There are those of us who can’t make peace with our pasts. Instead, old ghosts linger in the corridors of our homes and hearts. They whisper every tremor of fear and doubt in our ear as we uncomfortably sit in the cardiologist’s office waiting to find out if what suddenly killed a beloved cousin has a chance to kill us. They anchor us to totemic items aglow with nostalgia — records that gather dust under our beds, an old dress he bought, the last letter she sent that you reread at 3 a.m. when the rest of the world has drifted into slumber. You live with these old ghosts so much you close yourself off from the present world with grim jokes and keen emotional violence. But just under the surface is white-hot vulnerability begging to be witnessed. “We tell ourselves stories about why we’re lonely or what we’re haunted by,” Leslie Jamison wrote in her recent essay collection, Make It Scream, Make It Burn. “And these stories about absence can define us as fully as our present realities.”
This holds especially true for Agent Laurie Blake (formerly Laurie Juspeczyk and Laurie Jupiter). Once a masked vigilante by the name of Silk Spectre following reluctantly in her mother’s footsteps, she’s now an FBI agent for the Anti-Vigilante Task Force. Laurie is a haunted woman, even if you can’t quite see it on the surface. The more we spend time with her in “She Was Killed By Space Junk,” directed by Stephen Williams and written by Damon Lindelof and Lila Byock, the more apparent it becomes how much she’s hardened herself to the world. But this is understandable when you understand the phantoms that trail her.
The thrust of episode three is heavily procedural and emotional. Laurie has been assigned, thanks to the interference of Senator Joseph Keene Jr. (James Wolk), to head the investigation into Judd Crawford’s murder. She’s resistant to the idea, but Senator Keene dangles a carrot before her: “You know a president can pardon anyone he wants. Anybody. He could even get your owl out of that cage,” alluding to the currently imprisoned second Nite Owl and Laurie’s former romantic partner, Dan Dreiberg. It’s tempting to parse the myriad ways this episode harkens to the comic and builds upon its mythos with sly references. But I want to instead focus on who Laurie has become since the comic left her — partnered with Dan, eager to continue crimefighting despite the 1977 Keene Act that outlawed vigilantism, but with an urge to pattern herself more after the brutality of her father, the Comedian, than continuing in her mother’s shadow.
It is this history that Laurie walks with every day, a history of blood and violence and tangled familial lineage that grants gravity to her words. It’s this history that makes her sagacious and bold. It leads men to make space for her when she walks into an elevator, as if this history has a physical presence of its own. Most people seem to ignore — or rather, pretend to ignore — Laurie’s storied history. But not Agent Dale Petey (Dustin Ingram), who has an obvious obsession with the history of masked vigilantes and is only joining Laurie on the trip because she chose someone she can easily control who won’t stand in her way. This leads to a spiky dynamic between them when they’re flying to Tulsa. “Want my autograph?” Laurie asks curtly after Petey brings up Adrian Veidt. “You clearly have a hard-on for the past.” “Sorry for not pretending to know who you are because we’re supposed to leave famous people alone,” he counters before blathering on about his Ph.D. as if that stacks up in any way to her experience. While I am curious if non-comic readers might feel a little lost with this episode, I think it does a fine job establishing Laurie as a stone cold badass who won’t be easily outmaneuvered by Angela as the investigation into Judd’s murder grows more complex.
Much of that is thanks to her introduction. I was immediately drawn to Jean Smart’s assured walk as she enters a bank and responds to the teller’s friendly greeting by shooting a gun in the air. Just as the scene establishes itself as a heist it becomes something entirely different, as a masked avenger by the name of Mr. Shadow, who looks conspicuously Batman-like, descends into the bank in order to stop the mayhem. Laurie grabs a hostage without a moment’s hesitation. But this isn’t a heist, it’s a trap. “How did you know we were going to be here? Did you get an anonymous tip? What if it was the FBI? Because, what you’re doing right now, vigilantism, is illegal,” she says as the other agents reveal their badges and she trains her gun on him. The vigilante runs but Laurie is unfazed, shooting him several times in the back as he crashes into the glass door. What’s great about Laurie is how she complicates and expands the world of Watchmen, particularly in how she calls attention to the ridiculousness of being a masked vigilante and highlights the ethical quandaries that come with cops wearing masks.
After surveying the scene of Judd’s hanging, where she notes the wheelchair tracks at the base of the tree, Laurie goes to see one of the major players in the investigation: Looking Glass. She finds a site where the cops are brutally arresting and interviewing suspected Seventh Kavalry members. While she clearly doesn’t approve of the scope of the police’s abuse, she doesn’t necessarily care to intervene. Instead, she enters the pod with Looking Glass and disrupts his sense of control in numerous ways. She uses his mask as a mirror to pick her teeth, she calls the pod a “racist detector,” she takes the controller from him to look at the pictures with wary regard, she relishes using real names for the detectives instead of their monikers, letting the discomfort rise in the room. The cumulative effect of watching this scene is knowing that Laurie likes to make people uncomfortable. (“May I have the control back, please?” Looking Glass says with an outstretched hand.) Laurie’s viewpoint can be boiled down to the exchange she has when she first meets Angela at the funeral. “You know how you can tell the difference between a masked cop and a vigilante?” she asks Angela, who replies no. “Me neither.”
In many ways, Laurie isn’t so much haunted by her past as wholly consumed by it. This is reinforced by much of the episode’s imagery, which harkens to her past and how it remains very much in the present for her, from an Andy Warhol–style poster with the second iteration of the Minutemen, including herself, that hangs on her wall, to the way the latticework on the door of Judd’s home resembles a mask when she goes to speak to Jane.
From its opening moments, this episode is intercut with an ongoing scene of Laurie in a bright-blue phone booth emblazoned with Doctor Manhattan’s symbol, in which people can send messages to Mars. That Doctor Manhattan listens is unlikely, given his lack of interest in humanity. But nevertheless, Laurie tells him a long joke that starts with an expert bricklayer teaching his daughter how to build a barbecue, and ends with her throwing an orphan brick up in the air as high as she can. It gets weirder from there, with Laurie telling a joke about three heroes who die — clearly Nite Owl, Ozymandias (a.k.a. Adrian Veidt), and Doctor Manhattan — and are judged by God for their deeds on Earth. Each of them goes to hell, no matter their kindness or skills or power. The last person judged is “not a hero, just a woman” who was given no talent of her own. God doesn’t know who she is, so she responds, “I’m the girl who threw the brick in the air.” In the joke, the brick falls onto God so hard his brains shoot out of his nose. “Where does God go when he dies. He goes to Hell. Roll on snare drum. Curtains. Good joke.”
The joke illuminates the ways people are both encased and haunted by their histories. Yet, what powers this episode more than anything else is Jean Smart’s performance. She’s beguiling, hardened, with hidden grooves of vulnerability that only come to the surface when she’s alone. You would need someone bringing this level of fierceness and control in order to feel like a capable match for Regina King’s Sister Night/Angela Abar, who has quickly seared herself into my imagination.
When Angela and Laurie finally interact it’s at Judd’s funeral, where Angela is tasked with reading his eulogy. “We were lucky. We knew we might not always be lucky and we should be prepared. So we made a pact. I told him what to say at my funeral and he told me what to say at his,” she says before tentatively singing “The Last Round-Up.” Angela’s eulogy is intercut with the image of a Seventh Kavalry member crawling underground and into a mausoleum. He straps a bomb vest to his chest and stalks toward the funeral. “Senator Joseph Keene Jr., you are a race traitor,” he exclaims, trying to take him hostage. He may have gotten away with it if it weren’t for Laurie smuggling in a gun strapped to her ankle, which she uses to shoot him point blank in the head. But his bluff about the bomb being rigged to blow if his heart stops proves true, and it’s only due to Angela’s heroics that everyone is safe. But with Judd’s body destroyed in the blast, Laurie can’t get a new autopsy done, which only makes her more suspicious of Angela.
Later that night in the mausoleum, Angela and Laurie have the confrontation this episode has been building toward. “Hey, did you know he had a secret compartment in his closet?” Laurie asks Angela with mock incredulity. Of course, Laurie knows Angela took whatever was inside due to Jane saying she was the only person in the room who could have. “This much I know,” Laurie says with a glare. “Men who end up hanging from trees with secret compartments in their closet tend to think of themselves as good guys, and those who protect them think they’re good guys too. But here’s the thing about me, Sister Night: I eat good guys for breakfast.”
The air seems to have left the room. The tension is thick enough to cut with a blade, before Angela looks at Laurie, never breaking eye contact, and mockingly shivers. She’s not afraid. She’s ready for a challenge.
Under the Hood
• I still honestly have no idea where Adrian Veidt’s storyline is going. But at least we know he is in captivity and his experiments are efforts for him to try to find a way out.
• “When my dad was murdered, they found a secret compartment in his closet. So I always check,” Laurie says to Angela with a mirthless laugh. This episode really hammers home how Laurie has traded one parent’s legacy for another, and that she’s grappling with her complicated feelings over her father by aligning herself with him by working for the government, not to mention the whole joke thing.
• When Angela’s car falls from the sky, I’m not sure if we’re supposed to take the winking red dot from above as a message from Doctor Manhattan or just the aircraft zooming away. But the show is obviously building toward something big in regards to Doctor Manhattan.
• However, the last thing I was expecting to be revealed inside that suitcase was a big, blue, Dr. Manhattan–inspired dildo and Esquire cover.