The return of Silk Spectre, Ozzy in a purple cape, and a phone call to Doctor Manhattan: the third episode of Watchmen gives us everything we asked for, but do we still want it?
Original comics character Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) – the second Silk Spectre and the daughter of The Comedian – arrives in this week’s episode to knit the old with the new, aiding Angela “Sister Night” Abar (Regina King), Looking Glass, Red Scare and Pirate Jenny in their quest to avenge their chief and take down the Seventh Cavalry.
Years of hunting down wayward vigilantes for the FBI have made Laurie more cynical than her comic book counterpart. As Laurie, Smart gives an assured, confident performance that also manages to catch a fresh slither of melodrama; its more akin to Carla Gugino (Laurie’s mother – the first Silk Spectre – in Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation) than her movie co-star Malin Åkerman’s take on the same role. It’s just a shame the first half of the episode is basically one long game of catchup.
Hearing the old guard spoken of again is a welcome treat – as is getting to learn more about Joseph Keene, the man who made the call to hide the Tulsa police behind such bright yellow masks – but all this world-building is delivered via a lot of clunky exposition, and it almost feels unneeded. Surely by this point in the series we could have filled in the blanks for ourselves and it wouldn’t have mattered too much? Perhaps its too soon to tell; after all, the mystery is still unfolding.
Speaking of the mystery, the investigation that had been building up throughout Episodes 1 and 2 is more or less put on hold while we sit through in-jokes and original comics references ad infinitum. Herein lies the fundamental problem of this week’s episode: sure, it’s nice to hear the Crimebusters being name-dropped, reminding us that this is a continuation of the comic, but not when it comes at the expense of the telling of this new story. It brings the momentum of the series as a whole to a bit of a halt. Couple this with a lot of self-important voiceover and what may be the most over-the-top funeral ever put to screen, and the whole episode starts to look dangerously similar to Zack Snyder’s much-maligned take. It’s only when Angela herself starts to roll her eyes at the pomposity of it all that we can breathe a sigh of relief.
It’s not until Laurie crosses paths with Angela at the halfway point that the pace begins to pick up again. The old versus new dynamic is the shot of adrenaline the plot really needed. King and Smart are excellent; their locking of horns is simply electric to watch. They don’t have much screen time together, but Laurie’s world-weary monologuing clashes beautifully with Angela’s no-nonsense brevity.
While we’re on the subject, credit must also go to Jeremy Irons as Adrian “Ozymandias” Veidt. This is no Scar – Irons plays Veidt as vain, pompous and silly, without an atom of self-awareness. In other words, for this particular self-aggrandizing anti-villain, he’s perfect. There’s no attempt to be suave or stylish. Veidt is equal parts spoiled brat and grandpa off his meds. His old mask and cape have been lovingly translated to the small screen by costume designer Meghan Kasperlik, who also dressed the vigilante gunned down by Laurie at the start of the episode. Both costumes brilliantly showcase the range of her talents, the former a faithfully goofy adaptation, the latter a slick and sexy suit of armour that takes more than a few notes from Batman.
Just about managing to stay on the right side of self-important (but still dangerously close to the edge), episode 3 of Watchmen might go off on a tangent for a little while, but it makes it back home in the end.
Watchmen continues on Monday 4th November, 9pm, on Sky Atlantic.