Watchmen: Season 1 — a review

WatchmenS1

I didn’t think a sequel to the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic Watchmen comic (much less the Zach Snyder movie) was possible.

I was mistaken.

Having finished the season, though, I’m not certain that there will be another. The finale ends on a semi-cliffhanger, which made me think another season was in the works.

I avoided reading anything about the HBO series until the season was done. I have a tendency to stumble across spoilers when I do, and I’m honestly not interested in any fan theories about anything I’m currently watching. I’d rather just let the story unfold as I’m experiencing it. I burned myself out on speculation during the second season of Westworld. So much so that I can’t really remember how that season ended now (I’m counting on a “previously on…” intro when it comes back).

Anyway, as I’ve looked into the possibility of a Season 2 online, I’ve read some discouraging news. Damon Lindelof has gone on record as saying he has no ideas for another season. And, as far as I can tell, HBO hasn’t announced one.

But, you know what? If it turns out that the Watchmen television series was a one-and-done, I’m okay with that, too. The story genuinely seems to be over since it answered that one question not answered in the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons 1986 graphic novel: What happened to Dr. Manhattan? Now we know.

The television series is set in 2019. Not our time exactly, but the alternate 2019 that is the future of the world introduced in the Watchmen graphic novel. I guess I should say that most of the series is set in 2019. Like Lost, the series frequently slips into flashbacks. In fact, the series opens with the real-life 1921 Black Wall Street Massacre that actually happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with the KKK and other white people killing dozens of wealthy black residents and injuring hundreds more. I am ashamed that I knew nothing about this event. In fact, I thought it was a work of fiction created specifically for the series. But, no, this really happened.

I’ve even visited Tulsa on numerous occasions. I have a niece who lives there. And I had never heard this story.

This was a great jumping-off point for a series that is, to a large degree, about race relations in America. When we get to 2019 we are introduced to characters that weren’t in the comic book. Among these are Police Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), Angela Akbar/AKA Sister Night (Regina King), and Wade Tillman/AKA Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson). Sister Night and Looking Glass are officers in the Tulsa police department. In the world of series, the police all wear masks to protect their real identities and use code names. In effect, the police are the superheroes of this show.

Some characters we’re more familiar with from the original comics are gradually introduced. We get Will Reeves/AKA Hangman (Louis Gossett Jr.), Adrian Veidt/AKA Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons), and Laurie Blake/AKA Silk Spectre II (Jean Smart). Also, Dr. Manhattan, but I’m not telling you the name of the actor playing him. It’s kind of a big show reveal.

The cast of characters grows during the course of the season, but the Regina King character quickly emerges as our central protagonist. To a large degree, this is her story. We get into her backstory as an orphan who grew up in Vietnam. You may recall from the graphic novel that Dr. Manhattan almost single-handedly won the Vietnam War for the US, and in this future reality it has become our 51st state. We learn that her Sister Night alter ego was derived from a blaxploitation heroine in the Pam Grier mode.

All the other characters become important in how their lives intersect with hers. The racist group Seventh Cavalry all wear Rorschach masks and are set up to be the Big Bad of the nine-episode season, but I don’t think I’m giving anything away by telling you that everything isn’t necessarily what it seems to be. Secret villains reveal themselves along the way and the buildup to the climax is, in many ways, more satisfying that the finale itself.

Every actor in this does a great job. None of them seem to realize that they’re in a silly comic book movie. The emotional undercurrent throughout—rage, sadness, elation and joy, the entire gamut—is very real. Lindelof pulled off a feat I didn’t think was possible. He made me care about a story that I thought had already been finished. He also made me wonder what DC has been doing with the property in recent years since all of the Watchmen character were folded over into the DC Universe.

I would definitely be on board for a second season. However, this nine-episode run does seem possessed of a certain finality. As the description of the last episode reads: “Everything ends. For real this time.”

Firewater’s The-Forecast-Calls-for-Squid-Showers Report Card: A

A

Not just good comic book television. Good television, period.

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