Tuesday, December 10, 2019

WATCHMEN 1.08 - "A GOD WALKS INTO ABAR"


Image result for watchmen hbo 


“A God Walks Into Abar” is finally our Dr. Manhattan episode, after we got our origin episodes for the other main players in the previous weeks.  It is our explainer for what is going on with Veidt and the clones and Europa.  It is a pretty great pun.  And it is Damon Lindelof’s spiritual sequel/reboot of one of his most memorable and acclaimed creations, LOST’s time-tripping epic romance “The Constant” an episode whose concept was certainly and specifically influenced by the Manhattan-centric “Watchmaker” issue of the comic series with just a skosh of WEEKEND AT BERNIES mixed in.  The episode is, like the entirety of this strange series, brilliantly daring and shockingly effective in large parts but not without goofy or clunky bits cropping up here and there. 

Image result for weekend at bernies 2
You know, kind of like WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S II
It clears perhaps the most difficult aspect of this entire scenario, that of presenting Manhattan’s non-linear experience of time to the audience in a coherent way, with aplomb.  Although it does have the comic’s blueprint to work from on that score, and the deceptively simple method of having him describe something occurring years in the past or future in the present tense remains as effective on the screen as it was on the page, bolstered by fluid editing between different where and whens.   All the necessary blanks for how Angela, Cal and Veidt got to Europa and/or Tulsa and into the various wacky guises in which the series introduced us to them are filled in.  Where it stumbles for me (though it seems to have worked like gangbusters for many) is in trying to frame this convoluted sci-fi claptrap as a heartfelt romance.  Regina King does some terrific work bringing some real romcom charisma to a younger version of the hard-bitten character we’ve met previously, but I feel like my emotional connection with that character has been broken by this big twist.  It was already a bit of a stretch to put myself in the shoes of a secret vigilante policewoman who adopted the family of her murdered partner, dealing with the revelation that her long-lost grandfather was secretly a famous superhero who secretly murdered her secretly-racist mentor with hypnosis, as she learned by overdosing on his Pensieve pills.  King and the writers have made many of those individual bits of crazy more affecting and relatable than they would seem, don’t get me wrong.  But there’s also a bit of…look, what I really want to do here is just link to a scene from the “Juneteenth” episode of ATLANTA, where a sixtysomething academic is proudly describing her play about “two gangbangers holding a pastor, a pregnant teenager, and a drug dealer hostage inside a strip club, in the middle of Hurricane Katrina”.  But I can’t seem to find a clip or even a .gif of Donald Glover’s perfectly deadpan response “That’s a real situation. I’m glad that story is being told.” 

Image result for atlanta alfred
You'll just have to take my word that the reference would have been apropos AF

But anyway, the point I'm driving at is that especially with genre and mystery shows, it pays to be careful how much contrivance one piles on top of contrivance.  The outlandish elements are in part what draws us in to these stories, but the line between total engagement and utter rejection can be perilously thin.  At least with all those other crazy motions, we went through them with Angela in "real time".  Finding out that she was also the guardian of the most powerful secret in the world that whole time, a secret that would define her emotional state and mindset even more than all that other insanity we assumed was the most important part of her day, just makes me feel like I never really knew her at all. 
  
Which wouldn’t be as big of a deal, except the other half of this central pairing is even less relatable.  Dr. Manhattan is a singularly brilliant fictional creation, but everything distinctive and compelling makes him uniquely poorly suited as a romantic lead.  Not that there isn’t precedent for him to be romantically involved; his last girlfriend was in fact also a superhero.  It made for an interesting shade to the character in the comics that, as he shed nearly every facet of his humanity, he retained a sex drive and interest in younger women.  This does seem a bit incongruous with the rest of the character, and if one were so inclined, it’s not terribly hard to see it as part of a strain of dirty old man vibes that run through Alan Moore’s work, which includes a work of self-professed “pornography” about the teenage heroines of classic fairy tales.  But I’m not very interested in wagging that sort of finger, and I’m not well versed enough in his full output to do it properly anyway.  Suffice to say that WATCHMEN, while it can be sexually frank, is hardly salacious in how it presents its sexual elements.  And those elements are crucial to the story. Moore has talked generally about how he has to know how the characters operate sexually, even if it never comes up directly, in order to really understand them, and with Manhattan in particular his sexuality serves a definite narrative purpose. His relationship with Laurie gives him a remaining, necessary tether to the world and plot, but in terms of emotion it is really only affecting on her end rather than his, as she struggles with the complications of dating the most powerful being in the universe.

Image result for tobias blue
Of course, this is not the first show to break this particular ground

The show actually gives more context for Jon’s continued interest in romance after he has transcended all other physical bounds, via his childhood encounter with the most open-minded and gently encouraging sex-positive couple of Anglican aristocrats in all of 1930s Bedfordshire. But in telling this as a love story, and a repeatedly, explicitly tragic love story at that, it tries to make him a bit too human.  I want to stress that this gripe is about overall effect, not believability.  I find it very plausible that people would be romantically interested to Dr. Manhattan, particularly if those people have daddy issues (which would be most of the world’s population and all of the cast of a Damon Lindelof show).  Manhattan even makes this explicit in the episode, that the traumatic upheaval of Angela's childhood made his placid omnipotence especially reassuring to her in the big picture, even as it becomes increasingly impossible to live with day to day.  And for his part, the episode does a good job of establishing how omniscience has made him eager to experience actual risk and the unknown again.

What I don’t buy so much is that Adrian’s convenient amnesia-ring is actually a solution that either of them would really buy into.  This is potentially a rant for another blog, but suffice to say that if there is one narrative device that I hate, hate, hate, under almost any circumstance it is amnesia. Okay, there may be a couple instances where I can abide it (MULHOLLAND DRIVE and certain Bioware RPGs come to mind as examples where something interesting is done with it), but generally it strikes me as the laziest of crutches a writer can possibly lean on.  And here, I just don’t get what Jon and Angela are even going for.  When she asks him “if your memories are gone, will you still be you?”, my immediate response is “NO, OF FUCKING COURSE NOT WHAT A STUPID QUESTION.” He reassures her that amnesia won’t mean she is losing him, but…yes, it absolutely means that.  Our memories are who we are, and Cal is not Jon, not at all. He is a blank slate.  A Realdoll.  Her relationship with Jon is entirely defined by his power and omniscient perspective, right from the start.  If he even has a personality independent of those things, Angela has no knowledge or connection to that man, and without his memories he has no connection to her, not to mention no context or way to appreciate the risk he is finally able to take.

I can almost roll with the idea that he would just go ahead and do it anyway, although it would be more because he is so supremely bored with omniscience as to risk oblivion just for a change of pace than because, as the show would have it, he is so in wuv with Angela that he will do anything to be with her.   I’m struggling to come up with a real world analogy for how utterly backwards I find this conception of love, but nothing quite captures the depth of the wrongness.  If my wife had been a pirate of the Caribbean when we met and fell in love, and then you told me today that the only way we could stay together is if she got a full frontal lobotomy, forgot about me entirely, and we had to start over with her not being a pirate, but a dental assistant in Cedar Rapids, then I would have real reservations about what we were even preserving.  But even that doesn’t really get there, because while a pirate is a strong identity, it is nowhere near the level of being a god unstuck in time. 

If you are willing to lobotomize someone you love in order to be with them, I find that pathetic and even reprehensible rather than romantic, but it also seems self-defeating on even a selfish level.  With my piratewife, at least I could tell myself that there is some core of personality that would transfer to dental hygienistry; her humor, her kindness, her intelligence would reassert itself in some recognizable.  But Angela has nowhere to even begin imagining what Jon is actually like underneath the godhood.  The only consistent personality trait is the placidity, which yes, is reassuring in the context of an all powerful deity but is not exactly a unique or exciting enough trait in a partner to inspire the type of wacky lengths these kids are going to in order to (sort of but not really) remain together.  She fell in love with a godhead, and then they go to all this trouble so she can what?  Be married to Snuffaluffagus?

Image result for snuffleupagus sad
Sorry, man, no shots.
   
So anyway, the upshot of all that is that while many of the beats of this arc are executed very effectively, I think there is a fundamental misjudgment involved with making Dr. Manhattan, one of the least romantic character in literary history, into the focal point of a romantic tragedy.  This misses the point at least slightly, in ways that tie into how I’ve felt Veidt’s characterization has been a bit off too.   In both cases, I don’t think I would have issues if I didn’t have the examples from the book to compare to, but that’s the nature of this project so I can only play the ball as it lies. Veidt gets his best scenes yet when he meets with Manhattan this week, that finally lay out exactly how and why he is trapped 390 million miles from Earth.  And the reasons, when typed out or summarized, make enough sense – he is so disillusioned by how his grand plan succeeded in ending the Cold War but failed to produce the utopia he expected that he jumps at the chance to go to Jon’s utopia on Europa and bask in the worship he felt entitled to on earth.  That is a workable motivation and scenario, but the execution just doesn’t quite fit for me.  The reason, I think, touches upon one of my favorite, most maddening and endearing phenomena in fiction: getting to see a dumb person’s idea of a smart person. 

Now, I should hasten to add that I don’t think any of the writers on the show are actually dumb.  In all likelihood, they are to a man/woman, smarter than me.  But one of the things I’ve come to appreciate about the novel is that Alan Moore is an honest to god mad genius (emphasis on both words), and as such he has an rather unique ability to write characters of extraordinary intellect with a plausibility that transcends the capes and tights and psychic squids of it all.  It’s a difficult thing to define exactly, but characters like Veidt and Manhattan carry an unmistakable air of complexity that requires a genuinely extraordinary mind to craft.  Whereas the show’s versions, while you can kind of see how they got there, are just a slightly simplified.  In the book, Manhattan was presented as a deity of sorts, but a stubbornly secular and distant one.  The show leans heavily into the most obvious religious symbolism available, making him a more explicit Christ figure by having him walk knowingly into his own death to further a grander design, and whipping up a batch of Eucharistic waffles to pass on his godliness to whatever followers consume it (more on that, and a whopper of a prediction, in the bullet points).  He also maintained romantic attachments, but in an almost vestigial way that was presented as tragic mainly for his significant others, but only sad for him in a faint, almost clinical sense.  The show presents it as almost a TWILIGHT-style romance, where the boyfriend’s supernatural powers are just so awesome that it makes dating him difficult.  

Image result for twilight sparkle vampire gif
Okay, low blow, but there is a part of this episode where
Manhattan's level of skin sparkling is an issue between the lovers

That’s oversimplifying, for sure, but hold on, I have even finer hairs to split with Veidt.  The picture the show paints, of a megalomaniac coming unglued when the success of his plan does not provide him with all the satisfaction and accolades he believes he deserves, is again fine enough on its own.  But while retaining the advanced intellect, the show removes the crucial element of self-awareness that made the character stand out from any of the other supposed evil-genius-as-written-by-a-C-student that populate comic books.  Veidt in the book had hopes for “a stronger loving world” to result from his squid gambit, but he was nowhere near na├»ve enough to expect a utopia to arise or maintain itself overnight.  He had plans to continue to help the new world along, because he knew full well that there would be more work to do after the Cold War ended.  Show Veidt is completely undone by the failure of this childish notion to come to pass, not to mention completely blindsided by the prospect that a sterile utopia full of nothing but servants that worship you abjectly may be in some way unsatisfying.  Which is an idea that anyone who has taken a high school level philosophy survey or seen like, maybe two TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, should be acquainted with.   

I really think you could have gotten to the same place with only a little more screen time and slightly subtler direction.  If the performance leaned more on exhaustion than petulance, if there were another line or two making more explicit that his stronger loving world has rejected his guiding hand, insisting on pursuing dirty energy sources and rebuilding nuclear arsenals (there are suggestions of this, but they are buried within his self-pitying rantings), this would go down smoother.  If those lines included some of the self-awareness of the comic version, saying, perhaps that he knew the world would not transform into utopia overnight, but I thought, by now, things would be better, but they have only gotten worse.  Or an acknowledgment that while he didn’t do it intending to ever take credit, he’s been surprised as the years go by how much it’s come to eat at him that no one knows what lengths he went to in order to give the world the fresh start he’s watched it piss away .  My ability to sketch in these character motivations and details for myself has been honed mightily over the last few seasons of GAME OF THRONES, but I really would like for the show to connect and underline a few of these dots for us sometimes. 

Okay, that’s enough churlish whining for one week.  For all my griping, this remains the most interesting, involving, best looking-and-sounding (seriously, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s scoring is so fucking good) show on television, and I’m very excited not just to see how it wraps up next week, but to get back to the characters I like and relate to best, i.e. Laurie, Looking Glass, and Lube Man.

Image result for watchmen lube man
The Hero We Deserve

Now let’s do some random points and one big wild prediction that I am actually pretty damn sure of.


RANDOM POINTS AND ONE BIG WILD PREDICTION


  • Angela’s assault on the 7K at the end was supposed to be a grand romantic feat, but it gave me a heavy vibe of a late-game GTA/RED DEAD mission.  Dozens of faceless goons huddled around a mounted weapon that you can mow through, but you/she are scripted to lose before you can reach the objective because that is the only way the story can progress.
  • The Veidt jail scene was pretty clearly repositioned as a post-credits bit very late in the game.  I bet they  realized when cutting it together that maintaining the audience’s orientation in Jon’s uncanny perspective was difficult enough without inserting any significant departure from it halfway through the episode.
  • Veidt’s aside explaining how Manhattan’s powers could only reassert themselves by instinct in, in life-threatening situations, made me actually laugh out loud as about the most hamfisted bit of plothole spackle I ever heard.  It seems like Irons doesn’t even try to make it seem like a natural aside in the moment; the snapping of his fingers like it just occurred to him is particularly unconvincing.  His hands are really chewing the scenery throughout the entire scene, actually.
  • Introducing the episode and Dr. Manhattan with the opening strains of “Rhapsody In Blue” may have one toe over into “too cute” territory, but I’ll allow it.
  • I talked negatively a lot, but the interactions in Antartica are largely great.  The exchange about Adrian gambling on Manhattan still having morals is my favorite bit. 
  • Look, I’m not saying that the episode would have been better if they had used Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel Of Love” on the jukebox instead of whatever do-wop song with that title they went with. I am saying it would have been better if they had used Dire Straits’ “Tunnel Of Love”. 
  • Dire Straits rules.
  • It’s awfully nice of Red Scare, Pirate Jenny and the rest of Tulsa PD, who are presumably hot on Angela’s tail and have cars and radios and stuff, to give her and Jon a 20 minute or so break in which to sort out their shit.  I was going to say that Red and Jenny have been the most underused elements of the entire show, but also here is my prediction:  the season ends with Red Scare becoming the new Dr. Manhattan.
  • Hear me out.  This episode establishes that Jon could, if the plot demanded, put some of his essence into some food (say a batch of waffles) and pass on his powers to whoever eats it.  Obviously this has to come into play in the finale, and most people are assuming that Angela takes a bite in order counter Keene and 7K’s plan to steal the powers.  But there is also this bit player, who has basically one character trait established over the course of the season, which constantly being hungry to the point that he will eat potential evidence while on the job.  And he’s headed toward the house with those waffles.  So I say it goes something like this:  Looking Glass shows up disguised as 7K to rescue Laurie, but ultimately they need Lube Man to bail them both out.  Keene ascends to godhood, Laurie pops back up to off him somehow, and the coda has Red Scare grabbing a waffle, setting us up for a new, angry red Russian god to replace the placid blue American one.    Roll on snare.  Curtains.  Cue “Back In The USSR”.  Good Season.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

WATCHMEN 1.07 - "AN ALMOST RELIGIOUS AWE"

Image result for watchmen hbo

Schwartzblog returns to the world of WATCHMEN this week, after a brief nuptial hiatus that coincided with Angela and the series quick dip out of the present day storyline and into the past of one of its side characters.  Luckily, it’s not like the episode was any sort of standout hour, or that it was fraught with complex racial dynamics that would cry out, all but demand really, a thirtysomething white guy still riding the high off the happiest night of his life to properly unpack and assess them. 

I talk flippantly about my unfitness to tackle the racial elements of WATCHMEN, but I do waffle about how much to engage with those elements, which made it especially hard to crap out a quick take late last week just to plug the gap in the episode review order.  The forcefulness with which this show confronts its racial themes, especially in last week’s examples, can make me feel remiss to sort of skim over the top of them and focus on story construction and presentation, which is more or less the default setting for this blog.  I have never been very interested in the overtly political/sociological approach to media criticism that has risen in prevalence over the last decade, nor do I think I would be particularly good at it.  There are a few reasons this might be the case, chief among them a Catholic upbringing that left me with a cordial distaste for being preached at even when I agree with the sermon, and that there always seemed to be something faintly narcissistic about purporting to review a work of art and then spending most of the space talking about your own political opinions.

Image result for political rant
Now (only a tiny bit) updated for 2019!!

It is of course much more complicated than that, especially in a case like WATCHMEN where the politics of the work are so front and center that consistently brushing past them starts to seem pointed in its own right.  But the upshot is that I am generally more interested in using this space to talk about structure than theme.  There is an old Roger Ebert quote I was going to reference to justify this approach; that “it is not what a movie is about, it is how it is about it.” I have always remembered that line, because it makes an interesting point even if it is a bit of an oversimplification (a great movie has to have some “what” to support even the spiffiest of “how”, imo).   But as I was googling to confirm he was actually the one that said it, I came across another Ebert quote, that goes “It is not enough for a movie to be righteous.  It also has to be watchable.”  And that perhaps hits more squarely on why, while I don’t exactly make a secret of my political leanings in these posts, I try to avoid criticism that puts political righteousness front and center.  Self-righteousness is cheap, nowhere more so than on the internet.  And I cannot think of a cheaper form of righteousness than waxing moralistic on a blog focused popular television shows.  The only thing that can justify this thing (which no one really asked me to do)’s existence is if it is not just "correct", but also readable. And to me that means that each post needs to say at least one thing, point out one connection or make one dick joke that you wouldn’t also get from any of the hundreds of other, more popular outlets posting about the same topic on a more timely basis.   That’s fairly hard, since as it happens the internet is a big place with lots of people talking about the same thing simultaneously, and I certainly can’t get there by summarizing plot points, nor by rapturously praising the most progressive thematic points I can find and hissing those that might be a touch regressive.

Or even just appear so at first blush.  Because to circle back to the “how it is about it” quote, I think that if this blog has any sort distinctive “lane”, it is probably my developing fascination with how the how influences or distorts the what.  The medium inexorably shapes the message, and if that is true of episodic television, it is also true of blogging about it.  Another reason I don’t like episodic recaps as a political soapbox is that the nature of the beast, of having to weigh in every week, forces one to stake out ideological positions on a work before being able to see the completed picture.  And the repeated and public nature of judgments rendered early on make it harder to reverse course or develop a more nuanced interpretation with the addition of more context, because it creates an inescapable psychological need to justify those earlier positions.  As a lawyer by trade, its my preference to have all the available evidence before rendering any judgment, but that is a fundamental impossibility within the recap format.  The medium pushes the message in certain directions that I think make for less interesting, less thoughtful criticism (I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to point out the absurdity of approaching a book or a play in the same manner, publishing separate reviews of each chapter or Act prior to seeing how they all tie together in the end), and there is a degree to which I consciously push back against that.

Image result for not all heroes
I know, I'm a true inspiration

All that said, I’d like to talk to you some more about structure and presentation.  I find it interesting that Angela has been our primary protagonist from the beginning, but we are only now getting her origin story, after several other supporting players have all had their own spotlight episodes that filled us in on who they are and what makes them tick as crimefighters. You can certainly classify the last stretch of episodes in LOST-esque character terms, i.e. we had the “Agent Blake episode”, the “Looking Glass episodes”, the “Hooded Justice” episode, and now we are circling back to Angela just as every LOST season would return to Jack and Kate flashbacks multiple times.  But in the background of that shifting focus, there has a parallel shift in the world-building, with each subsequent episode serving to highlight a different aspect of how the alternate history of this world differs from our own.  The first couple episodes introduced us to the unique culture of the Tulsa PD and their war with the Seventh Kavalry, as well as the increased political polarization resulting from three decades of Nixon seesawing into three decades of left coast liberal “tyranny”.  The third broadened the scope to give us more context for how unique the masked cops situation was within Robert Redford’s America, and how vigilantes are still part of the fabric of that larger world outside of Tulsa, but in a different way.  The fourth brought more focus to how the sci-fi elements have advanced some technologies beyond real-life 2019 levels (genetic engineering), while regressing others (smartphones = not a thing).  The fifth highlighted how the squid attack of 1985 had reshaped this world, while the sixth reached further back to the introduction of masked crimefighters as the branching point away from actual history, and now the seventh explores how Dr. Manhattan’s intervention in Vietnam drastically reshaped how those countries developed.  It’s a thoughtful and interesting approach to one of the more sneakily difficult aspects of this project, which is explaining just how strange and complicated this ostensibly-“realistic” world really is.

Image result for his dark materials
If you want a comparions to a show that stumbles and flails at explaining its strange and complicated setting in any
sort of organic way, HBO helpfully airs HIS DARK MATERIALS the night after WATCHMEN each week

But if the world-building is elegantly done, the dialogue at times flounders to match it.   This episode especially leaned hard on characters suddenly speaking as though they know they are characters on a TV show.  And that is something I can almost always do without, as I have mentioned in passing in prior weeks.  The annoyance that Trieu affects when she recites the expository “script” of her interactions with Angela during her rehab process, or when Laurie rolls her eyes at Petey “helpfully” repeating their last offscreen conversation back to her verbatim, only tends to exacerbate my own annoyance with that exposition, rather than somehow allay it.  If you consistently need to have your characters treat the scenes and plots they are in as tedious impositions, then maybe you should just find less tedious scenes and plots to put them in.   

This winking commentary is at its peak in Laurie’s scenes, as she bluntly recites the subtext of last week’s Hooded Justice flashbacks (which was mostly text already) for the cheap seats, and Mrs. Crawford responds with a full Scooby Doo villain turn where she basically compliments herself and the script for not drawing the reveal out any longer.  It works better in her scene with Keene, at least, since he has a real twist to drop on her and us, that takes the wind out of her jaded “let me guess…” posturing, and also when Trieu casually reveals the nature of her daughter/mother/clone to Angela, while keeping other cards pointedly closer to her vest. 

Image result for lady trieu
Honestly, I think I'd be relieved at this point to know that our actual tech billionaires were only trying to insert synthetically harvested memories of their parents into illegally cloned surrogate bodies. 
Particularly if it meant they were actively working against the white supremacists trying to take over the government.

Actually, one of the savviest things about the episode is how it wheels off a half dozen of these reveals, severely underplaying some of them, en route to the giant WTF twist at the end.  We’ll get to that in a moment, and how it may have permanently broken my ability to engage with the show going forward, but first in the spirit of the recently passed holiday, I’d like to give thanks that shortened episode orders have become more common on cable shows.  I can too easily imagine a longer season that spun out entire episodes leading up to the shocking-but-not-all-that-significant twists that Trieu cloned her mother (and by implication, Veidt is her father), and that the Crawfords were in league with Keene to orchestrate the war between 7K and the police (although I feel like that particular nefarious plan was missing a few dots between “cops put on masks in Tulsa” and “…OK Senator becomes president!”), and Keene’s true plan being to become Dr. Manhattan 2.0, and Looking Glass actually escaping the hit squad (and disappearing with one of their masks, so I think we know how Laurie will be making her own escape).  Thankfully, we are spared the wheel-spinning and the plot keeps moving toward the long-delayed reappearance of Dr. Manhattan.

I do generally like how the stage has been set for the big blue guy, don’t get me wrong.  Capturing him and recreating his power for a venal politician is an appropriately grandiose nefarious plan for the bad guys, and represents a sufficiently apocalyptic threat to motivate Lady Trieu to some similarly extreme acts of heroism/villainy as her father’s scheme to prevent nuclear armageddon.  The idea that he could hide in plain sight is well within his power set, even if it will take some explaining to justify why he would want or care enough to do so. 

The problem I have with the reveal is what it does to the character of Angela, and our relationship to her.  From the start, she was our protagonist and POV character, our most intimate window into this strange alternate world.  That we were invited to trust and empathize so closely with someone, while it was being kept hidden from us that she was harboring the biggest and craziest secret in the entire world, the type of thing that would have defined her entire life and mindset throughout every step of everything we have gone through with her, feels like a rather egregious cheat.  You can pull this kind of thing with side characters (like Agent Petey’s sideline as Captain Astroglide), but Angela’s perspective always seemed to be what the show was the most earnest about.  If we can’t trust that, it doesn’t feel like we can rely on anything else it tells us either, certainly not about any of the characters that we have not spent as much time with (which is everybody).  At that point, I just sort of lean back and cross my arms, waiting for the next “shocking” twist.  What that twist is stops mattering as much if I’m not emotionally engaged.  Looking Glass could have a sassy ghost sidekick we haven’t met yet, or Laurie could have a split personality that is a serial killer, and all that would mean is that they were not the characters I had come to care about in any meaningful sense.

Image result for westworld
"Do you...do you even remember what the fuck we were doing last year?  I think
maybe you were reincarnated from someone we never met. Or something."

But like I said before, I don’t really want to fully commit to trashing the Manhattan reveal this week until I see how it plays out next week.  So let’s look at what’s going on with Veidt, and some other random notes:


Image result for watchmen little fear of lightning

  • I know the show has sort of committed to the whole bit of each check in with Veidt occurring a year after the last one, but a full 365 days of mock trial just seems pointlessly silly.  Symmetry is not worth putting that sort of strain on the fourth wall, imo.

  • The Crookshanks prosecutor’s wink at Veidt suggests that his petulant flatulence (or flatulent petulance, if you prefer) is all part of his plan.  Presumably, the whole “Watchmaker’s Son” acting exercise was to slowly develop the clone’s ability to actually play her part convincingly (while also stockpiling test/SOS sign material).  Veidts’ own tears at the verdict suggest things are not going according to plan, but remember he also coached her specifically on the use of “real tears” back in episode 2. 

  • The Dr. Manhattan puppet show in Saigon is a nice subtle allusion to his memorably succinct explanation of the difference between his omniscience and actual omnipotence; that “we are all puppets, Laurie.  I’m just a puppet that can see the strings.” 

  • With Cal having undergone a claw hammer lobotomy, Angela is going to need a sitter next week.  It will be good to have Jim Beaver back for the first time since the premiere.

  • Something that drove me absolutely crazy about last week’s generally stellar episode: “Beware the Cyclops.”   Dude, if want to warn the guy, warn him, don’t tell him riddles.  There is absolutely no reason for the Lieutenant to be playing coy about the nature of the conspiracy he evidently wants Reeves to know about, other than being on a Damon Lindelof show.

  • The reveal that Angela’s synthetic memories were being fed back to an elephant rather than her grandfather is a quintessential Lindelof moment.  The setup is grounded in just enough esoteric detail to suggest some sort of underlying logic, but the exact parameters of that logic remains opaque.  It manages to be eerie and unknowable while also feeling more scientific than supernatural.  As I’ve mentioned before, you can trace this sort of tone back to LOST, where it was often ill-served by existing within the potboiler nature of its plotting (this elephant does not demand  explanation in the same way as tropical polar bears). But he really honed that precise balance on THE LEFTOVERS, and its paying off nicely on this show.

  • Red Scare and Pirate Jenny remain completely underused as characters, and Red CONTINUES TO EAT CHEETOS WITH A FORK LIKE SOME SORT OF DERANGED FREAK.

  • But also, they did draw attention to Scare’s appetite, and along with his aggro demeanor, I wonder if it’s seeding something, like he is juicing with some sort of Trieu-brand, sci-fi version of steroids or whatnot.

  • It’s been weird on Sunday nights to flip over directly from Lady Trieu’s Millenium Clock plot thread to MR. ROBOT, which also features a mysterious Asian villain claiming their secret project to build a giant sci-fi machine for nebulous purposes will ultimately benefit mankind in a vaguely dystopian alternate-reality.