Who are you? Do the people we love really know us? Do we really know the people we love?
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
This is a main theme in the series, but in this episode the question plays a key role. See, Angela’s friend/father figure Judd Crawford has been murdered, and that’s sad, but there’s more to him than she knew. How does she find this out? Weirdly through a stranger. An old man who claims to have strung her captain up. Angela can’t trust a murderer, right?
Well, let’s take a minute to consider who is trustworthy in this world of ours, because as a black person in America, Angela needs to be very careful about whom she trusts. We get a real-life example of how tricky this can be at the top of our hour when we learn that the Germans dropped leaflets entreating African-American troops to abandon their posts and defect to the enemy side during the First World War. Why? Consider how you’re treated in your home country, the flyer argues, you’re not fighting for real freedom, are you? It’s a decent point, honestly. I mean, here’s the “enemy” speaking directly to a group of people who are being marginalized in their home country.
We see one of the soldiers reading this paper only to find out that he’s actually the father of the 7 year old boy from the pilot. And that this piece of paper is the same one on which he scribbles “Watch over this boy” when sending his son away. So where did the poor boy wind up? Ultimately, at the bakery/batcave of Angela Abar being grilled by her badass alter-ego Sister Night.
Now, despite the fact that Angela doesn’t fully trust this man, she did remove him from the crime scene and opted to interview him on her own, instead of bringing him in as is protocol. Why does she do this? At first blush you can guess that emotions take over and she brings him to her private quarters in order to get the truth and dispense her own form of justice without interference. However, given the man’s age, it’s a safe bet that Angela does the math – here is a black man (his age won’t matter in the eyes of her colleagues) sitting under the body of their dead superior claiming to have killed him – this man would be dead on arrival. I believe Angela recognizes the danger he is in and decides, since she is (from what I’ve seen the series) the only black detective, to take him on herself.
And, considering the actions of her colleagues following their discovery of the captain’s body, she’s not wrong. Red Scare nearly beats a photographer to death, Looking Glass indicates she’s a person of interest simply because she was the last to see Crawford alive, and the whole damn force goes to Nixonville without much convincing necessary to round up and attack the poor white denizens. Hell, even Angela briefly loses herself to her grief before getting a grip and fleeing the scene. But, doing the right thing comes with its own set of complications.
Angela, being a detective, doesn’t just take Will (said old man) at his word; she’s smart enough to get a DNA sample from him. This allows the audience a deeper understanding of the “Redfordations” that were mentioned in the pilot. Welcome to the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage dedicated to informing people of the tragic Tulsa Massacre of 1921 (which opened our series, and introduced us to a 7 year old Will). Within its walls is a series of kiosks that allow visitors to submit a DNA sample to find out if they are a descendant of someone who suffered from racial violence the day Black Wall Street died. If they are, that makes them eligible for reparations. My guess is this is thanks to current Treasury Secretary Henry Louis Gates Jr. (in our world he’s a well-respected Harvard professor and black activist/historian) who serves as your digital guide at the center kiosks. Angela’s move allows her to identify Will though it comes with a surprise: he’s her biological grandfather!
Mind you, this revelation follows another, more unpleasant surprise – Angela finds a Klu Klux Klan robe hidden in Judd’s closet. What was she doing snooping through her dead friend’s things? Will told her that the captain has skeletons in his closet, which, funnily enough Angela takes literally and winds up discovering the aforementioned robe. At first she accuses Will of planting it there, after all it was super easy to find (not true considering she had to use high-tech x-ray specs), but also because she can’t fathom her friend having something so racist in his possession. However, she found the object upstairs, which Will points out would be something of a trick for him to plant, but she throws back at him his confession to hanging a man despite his wheelchair, it’s a pretty funny moment honestly. Still, the development finally pushes her to arrest this stranger.
Now, here’s an interesting scene. Earlier in the episode, after Angela stops Red Scare from killing the “moth” (a news photographer who flies in drone-like wearing a contraption that makes them look like…well…moths), they cut the captain down. It is as Angela is holding her dead friend’s body that we flash back to the White Night.
It’s Christmas Eve, almost midnight, and Angela is dancing with her husband Calvin as he tries to convince her that he’s allowed to open his gift early. Their loving banter is cut short when Angela realizes that someone has broken into their home. She acts quickly, managing to kill the intruder only to be surprised by a gunshot to the chest from a second assailant. As she stares down the barrel of a gun the screen goes black, and when we open our eyes again who do we see but Judd Crawford sitting in a chair next to us. We are Angela; she’s in a hospital bed. Judd informs her that a coordinated attack of 40 officers’ homes has resulted in mass casualties, including her partner and his wife. He explains that the news is calling the event the “White Night”, and that due to fear the rest of the force has quit. Angela says fuck that to which Judd agrees.
We can see the pain on Angela’s face, even through her Sister Night mask, as she holds Judd’s body for the last time. Cut to Angela cradling her grandfather as she tries to put him in the passenger seat of her car and that same pain can be seen only there’s no mask to hide it and it is conflicted. We won’t understand the depth of her expression until this story is finished being told, but believe me when I say it is an amazing an nuanced performance that Regina King gives us here, and it is good reason to rewatch this series at least one more time once you’ve finished.
Overall this is a fine episode. And yes, there’s another chapter in the side-story that is our mysterious old man living in the country side mansion. His identity isn’t much of a mystery though, any Watchmen fan can easily guess who this is, and this chapter definitely moves the needle closer to an inevitable conclusion. See, he’s finished his play at last and it’s about Dr. Manhattan – specifically, his origin. The players are his loyal servants, except we’ve only seen two so far and one is sacrificed for the sake of our man’s art. Yet, the presumed dead servant is seemingly revived but this time in blue body paint and a mask to play the good doctor. Was it some miraculous feat of technology? Nope! Turns out the two servants we first see are just a series of clones. That’s technology, right? Ehhh, stay with me and you’ll see that answer gets tricky. At any rate, our older gentleman makes for a cruel god. But why? And who is he? And who are they? Patience, I promise it’ll be worth the wait.
Despite enjoying most of this episode, I do have a few things to point out and or criticize.
For one thing, there’s Jim Beaver’s appearance. He is, I’m assuming, the biological grandfather to Angela and Calvin’s children. This might cause some confusion, so I’ll clarify. The night Angela’s partner and his wife were killed their three children survived. Angela adopted those kids (which explains why they are white, while she and Calvin are black), and the man now on her doorstep is their biological grandfather. He also makes mention of her “Redfordations” in a scornful way before claiming he has a legal right to see those kids. His love must not be that binding though, as Angela cuts him a check to leave and he takes it. Does this mean he is too poor and can’t afford rejecting her money, or, that he’s only interested in money and we can assume he’s extorted her this way before? It’s a good question that is never answered and never brought up again. Granted, the timeline for this series isn’t very long, but still…
There’s also the “American Hero Story” show within a show. This was advertised in the pilot, but this episode is the first time we get to see some of the actual show. What’s interesting is that this scene is used to bridge many of our main players. Angela (who should definitely not be letting her children watch this), Looking Glass, and the Kavalry are all tuning in. You’ll find out soon enough that this selection of viewers is well thought out. The Kavalry clearly have a tie to the Watchmen of the original comic, given their Rorschach masks, Angela and Calvin have a unique relationship we won’t discover until later, and of course Looking Glass, whose personal experience will be explored very soon.
What’s with the floating building blocks Topher has? I could barely get a view of the box and it seems like they are magnetic in some way? I know they are branded with Dr. Manhattan in mind, that much I got from the box, but still…how are you just gonna throw a floating building in a kid’s room and say absolutely NOTHING ABOUT IT!?
Finally, the title of this episode is a take on an 1834 oil painting created by a man who was intrigued by Native American culture. We see this painting in Judd’s house as Angela is leaving after she’s found his Klan robe, and it transitions us to the Old man in the countryside side-story, but why exactly is it significant enough to be used as the title? Is the old man supposed to be represented here? Is Judd? The painting is of Comanche warriors who learn a riding maneuver that allows them to hide behind their horse while still being able to attack their enemies. The old man makes sense because his servants would be the horse he hides behind, and uses, but Judd isn’t a bad fit either. He used his badge to hide behind, while possibly still hurting those he’s been sword to protect. There are even better cases to be made here, but I’ll wait until the end to run them down. For now, and in the scope of what we know up till now, this episode title doesn’t make too much sense.
Again, this is a show that benefits highly from rewatching it. Sure, you’ll enjoy the initial viewing, but man…a rewatch really opens your eyes to the majesty that the writers, directors, and showrunner all created in just nine episodes.