Watching Watchmen: Just Disappeared
Episode 4: If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own (Spoilers ahead.)
In episode four of Watchmen, the reclusive trillionaire Lady Trieu enters our story. It begins on a farm, where the unsuspecting couple that lives there receives a late-night visit from Lady Trieu. In the space of two minutes (she times it), she offers the childless couple a baby she literally made from the genetic scraps the couple provided when trying to get pregnant with a local fertility clinic, which Trieu owns. In exchange for the baby and several million dollars (for diapers and baby food), the couple signs their house and land over to her. Trieu says she needs it, just before something falls from the stars and crash-lands onto their acreage.
No one really knows what Trieu is up to, why she wants the land or what she’s building – the locals think it’s an enormous clock. Trieu’s daughter even says, “It tells time.” Yet, when we discover Angela Abar’s grandfather is staying (and plotting) with Trieu, that simple phrase takes on a different tone. The episode ends with him saying “Tick-tock” over and over, like the Seventh Kavalry in their video manifesto, and it’s totally creepy.
If I were to make a list of thematic elements used in the new Watchmen series, a ticking clock would be at the top of the list. But time and its passage aren’t just used to heighten dramatic tension; the treatment of time – of history – is what continues to set Watchmen apart from any other superhero story I’ve seen.
We’ve come a long way from Clark Kent and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Our superhero sagas have become more introspective, more fallibly human… darker, dirtier. But even as we peer at the gross, soft underbellies of the superheroes populating “The Boys” or commiserate with the poor juvenile souls serving in “The Umbrella Academy,” we are keeping to the present. Sure, there may be flashbacks, but all the real action – the action that drives the story forward – happens in the now.
The past is what propels Watchmen forward.
The racial tension saturating Watchmen – even though it happens in an alternate reality – is an American heirloom. Many of the events and pieces of the story are, sadly, pulled directly from the history of America, though not one told in grade school history books. We’ve seen this all before. We know why Kavalry is spelled with a “K.”
America’s past not only informs and defines the narrative, it also shapes its characters. In Angela Abar’s case, it’s by restoring history lost to her. When DNA testing reveals that Will Reeves is indeed her grandfather, Abar breaks into the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage to uncover more about her past. Using the center’s interactive Ances-Tree exhibit, Abar drops an “acorn” (encoded with her genetic data) into a plexiglass tube to view her family tree. A nervous intake of breath just before she drops it is the first real fear we see in Angela Abar.
I cried as soon as her family tree began to sprout into its holographic form. This one stunning moment crystallizes what black people in America have lost: their history. Only an American history exists, one birthed in bondage and blood.
And when the exhibit asks her if she wants to meet her great grandmother and grandfather for the first time, badass Sister Night can barely muster, “Yeah. Sure…”
And as we look across the room – a holographic picture between us and Abar – we see her seeing them, seeing her grandfather as a small boy at his parents’ knee. His glowing face-centered over her dark one, making them one. And she tells him…
“You aren’t dead. You’re just disappeared.”
By Jaimie K. Wilson