Warning: Spoilers ahead for Watchmen series premiere “It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice.”
A sense of dread hangs over the series premiere of HBO’s Watchmen, “It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice.” The camera lingers a little bit too long on Don Johnson’s police chief character Judd Crawford. It focuses on him too much during a family dinner sequence. His wife Jane (Frances Fisher) is too worried about the idea of his late-night drive for official business. After seeing so many people die on HBO's biggest series, we've been trained to interpret these elements as clues that Judd’s life is right on the line.
The final shot of “Running Out of Ice” confirms everyone was right to feel anxious. Judd is dead. Protagonist Angela Abar (Oscar-winner Regina King) finds him hanged on a noose, swinging from the lone tree in the middle of a field. This is a modern day lynching. The most obvious guess as to the culprit for this horrendous crime would be a member of the Seventh Kavalry, a bloodthirsty white supremacist group and Watchmen's leading antagonists. But sitting next to Judd’s corpse is elderly man Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.), waiting for Angela to find Judd's body.
All in all, this revelation makes for a haunting end to Watchmen's season 1 debut. But, it does bring “Running Out of Ice’s” chilling cold open full circle.
Watchmen opens with the real-life Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, when mobs of white Oklahomans devastated the burgeoning Black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa. Over 1,000 homes were burned, and 10,000 people left homeless. Watchmen drops us directly into the horrifying carnage of the massacre through the perspective of one young Black family desperate to get out. Eventually we realize the entire unnamed family isn’t going to escape — only their son (Danny Boyd Jr.) is. In an effort to protect his son, the father scribbles something on a piece of paper and pushes it into his son’s pocket.
After the boy’s escape carriage flips over — one of the planes we see earlier in the massacre probably caused the accident — he reads the note. The message, written on the back of an official document titled “Coloured Soldiers of the United States” (a fact you’ll learn through a screenshot and some light detective work) reads, “Watch over this boy.” This is the only keepsake the boy has of his parents, who were fire-bombed in front of his eyes.
In the present, when Angela arrives at the scene of Judd’s murder, Will is holding the same piece of paper. This is the boy who survived the Tulsa Race Massacre. He is also the same old man we glimpsed earlier in the first half of the premiere, when Angela goes to her bakery/vigilante cave for the first time. “You think I could lift 200 pounds?,” Mike asks from his wheelchair as a confused Angela opens her store. Here is the proof Mike had been thinking about killing Judd — and possibly monitoring Angela — for some time. “Sure you could,” she says, trying not to insult an aging stranger. Angela has absolutely no idea what kind of dark thoughts Mike is hiding. At the tree, everything comes together.
Now, there are two obvious questions. The first doesn’t have any real answer yet: How did a wheelchair-bound man as frail as Mike manage to subdue Judd, a man who recently survived a plane crash, get a noose around his neck, and hoist him to the top of a tree? Since Watchmen spends its premiere proving the human world mostly lacks superpowers, it seems impossible Mike used any psychic abilities. It’s season 1’s job to solve that mystery.
However, “Running Out of Ice” does lay the groundwork for the other dangling question of the episode, which is why Mike would kill Judd in the first place. As we know, Mike is a survivor of the Race Massacre. But Judd also appears to have his own connection to the atrocious event. Before Judd heads out on the evening of his murder, the camera rests on a photo of him as a child. The man in the photo, whom we’re meant to assume is Judd’s dad, is wearing a badge — the same one Judd wears now as police chief. “Ice’s” lengthy end-of-episode zoom on Judd’s badge, which dropped to the ground during his murder, gets the point across loud and clear: Judd’s father was once the police chief.
In that case, it's entirely possible the older Crawford was the chief of police during the Race Massacre — and could even have been involved in some way. Does Mike blame the Crawfords for the unimaginable tragedy of that day? Mike clearly knows Angela’s father Marcus — he name-checks him to get her to the field. Did Angela’s connection to Judd only intensify Mike’s obsession? These are all questions Watchmen has to answer with next week’s “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship.”