This Watchmen review contains spoilers.
Watchmen Episode 4
“Legacy isn’t in land, it’s in blood,” reclusive trillionaire Lady Trieu tells a farming couple in Watchmen episode 4’s typically enigmatic opening scene.
Trieu has left her massive Millennium Clock sculpture home on the outskirts of Tulsa to arrive at Clark Acres Farms and offer Mr. and Mrs. Clark a very decent proposal. She wants their home and the 40 acres it sits on and in return she’s going to offer them something more important than money (though she’ll offer them that too, $5 million of it to be precise). She’s going to offer them legacy.
“You two have no children,” she tells them. “So when you die, your legacy dies with you.”
Since Lady Trieu made her trillions in the biotech and pharma industry, she is going to give them the child they’ve always wanted. In fact, she’s already created the child they’ve always wanted, a boy harvested from the Clarks’ own genetic material. Enormous HIPAA violation aside, as the three-minute clock that Trieu trickles down to 10 seconds, the Clarks throw themselves at the contract she’s brought and quickly scribble their names on it.
Legacy is indeed important. The idea of our name and genes outliving us is powerful enough that the idea of family has dominated some of HBO’s most important dramas throughout the years. The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, and currently Succession have all largely dealt with the complex nature of the family unit and the idea of building something to live on when time declares you can live on no longer.
The original Watchmen was also quite concerned with legacy. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comic was a multigenerational affair, spanning decades from the 1930s all the way through to the present day (1985). Heroes took off their masks and capes and passed them down to their children, so when the body fails, the work lives on.
Now, in this iteration of Watchmen, episode 4 “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” loudly declares that the show understands intergenerational anxiety as well. Not only that but it’s willing to make it all a key part of its tale. “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” doesn’t have the sheer joy of the series’ instant classic third episode, but it’s another brilliantly entertaining and articulate step in the show’s journey towards meaning.
The first scene with Lady Trieu (who is played by the absolutely wonderful Hong Chau. Being able to play a reclusive Vietnamese trillionaire on Watchmen and an Instagram-obsessed pug on BoJack Horseman is RANGE) proves to be an apt table setter, as much of the rest of “If You Don’t Like My Story” concerns itself with legacy and what he inherit from our ancestors.
Immediately after Trieu makes her offer, Angela realizes that she can’t wait a minute longer to learn about her own ancestry and breaks into the Greenwood Cultural Center after hours. She interfaces with the helpful talking head of Treasury Secretary Henry Louis Gates Jr. once again and this time receives her “acorn,” a small literal acorn-like chip that she can drop into the plot of her family tree in one of the museum’s exhibits.
“Angela, would you like to meet your great grandparents?” the automated voice asks.
“Yeah…” Angela quietly responds, with Regina King putting some touching vulnerability behind the words.
A hologram of Will’s mother and father, Opie Williams and Ruth Robinson, pops up. The computer is not able to find a photo of an adult Will, but it is able to find a photo of the whole Williams-Robinson family, happy and whole, posing what seems to be minutes before it all comes crashing down.
The scene is well shot, right down to the interposing of Angela’s face on the hologram of her young grandfather. These first two scenes come at the importance of legacy and intergenerational trauma in such disparate, yet equally compelling ways. The Lady Trieu proposal is wacky and almost a little creepy, kind of like the Veidt scenes in each episode. Then the brief Angela museum trip is sincerely affecting.
The idea of generational trauma, that the pain of our forefathers may be encoded in our very DNA, is a psychological concept that is increasingly popping up in our pop culture as of late. The final season of Showtime’s The Affair took viewers into a climate-ravaged near future to explore how children feel the pain their parents once did. Through six seasons, Netflix’s BoJack Horseman has been about nothing if not generational trauma.
Now Watchmen finds itself in a position to explore a uniquely, tragically American racial brand of generational trauma. So far, it’s making the absolute best of it, and “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” uses it to its great advantage.
This hour of Watchmen isn’t just all about the past though. Once the theme of legacy is intact, the episode seems almost emboldened to embrace its weird self once again. We’d be remiss to point out that right after Angela heads to the cultural center, visits Wade Tillman to inquire about the pills her grandfather left behind, and disposes of a wheelchair; she comes across quite simply the greatest masked vigilante ever known to man: Lube Man.
Lube Man might not be his real name, but the moniker that Red Scare gives him is appropriate enough. Dressed in a silver, full body spandex (much like the Atlanta Braves’ The Freeze), Lube Man leads Angela on a chase through the industrial part of Tulsa before lubing himself up and just squirting into a nearby drain.
The whole sage is weird, hilarious, borderline disturbing, and just completely Watchmen. Maybe Lube Man is the key to the entire shadowy conspiracy or maybe he’s just a brief comedic pitstop to illustrate the effects of American Hero Story: Minutemen airing (Special Agent Dale Petey theorized that an uptick in masked vigilantism could be on the way in a Peteypedia dispatch). Either way it’s a welcome interlude of the bizarre the helps break up the episode a bit.
For after the legacy exploration and the Lube Man digression, “If You Don’t Like My Story” gets back to the work of moving the plot forward. Or in Adrian Veidt’s case: catching up with the plot from years’ past.
The internet theory that each Veidt scene takes place one year after the previous one seems to be all but confirmed in this installment. “Four years since I was sent here,” Veidt tells his newest Philips and Crookshanks. “In the beginning I thought it was a paradise. But it’s not. It’s a prison.”
This installment of Veidt Masterpiece Theater reveals a little more about how the new Philips and Crookshanks clones(?) come to be. Veidt simply fishes some babies out of the lake in crab traps…as one does. The sight of Jeremy Irons inspecting rubbery little infants for imperfections and then tossing the undesirable ones overboard is completely disturbing and completely hilarious. Between this scene and the entirety of Death Stranding, it’s been a banner week in pop culture for creepily useful little infants.
Once the baby Crookshanks and Philips are placed into some sort of aging chamber, Veidt gets down the important work of training them on the fly.
“Happy birthday! I am your master,” he tells them. “You are still a few hours from gaining the ability to speak but by now, you should understand. Do you know what you are? Your flaws in this thoughtless design. For while I may be your master, I am most definitely not your maker. I never would have burdened such pathetic creatures with the gift of life. For to be alive you have to have purpose and you have none. Except to serve.”
The new Philips and Crookshanks then help Veidt load up all the corpses of the previous iterations to launch into the atmosphere with a trebuchet. Veidt is happy to see the corpses disappear once they pass some sort of barrier in the clouds.
Here we get definitive answers on a couple of important points. For one, Veidt is not responsible for the creation of these creepy humanoids. Given Doctor Manhattan’s previous announcement of his intention to create life, it would seem that he might be their creator. Also, Veidt is definitively trapped in this opulent prison against his will. And given his difficulties with the Game Warden, it seems that he is feeling a renewed sense of urgency to get out. Since Veidt went missing in 2012 and every episode has seemingly covered a year, we’re looking at episode 7 as the best candidate for the Emancipation of One Adrian Veidt.
Even though he’s imprisoned, Veidt’s presence is still felt back in the real world. Laurie’s investigation of who dropped Angela’s car out of the sky takes her and Angela right to Lady Trieu, who purchased the entirety of Veidt’s company. “If You Don’t Like My Story” is filled with some excellent, chatty scenes like when Topher comforts Angela after the funeral and Laurie gives Petey permission to tell her story to Angela. The brief scene with Laurie, Angela, and Trieu doesn’t disappoint as well.
After Angela and Trieu share a secret interaction about Will in Vietnamese, Laurie spies a familiar statue.
“Holy shit! Is that Adrian Veidt?” she asks. “Why’d you have them make him so old?”
“In my culture, elders are revered,” Trieu responds.
“Well this is America sweetheart and he looks like shit.”
Yeah, they don’t really let you age gracefully in the ol’ US of A. That’s the case in our world (in which the internet seems gobsmacked that Keanu Reeves would date a woman only nine years his junior) and it’s the case in this Watchmen world as well. That’s why it’s particularly fascinating that so many of the chief characters here are…well, old. Laurie Blake is a sexagenarian action hero who also expresses some shock that the prints she found at the crime scene seem to match former ‘40s New York City police officer, Will Reeves, who would now be well into his 100s. As the aging process goes on, the human being aging might more closely consider those death-defying concepts like legacy, inheritance, and family. And so in the end, “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” swings right back to legacy once again.
Late at night, Lady Trieu’s daughter wakes up from a nightmare that seems to have details straight from some generational trauma in Vietnam. After sending her daughter back to bed, Trieu chastises Will (who’s been at the Millennium Clock this whole time it would seem) for leaving some pills in the care of Angela.
“The pills are a passive aggressive explainer,” she says.
To which Will points out that she’s using a similar strategy with her daughter.
“When family is involved, judgment gets cloudy, feet get cold.”
“My feet are just fine,” Will says, standing up with his chair for the first time in the series.
Watchmen is still holding things close to chest four episodes in. It’s clear that Trieu and Will are planning something…something big that will happen within the next three days. We don’t know the details of their plot just yet and ultimately that’s not important.
Because what we do understand is their motivation, or at least part of it. Legacy. Something must carry on after they’re gone. As Trieu says, legacy isn’t in land but in blood. The end of episode 4 brings up a disquieting notion as well: what if legacy is not the blood you pass on but rather the blood you spill?