I’ve finally figured out the secret to Watchmen’s success: the stranger it gets, the better it becomes. This week, we meet the eccentric Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), witness Jeremy Irons fishing for foetuses, and see baby bribery take place. Just an ordinary Sunday night for Damon Lindelof and his cast that continues to fire on all cylinders.
This cacophony of craziness begins with the opening scene. Lady Trieu (a trillionaire, not a billionaire, and don’t you forget it) turns up at the house of a loving couple with an offer: their land for a baby born created from their DNA. With their struggles to conceive, the pair are torn between taking the offer, plus $5 million, or refusing. Like a sick Twilight Zone episode, it digs down to the core of the human condition. Can money make the pain go away? No, but a child can – even if they have to do a deal with the devil on the doorstep. After some clever manipulation, they sign on the dotted line.
It’s an eye-opening five-minute sequence. Trieu’s astute body language is at odds with the absurdity of the situation – and it instantly propels her into the limelight as a major force to be reckoned with. This is Watchmen at its breathless best, both because of its inherent mystery and its ever-confident ability to make you care about someone you’ve never met before. That even includes the show’s deliberately cliched montage that recaps the couple’s first meeting, set to karaoke classic “Islands in the Stream.” Another mesmerising opener.
“If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” also marks the point at which characters are finally allowed to move around the board and interact with each other in a way that’s not just establishing their motivations/where the Crimebusters currently are. It’s a welcome change, and Trieu’s at the centre.
Angela and Laurie are brilliant in each other’s company as they investigate Sister Night’s returned car. This leads them directly to Lady Trieu’s Vivarium, a building complex that towers over Tulsa. Here, we are presented with a fraught standoff and the layers begin to peel away. Angela and Trieu, both fluent in Vietnamese, covertly exchange coded barbs while an Ozymandias statue watches over them – a nudging reminder of the past.
(Image credit: HBO)
It’s a nod that works without feeling forced. In the wrong hands, Watchmen could have fallen into the follies of other recent sequels, simply regurgitating what came before and with overdone fan service. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comics are instead treated with reverence and used to inform the current character’s motivations.
Case in point: the scene in Laurie’s car, where Petey – the longing fanboy – has to explain to Angela exactly what Laurie’s “trauma” is. Laurie’s father, The Comedian, raped her mother. Except Laurie doesn’t need to say it. She doesn’t have to. It’s written all over her face, as it was in Morre’s comics (and Jean Smart does an incredible job at portraying the character).
Watchmen is content with forgoing hand-holding in favour of the immediacy of a new story. There’s little time spent relaying what happened between then and now. Rather we’re left more occupied pondering what’s going to come next. It’s smart, refined storytelling that is picking up the pace as these characters more towards uncovering what’s been lurking just out of sight. Doctor Manhattan? Will Reeves being something he’s not? It’s still not clear – but at least we’re getting there, despite the continued lack of closure on, by my count, at least a dozen mysteries.
Which brings us to Adrian Veidt, a man perpetually trapped. Jeremy Irons’ character is pictured turning lake-dwelling foetuses into fully-grown Phillips and Crookshanks thanks to some sort of spinning baby-oven. In terms of story, it doesn’t add much and, as the series nears its next act, you might be left wondering just how long the B-plot’s mundanity can last before lurching into pointlessness. Thankfully, Irons is electric as always. Though, as copies of Phillips are catapulted into the sky, you can’t help but hope Veidt joins the main event sooner rather than later.
As Will Reeves stands – and, puzzlingly, walks – across from Lady Trieu in the episode’s final scene, he promises a climactic countdown. Still, there are no answers. Yet. Do we need them? Eventually. But in much the same way Alan Moore invited readers to comb over ancillary materials and rich histories hidden in backgrounds of panels, “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” proves that it’s the moments in-between – the car journeys, the babies being thrown overboard, the frenzied signature scribbles – that matter most. Even if Watchmen doesn’t stick the landing in a few weeks, we’ll always have the flight there – one that’s fast becoming just as opaque and maddeningly entertaining as a certain Oceanic Flight 815 all those years ago.