The Leftovers’ “Two Boats And A Helicopter.” Lost’s “Walkabout.” Even Crossing Jordan’s “Sunset Division,” the backdoor pilot for a spinoff that never happened. For writer Damon Lindelof, Watchmen’s third episode is a classic move. “She Was Killed By Space Junk” focuses largely on a single character and their backstory, complete with an unnerving framing device.
In this case, it’s someone we’ve already met: Laurie Blake, aka Laurie Juspeczyk, aka the original Watchmen comic’s Silk Spectre, and she is busy making a long-distance phone call to Doctor Manhattan.
If HBO didn’t announce that Jean Smart would play Laurie on the TV show, comic readers would know her within the first minute of the episode. “She Was Killed By Space Junk,” named after a Devo lyric, opens with Smart sitting in a blue phone booth embossed with the Doctor Manhattan hydrogen atom logo. We don’t see her face — she is instead framed by director Stephen Williams such that we can only see her fingers tapping, the back of her head, her mouth — but when she says “Hey, it’s me again,” and the score changes abruptly, we know it’s Laurie. Who else would be so familiar with the closest thing Watchmen has to a god?
Laurie’s relationship with Manhattan, and her complicated feelings about her heroic past, is the backbone of the episode. Though Laurie has based her career on hating heroes, she’s repeatedly depicted as one throughout the episode. A pop art painting of Nite Owl, Ozymandias, and Doctor Manhattan hangs in her apartment, introduced with her face blocking the fourth quadrant — the one that, a moment later, we see depicts Laurie herself.
Those four heroes become the backbone of the joke-slash-fairy tail Laurie tells Doctor Manhattan in the phone booth, a sort of violent reverse Goldilocks in which some of the original Watchmen characters meet God. Nite Owl admits he hasn’t killed anyone: Too Soft. Ozymandias proudly declares that he killed millions of people: Too Hard. Doctor Manhattan doesn’t even care about life at all, and is already in hell. But Goldilocks, Laurie herself, is the sneaky hero of the story. She doesn’t need a hero, because she has tricked and killed God.
Indeed, Laurie hates herself in many ways, but she is also perhaps the most competent person in the world of the show. And therein lies the problem, or at least, one of the episode’s challenges.
Smart is riveting in this episode — maybe excessively so. Laurie is bitter, disaffected, and deeply lonely, but she is also incredibly cool. Throughout the episode, she’s quippy more than she is acerbic, firing off one-liners to everyone from her fellow FBI agents to the Tulsa police to Doctor Manhattan himself. When she arrives in Oklahoma and learns that Crawford’s funeral is scheduled for later that day, she says, “Guess I’d better change into something darker.” Laurie talks like a cop from a cop show or a superhero from a superhero show, rather than like an extremely damaged person — a Watchmen character. Even though she doesn’t want to be a superhero, she still is one.
The only person who is tactless (or blunt) enough to bring up Laurie’s history is her partner in Oklahoma, Agent Dale Petey. Played by Dustin Ingram, Petey is a serrated foil for Laurie throughout the episode. He’s introduced having snuck photos of Rorschach’s journal into an official presentation for FBI agents (the closest thing we’ve had to an expository dump so far). He’s ostensibly the author of some of the supplemental material on HBO’s website for Watchmen, which is actually pretty good and confirms a few things hinted at in the episode, like that Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl is in prison for vigilantism, or that Rorschach’s journal was published, but his accusations about Adrian Veidt were treated as babble. He’s also the closest thing Watchmen has to a Lindelof stand-in right now.
During a conversation they have on the plane to Oklahoma, Petey displays his encyclopedic knowledge of hero history, ostensibly material he’s learned in the process of research. He asks not to be treated as some kind of “fan,” spitting the word out with some effort. Still, Petey seems mostly fine at his job, and Laurie sleeps with him anyway, after deciding not to use the item in her mysterious briefcase, which turns out be an enormous Doctor Manhattan-themed vibrator. (Meanwhile, Petey keeps a copy of the Rorschach journal on his nightstand and his mask on during sex.)
Thankfully, Laurie has one other foil capable of standing up to her: Angela, who responds to Laurie’s (correct) intuition that she knows more about Crawford’s murder than she’s letting on by staring stone-still, then mockingly fanning herself. No one should be cool on Watchmen, but at least Angela and Laurie are coolly broken in the same way. Angela gets to demonstrate some of that pain, in funeral scene for Crawford that evokes The Comedian’s funeral in the Snyder film. Angela gives the eulogy, because she and Crawford made an agreement to speak at each other’s funerals in the wake of The White Night. Crawford’s request, it turns out, was for Angela to sing “The Last Roundup.”
The funeral is also the location of another action scene, in which a Seventh Kavalry member shows up with a bomb strapped to his chest, set to go off once his heart stops beating, and accuses Senator Keene of being a race traitor. He’s immediately shot by Laurie, forcing Angela to push the bomb into Crawford’s grave, then topple the casket on top of the bomb. Watchmen isn’t especially subtle. But then again, neither is the comic.
Speaking of which, Adrian Veidt is building something. We finally get some more information about where he is: the estate is something of a prison, maintained by a game warden he refers to as his “adversary.” There’s a lot of insane stuff happening here, but mostly I just want to highlight how delicious Jeremy Irons’ performance is, to the point where he can deliver lines straight from the book, like describing himself as “some sort of Republic serial villain,” and them feel fresh instead of corny. Like Laurie herself, Veidt is a subject of both fascination and some degree of pity here—the aged anti-hero puts on the Ozymandias uniform and looks very intense. It’s funny, but it’s also, knowing Ozymandias, very serious. As Laurie says just before leaving the phone booth, “Sometimes it’s nice to pretend.”