Season 1, Episode 4: ‘If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own’
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Or, to put it more aptly: Which came first, the weird clone fetuses pulled up from a lobster trap at the bottom of the lake or the mechanical egg that develops them into confused, rudderless servants?
For once, we know the answer to these questions, because the lives that are created in this episode of “Watchmen” are unnatural, born as means to mysterious ends by two characters with the boundless resources to play God. But the show has been hitting the egg theme consistently since the first episode, when Angela Abar cracked eggs in a class demonstration and the yolks spilled out in a smile that cheekily evoked the Comedian’s badge. Eggs turned up again when Will Reeves did some cooking on Abar’s underused bakery stove, and once more in the closing credits of the second episode, set to the classic Beastie Boys’ track “Eggman.”
The Beastie Boys put the symbolism plainly enough in the lyrics (“The egg, a symbol of life”), but “Eggman” is about destroying eggs, by tossing them out the car window or loading up a slingshot. That particular part of the song comes to mind when Adrian Veidt and his servants load the bodies of dead clones onto a catapult and launch them at various trajectories. Until now, Veidt was so isolated from the other action on the show that all we could do was observe his actions with curiosity and horror, wondering when his story might intersect with the others. That’s still an open question, but his bloodless creation and disposal of cloned drones finally gives him a clear thematic connection to rest of an episode.
Enter Lady Trieu (Hong Chau). The superb opening sequence, set to Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’s karaoke-ready duet, “Islands in the Stream,” details the domestic bliss at Clark Acres Farms, where the Clarks have settled into a pleasing routine: puzzle-solving, flossing, snuggling — all in wordless harmony. When Trieu turns up on their doorstep in the middle of the night, she gives them precisely three minutes of her time to answer a life-changing ultimatum. She needs their property immediately, and she can give them “legacy” in the form of a child, created secretly from their own sperm and egg — leftovers from their failed attempt to conceive 10 years earlier, in a fertility clinic owned by Trieu.
It’s an offer they can’t refuse — and Trieu, a trillionaire, doesn’t seem like the type to take “no” for an answer. But it also revives and satisfies a wish for a family that went dormant for the Clarks over time. For a baby boy and $5 million for their troubles, they can relocate.
What is the value of life? Radically different answers are offered by various characters this episode. For Veidt and Trieu, whose stories are deeply intertwined, an individual life is meaningless, a synthetic chip in the games they’ve been playing. For the Clarks, a life is so precious that they’ll willingly surrender the family farm within about 30 seconds. The distance in wealth and privilege matters here — Veidt and Trieu believe themselves to be consequential in ways they can’t conceive ordinary people to be — but there’s a moral component, too, that casts their agendas in a harsh light. By dropping a squid on New York City in the ’80s, Veidt already made a decision once to sacrifice millions for the sake of many millions more. Who knows what he’s plotting next or what Trieu has planned for the “big clock” that’s most assuredly not an unwieldy timepiece.
By contrast, Abar’s husband, Calvin, views life with neither sentiment nor flippancy. When the Abar children want to know what happened to Uncle Judd after he died, Calvin coolly dispatches the fantasy of a heavenly afterlife: You’re born, you live, you die. “Now he’s nowhere,” he explains firmly, which might sound cold, but also implies that the time you’re alive matters. That much is clear when Abar gains access to a new branch on her family tree and discovers the fragile link between herself and her grandfather, Will Reeves, the sole survivor in his immediate family of the Tulsa massacre. She’s furious with him for upending the most basic assumptions she had about her boss and her job, but she seems to understand that he is going to realign her mission.
The revelation that Reeves is in contact with Trieu — hiding away with her, in fact — opens up all kinds of speculation about the nature of their arrangement and how much it has to do with a shared interest in racial justice. In the context of this episode, however, it makes sense for Trieu to use “legacy” as leverage to get what she wants out of the Clarks and Reeves. She isn’t chucking bodies from a catapult, but there’s still a sense that human life is a form of utility or currency, presided over by a fabulously wealthy person who has the privilege to consider the bigger picture. After all, you can’t get an omelette without cracking a few eggs.
Fans of the graphic novel will notice a couple of references lately to its own fictional comic-book writer, Max Shea. Last week, Laurie was staying at the Black Freighter motel, a callback to Shea’s swashbuckling series “Tales of the Black Freighter.” This week, Mrs. Clark is shown reading a paperback copy of “Fogdancing,” a novel he wrote after leaving comics for good.
“In anticipation of our negotiation, I took the liberty of creating your son.”
Slogans are apparently thriving in the alternate world of “Watchmen,” from Abar’s bakery (“We Let Saigons Be Saigons”) to the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage (“Where the Answers to Life’s Mysteries are Life’s Histories”).
Shows like “Watchmen” can be so purposefully elusive that it was nice to see Trieu question Reeves about his passive-aggressive strategy of leaving pills in Abar’s glovebox. At least then it’s not solely about teasing viewers with another mystery for no reason.
One mystery solved, however: Reeves doesn’t need the wheelchair, so lynching Crawford is now a more plausible solo job.
Over at Uproxx, Brian Grubb wrote a hilarious list of “relatively straightforward” questions about “Watchmen,” nearly all of them beginning with, “Who is this guy? What’s his deal?” And so to “Lube Man,” we’re left once again to circle back to those same questions.