From Portside Culture <[email protected]>
Subject Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen Is A Reckoning Worth Waiting For
Date October 21, 2019 12:00 AM
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[HBOs Watchmens writing presents through-lines from slavery to
Reconstruction to the so-called “alt-right”; from, as Rage Against
The Machine once put it, those who work forces to those who burn
crosses.] [[link removed]]

PORTSIDE CULTURE

DAMON LINDELOF’S WATCHMEN IS A RECKONING WORTH WAITING FOR  
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Danette Chavez
October 15, 2019
AV Club
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_ HBO's Watchmen's writing presents through-lines from slavery to
Reconstruction to the so-called “alt-right”; from, as Rage Against
The Machine once put it, those who work forces to those who burn
crosses. _

Regina King in Watchmen, Photo: Mark Hill (HBO)

 

Alan Moore’s reflexive rejection of any adaptation of his work is
itself the stuff of legend; he famously told Terry Gilliam
that _Watchmen_—Moore and Dave Gibbons’ highly influential comic
book series—was unfilmable, and later withdrew his name from the
credits of Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation
[[link removed]].
Terry Gilliam seems to have agreed with Moore, in that he felt the
beyond-intricate narrative of the comics would be better served by a
miniseries instead of a feature-length film. Gilliam never got to make
a _Watchmen_, and Snyder’s film, while faithfully recreating the
look of the comics, misinterpreted the material by reveling in
vigilante violence rather than condemning it. But, 10 years after that
missed opportunity, a _Watchmen _series has come to HBO, bringing
with it stellar performances, a potentially riveting deconstruction of
racial inequality and policing in the United States, the desire to be
many things at once (which is standard for creator Damon Lindelof),
and Moore’s requisite disapproval
[[link removed]].

This _Watchmen _series exists both inside the context of its source
material and apart from it. The events of the comics are canon,
including the rise and decline of masked vigilantes, a Watergate-free
Nixon presidency, and a squid-like alien monster. There are callbacks
and Easter eggs aplenty, as well as older, more cynical versions of
characters like Laurie Juspeczyk—now Laurie Blake, and played by
Jean Smart—a.k.a. the second Silk Spectre. As such, some familiarity
with the comics is helpful in navigating the story, but the writers,
including Lindelof, Cord Jefferson, and fellow _The Leftovers_
[[link removed]]_ _alums Nick Cuse
and Lila Byock, are invested in charting a new path. The primary focus
is miles away from New York City, the site of said psionic squid
attack; the story begins in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the day of the 1921
Tulsa Race Massacre that claimed the lives of hundreds of Black
residents, resulted in thousands more being detained for their
“safety,” and demolished the once-thriving district of Greenwood,
known as Black Wall Street.

PRE-AIR [[link removed]]

Watchmen

B

CREATED BY

Damon Lindelof; based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' comic book
series of the same name

STARRING

Regina King, Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Don Johnson, Louis Gossett
Jr., Hong Chau, Jeremy Irons, Tom Mison, Andrew Howard

PREMIERES

Sunday, October 20 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO

FORMAT

Hour-long superhero drama; six episodes watched for review

That agonizing open makes the pilot, helmed with characteristic
panache by Nicole Kassell, a particularly unsettling introduction to
the show, and one that practically requires you to watch the next
episode—in part because you won’t want to tear your eyes from
Regina King and Tim Blake Nelson, but also to keep viewers from
writing off the show as exploiting Black people’s
pain. _Watchmen _then leaps into the present day while remaining in
this alternate version of Tulsa, which is a fascinating mix of
idealized notions and stark realities. President Robert Redford
(that’s right) has implemented a form of reparations for the
descendants of the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the police
operate with considerable oversight, including regulated use of
firearms. But no one pretends that those measures have leveled the
playing field or eradicated white supremacy, not when the Seventh
Kavalry (named after the Army regiment that played a big role in the
attacks on Native Americans in the U.S. expansion westward) is
nativism incarnate. In _Watchmen_’s alternate reality, the police
bear the brunt of the Seventh Kavalry’s violence, which is why the
entire force—including superhero-adjacent personas like Sister Night
(King) and Looking Glass (Nelson)—wears masks.

Here’s where things get tricky, and why the pilot, which screened at
New York Comic Con, has drawn some criticism
[[link removed]] for
setting up what looks like a false dichotomy between the Tulsa police
and white nationalists. But Lindelof and his co-executive producers
Kassell, Tom Spezialy, and Stephen Williams quickly earn back trust
with the second hour, then in subsequent episodes that are full of
graceful world-building, deft characterization, nuanced writing, but
little thin-blue-line boosterism. The visuals are dazzling even in
this age of effects-heavy storytelling: Episode titles pop up in the
wake of carnage, a stately English manor is the site of mayhem by way
of _The Conformist_
[[link removed]], and the
construction of an eighth world wonder is appropriately wondrous.
But _Watchmen_’s flair is deployed with great purpose—to create a
world at once connected to and distinct from that of Moore and
Gibbons’ work, where systemic inequality is treated as both the
historical and pertinent issue it is in real life.

Like the comics, _Watchmen _explores abuses of power, the dangers of
unquestioning faith in institutions, and moral colonialism (also,
plain old colonialism). There are times when that examination grows
unwieldy, especially as season one adds faces new and familiar (Jeremy
Irons _is_ Adrian Veidt, so go ahead and claim your bets), as well
as more fantastical elements. The ambition of _Watchmen _sparks
concern that its mythology will go more the way of _Lost_
[[link removed]]_ _than _The Leftovers_,
but by the end of the six episodes made available to critics, the big
picture has been properly framed. And like a Hieronymus Bosch
painting, it’s intricately detailed and expansive, addressing the
ongoing racism in Tulsa, Angela Abar a.k.a Sister Night’s personal
history, along with just what the enigmatic Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) is
up to in her trillion-dollar compound.

The cast is owed a lot of credit for keeping the momentum going and
the series grounded. King contains multitudes—as the de facto lead,
she is capable of great compassion and anger in her quest for justice,
which is complicated by her years on the force. Nelson’s presence is
as calm as it is disquieting; along with Sister Night, Looking Glass
follows in the morally ambiguous footsteps of
their _Watchmen _predecessors. Chau is magnetic when she is on
screen, but fair warning to the Chau hive: Lady Trieu operates in the
periphery for much of the first six episodes. As one of the
“heroes” to survive the attack on New York and the banning of
vigilantes, Smart’s Agent Laurie Blake has one much more sensible
heel
[[link removed]] in
the past, the other in a present where she’s devoted her career to
establishing who the “good guys” are. “You know how you can tell
the difference between a masked cop and a vigilante?” Laurie asks
Angela at the funeral of the Tulsa officer whose murder, like The
Comedian’s in the comics, sets things in motion. While giving
nothing away, Angela responds “No.” “Me either,” says Laurie,
dryly. This exchange is short but meaningful, and perfectly
acted—who needs masked heroes when you can watch two award-winning
actors engage in a battle of wits?

Though its messaging gets muddled—especially in the sixth episode,
which should raise the question of whether some symbols are too
entrenched in violent, racist history to ever be repurposed or
otherwise subverted—_Watchmen _is commendably bold in its dive into
this country’s fraught past and present. To the likely chagrin of
some, the writing presents through-lines from slavery to
Reconstruction to the so-called “alt-right”; from, as Rage Against
The Machine once put it, those who work forces to those who burn
crosses. But just as its central mystery deepens and branches out into
new conspiracies, _Watchmen _doesn’t presume there’s a single
root of evil. As it continues to dig up the past, _Watchmen _could
provide a real reckoning—the will is certainly there
[[link removed]],
as is the talent. Season one was written as a standalone, according to
Lindelof, which means the final three episodes are load-bearing ones.
Let’s just hope they don’t lose sight of the real monsters in
their search for heroes.

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