Watchmen Episode 3: A Comic's Comic

Heard joke once. 

Man goes to doctor, says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel.

Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain.

Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pogliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him, That should pick you up.” 

Man bursts into tears.

Says, But Doctor…

…I am Poglacci.”

Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

—Rorschach. 

poglaicci.jpeg

Leave it to Alan Moore to have a thematically important joke delivered by the character least able to tell it, while the art depicts the murder of a man who actually called himself the Comedian.  The Comedian himself was never particularly funny; his comedy was the corrosive irony of the truth teller. No doctor would ever prescribe a visit to the Comedian, unless that doctor’s last name were Kevorkian (Roll on snare drum!). 

Fortunately for viewers of episode 3 of Watchmen, we are in the hands of a much more capable comedian than the Comedian: the Comedian’s daughter, Laurie (Juspeczyk) Blake. [1]. In her daily interactions, Laurie grates on most of the people she encounters, but this is presumably intentional: nearly everything she says or does is some form of a joke, and the joke is usually on her interlocutor.  Not a crowdpleaser, Laurie is what people in the biz call a “comic’s comic”: a comedian whose mastery of the art is better appreciated by her peers than by the public at large. 

The entire episode is structured around Laurie’s attempt to tell a joke, in a situation that continually suggests that the joke is on her.  If it were, that would be consistent with the graphic novel. When Laurie discovers her parentage, she even declares that her life has been “one big joke.” [2]. In a lovely conceit by Lindelof and co, Laurie is telling her joke in one of the many payphone booths set up to allow people to send messages to Dr. Manhattan on Mars.  This means that, as she herself says, he will probably never hear it, and, as she also says, Jon (Dr Manhattan) never had sense of humor to being with. So she is doomed to failure.

Are you there, God? It’s me, Laurie

Are you there, God? It’s me, Laurie

Or is she?

Her first attempt at a joke is about a bricklayer who wants to teach his daughter all the secrets of his craft.  He designs and builds a barbecue,, but there is one extra brick.  Furious, he takes a hammer to his creation, but his daughter says that she knows what to do with the brick.  She throws the brick up in the air, and….No, Laurie has lost the thread.  

Just as the secret of her father’s identity was a joke played on her in the comic, the bricklayer joke about a father and daughter is also clearly about Laurie.  Laurie has (shockingly) taken her father’s last name, and now seems to be outdoing him at his own game, except it looks like she can’t stick the landing.  The joke fails.  

[Cut to Laurie pretending to rob a bank in order to snare a vigilante, followed by several more scenes that both advance the plot and establish her cutting wit.]

So she switches to another one, this time a variation on a classic.  Three heroes die and end up at the pearly gates, with God asking them about their lives to determine if they’re worth of heaven or bound for hell.  The first is the Owl.  God gave him brains, and he invented weapons and a flying ship.  How many people did he kill? Zero. God frowns.  Sorry, Owl, your heart’s in the right place, but you’re too soft.  God snaps his fingers and the hero goes to hell.

[Cut to an FBI briefing about Tulsa, and to Laurie agreeing to bring along on her Tulsa assignment the only guy who thinks that knowing something about Rorschach might be important. During their banter on the plane, Laurie constantly puts him in his place, until he reminds her of his credentials, of how seriously he takes recent history, and how he will not be dismissed as a fan.  For once, Laurie seems to back down]

The second hero is the smartest man in the world.  God asks what he did with that big brain.  Simple. He saved humanity by dropping a giant alien squid on New York.  How many people did he kill? About 3 million.  “Christ!” Says God. “You’re a fucking monster.”  And He sends him to hell. 

[Cut to Laurie confronting some masked police officers manhandling a suspect. Again, she controls the situation through joking. She also gets the upper hand in her interactions with Looking Glass checking her teeth in his mirrored mask. ] 

The third hero is a god himself. He’s blue, and “likes to stroll around with his dick hanging out.” He doesn’t care about humanity.  How many people have you killed? “A live body and a dead boy have the same number of particles. And it doesn’t matter how I answer your question. I know you’re sending me to hell. Because I’m already there.” 

[Cut to the funeral.  Laurie confronts Angela: "You know how you can tell the difference between a masked copy and a vigilante?” “No.” “Me, neither.” A suicide bomber attacks the funeral.  Laurie shots him, Angela drags his body into the open grave and throws Judd’s coffin (and Judd) on top of him, saving everyone.  She, too, has a comedian’s sense of timing.] 

After more back-and forth with Angela, Laurie returns to the joke (or we return to Laurie, joke still in progress). It’s been a long day at the Pearly Gates.  But someone else is waiting there.  Not a hero, jus a woman.  “I was standing behind those other guys the whole time. You just didn’t see me.”  She has no talent to speak of, and God says , “I don’t know who you are.”  She responds, “I’m the little girl who threw the brick in the air.” Then God hears a noise, looks up, and the brick smashes his head open.  “And where does God go when dies? He goes to hell. Roll on snare drum.  Curtains.  Good joke.” 

She leaves the booth, when suddenly a car (the one from last week) falls from the sky and crashes in front of her. Suddenly, the joke might be on her again, especially if Jon is somehow behind all this.  But she is never going to be the butt of the joke again.  If she can’t be the teller, then at least she’ll be the audience.  And a good audience, too, since she’s a professional.  A comic’s comic.  She laughs, looking up at …the owlship? As it morphs into something looking like…Mars.?

The episode throws so many shocks at us that it’s easy to forget a seemingly minor one: until this point, we could have assumed that Laurie’s phone call is a flashback, but now we learn that it is taking place after all the rest of the episode’s action. This is not just classic Lindelof (see under: Lost), it’s classic Watchmen. Sure, Laurie could have somehow indicated to us that she has already “seen” the episode we’re watching, but why should she ruin the punchline? Like some kind of Republic serial villain?

By the end of the episode, Laurie the joke teller turns out to be much savvier than she initially led on, and has in fact set up a shaggy dog story that is immensely satisfying.  I can’t help but think that this is even more meta than it seems.  Telling jokes to a godlike being who a) probably isn’t listening and b) wouldn’t know a good joke if it kicked him in his blue balls is a recipe for failure.  [3]

Do I look like I’m going to pick up the phone?

Do I look like I’m going to pick up the phone?

So, of course, is the very idea of doing Watchmen as a television show,.  And yet, so far at least, Lindelof's team has managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat every week.  I imagine Damon Lindelof in a phone booth, trying to call Alan Moore.  He has a great story to tell, against all odds and ethics.  But Alan, building sandcastles in his remote Northampton retreat, will probably never pick up the receive and hear what Damon has to say. And why should he?  He’s seen this story before, a hundred times, and he knows how it will end.  But what if HBO is the equivalent of tachyons, messing with his ability to see the future of the story that he began? 

 

All the Other Stuff

  • This episode delivers more information about the past 30 years than the last two combined, thanks to the FBI briefing.

  • Keane's comment to Laurie about her owl finally being let out of his cage suggests that Dan Dreiberg is probably in prison. 

  • Does anyone believe Keane isn’t evil? He must have masterminded the whole funeral attack, including the idea of using him as a hostage. 

  • “Please don’t treat me like I’m some kind of fan.” Phoning Alan Moore, phoning Alan Moore.  Eh, he’ll never pick up. 

  • “Guess I better change into something darker.”  Clearly, Laurie already did that years ago.

  • Are the Russians building an intrinsic field generator?  Interesting.  Of course, they’re our allies now, right?

  • “Don’t rule out extremist gophers.”  Oh, honey, it’s 2019.  I don’t rule out extremist anything. 

  • “I eat good guys for breakfast.”  God, I hope this wasn’t meant to be a double entendre. ‘Cause it really works.

  • The shot of Laurie framed by the night vision glasses is very Watchmen

  • Adrian Veidt has now said his name aloud, quoted himself again, and put on his ridiculous costume. Plus he has an ongoing conflict with a “Game Warden,” who is somehow overseeing his “incarceration.” Plus he keeps killing clones. No, I don’t know what’s going on.

  • Laurie owns a huge blue phallic sex toy?  Maybe this is the space junk the title refers to.

  • Instead of using it, she has sex with her new partner, Peter. Once again, she is choosing the nice, ordinary guy over the Wang of God.  




Notes

[1] DC Comics has had a number of iterations of a character calling herself “The Joker’s Daughter,” but she’s rarely as funny or as interesting as dear old Dad. 

[2] Viewers who come to the graphic novel after watching the series are bound to be disappointed in Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ Laurie, who is nowhere near this interesting. 

[3] And so much about these jokes echoes the joke that ends (and frames) the first issue of Watchmen.  The first issue starts with someone having fallen, while we look down from just above a skyscraper, and ends with Dan and Laurie  standing on top of a building while the “camera” keeps puling higher and higher into the air. And what are they talking about? Rorschach throwing someone down an elevator shaft.  In both the comic and the show, what comes up must come down.