Monday, April 15, 2024

Watchmen Gets Weird with Memories and Babies

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One thing you can always count on with a Damon Lindelof show is how weird things will get. Adrian Veidt’s scenes have certainly done their share to establish weirdness on Watchmen, as have the baby squid rains, alt-history twists, and Dr. Manhattan…adult toys. With the halfway point of season 1 now here, though, things hit a whole new level of weird.

There’s something strange afoot in Tulsa, and the aptly-named “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” gave us a glimpse behind the curtain.

By far the biggest development of this episode, and possibly the entire season, was the introduction of Lady Trieu. She is the world’s first trillionaire and the constructor of the giant clock structure we see being built in the previous episode. She leaps off the screen immediately, part-Whiterose from Mr. Robot and part eccentric uber-rich immoral scientist. Her first scene has her show up to buy a 40-acre farm off a couple by offering a baby they could never conceive. Just in time for something to crash from space onto the land.

More on that later, by the way.

By the end of the episode, we have a few important confirmations alongside some tantalizing teases. One, Trieu was the one who abducted Will Reeves in Angela’s vehicle using that flying winch. Two, she has some plan in place to begin the world anew, of which her clock will be the first Wonder of the World. Three, she clearly has some interest in genetics and memories, and some interest in passing experiences to newer generations.

And fourth, it’s looking very possible that she is responsible for Adrian Veidt’s captivity.

Perhaps this is a stretch, mainly because the logistics of any corporation on Earth being able to build some crazy space-prison and maintain it seems crazy, even or a trillionaire. However, the opening scene established one very important thing about Trieu; she can make babies. We don’t know how or why, but she has the technology to make children, which suggests a mastery over genetics beyond babies, which suggests she is very capable of creating the lake full of fetuses Adrian Veidt fishes his new Phillips and Crukshanks from. They may even be failed experiments of some kind she used to give Veidt his servants.

Then you consider her vivarium where she meets with Angela and Laurie, where she transplanted a part of Vietnam, and she seems like she is interested in creating an environment where one should not exist, too. Just like Veidt’s almost certain space prison. She also bought his company after he “disappeared.” The full picture is one where this woman has the knowledge, money, and ambition to be responsible for Veidt’s current circumstances.

Why? To what end? Well, whatever it is, it involves her clock and some plot that the not-so-wheelchair-bound Will Reeves is involved in.

She also seems to have some ability to chemically imprint the experiences of a bloodline onto people. Her daughter’s “dream” sounds like a memory Trieu herself would have went through. Notice the IV in Bian’s arm when she wakes up? It was heavily hinted that Will’s pills have some capacity to let someone experience his memories. What we saw with Trieu’s daughter was possibly part of experimentation making those pills possible.

And finally, just what was it that crashed on the farm in the opening? It might very well have been Veidt finally escaping his prison. Which might mean the statue of old Veidt in her vivarium was not a statue, but a Han-Solo-style carbonite prison after Trieu retrieved him from the crash site. Really, why would she have a statue of him at that age otherwise? I suppose we’ll know for sure when we find out just how long Veidt has been missing, and how much he may have aged in said time. We know that years have passed. We’ll see just how many years.

Between Trieu, Veidt, and Angela’s efforts to investigate her family lineage, Watchmen went hard on the themes of legacy and blood in this episode. In fact, it may have been set up as a central theme of the season.

Looking just at what we know, Laurie Blake most certainly struggles with being The Comedian’s daughter, or at least has in the past. Angela clearly has her own struggles with her ancestry, considering how intrigued she has been about Will being her grandfather. Lady Trieu’s entire plan may revolve around genetics in some way, or at least in the sharing of memory and trauma across generations of a bloodline.

Perhaps things are gearing up for some debate about the meaning of bloodlines, or the impersonal nature of pure, scientific genetics vs. the intense craving many feel to understand their heritage. Can Trieu’s drugs really impart the experiences and traumas of the past onto those who take them, or is there something more to it than that? Angela and her husband, Calvin, raise three kids that are not their own. How much does that genuinely matter?

We may even see this come into play with Judd and the KKK robes. What if Trieu can somehow offer someone the experiences of Judd’s bloodline as a way to see who was in his past and whether he harbored sympathies towards the 7th Kavalry?

I’m fascinated by the possibilities. In a season full of weird stuff, this episode dialed it up to 11. I haven’t even touched on the larger squids crashing to Earth that Looking Glass takes pictures of, or the lubed up vigilante Angela couldn’t catch, or Veidt apparently murdering a dozen or so versions of Phillips or Crukshank. Or how about the microwave that apparently grows the children Veidt fishes from the lake into the grown servants we see? Talk about the reduction of human maturity and genetics into something cold and emotionless.

I guess, in the end, Lindelof isn’t exactly shying away from his love for a multitude of mysteries tossed at his audience. This is what makes him who he is.

The mysteries are far from my biggest worry about Watchmen’s future. It is not a flaw. However, there is one flaw that I think is ultimately going to damn this show with a larger audience. Through 4 episodes, I still feel like Watchmen has done absolutely nothing to make the show more accessible to someone who has never read the graphic novel.

So much of what I predict and observe in these reviews come about because I have at least some understanding of what’s happening due to the novel. I have some idea of what’s possible, of where technology could go in the 30 years since the squid attack that ended the novel, of who these characters are and how the world could end up this way. When weird nods to Moore’s story occur, I see them as such rather than as another mystery piled atop the others.

Really, how many people may watch this with no idea what the squids are and expect something to come of it, rather than seeing it for the follow-up gag it is likely supposed to be?

Ultimately, Watchmen is functioning as nothing more than a loving re-imagining for fans of the graphic novel and making little effort to work for anyone who isn’t. Now I’m sure there are people who love the weirdness and don’t care that they have no idea what some of this stuff means. When talking about the larger potential audience, though, it’s a bit unfortunate to see this show make no effort to reach them.

Not everything has to appeal to the largest possible audience, of course. Still, I would love to see a second season and with Watchmen losing viewers every week, a second season does not look very likely right now. It’s doing worse than The Leftovers, which was already criminally under-watched and underappreciated. I’m all for telling the story you want to tell without worrying too much about reaching the largest possible audience. I still wish more had been done to make Watchmen actually appeal to a larger audience. Making a show inaccessible to people outside a specific niche is a flaw in its own right, just like trying too hard to reach a larger audience can be a flaw.

Lindelof still has millions and millions of TV watchers holding Lost’s ending against him and when no one watches anything he makes since, it sucks that no one sees just how talented and skilled a storyteller he really is.

Second season or no, large audience or not, I’m enjoying the hell out of Watchmen so far. It’s weird, it’s brilliant, and I can’t wait to see more. Too bad there aren’t more people with me.

Images Courtesy of HBO

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