powers be the source of that lake of human fetuses? All I know for sure is 1) I’m going to have Jeremy Irons’ enunciation of “Ms. Crookshanks!” stuck in my head for a good long while, and 2) Lady Trieu is definitely up to something.
Take us home, Chance: Any ideas on how we should read the closing conversation between Lady Trieu and Will? Why do you think she’s building a Doomsday Clock?
Chancellor: My best guess is that she’s taking a page out of Veidt’s playbook. In the original comic, Veidt faked an interdimensional incursion to prevent nuclear apocalypse during the Cold War. Maybe Lady Trieu, who obviously admires him, is planning something similar to combat racism, which is taking the place of Cold War tension in the show. If that’s the case, I suspect her clock would play a significant role in that. I mean, her daughter (maybe-clone) did say the clock is meant to be the first wonder of the new world. I wouldn’t be surprised if the clock would help usher in that new world, too.
I suspect Trieu is also working toward fighting the rise of racism given that she is aligned with Will. Having survived the Tulsa massacre of 1921 and lived for over 100 years, Will has seen firsthand the violence that racism can cause. Perhaps, he’s gotten to the point where he’s willing to do something drastic to stop it. As the episode ends, he does tell Trieu that Angela will likely hate him for whatever he has planned next. Also, the moon will definitely have some kind of significance because the episode ends with him and Trieu staring up at it as he says “tick, tock.”
Notes from the Black Freighter:
- As we saw last week, Laurie Blake still loves Devo as much as she did in the ’80s. But her relationship with Dan Dreiberg has clearly had an impact on her musical tastes. While she’s in the car with Petey and Sister Night, Billie Holiday’s “You’re My Thrill” plays on the car speakers — the same song that Dan played when they had sex in the Owlship for the first time.
- According to Laurie’s research, Will was apparently a New York City cop in the ’40s and ’50s. That means he would’ve served on the force at the same time as Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. This is certainly the biggest indication we’ve gotten yet for the possibility that maybe Will was Hooded Justice.
- We simply can’t end this recap without at least mentioning “Lube Man,” the mysterious figure in the white bodysuit who escapes Angela by greasing himself up and sliding down a sewer drain. What’s he up to?
- The protagonist of Watchmen‘s comic-within-a-comic, Tales of the Black Freighter, is marooned and has to find his way back to civilization using the corpses of his friends as a makeshift boat (if you’ve never read, be assured it’s gnarly). Is Adrian Veidt, who already has other parallels to that character, doing something similar?
- Watchmen star Jean Smart on the surprising contents of Laurie’s briefcase
- Watchmen is a high-energy American saga of racial terrorism and masked identity: Review
- The beginner’s guide to Watchmen: What you need to know going into the HBO show