Watching the Watchmen... because no one has used that title this week.
I’ve been meaning to write about HBO’s Watchmen all week! I feel like at first I needed a bit of time to digest it, let it sink in, as it’s very dense and has a lot going on with even more to say. Since then people much smarter than I have dissected it and eloquently dig into the complex themes being explored in the show. So instead of trying to do that I’ll just give a brief rundown of what this new series actually is!
Watchmen is a sequel to the 1986 comic book series, now collected and revered as a single graphic novel of the same name. Show creator Damon Lindelof describes it as a ‘remix’ of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original work, but with the setting of the series being some thirty years on from the events of the comic and holding the events of the book as canon, calling it a sequel is accurate.
I think the reason he is hesitant to call it such is because that implies a closer relationship to the original where this is more taking the ideas the were presented there and applying them to the themes he is interested in covering in 2019 such as race relations, class structure, anonymity and the police state.
Moore and Gibbons Watchmen set up an alternate history, one in which a small handful of masked vigilantes had previously existed and still did in its version of the 1980’s where Nixon had never been exposed during the Watergate scandal and had abolished presidential term limits.
In Lindelof’s show, it is now 2019 and after years of a conservative Nixon as president, America is run by the liberal president Robert Redford. With that kind of change comes many others that act as a background and framework for the series.
Instead of following the crusades of vigilantes, the show is, at least in the pilot episode, more focused on the police and their struggles with a surging militant uprising of loosely vailed white supremacists.
Both sides are masked, both for very different reasons.
The police in this alternate now wear masks to protect their identity as in the past criminal elements have exposed them and gone after family members and loved ones. The regularly uniformed officers all wear the same striking yellow mask that really gives them a Stormtrooper type vibe for me at least and the higher ranking detectives all have unique costumes more akin to the ‘heroes’ of the original Watchmen.
The Seventh Cavalry on the other hand, the white supremacists, all don Rorschach masks to honour the man they feel set them on their path. At the end of the comic book series it is revealed that the extremely troubled and morally grey Rorschach had mailed his journal, containing all the dirty little secrets he had uncovered, to a right wing newspaper who had subsequently published it in its entirety.
The information it contained, it seems, is believed wholly by some, but is not held as gospel by the world at large. These Rorschach truthers then, are not exactly wrong in some of their beliefs, but much like the man himself, the way in which they are conducting themselves is still reprehensible.
I’ve only just began to scratch the surface of even the pilot episode of this series here. I didn’t even mention the squid showers, Dr Manhattan on Mars or what the fuck is going on with Veidt and his servants.
This show is definitely not going to be for everyone. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if it is not many people’s cup of tea, at least in its initial run. But like the source material it is building from, I have a feeling this will be something that will stand the test of time and will have people going back to for years to come.