Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen series for HBO is a bewildering yet fascinating TV series based on Alan Moore’s terrific 1986 graphic novel of the same name.
Creators: Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons (graphic novel), Damon Lindelof (TV series)
Cast: Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Don Johnson
Seasons: 1 (2019)
Streaming on: Hotstar
The world is being roiled by racism
The first episode, titled ‘It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice’, begins with a somewhat obtuse cold open that’s typical of Lindelof’s best work (Lost, The Leftovers). A young boy watches a black and white film in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. This is not exactly the opening Watchmen fans waiting to see small screen depictions of Rorschach and Doctor Manhattan might be expecting. As the boy leaves the cinema, violence erupts. He is in the midst of the Tulsa race riots. As the boy flees the violence, he finds himself standing in a dark field as a baby cries beside him – a mystery within a mystery. If you’re familiar with Lindelof’s prior works (Lost in particular), you know this scene is going to be important later.
In the present, nearly 100 later, we see a world infected with racism. Police officers fight against a group of white supremacists who call themselves the Seventh Kavalry, a Rorschach-inspired group whose members adorn his familiar ink-blot mask. Fighting alongside the police is Angela Abar (Regina King), as the costumed hero Sister Knight. After a member of the Seventh Cavalry guns down an officer, Sister Knight goes looking for information.
Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons) is back. While he is believed to be dead by the public after the events of the novel, Ozymandias is now in a castle in the country. In a handful of odd scenes, Irons is clearly enjoying playing the the mad genius.
In the final scene of the episode Angela finds the body of Police Chief Judd Crawford hanging from a tree. Beside him is a mysterious elderly black man in a wheelchair, who claims to have done the deed.
If the pilot episode is anything to go by, fans of the series may be relieved that Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen doesn’t try to imitate the book, but tells a new story, which is tonally and thematically similar.
Ozymandias is being very weird
The second episode, ‘Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship’, opens with a flashback to a man we saw in episode one while he was trying to protect his family in the Tulsa riots. The man is fighting for the US in World War I. He’s exposed to German propaganda in the form of pamphlets designed to incite racial tension in the American ranks and make black soldiers defect to the German army.
This flashback serves as context for this episode, which has elements of an unfolding murder mystery as the Tulsa PD try to uncover who killed police chief Judd Crawford. The main story picks right up from the pilot’s final scene when Sister Knight pulls up to discover Judd’s body hanging from a tree above Will, a mysterious man in a wheelchair.
The story takes a swift turn into darker territory with yet another flashback, to Angela on the White Night, the evening that the Seventh Kavalry staged a coordinated attack on Tulsa’s police force, brutally murdering multiple officers. Barely escaping with her life, Angela wakes up in hospital with Judd at her bedside. He tells her that they are the only officers to survive the massacre. This scene shows the close relationship between Judd and Angela to increase the shock factor of the twist in this episode – Angela finding Ku Klux Klan robes in Judd’s house.
This episode treats the idea of police offers being members of white supremacist groups as a big twist, when the reality is that American cops have historically been guilty of racism. It’s not uncommon to hear of Caucasian police officers belonging to white supremacist groups such as the KKK even in 2019. As a result, Angela’s discovery isn’t the gut punch the show seems to be going for.
In his prison-castle Ozymandias makes his servants reenact the accident that created Doctor Manhattan. Ozymandias has Mr Phillips enter an incinerator, which Ms Crookshanks then locks and pretends to be unable to open. After Mr Phillips is incinerated, a naked man painted blue is lowered from the ceiling, wearing a mask made to look like Doctor Manhattan’s face. The entire performance is difficult to watch because of the relish with which Ozymandias directs this show, not to mention how he callously has the other servants dispose of the corpse and promptly replaces Mr Phillips with another servant whose name he changes to ‘Mr Philips’ for the sake of convenience.
Episode three is when the show really takes off
The third episode of Watchmen kicks off with a realistic depiction of what would actually happen if a masked vigilante dressed like Batman attempts to stop a bank heist. The guy is promptly shot and apprehended by an older Laurie Blake, formerly the costumed crime-fighter, Silk Spectre.
Fans of the books would know Laurie Blake. She was pushed into the hero profession by an overbearing mother, who was also crime-fighter. The series has taken her story in an interesting direction. She now works for the FBI hunting unlicensed vigilantes. Given her backstory, it’s good to see Laurie taking control of her own narrative in this episode.
During a hostage situation involving a suicide bomber at Police Chief Judd’s funeral, Laurie shoots the terrorist in the head. Angela then dumps the body and bomb into Judd’s grave, covering it with the casket. Laurie shows her shoot-first mentality, while Angela displays resourcefulness and quick thinking. This scene is the first indication of what could be a tense dynamic between the two characters. The two may end up working together later on, but for now Laurie gets closer to learning Angela’s secret identity.
Meanwhile, Ozymandias’s story gets increasingly bizarre. It’s the highlight of the series so far. He is shown making some sort of suit from leather and metal. He sends one of his servants on an unexplained mission which leaves the man frozen solid. It seems as though the castle where the villain is incarcerated may not actually be on earth. The character’s composure as he attempts to free himself from this strange situation makes these scenes extremely compelling.
This is the strongest episode of Watchmen so far. With most of the set-up taken care of, this is where the series starts to gain some momentum. Three episodes in, exactly what is going on is still very unclear even with all the background information fans of the graphic novels may have, but making sense of it all is quite enjoyable.