This review contains spoilers for Watchmen, episode 3, “She Was Killed by Space Junk.”
After two episodes of intrigue and setup, Watchmen is continuing to take its time to establish its world and create a compelling mystery. Despite the Tulsa police force still reeling from the death of Chief Judd and continuing their crusade against the 7th Cavalry, the results of their efforts are not shown. Instead, the scope pulls back even further to show what the surviving members of the original Watchmen are up to.
“She Was Killed by Space Junk” spends nearly its entire runtime reintroducing us to Silk Spectre/Laurie Jupiter, now going by Laurie Blake (played by Jean Smart of Legion), who works for the U.S. government like her father. Her change in last name reflects how age has made the character more cynical and apathetic towards the state of the world. Her introduction, where she leads a sting operation against a local vigilante, almost frames her as being a Comedian 2.0. She frequently calls all current masked vigilantes — and by extension the officers in Tulsa that wear masks — jokes. There are even elements of Rorschach thrown into her new ideology. Laurie comes across as exhausted at how hardly anything has changed despite her efforts in the ’80s, going so far as to quote Rorschach.
What’s notable is that her assignment in Tulsa isn’t to bring in the 7th Cavalry, but instead to discover the true culprit behind Judd’s murder. Along with this comes world-building: Senator Keene instituted the Defense of Police Act to mask officers, the program has only been implemented so far in Tulsa, and the Russians are attempting their own experiments with intrinsic fields. Unlike the information we learned last week, none of these details feel particularly relevant, with characters brushing these points aside as quickly as they appear.
One might think Laurie’s arrival to apprehend Judd’s murderer and uncover the truth in Tulsa would pick up the plot pace. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Laurie checking in on characters like Looking Glass and Angela yields little beyond showcasing Laurie’s new sternness and belittling approach to masked individuals. No progress is made towards solving the case, leaving us with an episode whose sole purpose is just to reintroduce her. It comes across more as Watchmen spinning its wheels, which is not a good sign for a show that only has a handful of episodes left.
We get another strange interlude from Jeremy Irons, who is now confirmed to be Adrian Veidt, performing experiments with his cavalcade of cloned servants. The more that these sequences appear, the more that they feel fundamental, yet inconsequential. Adrian is under captivity by a mysterious figure known as “The Game Warden,” though the imprisonment is consensual, with the two figures at odds over Adrian’s experiments. Adrian is currently so far removed from the plot that it may be a while until his connection to the main plot becomes clear. But now that the events in Tulsa have been reframed as an insular event rather than a national crisis, Lindeloff and crew will have to do a lot of stretching to justify his inclusion.
It didn’t hit me until Judd’s funeral, where a suicide bomber attempted to murder most of the Tulsa police force and called Senator Keene “a race traitor,” but the show seems to have lost a lot of its initial theming. The premiere had such a biting commentary on the state of race relations and the role of the police in society that it felt like that would be the show’s driving force. Now that drive has been put on the back burner in favor of fan service. More so than any Watchmen episode so far, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” seems like an epilogue to the original comic, confirming the state of all of its main cast of characters. We see Rorschach’s published journal, Doctor Manhattan on Mars receiving infrequent communications from people, and the implication that Nite Owl is in prison, or at the very least detained by the government.
That’s all well and good, but it comes at a cost of the original characters introduced for this show. Angela only appears in two scenes, and while Regina King still commands the screen, she feels like an afterthought in her own show. “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is trying to cater to two very different crowds with the results feeling muddy at best. It simultaneously wants to continue the story from the original comic yet also tell its own story, but the two are not meshing together. I know last week I was asking for more connection to the original series, but that request is coming off as a monkey’s paw wish here. The throwbacks and references were just plain distracting.
Thankfully, if there’s one constant where Watchmen excels, it’s the soundtrack. Composed by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails with his frequent collaborator Atticus Ross, the soundtrack has a strong twinge of techno with some great rock instrumentals. The low, dulcet tones during the funeral scene and Laurie’s telephone conversation with Doctor Manhattan helped me focus on the seriousness and somberness of the occasion. A good soundtrack is one that is able to enhance a situation without drawing too much attention to itself, which Watchmen is easily doing.
But that strength is vastly overshadowed by just how little happened in this episode, with no sign of where the show may go from here. Next episode will hopefully continue from the events of the second episode, with the preview showing Angela confronting Looking Glass with Judd’s KKK uniform. Watchmen is a slow burn, but unlike shows like Westworld where active viewers can telegraph major revelations from the breadcrumbs the show drops, Watchmen isn’t offering up a compelling-enough mystery to get invested in. There are too many balls the show is trying to juggle, which is seriously impacting the central narrative. Next episode needs a clearer direction because as it stands, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is the weakest episode of the show so far.