lingering questions

12 Big Questions From Watchmen’s Third Episode

Photo: HBO

She Was Killed By Space Junk,” the third episode in HBO’s Damon Lindelof–created extension of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s classic graphic novel, makes the world of the show much bigger. It was already big, even though the focus has largely remained trained on Tulsa (and wherever Adrian Veidt’s castle is located) and geographically, this episode only offers a peek at Washington, D.C. But it adds some new characters and, with their addition, expands the scope of the show, bringing in one of the comics’ central figures and filling in some blanks concerning the history of the world post–squid drop. So it would be fair to expect that it also answered more questions than it raised, too, right? Wrong! Here are a few items worth pondering at episode’s end.

Who are these new people?

Making a big entrance this week: Laurie Blake (FKA Laurie Juspeczyk and Laurie Jupiter), played by Jean Smart. Known as the second Silk Spectre for most of her crimefighting days, Laurie is now an FBI agent in the Bureau’s “Anti-Vigilante Task Force,” a job that means she’s seemingly now working against her own kind. The turning point, based on information provided in a memo found in one of the “Peteypedia” entries HBO has been releasing as supplementary material, seems to have been Laurie’s 1995 arrest as a violation of the Keene Act, the law banning masked adventurers from fighting crime. With her at the time: Dan Dreiberg, a.k.a. Nite Owl. Dreiberg remains in “federal custody,” per the memo, because he refused to work with the FBI. Laurie, on the other hand, now works for the FBI. (She also keeps one of Dreiberg’s beloved owls in a cage in her apartment. Hmm …)

After busting a vigilante trying to interrupt a bank robbery she’s staged, Laurie heads to Tulsa to investigate Chief Crawford’s death at the request of Joe Keene Jr., son of the senator behind the Keene Act in 1977. (We met him last week at Crawford’s memorial.) Accompanying her is none other than Agent Dale Petey (Dustin Ingram) himself, compiler of the Peteypedia and an expert on masked-hero history in general. Not that he’d call himself a fan.

What’s the art hanging in Laurie’s apartment?

It appears to be an Andy Warhol rendering of heroes from the second wave of costumed heroes: Laurie as Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, and Doctor Manhattan (who doesn’t technically wear a costume, but then he doesn’t technically wear anything most of the time). Other notable items: the owl cage and a home-stereo system that responds to voice commands but plays CDs, which seems like a state-of-the-art set-up in this still-pre-digital version of 2019.

Also notable: Laurie requests Devo, a band that created an elaborate, Island of Lost Soulsinspired mythology about the devolution of humankind as a central part of its act. A prime example: the tasteless/catchy song “Mongoloid” that plays as Laurie opens the case that emits a blue glow. If Doctor Manhattan is an example of humanity reaching a new stage of development, Devo songs often speak of his opposite number. The episode’s title, “She Was Killed By Space Junk,” comes from “Space Junk,” the song that immediately precedes “Mongoloid” on Devo’s classic 1978 debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! Its significance doesn’t become apparent until the final scene.

Who is Lady Trieu?

As Laurie and Petey fly into Tulsa, they pass the Millennium Clock, which inspires Petey to make an Ozymandias reference. We subsequently learn that Trieu Industries purchased the assets of the now-disappeared Adrian Veidt, a transaction fleshed out in a Peteypedia entry concerning the official declaration of Veidt’s death. Beyond that, we don’t know much about her, but it’s probably notable that the name Trieu appears in the blue booth Laurie uses to talk to (or “talk to”) Doctor Manhattan. We also know that Hong Chau will be playing the character in future episodes.

What do we know about that big clock?

A couple of other things about the Millennium Clock: the Veidt Peteypedia item makes reference to “the fiasco of ‘Millennium by Veidt,’ a broad set of marketing and philanthropic endeavors in which Mr. Veidt positioned himself as a guru in the human potential movement, trying to evolve society toward a technology-based utopia led by transcendent supermen.” Based on its name, the clock seems to have been a part of this “fiasco.” But it’s also another detail that establishes Tulsa as an especially significant location in the world of the show, not just a stand-in for any American city after the squid tragedy of 1985. That Tulsa seems to be the only city yet to implement a masked police force also sets it apart, and appears to have created tension between the city and the rest of the U.S., much to Laurie’s chagrin. “You know how you can tell the difference between a masked cop and a vigilante? Me neither,” she’ll later quip. She’s full of jokes this episode. Then again, it’s worth remembering that she took her father’s last name and later worked under the name “the Comedienne.”

Speaking of jokes, what is that booth Laurie goes to in the center of town?

This seems to be one several centers set up that allows ordinary people to talk to Doctor Manhattan on Mars. Or, at the least, to send him messages. Why? That’s a big TBD as all we know of the booths is that they’re powered by Trieu Industries and that Laurie has used them to send jokes to Doctor Manhattan before, even though, by her own admission, he doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. Whether he hears the messages is another mystery. The final scene can be read two ways: Doctor Manhattan drops Angela’s car near Laurie as a reference to her joke’s punchline and the red glow is from his home on Mars, a kind of cosmic wink down to his ex-girlfriend. Or the red glow comes from the afterglow of whatever vehicle picked up the car in the first place. Right now, there’s no way to answer the question.

Is the joke significant?

It sure seems to be. The three heroes God condemns to hell are pretty obvious stand-ins for Nite Owl, Ozymandias, and Doctor Manhattan. That would seem to make Laurie the girl who throws the brick (which would also complete the set captured in the Warhol art on Laurie’s wall). To extend the analogy, she’s not the daughter of a brick mason but she is following in her father’s profession, fighting crime and telling jokes. But the last part of the joke, when Laurie says, “Good joke,” echoes Rorschach’s journal entry recounting a joke about Pagliacci. If there’s a role analogous to the girl who kills God in the original book, it belongs to Rorschach who (sort of) exposes Ozymandias’s scheme. Is this foreshadowing? Hmm …

Why does Laurie eat sunflower seeds?

This could be a nod to another TV FBI Agent, The X-Files’ Fox Mulder. Maybe we should be on the lookout for other references?

Is the masked vigilante Pirate Jenny’s name a reference of some kind?

It’s a dual reference, nodding both to the general interest in pirate stories in the Watchmen world and to the song of the same name from Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. Moore has said the song inspired the pirate comic seen in Watchmen, and it’s been covered by everyone from Nina Simone to Bea Arthur. While we’re talking songs, Angela sings “The Last Roundup” at Crawford’s funeral. A Tin Pan Alley classic written by Billy Hill in 1933, it became a favorite for singing cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Later, we hear Veidt enjoying the reggae classic “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & the Aces. It’s Dekker’s biggest hit outside Jamaica, but anyone who enjoys it will not be disappointed by delving deeper into the Dekker catalog.

Tartarus Acres seems like a pretty grim name for a cemetery given that it’s where evildoers are punished in Greek mythology, doesn’t it?

Yeah, it does. Also, it was founded in 1986, the year after the squid attack on Manhattan (and the year DC Comics published the first issue of Watchmen). It seems much older, though, given its size and the old-fashioned crypt from which the Seventh Kavalry suicide bomber emerges.

What’s Veidt up to this week?

Now that is an excellent question. First of all, this is the first episode that firmly establishes the man played by Jeremy Irons as Veidt, and one thing he’s up to is putting on his old costume. It still fits, too. Being the world’s smartest man apparently involves perfecting a workout routine that keeps you in shape into your eighties. (That’s Veidt’s age in the series, per the supplementary material. Irons is still a youthful 71.)

As for the rest of his activities, they seem to involve perfecting some kind of suit that will allow his servants to travel safely to “the great beyond.” Except it doesn’t work and poor Phillips comes back from wherever he goes as a frozen corpse. You can also spot a drawing of a squid and a miniature catapult in Veidt’s study.

Veidt runs afoul of a man he called the game warden, who writes a letter referencing the terms of Veidt’s captivity. So is he there amidst all the identical, disposable servants and tomato trees against his will? Or is this all an elaborate game of some kind? And what does it have to do with his disappearance? We can’t answer those questions yet. In fact, what Veidt has to do with the rest of the series’ plot remains one of its biggest mysteries.

What became of Crawford’s Klan robe?

Laurie references finding only a naked bust in the secret compartment behind the closet so what happened to the robe? Two possibilities suggest themselves: Either Crawford’s wife Jane hid them after Angela discovered them (assuming Jane knew about them in the first place), or Angela took them and is covering for Crawford. Why she would do that remains an open question.

Is that blue thing in Laurie’s carrying case what it looks like?

What else could it be? She’s been trying to spend some time with it since getting interrupted by Senator Keene in Washington, D.C. Is it significant that she opts for Agent Petey’s bed instead? And did she ask him to wear the mask or did he suggest it? Going back a little further, was this night inevitable from the moment Petey put on the mask? Moore and Gibbons’s Watchmen depicts wearing a costume as an essential component to Nite Owl’s sexuality. Perhaps being with a costumed partner has become just as central to Laurie’s sexuality in the years after Doctor Manhattan. That Esquire cover, incidentally, does not seem to be based directly on any particular ’70s-era issue of Esquire, but it’s of a piece with some of the racy covers the magazine ran at the time.

12 Big Questions From Watchmen’s Third Episode