Technology

Watchmen on HBO trades the Cold War for the culture war, keeps superheroes

The trailer for HBO's new Watchmen series.

Warning: This story references events that happened in the premiere episode of HBO's new Watchmen series.

In 2019, it might be impossible to convey how groundbreaking the original Watchmen comic series felt and eventually proved to be. Three decades after its release in the mid '80s, unorthodox superhero pop culture has become commonplace. There's superhero fare that asks "…but what if superheroes are bad?" like The Boys. There's superhero fare that applies some version of the complicated anti-hero trope to a caped crusader, like Legion. And thanks to the fervor and discussion over some clown, you may be aware superhero movies can really be about something else or really be a different type of movie dressed in a mask.

Into this muddled landscape comes the latest unorthodox superhero take from HBO: a new version of Watchmen from Damon Lindelof, the critically beloved TV scribe behind two deeply engaging and enigmatic series that ended with vastly different levels of success. (And if you've read about TV on the Internet, there's no need to clarify The Leftovers and Lost any further).

Lindelof has gone to great lengths to make sure viewers know ahead of time that this Watchmen should not be called a reboot, adaptation, or even a reimagination. You've read his five page essay on why he chose this project, right? And this series may not necessarily do anything new in the unusual-superhero story realm, either. But Lindelof has an indisputable track record of being able to build engrossing worlds that ask massive philosophical questions, and last night's Watchmen premiere indicates that viewers have another highly dissectible and discussable journey ahead.

  • Meet Angela Abar (she's a cop, see the badge?) HBO
  • In the premiere, the show abruptly cuts to an estate where Jeremy Irons is riding a horse, celebrating an anniversary, and has some pretty but a bit confused servants. HBO
  • A small army of Rorschachs. YouTube/HBO
  • Don Johnson's Chief Judd stops by for a chat about the pending end of the world. YouTube/HBO
  • This is Wade, another cop. (Though based on pre-series details, I'm guessing this is Looking Glass, played by Tim Blake Nelson.) YouTube/HBO

Minimal groundwork to lay

In this Watchmen universe, President Redford (presumably Robert) has been in office for decades. Among his policies, he has awarded Black Americans some form of reparations (snidely referred to by some as Redfordations), annexed Vietnam as a state, and altered the process of acquiring firearms so it has more steps than it does in our current reality.

The other big alternate dimension changes all seem to center on law enforcement. After an incident known as the White Night (cleverly explained to an elementary class during a career day presentation on baking… in a sequence that succinctly distills the show's tone), attacks on law enforcement have become a societal concern. The police have thus been instructed to wear masks and adopt cover stories, hiding their identity from those who might attempt to target them during downtime. To theoretically encourage peace and deescalation from the other side, too, more parameters and policies have been put in place to limit the police's use of force. But for every remotely locked gun that requires sign-off from HQ, it seems authorities have also evolved and learned how to circumvent the new restrictions when they perceive force as necessary.

There are other real world tweaks and analogues (instead of Game of Thrones, the Watchmen world's Internet recap might cover each episode of a made-up show called American Hero Story). But Watchmen really starts when a routine traffic stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, goes horribly wrong. Suddenly, authorities in the city are mobilizing to take on a white nationalist group called the 7th Kavalry, who deploy militia tactics against cops and hide behind what, to many, will be a familiar Rorschach mask. And our hero (or at least POV character), cop Angela Abar (played by Oscar-winner Regina King), suspects the 7K may be cooking up some kind of explosive-driven larger act of violence.

Ambitious in theme, ambitious in TV making

Somewhat miraculously considering the complex source material, that's it for background and buildup. Based on last night's episode, no one needs to worry about whether or not they've read (or viewed the Zack Snyder adaptation of) the original Watchmen. Presumably, that background knowledge will lend itself to Easter eggs and identifying parallels, but Lindelof has set up a contained universe we can understand because of how it plays with present-day society, not the world of a classic comic.

And, boy, does Watchmen steer straight into some of the toughest topics of 2019: white nationalism, police brutality, race relations, doxing and targeting, solving problems with tech, how to address history's bad behavior, etc. The phrases "liberal tears" and "race traitors" are uttered, and Abar explains an ignorant elementary school kid's provoking behavior to her son succinctly: "He's not racist—but he's off to a good start."

This may be the show's most explicit tie to the comic—in the way that Alan Moore and his team examined the complexity of the Cold War in America, Lindelof has a similar desire to think through this moment in American history. Again, Lindelof is no stranger to grappling with these sorts of heady topics, but the amount of information or resolution his work has traditionally provided can result in dramatically different levels of satisfaction.

Here's one micro-example: it feels odd to start this series with a historical flashback to the Tulsa Race Massacre on Black Wall Street. That tragedy certainly still resonates (and left open wounds) nearly 100 years later. But there are so many modern examples of violence involving race and authority—although the series was obviously written long before, just last week, a Fort Worth police officer was charged with murder for fatally shooting Atatiana Jefferson at her home while she played video games with a young nephew. So why does Watchmen draw from the past instead?

But Lindelof clearly has soRead More – Source

Related Articles

Back to top button
Close