As emotionally-charged and dense as Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen has been, there have been more than a few moments that made it easy to lose sight of the fact that the series is still very much a comic book adaptation. But this week’s episode—“She Was Killed By Space Junk”—is a triumphant tribute to the source material that made this wildness possible.
The key to understanding “She Was Killed By Space Junk” is realizing that after the events of the Watchmen comic, Laurie Juspeczyk (now going by Laurie Blake) became a fundamentally different kind of person. After spending the bulk of her life trying to escape her mother’s gravitational pull, at some point, Laurie came to the realization that she was more than her Silk Spectre persona. Running around with the Minutemen was a definitive experience for Laurie, but unlike her teammates, her desire to fight for justice went deeper than the compulsion to put on a skin-tight costume.
After embracing her father’s legacy, reinventing herself as a superhero, and eventually leaving the mask business behind, Laurie went on to become a federal agent specializing in bringing masked vigilantes down. While the world largely still sees costumed heroes as symbols of hope and justice, Laurie sees them for what they are: deranged, often delusional people who are willing to put the lives of others at risk.
The episode establishes that even though vigilantism has been outlawed, there are still people out and about who feel the need to dress up and do the police’s jobs for them. As a former mask, Laurie’s uniquely talented at busting vigilantes for the government, and perfectly-suited to get involved in the investigation into Judd Crawford’s hanging. Unlike Angela or any of the other masked cops working in Tulsa, Laurie has a cold, almost clinical perspective on the situation with the Seventh Kavalry and a dim view of how the Tulsa PD handles its business. Dangerous as the 7K is, Laurie rightfully sees the mask police’s methods of dealing with the terrorists as draconian, and throughout the episode, you can feel just how much she would love to bring the entire operation down.
Though Laurie’s main priority in Tulsa is looking into Judd’s murder, she uses the investigation as a choice opportunity to probe into the minds of the city’s police because she knows that their day-to-day operations aren’t really sustainable. Judd’s death has the police force on edge and more than ready to retaliate against the 7K (which they started the process of last week) in a way that could inadvertently lead to more chaos in the city, but Laurie seems to be the only person aware of just how close the city is to going up in flames.
What’s fascinating to watch is how Jean Smart’s (fresh off her time on Legion) Laurie Blake wields her exacting, dry sense of humor like a lethal weapon that’s designed to keep people off-balance and prone to telling on themselves. Whenever someone attempts to get too close or when she feels the need to barge her way into someone else’s personal space, Laurie leads with a joke that allows her to take control of the situation. People like Laurie’s colleague Agent Dale Petey (The Magicians’ Dustin Ingram) don’t know what to make of her because her demeanor is so at odds with the celebrity she once was.
To Angela and the rest of the Tulsa police, Laurie is an outsider looking to threaten the control they have over the city. Within moments of meeting Angela, Looking Glass, Pirate Jenny, and the Red Scare, Laurie knows who they are. She doesn’t just know their actual identities, she can see the ways in which each of them has gone through some kind of emotional trauma that made them gravitate towards their specific flavor of policing. What Laurie doesn’t know is just what all everyone is hiding from one another, but she can sense that something’s amiss just judging by the strange way Judd’s death is being handled.
For obvious reasons, Laurie’s presence immediately puts Angela on the defensive as she’s preparing for Judd’s curiously quickly-scheduled funeral where she’s meant to deliver a eulogy. Angela’s torn because while she truly did love Judd like he was a member of her family, she cannot (and should not) look past the fact that the man was hiding a Klan hood in a secret compartment in his house. Whether Judd was part of the 7K is something Angela’s still trying to figure out, but the signs point to that being very much the case, which raises questions about what’s going on with the organization and whether her recently-revealed grandfather Will was actually involved in Judd’s murder.
Judd’s funeral is heartfelt, but when a 7K member with a bomb wired to his heart manages to sneak into the cemetery and threaten the lives of everyone mourning, “She Was Killed By Space Junk” shifts into an interesting new space that illustrates how fascinating Angela and Laurie’s dynamic is going to be this season. When Laurie singlehandedly kills the 7K bomber with a pistol she wasn’t meant to have, Angela sees that the agent is always thinking a few steps ahead and keeping tricks up her sleeves in case of emergencies. Angela immediately thinks to push the bomber’s dead body into Judd’s open grave before pushing Judd’s coffin on top of the bomber to absorb some of the impact from the explosion. Laurie sees that seemingly distraught as the cop was, she had no issue with her good friend being blown to smithereens. That’s just not something a normal person would do.
But Laurie’s not really a “normal” person, either, and in moments when she’s alone, the episode makes clear how much of metaphorical mask she’s actually wearing. Much as the agent would have everyone think she’s left her past behind her, she hasn’t, really. Far away as Doctor Manhattan is, physically, Laurie keeps him close emotionally (with the help of a sizable blue personal massager) and spends a significant amount of money using Trieu’s Blue Moon Network that supposedly allows people to make phone calls directly to Manhattan on Mars. It’s only when Laurie’s talking to him (as far as she knows) that you see her facade falter somewhat before she pulls it back together to tell a philosophical story about how she became the person she is in the present.
Laurie has no way of knowing whether Manhattan actually receives any of the messages that people across the world are presumably sending him every day, but the episodes introduces the idea that he might, actually. Moments after Laurie steps out of the blue phone booth, Angela’s car comes crashing out of the heavens in front of her. As Laurie looks on, there’s part of her that thinks that Manhattan might just be responding to her joke.
Interestingly, the part of Laurie’s joke that focuses on the world’s smartest man killing millions of people in order to save the world ends up being more or less on the money. In Laurie’s telling, God sends the brilliant man to hell for his atrocities. In reality, Adrian Veidt is in a very posh, palatial kind of hell where he’s quickly growing weary of hanging out with the polite, but seemingly dumb clones that tend to his needs. “She Was Killed By Space Junk” finally confirms that Jeremy Irons is actually Watchmen’s take on Ozymandias, but what’s really thrilling to see is how downright monstrous Veidt’s become in his old age. His willingness to kill the clones just for entertainment made it obvious that the man’s a sociopath, but seeing how easy it is for him to sacrifice them in his pursuit to plot an escape from his imprisonment makes him that much more terrifying.
How Veidt’s going to end up making his way into Watchmen’s primary story is anyone’s guess, but if and when he, Angela, and Laurie end up crossing paths, the series will have one hell of a battle of the minds on its hands. Something is going on in Tulsa that’s weirder than the squid showers or the cops dressed up like low-rent superheroes. It’s something big, something dangerous, and Watchmen’s getting tantalizingly close to cluing us all in on just what that something is.
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