“If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” is probably the weakest episode of Watchmen so far. That’s not saying much — it’s still a lot of fun — but it feels more like a piece of the puzzle than a successful stand-alone hour. Partly that’s because of the central character: Where last week’s episode focused largely on Laurie Blake, a character knew well, and used her to effectively structure plot developments, this week’s episode focuses on Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), who has to remain an enigma by design.
We do know a few things about her: Lady Trieu is a trillionaire, making her money in pharmaceuticals and biomedical technology. She lives in an enormous clock tower that doubles as a sort of terraformed replica of her native Vietnam. She owns Adrian Veidt’s company, has based much of her work and image on Veidt, and, like Veidt, named herself after a historical figure: Lady Trieu, a Vietnamese warrior who led a rebellion against Wu Chinese rule.
This choice of name certainly suggests what Lady Trieu’s plan might be: Her daughter — who might also be a clone — has a dream about being abused by soldiers, and she recounts a deathbed promise to her mother to never leave Vietnam. (The clock tower is a way of getting around that promise.) There are lots of legends about historical Lady Trieu — she reportedly had breasts that were so big she had to tie them behind her in order to fight — but she was, among other things, famous for wearing a yellow tunic into battle. That way, her enemies would know who to attack.
This is a lot of speculation, but speculation is more or less the way we’re invited to engage with Lady Trieu as a character. Partly, that’s because we don’t see any moments of her thinking. Where the show spends time with Laurie alone in private moments, or Angela preparing to go to work, Lady Trieu only enters a scene depicted from the perspective of others: the childless couple from the beginning of the episode, Angela and Laurie, and her own daughter. She’s also involved with Watchmen’s other mysterious character, Will (who, we learn, can walk just fine). Lady Trieu and Will spend a lot of time talking about their plan, in the sort of vague terms that only make sense as a way to keep an unseen external observer (us) in the dark. But it almost doesn’t matter — Hong Chau is incredibly compelling in the role, making Lady Trieu simultaneously engaging and a near-blank slate.
Consider the beginning of the episode: We meet the Clarks (named, I would guess, after Clark Kent and the version of Americana he represents) in a sequence set to the soft rock country stylings of “Islands In The Stream.” The wife trips, dropping a dozen eggs, which manage to roll around harmlessly without cracking. Her husband picks up one of the eggs, smiles. They continue smiling as they eat dinner, do a jigsaw puzzle, floss, all with no diegetic sound. The sequence feels like an HBO adaptation of Too Many Cooks.
When Lady Trieu shows up, it becomes an episode of Watchmen. Chau’s eerie, borderline girlish confidence is perfect for someone directly inspired by Adrian Veidt. She at least appears to emote, both when she says “bullshit!” to the science suggesting the Clarks couldn’t get pregnant, and when her eyes go wet thinking about the prospect of legacy, of bringing new life into the world. She even gets to do her own riff on one of the most iconic moments of the original Watchmen, one that works as well as any of the obvious nods the show has done: “I’m not going to make you a baby,” she says. “I already did.”
Like “I did it 35 minutes ago,” the moment in the Watchmen book where we realize Ozymandias has already carried out his plan, this serves as an indication of just how well prepared Lady Trieu is. She half-jokingly threatens to kill the baby, and it’s hard to tell which half she means. We’re coming in at the end of her plan, something that has been meticulously plotted for at least long enough to grow a human being. And then she immediately threatens to destroy the baby. With seconds to spare, she successfully buys the land where something lands from space — the land that appears to later become the plaza where the Doctor Manhattan phone booth and Angela’s bakery sits, and where the car crashes.
Speaking of growing babies, Lady Trieu’s predecessor, Adrian Veidt, fishes for fetuses in episode 4.
I still have no idea where Veidt’s story is going, but it continues to be absolutely sublime. The fetuses, we learn — or are they babies? — get stuffed in a big pod-shaped device and spun around a bunch, screaming as Veidt eats a slice of cake. When the process is done, we get an adult Phillips and Crookshanks. In a rare moment of pathos, Veidt tells his endlessly replicable servants, “You are flaws in this thoughtless design,” pushing off responsibility for their pain onto the mysterious entity that created his retreat-slash-prison. He is, however, responsible for filling the manor with corpses, punctuated only by the half-apology, “I had a rough night.”
Eventually, we see what Veidt is building: a giant catapult to hurl the Crookshanks and Phillips clones soaring through the air until they just vanish. Veidt is in a Truman Show bubble somewhere, and, if we can take his word for it, he’s been there for four years. (At least, for four years whenever this is happening in relation to the main story.) The circle of Veidt’s telescope’s rim fades into the moon over the Abar household, where Angela and Calvin are about to have a fight.
There’s a lot to like about this scene — we learn that Calvin had some kind of accident, among other things — but mostly, it’s nice to see Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II act like a married couple. She readily admits that she broke into the cultural center, and he readily admits to how upset he is about lying to Laurie. It’s tense, but also a believable dynamic for a character as loud as Angela. (In particular, Calvin casually brushing off the non-existence of the afterlife to their kids is incredible.)
Still, Angela has reason to worry: Laurie found Will’s fingerprints in the car, and has learned more about his history. Will was in a cop in New York in the 1940s, apparently, then fell off the grid. Laurie explains Will’s presence in the case — and the appearance of the car — as a “thermodynamic miracle,” an apparent favorite phrase of her ex, Doctor Manhattan. Later, she attempts to explain the pathology of vigilantes; the current iteration of Tulsa’s masked cops, and her own past self: “People who wear masks are driven by trauma. They’re obsessed with justice because of some injustice they suffered, usually when they were kids. Ergo, the mask. It hides the pain.”
We may not know the full extent of Angela’s trauma, but we know it’s made her nothing if not efficient. Consider the match cut when she slams the trunk of her car closed, then, seemingly immediately, opens it again so she can toss a duffel bag into a garbage train. This moment makes sense, and is tied to what we’ve seen before. But then something weird happens: She sees a dude in a silver bodysuit, staring at her. Angela is incredibly competent and ruthless, but she’s also still the audience stand-in in some places. The guy in the bodysuit sprays himself down with some kind of lubricant, then just glides into a sewer grate. Angela has the only reasonable response, to this, and to the rest of the mysteries we’re getting in this episode: “The fuck?!”