“Pore Jud is Daid”: Watchmen Pays Homage to the Darkness of Oklahoma!
Pore Jud Fry is Daid
Oh what a beautiful mornin’! We have new Watchmen tonight! And this new Watchman series is starting off strong and doing the absolute most! The opening scene of the pilot depicts the real life horror that was the 1921 massacre of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, OK. The rest of the episode examines the consequences/fall out of both Ozymandias’ grand plan, but also the systemic racism built into the foundation of the United States (even in this “alternate reality” version). For an in depth look at this aspect of the pilot and the original comic, please read our article about it here.
But what I wanted to talk about, was it’s deep connection (both literally and thematically) to the Roger’s and Hammerstein classic musical, Oklahoma! And that this musical is an important key to understanding the episode fully. That’s right musical theater nerds. It is our time now. The rest of you, just hear me out.
Firstly, the title. The pilot episode is titled “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice.” This phrase is actually one of the final lyrics to the song “Pore Jud is Daid.” Which is sung by the musical’s lead Curly, to his romantic rival Jud, trying to bully him into committing suicide. Yes, you read that right! The “hero” of the musical Oklahoma! is a piece of shit and the original cyber bully. Also the scene in musical is played for LAUGHS, which is WILD. But I digress. Right off the bat, Watchmen is giving us a warning, in the damn title. One of the first characters we meet is named Judd (Don Johnson), and they just named their episode a reference to the song “Pore Jud is Daid.” That is a bold move! And, surprise surprise, things do NOT go well for him!
Aside from the title, one of the first scenes set in “current time” depicts two of our leads, Judd and his wife Jane (Frances Fisher) attending an all black production of Oklahoma. The writers of this show really want to make it absolutely clear that this musical is important to the episode. So let’s look at why! For those who are unfamiliar with the musical, or who maybe haven’t seen it since they were a small child, here is a quick run down of the plot:
Set in the late 1800s, before Oklahoma gained statehood, it tells the story of cowboy Curly and his budding romance with Laurie, a farm girl. However, they are both prideful and, frankly, assholes to each other, which causes Laurie to attend a dance with her servant (“number one farm hand”) Jud out of spite. This then causes Curly to lash out and threaten Jud (with his aforementioned cyberbully suicide anthem), which in turn unleashes Jud’s dark, violent side. The show ends with Jud attempting to murder them at their wedding, instead he pitifully falls on his own knife and dies (side note: this is how the protagonist of their mirror musical, Carousel, dies, and fun fact: Gordon MacRae plays both him and Curly!)
Roger’s and Hammerstein were explicitly progressive (caveat: for the time) and wrote musicals that tried to tackle issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality within the confines of what was socially acceptable for their day and age. And so, while on the surface Oklahoma! is often viewed as boring, sappy, and saccharine (aka, my original opinion of it), but in reality it is actually attempting to address issues of class discrimination and female sexuality. If you want to see a fantastic production of it that really highlights what has long been subtext, I highly recommend checking out the current revival of it on Broadway. Oklahoma! has: shotgun weddings, women rejecting patriarchal standards of virginity and monogamy (Ado Annie!), and the rivalry between the poor cowboys and the even poorer farmhands is a nuanced look at how the lower classes are successfully pitted against, and taught to hate one another. Curly only wins the girl in the end because he is cleaner, has more social graces, and slightly more money.
But how does this line up with Watchmen? Firstly, we are now in an Oklahoma that is still reeling from the aftermath of Ozymandia and Dr Manhattan. The sky rains down torrents of little squids. The government, and police, have a very tenuous grip on their control of the town (the cops wear face masks for their own safety). It is essentially, a “Brave New Wild West.” A new territory where people are pushed to their extremes and which brings out their worst biases. A white nationalist terrorist group known as the “Seventh Cavalry” is targeting the police (instead of just being them, how novel!) and anyone they deem a “race traitor.” And while, there isn’t a love triangle, Angela (Regina King) is courting her own triangle in the form of family and her position as a secret member of the Tulsa PD. The Seventh Cavalry as its own unit can be viewed as a manifestation of Oklahoma’s Jud. The poor, angry, racist, white man who – after a lifetime of perceived victimhood and injustice – decides to embrace a path of darkness and violence. Jud is a hillybilly incel, basically. And these “Juds” make their first victim Watchmen’s Judd, who, ironically, is actually a “Curly.” He’s the chief of police, he’s cocky and arrogant, and he indulges in a wee bit o’ cocaine now and then. On top of that, he has close friendships with Angela and other black members of the police force, so he has got to go. But unlike Oklahoma!, this time the “Juds” of the world are triumphant. What that means for the future of Angela and her family remains to be seen. And with Watchmen, unlike Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, there is rarely a happy ending.
(Photos: HBO, Twentieth Century Fox)
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