TV Review – Watchmen Season 1, Episode 2

Watchmen (HBO)
Season 1, Episode 2 – “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”
Written by Nick Cuse & Damon Lindeloff
Directed by Nicole Kassell

Will Reeves, the young boy saved from the Tulsa Massacre, is now an old man in a wheelchair claiming responsibility for a murder he couldn’t have possibly committed. This puts Angela Abar in a tough spot and she locks Will up in her bakery while dealing with the fallout of the last episode’s killing. This entire episode centers around upending the world Angela knows and forcing her to question everything she’s becoming comfortable with. It goes from her work relationships to the very nature of her own heritage.

The questioning begins in the show’s cold open which sees Will’s father as a doughboy serving in World War I. As was standard for the time the man is part of a segregated regiment and this is something the Germans played into. Pamphlets are dropped from passing planes that are propaganda designed to unnerve the morale of the black soldiers. These pieces of literature remind the black soldiers they are second class citizens back home, serving a power structure that treats them as refuse. The brief glimpse we get of Will’s father’s face is that the words are having an effect on him. Just like the Tulsa Massacre from last week, this moment is true and plucked from our own history, not an alternate one.

More questioning comes in the aside of American Hero Story: Minutemen. This is a television program, viewed in-universe by the characters, that purports to recreate significant moments in the history of the masked mystery men that jumpstarted the presence of superhero types. Our first glimpse of the show is the opening segment about Hooded Justice and one of his early conflicts with criminals. There’s a bizarre sense of glee he takes in brutalizing these men that passes any boundary of decency. Even when they are incapacitated he keeps assaulting them and it’s likely he kills most of them.

In the pages of the Watchmen comic, specifically in the Hollis Mason/Under the Hood excerpts, we get a bit of Hooded Justice’s history. The chapter excerpts explain that Hooded Justice was one of the mystery men who kept his identity secret even when his colleagues revealed theirs after Sen. Joseph McCarthy began an inquiry into these vigilantes. It’s noted that Hooded Justice was a closeted gay man who was lovers with Captain Metropolis, one of his fellow Minutemen. Speculation about Hooded Justice’s identity led to a circus strongman and German immigrant named Rolf Müller whose body washed up in Boston three months after McCarthy’s investigations. 

In the world of Watchmen, lots of speculation around Hooded Justice comes from the New Frontiersman, a publication glimpsed briefly in this episode. This is the far right-wing conspiracy-laden publication that Rorschach is an ardent fan of. He even has his journal mailed to them post-mortem as part of a contingency plan against Adrian Veidt in the final pages of Watchmen. His connection to Rolf Müller comes from this paper. A possible connection then is the woman pulled from the typing pool in Germany to help compose the propaganda for the black soldiers. She’s referred to as Ms. Mueller. You have to wonder if her little boy Rolf was at school while she typed away.

And that episode title “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”? Well, it’s the title of the painting hanging in Police Chief Crawford’s home. The camera slowly zooms into this image detailing the manner in which Plains Indians maneuvered and used their horses in battle. The painting was done by George Caitlin who was embedded with US troops in Comanche territory in the 1830s. In describing the natives, Caitlin veers into the exoticism and “other”-ing that happens so often when European white settlers tried to engage in discourse about indigenous peoples. They speak about certain traits as admirable but in doing so never refer to the intellect or empathy of the native people, diminishing them to simple-minded yet physically capable savages. Crawford is a man who sits down and breaks bread with black officers who are descended from Tulsa Massacre survivors and who have been the targets of the infamous in-universe White Night attacks where black and Latino police officers were targeted and killed at home. Are Crawford’s words of respect & admiration merely honeyed phrases to hide the racism that motivates him? I suspect we’ll learn the truth by the end of this season.

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