After a decade and several months of the release of Zack Snyder’s spectacular 2009 film Watchmen, a new live-action television series of the same name graced our small screens across nations. Damon Lindelof of Lost fame created this new superhero drama show based on the limited comic book series. Like AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, HBO’s Watchmen spins off into a whole new story with new characters while staying true to the main source material’s lore.
In this review, we conduct an analysis of the pilot, directed by executive producer Nicole Kassell and written by Lindelof himself. If you aren’t familiar with Watchmen and want to avoid spoilers, do so now and return to this article.
Lindelof has been shown to be an avid fan of the comic book series, and this pilot proves so. The series premiere follows the shooting of an Oklahoman policeman, who ends up in the hospital at the hands of a white supremacist group of masked Rorschach followers called “The Seventh Cavalry.” Detective Angela Abar (also known as her vigilante name Sister Night) investigates, but this leads to the death of her police chief. The show takes place in modern times, albeit in an alternate reality of 2019. Members of the police department (of, at least for now, Tulsa, Oklahoma) don masks to conceal their identities after their lives were threatened for the worst.
Throughout the episode, we get Easter Eggs from the comic book series:
- According to fictional newspaper headlines, Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias is considered dead, although we aren’t sure if the “Master” (played Jeremy Irons) celebrating his anniversary is him. Most fans believe it to be true.
- The Smiley face from the Watchmen’s time makes its appearance as egg yolks in a see-through glass bowl. The smiley face is prominent in the mid-1960s, a historical period of time where hippies promoted peace instead of war in Vietnam. (Angela Abar was born in Vietnam; the Comedian and Doctor Manhattan were present here during the War.)
- Veidt’s giant squid-like creation gets allusions such as the “Anatomy of a Squid” poster and the baby squid raining from the sky.
- In the comics, Walter Kovacs is seen holding a sign reading “The End is Nigh.” In this episode, we see a black man holding a more positive sign: “The Future is Bright.”
- Angela Abar’s passcode to her secret hideout in her bakery is “1-9-8-5.” The Watchmen characters first appeared in 1985. The original story took place that year while the comic itself was published and released in 1986-7.
- There may be a reference to the Minutemen member Dollar Bill.
- In this pilot, “The Watchmaker’s Son” is a play written by the “Master” character of the episode. In the comics, Jon Osterman, who eventually became known as Doctor Manhattan, is literally the son of a watchmaker.
In this alternate reality, racism still exists and the showrunners make sure this is true no matter the timeline. In her introductory scene, Abar’s son attacks a schoolmate in class. On their drive home, Abar tells him, “[Your classmate]’s not racist…but he’s off to a good start.” In light of our modern events, it’s best to remember that evil can start off young and can grow up to become something as repugnant as the Seventh Cavalry.
Decades after the events of the comic book, the world is aware of the conspiracy behind the Watchmen after Rorschach’s journal exposed the team to the planet. After his death, white men of Tulsa were inspired to don his mask. A member in a film recording sends out a message, “We are no one, we are everyone, we are invisible, and we will never compromise.” Rorschach stood for this idea, although probably not racism. His civilian identity was a regular person who blended in with society. He doesn’t intervene. He only does his part to get the job done. If anything, this group is more of a cult worshipping the vigilante for the wrong reasons, rather than a group of solely white supremacists.
What’s symbolic of what Watchmen is supposed to stand for is its idea to invoke vigilantism, or at least donning a mask to hide who you are from the world or to hide the world from yourself. The Police versus the Cavalry. In the pilot’s first few minutes, we see a policeman requesting permission to draw out his firearm, but when this happens, it’s too late. Like Amazon’s show The Boys, the Watchmen of this show are controlled by a higher authority to go out and put their lives at risk. Adventures and stories of the Minutemen and Watchmen’s days of old are televised for the world to spectate. When worse comes to worst, those in power will be free from their restraints. Meta-commentary states, “The clock is ticking. We’re running out of time. Evil is rising. Second by second, we all cry out…”
The soundtrack is splendid and reminds viewers of the time setting. The cinematography was on point from the start. We begin with a black child in 1921’s Tulsa, Oklahoma holding an orphaned baby in the aftermath of the Tulsa race riot and smoothly transitions to 2019, where a white man is pulled over by a policeman. The last shot ends the episode with Chief Judd Crawford lynched from a tree with a black man in a wheelchair below him on the ground.
The dynamic between Abar and Crawford is great as we’re shown almost a partnership between detective and chief working together to solve the case. Abar is written so well, and Regina King convinces us that she is meant for the role, beginning with her short monologue about egg whites and yolk being like walls and boundaries. Her character embodies the idea of vigilantism, which is to take matters into one’s own hands. Abar tracks down the suspect before the chief orders for this to happen.
Overall, this pilot episode of Watchmen gives a promising start to a revolutionary decade of socio-political conflict. It sticks to the essence of its source material and showcases an incredibly new narrative to its lore. A superb performance from King already wants me longing for more. With its themes on vigilantism and racism, we have a new show to look forward to in the 2020s!
What do you think? Have you seen Watchmen yet? Have you read the comic series? If not, do you plan to? Let us know! For more DC-related news and reviews follow The Cinema Spot on Twitter (@TheCinemaSpot) and Instagram (@thecinemaspot_).
Watchmen is out on HBO now!