When I was 13 years old, my mother sat my brother and I down to tell us a secret I had long suspected in some subterranean part of myself: She was adopted. This story starts the way many do, with love: My grandmother, Emily, was a black woman living in the small, rural town of Loreauville, Louisiana, who fell in love with the white parish priest in the years before Loving v. Virginia made interracial marriage legal in the United States. When she gave birth to my mother, she gave her to her sister, to be raised with no knowledge of her true parentage — even after my mother’s parents died in a car accident in Durango, Mexico, and even as other relatives excised my mother from the land and knowledge that would have been her inheritance. Learning this at the age of 30 remade my mother. Her tastes changed from the horror films we’d watch together under the cloak of night to syrupy romantic comedies that held none of the turmoil she was dealing with in her own life. She ran from conflicts. She enacted emotional violence upon my brother and I, as if trying to pass down the wounds that couldn’t heal within herself.
As an adult I have come to recognize the things I’ve inherited from my mother. A braying laugh. A dramatic forehead. A sense of loss that sits in my chest like a boulder that I have tried to fill with words and alcohol and 3 a.m. mistakes. But no matter what I do, the loss of Emily and the effects of that secret remains a void in my person. We inherit many things from the parents that came before us, but it is the unseen, less quantifiable notions of inheritance that often come to haunt us. The fourth episode of Watchmen, “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” — directed by Andrij Parekh and written by Damon Lindelof and Christa Henry — from the very beginning charts the weight and ripple effects of the familial legacies we inherit.
This is evident in the introduction of Lady Trieu (a mysterious and precise performance by Hong Chau), the trillionaire (not billionaire, as she’ll be quick to correct you) who bought Adrian Veidt’s company. The episode opens on a childless couple living on a sprawling Oklahoma farm as the gentle structure of their day is disrupted by the singular presence of Lady Trieu, who comes with an offer: their 40 acres of land for a baby she created from the couple’s biological material, which she garnered from a fertilization clinic her company owns. (The ethical quagmire of this offer is enough to make your head spin.) “Legacy isn’t in land, it’s in blood,” Lady Trieu advises. “You two have no children, when you die your legacy dies with you.” Maybe because I have little interest in having kids I find this outlook a touch horrifying; there are more ways to write your name upon the world than having children. We create legacies with a single touch, in how we consume, in whom we help or hurt.
This week, Angela — who regains the reins as protagonist after last week’s focus on the acutely haunted, prickly, and wholly fascinating Laurie Blake — is left to cover her tracks, cleaning up the mess Will left behind in her bakery, including breaking down his wheelchair. When she dumps the remnants of the wheelchair she realizes she’s being watched by a possible vigilante in head-to-toe silver spandex, who I suspect — partially due to their physicality — may be Agent Petey. The would-be vigilante escapes chase, but either way I imagine this moment will come back to bite Angela. Much of this episode feels as if it is setting the stage for larger mysteries and a possible confrontation between Laurie and Angela, despite Cal’s suggestion that Laurie’s trying to help.
The tension between Laurie and Angela is sharp enough to draw blood. Laurie clearly relishes prodding mask-wearing cops for what she sees as the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of their actions. She takes over Judd’s office without a second thought. When they’re driving to Trieu Industries in order to investigate the sudden reappearance of Angela’s car from the sky, she jokes about whether Angela was raised or harmed by nuns after her parents’ death, looking for an explanation for her costume. “People who wear masks are driven by trauma,” Laurie notes. “They’re obsessed with justice because of some injustice they suffered, usually when they were kids. Ergo the mask to hide the pain.” Laurie knows this because of her own history, which she shares a sliver of to Angela through Petey, who reveals to her how Laurie’s father, the Comedian, assaulted her mother, Silk Spectre.
That is not the only trauma Laurie has experienced, it’s merely the one she’s willing to share. Going into this episode, I wondered how Angela and Laurie’s storylines would be thematically bridged. How does Angela’s story, which brings up notions of black history in America, link to Laurie’s storyline about vigilantes long past? Here, it becomes evident that they are linked by the ways they are wrestling with their familial inheritances.
What has Angela inherited from Will? Laurie mentions that Will was a cop in 1940s and 1950s New York City when she pulls his fingerprints from the car. Of course, she doesn’t know what links Angela to Will quite yet, but it is evident she suspects Angela for knowing a lot more than she lets on. It only hit me what Angela has inherited from Will when she breaks into the Greenwood Cultural Center in the beginning of the episode. She goes in to look at a new branch in her family lineage, which the museum shows as a digital tree with grand branches whose truths she can unfurl with the click of her finger. She’s able to see an archival photograph of her great-grandparents, Obie and Ruth, with a young Will. She lowers herself to his level, his ghostly visage overlaid on hers, “You said you wanted me to know where I came from. Now I know. So wherever you are, leave me the fuck alone.” She’s inherited his vigor, his gumption, his history. But what exactly is Will’s history, and why must he lead Angela down a rabbit hole rather than merely telling her the truth?
At Trieu Industries, the questions continue to mount. Laurie and Angela join Lady Trieu in her vivarium full of the rich foliage of Vietnam. “On her deathbed my mother made me promise I would never leave Vietnam, so I found a loophole. Now Vietnam never leaves me,” Lady Trieu notes. There’s a hilarious and biting exchange between Lady Trieu and Angela in which they speak in Vietnamese in order to circumvent Laurie’s prying ears:
Lady Trieu: “There’s an expression about grief I remember from when I was little.” [Switching to Vietnamese.] “Your grandfather wants to know if you got the pills.”
Angela: “I remember one from when I was little too.” [In Vietnamese.] “Tell that old fucker he can ask me himself.”
Lady Trieu, deadpan: “I haven’t heard that one. It’s quite beautiful.”
But what makes me come back to the scene is the acting: the self-assured walk of Regina King, the discerning gaze Jean Smart lends Laurie, the precision of word and movement, with not one iota of energy misspent, by Hong Chau. Watchmen is powered by many things — the ethos of the comic it is indebted to, the mystery of who really killed Judd Crawford, and its sprawling world-building — but I am in love with the show for the tremendously complex female characters and the fierce portrayals by the actors behind them.
More than anything, I am left with questions at the end of “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own.” Not necessarily about the mysteries that hang in the air of Watchmen, but the ripple effects of those caught in this web. How has Will betrayed Angela? What will it do to the shape of her family and life? And ultimately, what is the weight of this legacy Angela has stepped into?
Under the Hood:
• I love the scene between Looking Glass and Angela in his underground bunker. Whenever these two play off each other, the show crackles with energy. I love Looking Glass’s wry humor when Angela comes to him for help in order to get Will’s pills tested and to hide Judd’s Klan robe.
• Petey is quite the source of humor in this episode. I couldn’t help but chuckle at his disgust toward American Hero Story: Minutemen and its “historical inaccuracies.”
• I still have absolutely no idea where Adrian Veidt’s storyline is going beyond his goal of escape. But I’ve got to note how creepy it is watching him fish for clone babies in a lake.
• I’m not quite sure how I feel about the reveal that Will can actually walk, which comes about in the final scene between him and Lady Trieu as they talk about a shadowy deal they’ve made that directly impacts Angela.