'Watchmen' Writer Lila Byock Reveals the Secrets Behind That Crazy Third Episode
When it comes to adapting beloved pop-culture properties, HBO's Watchmen has invented a totally new way of doing it. Instead of a page-to-screen adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' comic-book series, the show has taken characters we know and plots we're familiar with, and dropped them into the same universe, thirty-odd years later. Supervising producer Lila Byock, who co-wrote Episode 3, "She Was Killed by Space Junk," and has also written for Manhattan, The Leftovers and Castle Rock, talked to Thrillist about the joys of "remixing" the comic, introducing a new version of Laurie Blake, and how the hell we're supposed to follow whatever is going on with Adrian Veidt.
Thrillist: This was my favorite episode so far. Was this assigned to you to work on, or did you choose it for yourself?
Lila Byock: I knew very early on that I had a particular affinity for Laurie. I had very passionate opinions every time we started talking about the character of Laurie, and who she had become all these years later. So, when it came time to assign the episodes, [creator Damon Lindelof] I think instinctively knew that this was the one for me. But the whole experience of writing Watchmen was very much a collaborative process. We all have a hand in all of the episodes for sure, but I was thrilled that this one was going to have my name on it.
You've worked with Lindelof on The Leftovers. How did he approach you for this project?
Byock: He courted me. I had a great experience on The Leftovers -- I only worked on the final season of The Leftovers but it was really a highlight of my professional life, it was so much fun. And then after The Leftovers ended, I was writing a pilot of my own, and then was working on Castle Rock. Towards the end of my time on Castle Rock, Damon called me up and said, "Hey, I'm going to do Watchmen for HBO, and I really, really want you to come work on it with me." And I was very honored, because I'd had such a great experience working on The Leftovers, but I was like, "Damon, I've never read Watchmen, I'm not a comic book person. I'm not a superhero person." I basically knew nothing about it. He was like, 'That's exactly why I want you.' He felt like it was important to have voices in the room who were coming from an outside perspective and could not be approaching the material with an innate reverence or faithfulness to the material. And so, of course, once I came on board, I quickly became very, very familiar with the material, but I did not enter the project that way.
It's so different from the first two episodes, which made it exciting to watch.
Byock: I've become a true fan of the book, but I think that I had to find my way in from the outside. I think that imagining the futures for a lot of these characters, like Laurie, actually helped me fall in love with the book.
You said you had lots of strong opinions about Laurie. What is your relationship to her as a character?
Byock: Well, to be honest, I just felt like she kind of got short shrift. [Laughs] First of all, she just got pushed into this world by her mom at such a young age, and never really had any say in the matter, and suddenly at 16 she is in this romantic relationship with Dr. Manhattan that lasts until she's 30, and then she's immediately involved with Dan Dreiberg. It just felt like she never got to forge an identity of her own. She didn't even get to forge her own identity as a costumed adventurer, because she was just Silk Spectre II. You just didn't get to see who she would have been if she had been allowed to create her own identity. I was really excited about the project of figuring out who she would have become on her own, without all of these other pressures on her.
We knew that she was gonna be funny. That was our lodestar. At the end of the book, she and Dan are on the run, and she's excited about doing some adventuring of her own. We talked about the idea that for a period in the '90s, she was calling herself The Comedienne, and that aspect of her father is something that she has adopted, his sense of humor and irony. And even after she has cast that aside and gone her own way and joined the FBI, we knew that she was funny.
I found it really interesting that she introduced herself as Laurie Blake, taking the last name of a father that she always had a very complex relationship with.
Byock: I think that she is somebody who embraces those contradictions. The fact that she never actually got to know her father is something that is still a source of tension for her. And so, even though she still carries this anger at him for what he did to her mother, she's still magnetically drawn to him and wants to acknowledge that some part of him is her. She's very aware of her father's legacy.
When I talked to Jean Smart, she said that it wasn't actually Damon Lindelof who came up with the Dr. Manhattan dildo that Laurie carries around. Whose idea was that?
Byock: [Laughs] I think it was mine. I pitched it in the writers' room as a joke, to make everybody laugh. Writers' rooms can get pretty punchy. A lot of it is just like, "What's gonna make everybody laugh and sit up straight?" So I pitched it as a joke, Damon called my bluff, and we were off to the races.
Does the prop come back later in the season?
Byock: We'll see! I'm very excited about that particular contribution to American popular culture.
We also get the most perplexing aspects, to date, of the Adrian Veidt storyline in this episode.
Byock: Writing that material, not specifically for this episode, but the Veidt material across the whole season, was very much a group effort. We all took different pieces of that to work on. But that was the most fun of working on this show. It's just so wild, and obviously Jeremy Irons, holy shit. I've seen this episode, I dunno, four times or something, and every time as soon as the Veidt segment comes on, I'm just rolling on the floor. It's hilarious.
Every episode I'm waiting for him to come back.
Byock: That was very much our design in the writers' room. We just loved the idea of dropping these little segments into every episode knowing that the audience was going to be like, 'When is the blonde man segment coming?' It was very much our homage to the Black Freighter in the book.
You introduce a lot of new costumed heroes in this show as well. Was there one you were particularly excited about?
Byock: Looking Glass was a character that we loved and spent a lot of time thinking about, particularly his relationship to Angela. And Tim Blake Nelson just brings him to life so well. Really, Laurie was first in my heart, even though she's not a costumed adventurer anymore. Just the idea that now she's decided to devote her life to destroying vigilantes, we loved that.
It really fits with her character, that she would have this turn from "I am this thing," to "Fuck this thing, I hate it and no one should do it."
Byock: Yeah. One of my favorite moments in the episode is when she says, to Petey, "Yeah, I knew Adrian Veidt. I, too, am not a fan." Just the way Jean delivers that line, perfect.
I also loved seeing her go head-to-head with Angela, especially that scene where she makes that very threatening speech, and Angela just fake shivers and leaves.
Byock: In the mausoleum, yeah. I was obsessed with Killing Eve, that was airing as we were writing this episode. The dynamic between Eve and Villanelle, those two adversaries going up against each other, that was very much in my mind while we were talking about this scene in the mausoleum.
I'm also obsessed with Killing Eve.
Byock: Our whole writers' room was absolutely addicted to it. We would come in every week like, "Oh my god, did you see last night?" Part of what happens in writers' rooms a lot is that you're all ingesting the same culture and digesting it and talking about it in the room. I remember, while we were working on this episode, there was an episode of This American Life that ran that I think was called "Five Women," and it was a little bit after all the Weinstein stuff, and it was about the way that five women who all had different relationships with a man who had been accused of sexual harassment, how they're all processing it in different ways. And for some reason that was something -- just because Laurie had such a complicated relationship with men and power -- that was something that we talked about a lot when we talked about Laurie.
This version of Watchmen is very focused on its female characters, where the comic is very male-oriented. Was that a conscious decision from the start?
Byock: Oh, for sure. I think that that is why Damon called me and asked me to come work on the show, because he knows that I am a loud and outspoken feminist, and that was something that he was very conscious of in the design of the show. He knew very early on that it was going to have an African-American woman at its center. Damon never wanted it to be very focused on the legacy characters, but when we talked about which legacy characters were going to play a big role in the season, it always had to be Laurie.