The story of John Demjanjuk, the Cleveland man who was put on trial in the late '80s and charged with being the notorious concentration camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible, is one of layered complications.
It's a head-scratcher that interrogates generational trauma and the steps necessary for closure, the maintaining of nightmarish memories stretched across decades, the intersection of moral and legal justice, the legal systems in multiple countries and which pieces of the truth we need to protect and prioritize. It raises an astonishing number of questions, very few with settled and settling answers.
I'm not sure there's a version of the Demjanjuk saga that could cover it all completely even in five hours and Netflix's The Devil Next Door is, at best, only able to answer some of the questions it poses and only able to tackle the complications adequately. Boasting a solid cast of principals from Demjanjuk's original trial, Yossi Bloch and Daniel Sivan's newly available documentary series is strongest on that facet of the story, before struggling and stumbling to make any big picture arguments.
For those who don't recall: In 1986, Demjanjuk was arrested and deported to Israel to face trial for war crimes. In his primarily Ukrainian enclave of Cleveland, Demjanjuk was known as a family man and dedicated Ford employee. He appeared to be an ordinary Rust Belt senior citizen and embodiment of the American immigrant dream.
According to recovered Soviet documents and witness statements, however, Demjanjuk was actually a particularly brutal and sadistic piece of the extermination machine at the Treblinka camp. In Israel, a country still grappling with its treatment of Holocaust survivors, this was the biggest trial of its kind since Adolf Eichmann was brought to justice in 1962. It reopened national wounds and became a multi-year saga of conflicting evidence, Cold War paranoia, emotional testimony and the kind of twists and turns you'd expect from perhaps a Leon Uris novel.
Shows of this sort can often, for a variety of reasons, have access only to a one-sided perspective, but Bloch and Sivan do about as well as one possibly could to assemble the key players from an incident that began over 30 years ago. Flamboyant Israeli defense attorney Yoram Sheftel, who became something of a national pariah and later a bestselling author for representing Demjanjuk, is the documentary's most candid talking head and increasingly its central figure. Several members of Demjanjuk's extended family and his American attorney Mark J. O'Connor are featured. On the other side, prosecutors Michael Shaked and Eli Gabay offer insight, as do two of the three judges who heard the case.
The trial was nationally televised and so The Devil Next Door can rely heavily on courtroom footage, which is especially necessary here since Treblinka was already a camp of such horrifying efficiency it left precious few survivors and it was already crucial to Demjanjuk's case at the time that it might be the last opportunity to seek justice for the few remaining witnesses.
The filmmakers' approach does not seem to have been one of independent investigation, so this is not an opportunity to dredge up new information or evidence, much less to gain fresh knowledge on the problematic evidence and testimony presented at the time. That keeps The Devil Next Door from having the urgency of The Staircase or the first season of Making a Murderer. Sticking with Netflixtrue crime limited series, this may have more in common with Evil Genius, but without that show's meta commentary on authorship and obsession, finally its most intriguing element.
Here, the main interview subjects have some introspection on what they went through, but they haven't been saving secrets or dramatically ered viewpoints. The trial was full of shocking and unbelievable moments and I think the presentation here may play even more astonishingly now to viewers who don't remember any of these events from when they were unfolding. A lot of the mistakes and inconsistencies are more glaring at this distance. I just wish that when the directors let defense figures, especially Sheftel, make allegations of conspiracies and gross legal miscarriages, that there was any ability to use the intervening decades to get additional clarification.
The directors do so well to populate the Israeli trial portion of the story, but aren't nearly as successful following the case past that. There are subsequent globe-trotting chapters that are barely afterthoughts. Then the series closes with almost a 30-minute postscript that introduces utterly provocative ideas — like the willingness of the U.S. government to allow former Nazis and Nazi-adjacent figures into the country post-WWII because they were also anti-Communist — and brings them to the current moment without the time or experts to honor those ideas.
Even beyond the "Was Demjanjuk really Ivan the Terrible?" question, which has a borderline simple-ish answer, there are so many quandaries associated with Demjanjuk that the series isn't able to answer or decides to treat as intentionally fuzzy and surrender on completely. I can imagine many viewers deciding the simple question is the most important question and completely missing the farther-reaching implications and moral uncertainties, much less how they touch on our lives today. In this light, I'm not sure the title was all that well or appropriately chosen either, since the Cleveland portion of the story that it points to is thin and under-represented, when it could have been substantive.
The Devil Next Door shares producers with Wild Wild County and like that series — but without any interview subject as revealing or shocking as Ma Anand Sheela — it's a look back on an '80s moment that experienced a wave of sensationalism and exposure at the time. It may play better if you know or remember very little and are content to head to the Internet after watching to try to research the dark corners barely illuminated here. It's a watchable and fast-moving show that could introduce some viewers to something important. I wish it were able to dig deeper.
[Editor's Note: The following review contains spoilers for world history between 1964-1977 and Season 3 of “The Crown.”]
In the year of our lord 1969, man landed on the moon. American men, to be specific.
The momentous event occurred 16 years into the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the supreme monarch of the United Kingdom as well as assorted realms, territories, and a commonwealth that spanned the circumference of the planet from which those men came.
One would think that the most powerful woman in the world would have some thoughts about her former colony achieving one of the most stunning achievements of humankind. Less than 200 years after the U.S. kicked England to the curb, they put together a space program out of, essentially, spit and twigs provided by the lowest bidder, and landed on the moon.
Season 3 of “The Crown” takes place during this time period, and Episode 7, “Moondust”, centers on the mission of Apollo 11. So how does Elizabeth feel about the literal eclipse of the British Empire?
Well, we'll never know, because the vast majority of the episode focuses on how her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has his big boy feelings hurt by being an old military man who can't jump into orbit himself.
Let’s make this perfectly clear: Besides the universal exhilaration she experienced at the moment, I want to see a dramatized version of how Queen Elizabeth felt when the Americans beat her to the moon. I do not care how Prince Philip felt. I care about how the ruler of a millennia-spanning monarchy felt when its wayward child bested it. I want to explore Elizabeth’s feelings, and explorations of Elizabeth’s feelings are nearly non-existent in Season 3 of “The Crown.”
This is a sin of omission, and one that almost derails the entire season. As written by showrunner Peter Morgan, Elizabeth is the least important person in the story, vacant except as a means to react to the antics of her family and world events. It is a recurring pattern: An episode centers on what should be one of the peripheral players — Princess Margaret, Prince Charles, Prince Philip's man feelings again, Prince Philip's mother, Lord Mountbatten, Nazi Uncle David — only to have The Crown herself pop in at the end amid a stampede of corgis and comment on the situation.
There are attempts to explain away the show's utter lack of interest in her interior life. Early on, Elizabeth says she is damaged; she doesn't feel emotion; she didn't cry at the birth of her children. So, apparently, there isn’t a focus on Elizabeth’s feelings because she doesn’t have them? It's an odd scene — one that contradicts the obvious worry and concern for others that she showed in previous seasons. She's not a psychopath, after all, just overburdened by the duty of being the human embodiment of an ancient institution.
This is the exact territory that Morgan gloriously covered to Oscar-nominated effect in 2006’s “The Queen,” and the reluctance to further explore it for television is baffling. This is the same problem “The Crown” suffered in the first three episodes of Season 2, where we followed the Duke of Edinburgh’s good ol’ boy globetrotting instead of Elizabeth’s spurned anguish.
Is Morgan simply reluctant to revisit themes he covered over a decade ago? Possibly — but the visual shorthand that is used instead does not suffice and cheapens the overall arc. The recurring image of Queen Elizabeth staring out of windows as a stand-in for exploring her emotional turmoil is an easy out for Morgan. After all, why try to plumb the depths of a woman who is dealing with what she believes is an ordination by God to serve her country when we could instead focus on winsome polo groupie Camilla Shand?
What saves the show — and, indeed, what always saves “The Crown”, year after year — is the astounding performances and production values. Colman is, as she always is, a joy to watch, all sparky charisma — this Queen Elizabeth tells jokes — giving texture and nuance to her character in a way that isn't written on the page. She not only smoothes over the emotional holes in Morgan's scripts, she creates profound undercurrents. It’s worth admiring the things Colman can do with a single look: a downward shift in her eyes when dealing with Philip in Episode 1 reveals decades of dismay; a later Don Draper-level of cunning intervention in his life is conveyed via a glance while she's, yes, taking a walk with the corgis. Her performance in the closing minutes of Episode 3, centered on the horrifying 1966 Aberfan mining disaster in Wales, instantly puts Colman at the forefront of next year's Emmy race. It is breathtaking.
Tobias Menzies is a more comfortable fit for the swaggering, belittling and belittled Prince Philip than Matt Smith ever was; he looms larger both physically and in terms of the sheer radiance of his arrogance. Helena Bonham Carter wildly blends exuberance and profound melancholy as Princess Margaret; she's the reason it's even more baffling Morgan didn't write Elizabeth as a multi-dimensional middle-aged woman — Carter's messy but endearing Margaret shows that it can be done. Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten is worth keeping your Netflix subscription through his tenure in “The Crown” Season 4; Josh O'Connor lays the groundwork for an empathetic portrayal of sheltered, shattered Prince Charles. And proving that some people hit the Pick Six in the creative talent lottery, “Killing Eve” Season 2 showrunner Emerald Fennell stars as Camilla Shand, soon to become — spoiler alert — Camilla Parker Bowles.
On top of this Murderer's Row of acting talent, everyone and everything just looks spectacular. “The Crown” is undefeated in the Emmy costuming race; during Season 1 Michele Clapton took the trophy while Jane Petrie won in Season 2. Amy Roberts has taken the helm in Season 3 and her work is as painstaking and as beautiful as her predecessors, especially given the fact that the fashions of the era have not, shall we generously say, stood the test of time as classics. The production design also was Emmy-nominated in 2018 but lost to the “Game of Thrones” dragon-based juggernaut; with that out of the way, it should take its rightful trophy this year.
And so we're left with a conundrum. What is on the screen in “The Crown” is a gorgeous display of some of the age's best actors performing at the peak of their craft. The final “Aberfan” scene from Colman will be taught in drama schools, I can guarantee it. And yet, Colman is relegated to reacting more than acting because of how her role is written. By Season 3 of “The Crown” Queen Elizabeth is no longer an ingenue, fumbling her way around a dynasty she didn't anticipate inheriting. She's a complex sovereign in a complex time, the defender of the faith. Morgan should show some more faith in her himself.
“The Crown” Season 3 will debut Nov. 17 on Netflix.
The slew of live-action and computer-animated remakes of Disney’s hand-drawn animated classics have largely managed to feel creatively bereft, but they have never been entirely pointless. Why does a remake of Aladdin or Dumbo or The Lion King exist? If nothing else, to further fill the coffers of the Walt Disney Company, so that its executives can pull a Scrooge McDuck and dive through the cash. It’s a cynical view, and arguably a point that doesn’t impact anyone who isn’t a shareholder or investor in the company. But these movies exist for at least that one reason.
What, exactly, is the point of a streaming-only remake of an animated film? This question exists now for us to ponder thanks to the upcoming arrival of Disney+, a company-owned streaming service that will house hundreds of older films, thousands of episodes of TV shows, and new content such as Lady and the Tramp. No, not the 1955 animated film about two dogs from different sides of the tracks in small-town America who fall in love. This is a live-action/CG hybrid remake of that same story, premiering on November 12 on Disney+. Though the service itself is designed to hopefully make Disney lots of money, what would the point be of a film like this, one of many that you can watch once the service is available? It can’t make Lion King money or even Dumbo money. The best thing to say about Lady and the Tramp ‘19 is that it’s tolerable, more so than the other Disney remakes released this year. But that’s not saying a whole lot.
If you’re familiar with the original animated film, the remake directed by Charlie Bean will largely be recognizable. Both films are set in the early years of the 20th century in a picturesque city on the Mississippi River. Our heroine is the Cocker Spaniel puppy Lady voiced by Tessa Thompson, gifted to Darling Kiersey Clemons by her husband Jim Dear Thomas Mann one Christmas morning. Lady’s on the catbird seat for a while, being the love of her owners’ lives…until Darling gets pregnant and the arrival of her newborn understandably shifts priorities around. Once she feels unloved, Lady soon falls for a raffish mutt nicknamed Tramp Justin Theroux. As Lady goes on an unexpected journey around the town, they get closer and Tramp wonders if maybe a domesticated lifestyle is the best way forward.
The script, written by Kari Granlund and Andrew Bujalski yes, of Computer Chess and Support The Girls, covers almost entirely the same ground as the original despite being a half-hour longer at 103 minutes. Lady still has her neighborhood friends Jock and Trusty; Lady still runs afoul of Darling’s stuffy Aunt Sarah played by the always delightful Yvette Nicole Brown; and Lady still winds up in the pound where she learns that Tramp’s spent time with a few other young pups in his day. Hell, Lady still encounters a pair of Siamese cat twins, though it will likely not surprise you to learn that they sing a new song, as opposed to the painfully retrograde and offensive one from the original.
Though there are minor shifts in the story, they’re just that: minor. Jock is now no longer male, but a female dog voiced by Ashley Jensen. Aunt Sarah, while still obnoxious, is treated as a pain by Jim Dear and Darling, and she barely gets to interact with the young couple’s baby she babysat for the child in the animated film, in a fairly key plot point. The updates extend to the songs, as well: “He’s a Tramp”, sung by Janelle Monae, has some new lyrics, for example. The most memorable song of the film is still there, however, as the owner of a local Italian restaurant croons “Bella Notte” while Lady and the Tramp share some noodles and a nuzzle. I would tell you who sings “Bella Notte”, but some things, you should discover for yourself.
It’s not that Lady and the Tramp ‘19 is bad, per se. Bean, whose last credit was The Lego Ninjago Movie, does a decent enough job capturing a blend of old-fashioned America straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting and more modernist tendencies. The way Jim Dear, for example, interacts with an antagonistic and overzealous dogcatcher is mildly humorous, but when he closes an awkward conversation by saying, “Thank you for…whatever this was”, it doesn’t sound like pre-World War I-era banter. Some of the film’s updated touches are also quite charming — Joseph Trapanese brings a jazzy feel to the score, a pleasant way to refresh the low-key music of the original. The cast is mostly fine, essentially singing a cover version of a well-worn song: Theroux and Thompson are solid as the leads, and Jensen and Sam Elliott fit into their canine roles easily.
Of course, to discuss the voice work in Lady and the Tramp ‘19 is to discuss what undoubtedly, unavoidably does not work: the CGI meant to make it look like the dogs’ lips are moving. If you must make a live-action Lady and the Tramp, this is likely the only way to make the core romance work, because how else would they communicate? The problem, though, is that word “If”. No one needed to make this, and the CG effects to make the dogs’ lips move is always unnerving, in spite of the talented actors doing their best to make you forget that. Though their appearance is brief, as it was in the original, the CG on the Siamese cats is particularly rough.
All this said, Lady and the Tramp ‘19 has the unique and not entirely exciting honor of being the best Disney remake of the year, meaning simply that it is the least awful of those films. But it fails to achieve what the best overall Disney remake, the 2016 redo of Pete’s Dragon which is quite a good movie indeed, does. That film took the premise and title of an older property and made something totally new. While those behind the scenes here do an able enough job of remaking the original, they could have taken the title and premise and made something different and arguably better than the first film. In the end, all they’ve done is soften an already fairly soft animated film without making it distinctive. This Lady and the Tramp could’ve been worse, true; it should’ve been better.
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 10, Episode 5, “What It Always Is.”]
It’s tempting to praise “What It Always Is” simply because of how busy it gets. Most “Walking Dead” episodes move like molasses, but this week’s entry has no less than four significant plot threads going, which at least keeps the pace pulsing. Unfortunately, all but one of those threads have major problems, with its most significant entry — Negan Jeffrey Dean Morgan gets a new acolyte — being particularly dire. The upside: Episode 5 sets the stage for more compelling developments next week, but it’s a hard road getting there. The cracks in this season are just getting wider.
Last week I noted that “The Walking Dead” is always more interesting when it explores its heroes’ fallibility, as paranoia about the Whisperers leads to unrest in both Hilltop and Alexandria. Of course, it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you, and it’s revealed this week that Alpha Samantha Morton is behind absolutely everything: the waves of zombies, the tree falling, and even some stuff the communities aren’t aware of yet. So all the rabble rousers who’ve been yelling about how the Whisperers are behind everything and are a threat that must be dealt with are, uh, absolutely correct. I figured “Are the communities their own worst enemies?” would be waved away eventually, just not in the very next episode, making this the sort of turn that makes it very hard to give “TWD” the benefit of the doubt.
And let’s just get it out there: Alpha’s plan makes no sense. She says that she’s winnowing down the communities so that when they collapse, they’ll know who to turn to for safety. But the audience knows that Lydia Cassady McClincy is still alive in Alexandria, and if that fact is revealed to the other Whisperers, Alpha’s leadership will probably be forfeited. Her grip on them is already tenuous enough, what with her having to murder someone who questions her authority nearly every time she appears. How are there even any Whisperers left at this point? So why turn their aggression toward the communities into a recruitment drive, unless Alpha really does just want Lydia back, and her big, nest-smashing disavowal was just a show to keep Beta Ryan Hurst on her side. Or she really does just want to destroy everything, but sending the herd would mean the show would be over, so we get this. Samantha Morton is doing her best, but the Whisperer stuff is just not working.
Similarly disappointing is this week’s main story, where Negan finally encounters someone more irritating than himself. Turns out Brandon Blaine Kern III, the kid who’s been guarding Negan during his outdoor time this season, is the son of some former Saviors and idolizes Negan. It’s a very promising storyline on paper: The current, mellower version of Negan has to face a living incarnation of his old beliefs? That’s extremely intriguing, especially considering how eager the show has been to sweep the Saviors under the rug.
Ryan Hurst and Samantha Morton in “The Walking Dead”
Too bad, then, that Brandon’s just a bad fan; a fawning lunatic who got his Negan info second-hand and doesn’t have the first idea about Negan’s actual actions. Despite recovering Negan’s jacket and forging him a brand-new Lucille Lucille 2!, Brandon immediately gets on Negan’s bad side, assuming that Negan killed Carl Chandler Riggs — aka the one character Negan actually liked. Once the two encounter a woman and a child in the wilderness, everything plays out predictably: Negan bonds with the kid, Brandon kills him and the mother, out of some twisted belief that it’s what Negan wants, and Negan then kills Brandon in retaliation. It plays as Negan killing a menace and irritant and not as any sort of referendum on Negan’s past. If this whole storyline is just some in-joke mockery of Negan’s fans IRL, mission accomplished, but even so, what a missed opportunity. If there’s a bright spot to any of this, it’s that Negan then puts on his old costume and wanders into Whisperer territory looking for a fight. Now that has some possibilities, but hopes aren’t high after Brandon’s squandered, one-joke premise.
The other big miss this episode involves Magna Nadia Hilker and Kelly Angel Theory secretly stealing a bunch of supplies, a plot that’s only foiled when Kelly nearly gets herself killed by going hunting by herself, despite her deteriorating hearing. Sure, we get some cute Daryl Norman Reedus and Connie Lauren Ridloff time out of this, but this attempt to give the newbies something to do is going awry, with Magna in particular coming off as just an unlikeable jerk. It’s unclear why she’s acting out now, when her monologue to Yumiko Eleanor Matsuura makes clear that she’s resented Yumiko for 13 years despite the two being lovers. Magna’s revelation that she’s actually guilty of the crime for which Yumiko served as her defense lawyer and their subsequent break-up seems like it’s supposed to be a big deal, but we barely know these characters, and the result is a shrug. When Daryl points out to Magna, “All you’re good for is talking shit,” what basis does the audience have to disagree?
Finally, there’s Ezekiel Khary Payton, who reveals to Siddiq Avi Nash that he’s got thyroid cancer, as evidenced by a golf ball-sized tumor in his neck. It’s a surprise, and a devastating one, though it goes a long way to explaining Ezekiel’s mental state this season. His sad resignation as he tells Siddiq that both his grandmather and father survived the same cancer that’s sure to kill him is something to behold. Siddiq, to his credit, opens up about his own problems and tells Ezekiel that while they can’t fix things, they can at least talk about it. Even after that, Ezekiel can’t admit the truth to Carol, shutting off the radio as he hears her footsteps approaching. The former King’s future certainly looks dire and losing Ezekiel would be a real blow to the show. In this episode, as usual, Khary Payton finds the humanity the show so regularly lacks.
The Remains Regarding Kelly going hunting on her own: The amount of stubbornness characters exhibit when the stakes are “Be stubborn or be literally eaten alive by ghouls” remains astonishing. On Alpha’s orders, Gamma is damming up the creek with eviscerated corpses, cutting them open so they bleed into the creek. Aaron sees her do it, and eventually offers her a bandage when she cuts her hand. I’m all in favor of Dark Aaron going away, but shouldn’t he let someone know that the Whisperers are poisoning the water supply? Oh, and Gamma is Thora Birch! Didn’t recognize her last time, what with the horrible skin mask and all. Between the many zombie head squashes, the zombie guts in the creek, and Brandon’s brains getting caved in with a rock, this is the juiciest episode of “Walking Dead” in quite some time. Negan bonds with the kid, Milo, by teaching him the fine art of nut tapping. It’s a nice touch that even when he’s being kind, Negan is still pretty douchey. “Wow! Classic Negan!” Between this and trying to rate the sexiness of walkers, were you also counting the seconds until Brandon got offed? The moment Ezekiel coughed this episode you had to have known something was up. Fortunately, it wasn’t dragged out over several episodes. Grade: C
“The Walking Dead” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Watchmen” Episode 3, “She Was Killed by Space Junk.”]
Damon Lindelof likes his jokes. Since a joke is just a story with a punchline, it should come as no surprise that Lindelof tells his jokes just like he tells the rest of his stories: There’s an intriguing premise, a lengthy middle with a few curious twists and turns tossed in, and the punchline is often a thinker. He told a great joke, perhaps the greatest I’ve ever heard in a TV drama, during “The Leftovers” Season 2, stretching a knock knock joke from the premiere to the penultimate episode before revealing the sum total of its payoff.
So, like just about everything else in “Watchmen,” when Laurie Blake Jean Smart, at the top of her extraordinary game picks up the telephone to speak with Dr. Manhattan casting TBA at the start of Episode 3, “She Was Killed by Space Junk,” it wasn’t simply for her or his amusement. In both the literal and figurative sense, Laurie was delivering a message — and that message didn’t reach its audience until the eponymous space junk aka Angela Abar’s abducted automobile nearly killed her. As the joke unfolded, viewers learned so much about the former Silk Spectre, a bit more about the death of Chief Crawford Don Johnson, and even got one more joke tossed in the middle.
The third episode of “Watchmen,” co-written by Lindelof and fellow “Leftovers” talent Lila Byock, captured the best elements of the series’ complex roots and aspirations, delivering a compelling character study and a vehement condemnation of self-indulgent idol worship, all while very much earning its last laugh.
Masks Off: What We Know
Aligned with Laurie’s distaste for masks of any sort, her joke is a brazenly obvious reference to her former crew’s most notorious members. The first dead hero visiting heaven is Nite Owl, aka Daniel Dreiberg, a vigilant and inventive crimefighter who Laurie ended up marrying at the end of the comic book. The second hero is Ozymandias, or Adrian Veidt, who was confirmed to be Jeremy Irons’ character in this episode, but that’s neither here nor there. In the joke, Ozymandias tries to justify dropping a squid on Manhattan and killing 3 million people, but God isn’t having that either. Nite Owl is too soft, Ozymandias too monstrous — off to hell with them both.
But what about Dr. Manhattan, the third hero, who’s practically a God himself? Nope, he’s not good enough for heaven either, and down to depths he goes. But here’s where Lindelof’s framing comes into play. Laurie’s joke started earlier, with a meticulous bricklayer who was frustrated by his failure to build the perfect BBQ for his daughter. Before he can break up the whole thing and start over, his daughter asks him to stop — she has an idea for the outlying brick. And while God was staring at the heroes, He forgot all about the little girl with the brick, just like the audience may have over the course of the flashy, action-packed episode. So as He looks at the normal, powerless little girl, the brick comes smashing down on God’s head, killing him, and sending him to hell. Because those who get so obsessed with hero worship that they forget about humanity, well, they’re just as bad as the heroes who forgot their own.
Jean Smart in “Watchmen”
What a punchline, right? After spending an hour watching Laurie shoot masked vigilantes in the back without worrying for their survival and going after cops and cop-killers with equal disregard for their safety, it’s clear Laurie doesn’t like, trust, or support anyone in Tulsa. And she has every right to feel that way. Not only did she live through life as a hero and now works as an unmasked law enforcer — facing her fame even when it means confronting curious fanboys like Agent Petey Dustin Ingram — but her episode-long joke to Dr. Manhattan tells us even more about her mindset.
Laurie, in the joke, is the bricklayer’s daughter. She’s not taking any shit from anyone, not even God. The fact that she’s a platinum user of the Blue Booth network should tell you how comfortable she is speaking truth to power — if the booths are like a confessional, and her calls stand-ins for prayers, then Laurie doesn’t ask Dr. Manhattan for anything. She tells him. Dr. Manhattan is just one tangible step down from God, and she’s spending her time telling him off for abandoning humanity hence his fiery fate in the joke, punishment for a reality he’s given himself. Who amongst the heroes is the most despicable? Adrian Veidt, of whom she tells Petey she’s “also not a fan.” He’s labeled a monster in her joke for killing all those people, and Laurie sees his irresponsible act as assuming the role of God, after being drunk with power for too long.
That all of this information substantiates the actions Laurie takes only goes to show how well “Watchmen” is blending character development with narrative momentum. Laurie’s formation is clear, but to better show off how much happened this week, look at the episode from Angela’s Regina King perspective: What’s changed? The FBI came to Tulsa. The Tulsa P.D. are still interrogating residents of Nixonville. One of the Seventh Kavalry members tried to kill Senator Keene James Wolk and take a few cops with him. The FBI knows her identity. The FBI is suspicious of her dead captain and probably her, too. The power dynamic has shifted, and suddenly the clock is ticking even faster.
Even if Episode 3 had taken a break from the core plot, who cares? When the story is this good, you just have to sit back and enjoy it. Jean Smart sure did. From her brash, “who gives a shit” attitude toward everyone, to the vulnerability she showed at the end of that phone call, to her epic intimidation showdown with Angela which, I’d have to call a draw, Smart relished every second of this meticulously crafted ode to her character. Plus, it let her cut loose, shoot a gun, and have a damn good time showing off. Damon Lindelof crafted a joke. Jean Smart delivered it perfectly. It’s absolutely fine for an episode of television to be only about that even though “Watchmen” will never settle for being about less than six things.
Jeremy Irons in “Watchmen”
Masks On: What We Want to Know
Where — or what — is Nite Owl?
Going back to the joke — since apparently I love them as much as Lindelof — there was one more part that told us a bit about Laurie: the first hero, Nite Owl. In the joke, he’s punished for being “too soft,” which is far from a damnable crime. He didn’t kill anyone, like Adrian, and he didn’t give up on people, like Dr. Manhattan. But he still faced the same consequence, so there’s something Laurie has not forgiven him for: Did he turn himself in? Did he sell his gadgets to the government and give up on a life of crimefighting? Did he get killed in the line of duty?
Her conversation with Senator Keene seems to eliminate the last possibility. When trying to convince Laurie to investigate what’s going on in Tulsa, Keene says if he becomes president, “He can even get your owl out of that cage.” The quid pro quo seems to be if Laurie goes to Tulsa, Keene will let Nite Owl out… of prison? The only prisoner we’ve seen is Adrian, who we found out this week was kept in “captivity” by “The Game Warden.” Who the latter is and what the former means we don’t yet know, but there’s also the possibility that Keene was speaking literally — maybe “Who” is actually Nite Owl/Daniel. Maybe he’s trapped in the body of an owl. Maybe that’s insane, but there are cars and squids falling from the sky. Anything is possible.
What the hell is going on with Adrian Veidt? Part III
Yes! As long rumored and all but confirmed by the show, Jeremy Irons is playing Adrian Veidt — that much we know after this week. We also know that his luxurious accommodations are nothing more than the world’s most regal prison, and that his plan to escape involves chucking his cloned servants into the sky via a medieval-era catapult. The Game Warden stands in his way, guarding the edge of Adrian’s territory as clearly marked by an old-timey pirate flag. Basically, everything makes sense now, and we have no further questions for Adrian. What a fun couple weeks. Glad that’s over.
So who dropped the car out of the sky?
By all appearances — including the 40 seconds that passed after Laurie’s call ended and the car dropped, which is just enough time for her message to reach Mars — it was Dr. Manhattan, proving that he hasn’t forgotten about the little girl throwing bricks. But appearances can be deceiving, and for as much as Lindelof loves jokes, he loves subverting assumptions even more…
Who directed this episode, and will they return in Season 1?
OK, we can answer this one: Stephen Williams, and yes, in Episode 6 — which you can not miss. Every brick has its place. Tick tock.
“Watchmen” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
Neeku Josh Brener is perhaps an underrated hero of the Star Wars universe. His kid-appeal existence could easily be as clunky as Jar Jar Binks, the alien comedy relief sidekick that largely considered more annoying than endearing the heartwarming movement to rehabilitate Jar Jar’s image is another conversation entirely. Except Neeku’s character in Star Wars Resistance works from the get-go simply because he has a developed personhood and his moments of comedy relief register as much as his emotional needs, as best expressed in “Bibo,” one of the breezier episodes of Resistance. So it’s interesting and heartbreaking to see his faith in others get tested here in “The Engineer,” written by Sarah Carbiner and Erica Rosbe.
Kaz Christopher Sean and Neeku have their hands full repairing the Colossus short-circuiting control room. The two answer a distress call and discover a stranded shuttle piloted by a Nikto engineer, Nena Meghan Falcone, who tells them she barely escaped a First Order attack. Kaz bargains to help fix her ship if she can help Neeku fix the Colossus. She and Neeku hit it off as friends. She seems to be incredibly helpful, but her motives aren’t for the benefit of the Colossus.
Nena is an interesting addition to Resistance and a foil to Tam and Synara Nazneen Contractor as a young woman whose terrible background drew her to serve an unscrupulous side. While Nena’s helpfulness turns out to be a facade, her demureness and grudging reaction to Kragan Gary Anthony Williams and his pirates were real. Her exterior is soft, but she also reveals tough-as-nail colors. Just as Synara’s savviness exposes an ugly truth, Neeku’s openness does genuinely warm her to the point where she tries to pull a “come with me” to Neeku. Nena is a saboteur for the First Order, not out of belief, but out of survival by picking the “winning side.” Nena told Neeku the truth about her backstory: Pirate trafficked her and sold her into slavery under the Hutts.
Directed by Bosco Ng, this episode runs at a speed that can be advantageous and disadvantageous. It does feel like Neeku’s time with Nena is well compacted enough that she’ll bond with a guy like Neeku in this short amount of time, all while I wanted more breathing space on Nena’s short stint on the Colossus and felt it could have been more long-term than regulated to one episode.
Granted, when Nena flees, it doesn’t seem to be the last we will see of her, since her fate is up in the air when Agent Tierny Sumalee Montano decides to execute her in their next encounter.
Fleetingly, but meaningfully, Neeku tells of his background that informs his personality: He was the child of bantha herders who didn’t understand his mechanical inclinations but still supported his dreams.
There’s poignancy to how simple this backstory is with some downplayed angst. Neeku didn’t come from a well-off or harrowing background like many other Star Wars leads. He is not in the best situation now on the Colossus either. Even before the First Order stepped onto the Colossus in season one, his blue-collared life as one of Yeager’s mechanics was not particularly remarkable. But he’s happy at where he is. And having an emotionally sound support system in his background and his present helps compliment his comradeship with Kaz.
Neeku and Kaz’s Friendship
“The Engineer” leans on its character focus, Neeku’s likability, and Nena’s layered predicament to keep you engaged through the by-the-numbers beat. But the heart that’s easy to overlook is how it delineates the maturing rapport between Neeku and Kaz and how they have grown more in sync, even if their mechanical abilities don’t match.
Kaz demonstrates he has grown into more of an attentive listener to Neeku, on the mechanical field when he repairs the sabotage under Neeku’s instruction, and on a personal level when he asks more about Neeku’s life underneath the very sky projection Neeku built last episode. He assures Neeku that it’s okay for him to hold onto his optimism after what happened with Nena. It’s the message that Neeku needs to hear.
Tidbits Funniest moment: Where a sleeping pirate berates Kaz and Synara’s argument. Hooray, Oppepit got his floor-sweeper back! Not a large focus, but there’s competitive intrigue between Tierny and Commander Pyre. When Neeku muses about other friends–a chair, Buggles, Bibo–I was saddened that Neeku does not seem to mention or contemplate Tam’s departure at all. Or if her absence does haunt him and he doesn’t admit it, there’s little indication in his performance that he’s concealing it. It will be a disservice if future episodes do not address his feelings about Tam’s departure, especially considering that Tam had a real rapport with him before her departure.