This article contains major Watchmen spoilers, for both the book and episode 3 of the HBO series.
HBO’s Watchmen episode 3, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” introduces viewers to FBI Agent Laurie Blake, played by Jean Smart. But fans of the original Watchmen book will already be familiar with Agent Blake, formerly known as Laurie Juspeczyk, and better known as the masked adventurer known as the Silk Spectre. Watchmen readers might be surprised at how much Laurie has changed since we last saw her in 1985, but the show also has to establish her for audiences completely new to the character. One of those people was Smart herself, who wasn’t familiar with the world of Watchmen when she first got the role of Laurie Blake.
“[Damon Lindelof] gave me some information about [Agent Blake] and of course I immediately went and got the book,” Smart tells us. “But the thing about that first episode where they introduced Laurie is that there’s so much. It gives us so much and it told me so much about her that I didn’t feel like I had to work really hard to fill in a lot, at least at first. That first episode was just a gift.”
One thing we learn about Agent Blake almost immediately is that she doesn’t particularly care for masked heroes. Considering that she spent the first part of her adult life running around in a costume and fighting crime, that might seem a little curious, but if you look at the character’s troubled history, it starts to make a little more sense.
Laurie Blake is the daughter of the original Silk Spectre (Sally Jupiter, who changed her last name from Juspeczyk to hide her Polish heritage). The original Silk Spectre was a glamorous figure, into crime fighting both for the thrill of adventuring and the promise of fame that could follow. A far cry from her daugher, the hardened, mask-hating, straight-talking FBI agent we see on the screen now.
When the Minutemen disbanded in the late 1940s, Sally retired from adventuring and married her business manager, Laurence Schexnayder. It was an unhappy marriage, and Laurie grew up assuming that her real father was Hooded Justice, since her mother publicly acted as that hero’s “girlfriend” to avoid the bad press that would come in 1940 if it was revealed that he was homosexual. In reality, Laurie’s father was Edward Blake, the Comedian, although she didn’t learn this fact until much later in life. The Comedian began his career as a member of the Minutemen, alongside Silk Spectre and Hooded Justice, but was kicked out after he sexually assaulted Sally.
Sally groomed her daughter from an early age to take over the Silk Spectre mantle as a legacy hero, something which Laurie seemed to embrace early on, but ultimately resented as she got older. But at the age of 16, Laurie made her crime fighting debut as the new Silk Spectre. She was present at the failed attempt by former Minutemen member Captain Metropolis to start a new hero group (the Crimebusters) in 1966, where she first encountered her real father, the Comedian. It was at that meeting where she also met Dr. Manhattan, and the pair soon became crime fighting partners and, eventually, lovers.
Laurie was romantically involved with Dr. Manhattan for a significant portion of her costumed career, and officially retired when the Keene Act was passed in 1977, outlawing masked vigilante activity. Her relationship with Dr. Manhattan began to deteriorate as the immensely powerful superhuman began to lose touch with his humanity, which was a constant source of frustration for Laurie. After Dr. Manhattan left Earth (thanks to a smear campaign led in secret by Adrian Veidt) Laurie became romantically involved with Dan Dreiberg, the hero formerly known as Nite Owl. The pair violated the Keene Act (and a number of other laws) by putting on their costumes to rescue the residents of a burning building, and then busting Rorschach out of jail. At the conclusion of the original Watchmen story, they were living under new identities.
But the book ends in 1985 and HBO’s Watchmen moves the story forward to 2019. Laurie was 35 in the book, and has lived nearly the same amount of time in the ensuing years. That’s quite a time jump, and a challenge for both the show’s producers and Smart herself.
“Obviously it gives us some freedom, you know, but it certainly adds another dimension to her because she’s still so much kind of living in the past,” she says. “You know, that’s a part of her personality that I don’t think she likes. But it’s a big part of her.”
Despite Agent Blake’s hard exterior, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” does manage to show how the character is “living in the past,” and displaying a seemingly uncharacteristic sentimentality. We can see that she’s still carrying a torch for Jon (both in the form of her extended “platinum user” calls to Mars via the Trieu “phone booth” and the blue sex toy she brings to bed with her), but also for Dan (in the form of the pet owl she keeps in her apartment). There’s even a Warhol-esque painting of Laurie as Silk Spectre, Dan as Nite Owl, the Comedian, and Dr. Manhattan on the wall of her apartment, the closest to a “family portrait” she seems to have in her personal life.
And while HBO has yet to reveal all the details about what Laurie has been up to since 1985, we can start to fill in the blanks. According to HBO’s official supplemental materials for the show, Peteypedia, Laurie and Dreiberg were arrested in 1995 for “violations of the Keene Act” implying that their costumed adventures continued for after the conclusion of the original Watchmen story. Shortly after the events of Watchmen, Laurie assumed a new costumed identity as the Comedienne, after her father. Both of these points follow on from the final pages of the book, where Dan and Laurie, in their new secret identities of Sam and Sandra Hollis, briefly discuss the idea of “adventuring,” while Laurie contemplates a more practical and protective costume…specifically the kind of leather get-up that the Comedian wore.
As it turns out, Dan and Laurie were abducted in the process of stopping Oklahoma City terrorist bomber Timothy McVeigh from carrying out his infamous 1995 attack. Peteypedia reveals (via an FBI transcript of Laurie’s interrogation) that by this point, Laurie and Dan were no longer partners in the romantic or professional sense, and had reunited specifically for this mission. However, it’s also revealed that Dan won’t cooperate with the FBI after the arrest, while Laurie is at least willing to have a conversation with agents. The end of the transcript indicates that she’s willing to trade on her father’s identity and status within the government to cut a deal that gets her out of prison.
Laurie was never fond of the Comedian, thanks to the knowledge that he had sexually assaulted her mother early in their respective costumed careers, but she certainly has inherited a lot of Edward Blake’s cynicism on this show. While Laurie was always somewhat hard-edged in the comics, it has been amplified considerably in her later life. This could very well be a result of the fact that Laurie learned the truth about Adrian Veidt’s culpability in the deaths of millions of New Yorkers in 1985 (the act which also causes the show’s “squid rain”) and it hardened her even further. Rorschach often said that Edward Blake “saw the world for what it really is” and this may now be the case with Laurie.
But there’s also something to be said about perspective. Learning the truth about Veidt’s plan, and the utterly cold, cruel logic of it seemed to change something, even temporarily in Laurie. The final pages of the book see forgiving Sally for keeping the truth about her father from her.
“People’s lives take them strange places. They do strange things and…sometimes they can’t talk about them. I know how that is. I love you, Mom. You never did anything wrong by me.”
With that line may come an implicit forgiveness of Edward Blake, as well.
But then why operate professionally under the name “Blake” rather than “Juspeczyk” or even “Jupiter?” It’s important to remember that Edward Blake was a decorated government operative, and perhaps the last “licensed” masked adventurer in the Watchmen universe before the passage of DOPA. He helped win the Vietnam War alongside Dr. Manhattan and was tight with high ranking government officials, including President Nixon. Adopting the “Blake” name would give Laurie instant credibility in government circles (the truth of her parentage was never public knowledge), particularly in a male-dominated FBI in the less enlightened 1990s.
The answers will surely be coming in future episodes. Still, there are unique challenges in crafting a character like this for a TV series, as opposed to a feature film, where an actor knows where everything ends up right from the outset.
“The thing about being an actor is you want to be very specific about things,” she says. “That’s what makes your character more interesting, their relationships and their reactions to things. But at the same time, you’re afraid that you might marry yourself to something that later on in the season you’ll go, ‘Oh, why did I establish that? That really is not helping me. I wish I could go back and undo that.’ So it’s kind of an odd balance of…trying to commit yourself to things really strongly, but at the same time, you’re going to keep yourself open, because you’re waiting to see what happens.”
But reconciling the Laurie of the book with the Agent Blake of the show’s scripts was a journey in itself.
“Pretty much every script was sort of a new adventure,” Smart says. “But again, we have somebody like Damon…you can trust that it’s going to be interesting.”