lingering questions

10 Big Questions From This Week’s Watchmen

The motto of Angela’s bakery may be “let Saigons be Saigons,” but there seems to be some unsettled business that stretches from Southeast Asia to Tulsa. Photo: HBO

How about that opening, right? You could shave off the first scene of “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” from the rest of the series and it would still work as a tight, self-contained morality play, like a super-condensed Twilight Zone episode. But does it also stand in as a condensation of the series’ themes? The Clarks have a pleasant, loving life together on a Tulsa-adjacent farm that’s been in the family for generations. But they’re childless, and not by choice, and thus susceptible to Lady Trieu’s unusual offer, one that asks them to reconsider everything they value (and everything they own) in the interest of a different sort of legacy. The characters of the HBO show are living in the aftermath of an extraordinary moral compromise that saved the Earth from nuclear annihilation, but at a tremendous cost. Lady Trieu doesn’t ask the Clarks to kill, but she does demand a sacrifice in the interest of … we don’t know what yet.

Is this Watchmen headed in a similar direction as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s book? Will certainly alludes to something dramatic just three days away. And will we ever see the Clarks again and learn if their choice made them happy? Those questions have no answers yet. But here are a few that do (even though some raise even more questions).

Hey, it’s Lady Trieu. She’s new. What’s her deal?

We’re meeting Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) for the first time this episode, but she’s been alluded to before. Laurie and Petey discuss her Millennium Clock as they fly into Tulsa. (It’s not, as it turns out, an Adrian Veidt project, but it could be one he initiated. Lady Trieu clearly has a fondness for the former Ozymandias.) We also briefly met her daughter, Bian (Jolie Hong-Rappaport), buying magazines and newspapers at the Greenwood newsstand in the second episode.

Everything else, however, has been a mystery. We know she’s a trillionaire (not a mere billionaire), that she bought up Veidt’s holdings after his disappearance, that she’s developed a high-powered drone capable of picking up (and dropping) a car, that she’s invested in successful biomedical and pharmaceutical projects, and that she turned what had been the Clark farm into the new Greenwood, home to Angela’s bakery (“opening soon”), the newsstand, the Doctor Manhattan booth, and the cultural center. (Update: Or maybe not. Though some elements of the scene suggest it was taking place in the past, sources close to the show have confirmed that this opening takes place during the series’ primary timeline.) We know she was born in Vietnam and promised her dying mother never to leave. And of course there’s her daughter, Bian (a Vietnamese name that means “secretive”), who’s helpful, professional, and prone to bad dreams. (Does she have a father? That we don’t know.) Also, we learn later, Lady Trieu’s working with Will on something that will alienate him from Angela (if that’s the right word, given then freshness of their relationship). And, oh yeah, she owns whatever fell from the sky the night she bought the Clark’s property after three minutes of bargaining. What that is, however, remains to be seen.

Then there’s her name, as much a code name as Sister Night or Looking Glass. Lady Triệu is the name of a (possibly) real historical figure, albeit one shrouded in legend, a third-century Vietnamese warrior who helped resist the Chinese. Was she really nine-feet tall with breasts three-feet long that she threw over her shoulders before riding into battle on an elephant? Probably not. But she’s become a symbol of Vietnamese resistance anyway.

And that seems significant, given Bian’s nightmares about a village being burned by men. She’s too young to remember the Vietnam War. In fact, so is her mother (assuming Lady Trieu is close to Hong Chau in age). Though Lady Trieu might not be too young to have witnessed other scarring events; Vietnamese history is obviously very different in this timeline. Something happened to Angela’s parents that orphaned her there, and we don’t yet know what. (We do get a glimpse of her father in his uniform when Angela pays her after-hours visit to the Greenwood Cultural Center.) It also seems to be the site of Cal’s previously unmentioned accident, about which we know nothing else. The motto of Angela’s bakery may be “let Saigons be Saigons,” but there seems to be some unsettled business that stretches from Southeast Asia to Tulsa.

Is there anything else significant in the opening scene?

The song playing as the scene opens is “Islands in the Stream,” a 1983 hit for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, better known as the Bee Gees, which seems to have been chosen both for its sweetness and its earworminess. (Just try getting it out of your head.) Music fans of a different generation will also recognize it as a component of “Ghetto Supastar,” a 1998 hit for the Fugees’ Pras featured on the soundtrack of Warren Beatty’s Bulworth. As it plays, the Clarks work a puzzle of van Gogh’s “Starry Night” that anticipates the unidentified object that will soon fall from the sky.

Their farm’s products, significantly, include eggs, which have been all over Watchmen. Beyond echoing the Clarks’ infertility, Angela made them part of her cooking demonstration in the first episode (and she uses them in the kitchen in this one), Will cracked a few in her bakery that she has to clean up, we heard Beastie Boys’ “Eggman” play over the second episode’s credits, and this week’s title card mimics a cracking egg. And are those eggs on Bian’s tunic? They kind of look like eggs. So … what’s up with all those eggs? Is it possible they’re foreshadowing something? It’s probably a good idea to keep an eye out for future eggs.

And, maybe most obviously, the Clarks’ name calls to mind another story of a childless couple from Smallville, Kansas, who found something that fell from the sky. Here, however, the galactic pass gets intercepted by someone with plans for it, whatever it is.

What does the episode title, “If You Don’t Like My Story Write Your Own,” mean?

That quote comes from Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s classic novel Things Fall Apart, which Angela will later spoil for Cal when she tries to pick a fight with him, upset that she talked to Laurie without telling her.

Who’s the skinny guy who sees Angela throwing evidence of Will’s visit off of a bridge then covers himself in oil and slides into the sewer?

Nobody seems to know. Simply by being a costumed adventurer with no affiliation with the police, he would seem to be in violation of the Keene Act, but it’s not clear if he happened upon Angela in an incriminating moment or if he was following her. As for a name, Red Scare’s “Lube Man” suggestion seems pretty apt. (A detail worth noting: Red Scare keeps a Soviet flag on his desk.)

What are those pills left in Angela’s car?

That’s not yet clear, but we can start to piece together some idea from Lady Trieu’s conversation with Will, the one in which she calls them “passive aggressive exposition” then gets defensive when Will notes she’s using them on her daughter. Could that be the source of Bian’s nightmares? Maybe Looking Glass’ ex with the lab can provide the answers.

While we’re talking about that scene, how did Will betray Angela?

That, too, remains unclear. By killing Crawford (if he did somehow kill Crawford, as he claims) he set the wheels of the series’ story in motion, prompting Angela to investigate Crawford’s past, bringing Laurie to town, and pushing the Seventh Kavalry to take more drastic measures. Whatever Will has done (or will do), he’s done with Lady Trieu’s assistance. And together they echo the “tick-tock” sound favored by the Seventh Kavalry, seeming to suggest that their plan parallels the Kavalry’s, a disturbing possibility. But then just about every possibility raised in this episode feels disturbing.

Why did Angela take Crawford’s Klan robes to hide them from Laurie?

Last week, we had no confirmation of what happened to Crawford’s Klan robes. Now we know that Angela took them, not wanting Laurie to know the truth about the Sheriff’s past, just like she’s kept Will’s involvement secret. Her motive, besides not trusting anyone and wanting to control the investigation herself, remains unclear, but maybe that’s motive enough. Neither Angela nor Looking Glass can speak definitively to the robes’ origins. They’re “old school,” Looking Glass notes, but he can’t determine whether that means Crawford wore them (possibly as some part of involvement with the Kavalry) or kept them as a family memento. Also worth noting: Angela’s exchange with Looking Glass when she asks, “Did you know he was a racist?” and he replies, “He was a white man in Oklahoma.” Is Looking Glass, himself a white man in Oklahoma, being glib or brutally honest? Is there a difference?

What’s a “thermodynamic miracle”?

Laurie sniffily dismisses it as “the science-y version of ‘It’s all connected, man,’” but she took the concept more seriously in earlier years, when Doctor Manhattan laid out all the circumstances that had to combine to lead to her existence — and to anyone’s. True, there was some brutality in those circumstances, given that her father, the Comedian, sexually assaulted her mother, the original Silk Spectre. But where she once seemed open to the wonder of the universe, as explained by Doctor Manhattan, she now appears to be above such sentiments, or at least able to act the part.

Laurie doesn’t try to keep that a secret from Angela on their car ride, letting Petey lay out the details of her origin while attempting to psychoanalyze their guest’s motives for dressing up as a masked nun to fight crime. She doesn’t get much out of Angela, but we do learn the prevailing theory of costumed crimefighting psychoanalysis. “People who wear masks are driven by trauma,” Laurie says. “They’re obsessed with justice because of some injustice they suffered, usually when they were kids. Ergo the mask. It hides the pain.”

That doesn’t quite describe Laurie, however. Learning about her true parentage as an adult shook her, but she put on a costume long before that, pushed into the vigilante game by her mother, the first Silk Spectre, who wanted her to carry on the family tradition. Whatever trauma is driving Laurie came later. Then again, she never wore a mask. (And, as if a reminder of those days, Billie Holiday’s rendition of “You’re My Thrill,” which she and Nite Owl played during a rescue mission in the graphic novel, plays as they drive up to Lady Trieu’s headquarters.)

Why is Lady Trieu’s Ozymandias statue of a much older Adrian Veidt?

Lady Trieu explains it as a traditional Vietnamese veneration of elders, but it’s also how Veidt looks when he dresses up as Ozymandias now. Does she know that? Veidt doesn’t don the outfit this episode, however. He’s too busy pulling babies from the water using lobster traps.

Right! What’s going on there?

As with all things Veidt, any attempt to form a theory seems pretty foolhardy at this point. But we learn a lot this week, most of it pretty disturbing, even if nothing’s quite as disturbing as the image of him fishing newborns out of a pond. From there they go into some kind of steampunk science chamber and emerge as the cloned servants he goes through like Kleenex. (If “clone” is even the right term.) Even when not fully formed, they can understand his directions and live to serve their master.

And here’s where it gets at once clearer and murkier. “You are flaws in this fortress design,” Veidt tells them. “For while I may be your master I am most definitely not your maker.” Who is the maker then? Later, we’ll learn Veidt regards his palatial estate as a prison in which he’s lived for four years, which coincides with his disappearance from Earth. So who put him there? And why? And where is he, anyway? The corpse he catapults into the sky just kind of disappears into the atmosphere. Does it go the same place the frozen Phillips corpse went last week before returning as a human (or human-ish) popsicle? We don’t know that, either. But we do know it’s not time for the horseshoe. Not yet. When it is time, who knows what we’ll see?

10 Big Questions From This Week’s Watchmen