'Watchmen' Brings Another Comic Book Legend Into Focus

The Hollywood Reporter speaks with Jean Smart and Damon Lindelof about adapting the erstwhile Silk Spectre for television: "She mocks anyone wearing a mask."
Courtesy of HBO

[This story contains spoilers for season one, episode three of HBO's Watchmen, "She Was Killed by Space Junk," as well as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' graphic novel on which the show is based.]

"You know how you can tell the difference between a masked cop and a vigilante? Me neither."

It's one of the many jokes told across "She Was Killed by Space Junk," the third hour of HBO's Watchmen, with one comedian front and center: Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, better known to comic book fans as Laurie Jupiter, and even better known by her crime-fighting alias "Silk Spectre." One of the original vigilantes at the heart of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' seminal comic book series, Smart brings Laurie off the page and into the live-action realm for Damon Lindelof's deep dive into the Watchmen world, set thirty years after the source material — and while it's tempting to blame the sunflower seeds, it's the events of those three decades that have left Laurie with such a bitter taste in her mouth.

In the graphic novel, Laurie begins the story in a relationship with Doctor Manhattan, before eventually leaving the demigod and embarking on a new romance with old colleague Dan Dreiberg, also known as "Nite Owl." Over the course of the story, she learns that her father is none other than Edward Blake, also known as "The Comedian," the violent vigilante whose equally violent murder catalyzes the comic books' action. The novel ends with Laurie and Dan hitting the open road with new aliases, determined to resume their masked pursuits. Ancillary material for HBO's Watchmen reveals Laurie and Dan were successful in that pursuit for a decade before their capture; "She Was Killed by Space Junk" makes it clear that Nite Owl remains in captivity, while Laurie is working in tandem with the FBI's Anti-Vigilante Task Force — not unlike how her own father once worked alongside the government after vigilantism was officially outlawed.

Hear more about Laurie Blake's arrival in the latest episode of the Series Regular: Watchmen podcast:

"She's a character who felt like her story was unfinished more than anybody else," Damon Lindelof tells The Hollywood Reporter about bringing Laurie into his version of the Watchmen story. "When we leave her at the end of Watchmen, she's saying to Dan, 'I think I might want to get some guns.' You suddenly see her accepting who she is, now that she knows who her father was. There's an idea that emerges: would she become the Comedian? What would she look like 30 years later? Would she look like the Comedian looked like in the original Watchmen, and if so, what would that be? When Jean said yes, we were off to the races."

Smart, of course, knows her way around the comic book space, having played the powerful mutant Melanie Bird on three seasons of FX's X-Men drama Legion. But the award-winning actress tells THR the experience of playing Laurie is vastly different from anything she's encountered before, thanks in no small part to the vast ancient history in her life and surrounding the Watchmen property.

"I didn't know anything about the graphic novel at the time," Smart says about signing on for Watchmen. "I would mention it to certain people and they would scream, 'They're making a TV show? Oh my god!' They would just freak. Out! But I couldn't resist the character. She's so fun. She's so smart. I find it interesting, the characters who play everything close to the vest. She obviously doesn't let too many people in. That kind of sense of humor is always a defense mechanism. She has very negative feelings about her childhood, her background, her parents. She has all sorts of baggage. The fact that she's ended up doing what she's doing — which is, arresting people that she used to be a part of — it just makes her a really interesting character."

Smart's debut episode begins with Laurie walking into a bank and simulating a robbery, all as an undercover operation designed to draw out and arrest a Batman analogue named Mister Shadow. In the space of a single scene, the current Watchmen take on the dangerous yet tragic Laurie Blake is all too apparent.

"I think there's a part of her that enjoys the fact that people know who she was and what she was," says Smart, "but I'm still figuring out certain things about her. For instance, she's arresting the vigilante, and a young man on the street says, 'Why are you arresting him? He's a hero!' And her reaction is such disdain. She can't believe people are still saying that. 'He's not a hero. He's a joke.' She really feels that way. She mocks anyone wearing a mask. She thinks it's ludicrous and dangerous."

It's a big part of the reason why Laurie treats Regina King's Angela Abar with a measure of disdain when the two women meet in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Following the death of Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), the FBI tasks Laurie with heading up an investigation into Seventh Kavalry activity, putting the former Silk Spectre on a collision course with the current Sister Night.

"I think she's fascinated with [Angela] from the get-go," says Smart. "At first, she thinks she's a murder suspect, and all of that. She knows who she is and what she is, of course. She figures everything out so quick. But I don't think it's often that Laurie doesn't think she has everything figured out — and here, I think she knows she doesn't have everything figured out, and that it's going to be a real, multilayered mystery to solve."

For some viewers, one of the biggest mysteries surrounding Laurie centers on the woman's recurring jokes throughout the episode, which she recites in a glorified phone booth with a direct uplink to Mars. Laurie leaves voice messages for her former lover, Doctor Manhattan, who left Earth at the end of the graphic novel and hasn't returned in all this time. It becomes clear that Laurie is used to recording these uplinks for the erstwhile Jon Osterman, even if she doesn't believe he's actually listening.

"It's just so sad," she says. "She's still in love with this guy and hasn't seen him in thirty years. She goes to these booths and doesn't even know if he's going to hear her. She insults him, she teases him, she wants to make him laugh. You think about how if you had something like that, it would draw you — you would want to go there all the time."

Fans of the original Watchmen comics certainly understand Laurie's sorrow: she's one of few people who knows the real story behind the giant "interdimensional" squid that dropped in New York City so many years ago, changing the world forever — and all the people she can confide in about the secret are dead or gone. It helps to explain her feelings toward Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons), which she shares with Agent Petey (Dustin Kyle Ingram): "Yeah, I knew Adrian Veidt… I, too, am not a fan." 

"They were the two ideas I found the most compelling," Lindelof tells THR, speaking about Laurie and Veidt as the figures from the source material he wanted to include in his television series front and center. "We might see some other characters from the original Watchmen appear, but I didn't want to overburden this narrative with Watchmen babies, as they say. Those were the two I felt were essential to the storytelling."

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