HBO's Watchmen finally redeemed Silk Spectre and brought justice to the graphic novel's lone lead female character. Executive produced by Damon Lindelof, Watchmen is a sequel to and "remix" of the classic comics series written by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The Watchmen graphic novel is a legendary deconstruction of the superhero genre up to the mid-1980s where Moore and Gibbons dissected the various tropes of costumed superheroes in more detail and uncompromising grit than ever before. But, in a reflection of the genre during that era, the male characters like Rorschach, Doctor Manhattan, and Ozymandias dominated the story's spotlight while Silk Spectre thanklessly fulfilled her lone function as The Girl of the story. But at long last, Lindelof's Watchmen lets Laurie Blake (the former Laurie Juspeczyk AKA Silk Spectre II) shine and she does not disappoint.
Watchmen episode 3, "She Was Killed By Space Junk", is an early high point for the series that introduces Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, who is now a federal agent assigned to the FBI's Anti-Vigilante Task Force. This means Laurie, a former superhero, is now using her lifelong expertise to capture vigilantes who are violating the Keene Act of 1977 - just as she herself did from 1985 to 1995 during and after the events of the Watchmen graphic novel. Today, Laurie is cynical, hard-edged, and highly-intelligent, but she's also, deep down, very messed up. And yet, at the request of Senator Joe Keene (James Wolk), Agent Blake reluctantly accepts the assignment to investigate the murder of Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. With Agent Dale Petey (Dustin Ingram) in tow (Petey is the author of the memos in the tie-in Peteypedia website), Laurie encounters the Tulsa Police, including Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) and Sister Night (Regina King).
The introduction of Laurie Blake into Watchmen is a jolt of electricity to the series and it seamlessly integrates the Watchmen graphic novel's lore into the show's reality. "She Was Killed By Space Junk" also accomplishes the trick of taking arguably the least popular of the Watchmen graphic novel's main superhero cast and instantly turning her into one of the TV series most riveting characters. Don't call Laurie 'Silk Spectre' anymore because she isn't; instead, Watchmen makes it clear that Laurie Blake is no joke.
The Problem With Silk Spectre In The Watchmen Graphic Novel
In the Watchmen graphic novel, Silk Spectre was hard to root for. From her revealing sheer costume and high heels, which were unrealistic for crime-fighting, to her arc of going from Doctor Manhattan's girlfriend to Nite Owl's girlfriend during the course of the story, Laurie lacked the necessary agency and she reflected the era's withering view of female superheroes. Silk Spectre's most important function in the original Watchmen's story was as a device to motivate the exiled Doctor Manhattan to return and 'save' the Earth from Adrian Veidt's plan to murder millions. The crux of Manhattan's change of heart was Laurie learning a truth hidden from her by her birth parents that, despite Edward Blake sexually assaulting her mother Sally Jupiter in the 1940s, they had an affair years later that resulted in Laurie's birth.
Laurie was always defined by the other characters in Watchmen: she didn't want to be a superhero but was forced to inherit the Silk Spectre mantle by her mother and her relationship with Doctor Manhattan was used by the U.S. Government to keep the blue super being and the lynchpin of America's strategic defense "happy" (i.e. sexually satisfied). Laurie was not the 'dangerous rebel' like Rorschach, she didn't have cool gadgets of Nite Owl, she didn't have the wealth and genius of Ozymandias, and, while she was a good fighter, she was the weakest of the heroes, the polar opposite of the almighty Doctor Manhattan. Laurie resented her mother, hated her life, and her only reward at the end of Watchmen was to live under an assumed name and continue being a superhero. For all of the genius of Watchmen, Moore and Gibbons failed to create an empowering heroine in Silk Spectre.
Zack Snyder's Watchmen Made Silk Spectre Into A Sexy Action Figure
For his controversial R-rated Watchmen movie adaptation, Zack Snyder further fetishized Silk Spectre. The most memorable aspect of Malin Akerman's flesh-and-blood incarnation of Laurie Juspeczyk is the skintight black and yellow vinyl costume she wore that ramped up the character's sex appeal. (Laurie complained about her costume during her dinner with Dan Dreiberg and he sarcastically 'agreed' with her that it was "awful".) Snyder's film delved into the kinky correlation between superheroes and their sex lives and Watchmen 2009 went even further in depicting Laurie as a sex object by showing her sleeping with Doctor Manhattan and Nite Owl; Laurie also had some eye-popping nude scenes although, to be fair, Patrick Wilson's Nite Owl also appeared naked and Doctor Manhattan's full-frontal nudity is infamous.
Snyder's Watchmen attempted to show Silk Spectre finding strength in her sexuality and the movie did explore Laurie's emotional issues involving her mother, Sally (Carla Gugino), and her father, the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Still, the lasting impression of the Watchmen movie's Silk Spectre is of Laurie in costume engaging in ultra-violent superheroics, with Snyder ensuring his kinetic visual style and well-timed slow-motion made every spin and hair toss by Malin Akerman as provocative as possible. To her credit, Akerman was game and amply delivered everything the film demanded of her. But ultimately, the Watchmen movie's evolution of Silk Spectre was taking The Girl in the graphic novel and turning her into a sexy action figure. And yet, as a character, Silk Spectre was still upstaged by her male co-stars and even by Gugino's Sally Jupiter.
HBO's Watchmen Finally Made Silk Spectre Into A Great Character
By contrast, HBO's Watchmen's Laurie Blake is a revelation. Played with world-weary sass and savage wit by Jean Smart, Laurie has adopted Edward Blake's surname and became a government agent just like he did. It's evident that in the 34 years since she learned Blake was her father, Laurie has not only accepted the truth but embraced it, thereby rejecting her mother Sally's Silk Spectre legacy which she was never comfortable with anyway. Laurie is now ingenious, formidable, and more than a match for Sister Night; in fact, Agent Blake made sure to assert her authority over the masked Tulsa Police but she intriguingly found Detective Angela Abar to be no pushover. And yet, Laurie is also haunted by her superhero past and she still harbors her kinky desires - even though her ex-lover Doctor Manhattan has been gone for decades and Blake has accepted that he "no longer gives a sh*t... but it's nice to pretend".
The secret of Watchmen's reinvention of Laurie Blake is that Lindelof' has turned her into a new version of the Comedian, with all of the connotations that evolution entails. (Before she was arrested in 1995, Laurie changed her superhero identity to The Comedienne). Like Edward, Laurie keeps mementos of her superhero life displayed in her apartment and she yearns for her past romance (with Doctor Manhattan but also with Nite Owl, whom she wants to spring from federal custody) despite the grimy parts of days gone by. More importantly, Laurie has grown to share the Comedian's cynically grim worldview - "It's all a joke" - and Edward's knack for black humor and her wisecracks electrify her scenes in Watchmen.
Fittingly, Laurie is the last woman standing of her generation of superheroes - and she knows it. The joke she tells Doctor Manhattan in her Blue Booth phone call asserted that while her male cohorts were eventually "judged by God" and were each consigned to their separate versions of Hell, Laurie was the smart one who learned how to turn the tables on fate. In Laurie's view, she's the one who threw the brick that will eventually kill God and Agent Blake could indeed prove to be Watchmen's most dangerous character, at last. Thanks to Laurie Blake's compelling redemption, it will be fascinating to see what role the former Silk Spectre plays in Watchmen's unfolding story.
Watchmen airs Sundays @ 9pm on HBO.