I’m kind of obsessed with Watchmen. Not in the normal way people are, thinking it’s a great book and all. Instead I see it as one of the most interesting case studies in telling a story over different mediums (I had this whole comparison on the book and movie idea that I never carried through with but sounds good).
In addition to how the story is told, the idea of continuing the narrative has also been a big idea with DC tasking Geoff Johns to try and wring out a good idea to mixed results from what I understand. Meanwhile Damon Lindelof of all people tackled it as a TV show to critical acclaim, but is it actually good?
The easy answer is kind of (I mean it’s super lucky this show came out last year. If it came out this year it would be more thruoughly critiqued). The more complicated answer is the rest of this post.
To start, the plot’s start is similar to the original graphic novel. Someone in a mask is killed by someone else in a mask. Through that event more information about how the world has changed in the 30 years since the inter dimensional squid destroyed New York. Such as Robert Redford being president, Silk Spectre being an FBI agent, and Rorschach’s vissage being used as the new version of a red-pill, alt-right, KKK group called the Kalvary. Of course there is more going on than it appears as Detective Angela Abar, code name Sister Night, is wrapped up in a conspiracy that goes back to the original Minutemen.
The first three episodes and finale do really feel as good as it could be. Focusing on a single city with small ties to the outside world is great (I still wonder what’s going on but the comic didn’t really do that, and if no one complains about that in Hunger Games which is way worse about that then it must be fine). It finds a way to really center the story on hot button issues through in universe means really well. The epitome of this is the fact cops must wear masks, have cover jobs, and never tell their families what they really do. They have the trappings of superheroes. Combine that with the 7th Kalvary, the white supremacists, and their home of Nixonville. They too wear the symbol of a hero but decide to use that to instill fear. It’s solid stuff and feels like it’s on the pulse in a natural way. The problem is that the story supports the other side.
It breaks down when comparing to the real world context, especially now. I understand that their world had a giant, 100 foot naked blue man sized difference, but the history of the police, and racial injustice doesn’t track. So, to break down how the poor white people become the target of police harassment… It’s easy to assume that in Tulsa, where the show takes place, everything was the same, in this case, racist/racially biased policing against African Americans, until Robert Redford passes the act that gives African American reperations for what happened to them. This causes racist white people to take offense to that. All of this leads to the Kalvary being formed. From that they attack all the police who protect the black people as a ploy by a senator to give the police masks for some reason in order to get into the White House. In the fallout the police get masks, and the poor whites are forced seemingly into the Nixonville trailer park. Coming out of that is the plot of this show. When the new Kalvary kills a cop the police round up the whole community in search of those breadcrumbs. They are being oppressed in the same way as African Americans are in our world. Now, this gets complicated as you add in the restriction on handguns, the fact the chief who is murdered is, in fact, a member of the Kalvary (I think. It’s not clear. He’s clearly a fan of the Klan and doesn’t actively stop the Kalvary when he could, making him culpable at the very least). This makes it seem orchestrated that they’re oppressed, but they are and the normal Joe wouldn’t know that. It doesn’t help that the show doesn’t give us information on that part of the world.
Instead, the show decides to shift focus to being more character centered with stories that flesh out the narrative in the periphery. A whole episode focusing on one of the Tulsa cops, a look at the history of Hooded Justice, the first hero, Dr Manhattan, and more all work in context of their episodes, but feel incredibly obvious where they all go. The episode on Hooded Justice in particular felt excruciating to watch because I could see immediately where it was all going and wanted it to get there. That’s not bad. It’s being true to the story, but being so narrative-savvy makes it feel worse than it actually is. However, the real problem this does is kill the pacing of the show. The first three episodes have a strong clip to them. They establish and get story done so efficiently that it feels like the show stalls out after that point only to finally pick up at the end.
The ending is honestly quite good. It feels like a full culmination of everything it was building up in the background into a conclusion. It does make, not changes but, adjustments on who the real villain is that might work on rewatch, but feels very abrupt in the moment, then backfilled to make sense.
The show does that a lot. It backfills constantly. It shows scenes, then shows them in a new context with new information to have everything make sense. This is different than “clever.” “Clever,” is closer to when a story is trying too hard to make a plot complicated. It adds loops for the sake of it (like how the whole boat episode of Dracula is setup as a chess match in the characters mind, and the room she’s in, in the chess match is the number of the room her body is in). It could be argued the show does this. Instead it feels like the writers knew all along what was going on, or had it work out that way really well, that they set stuff up and paid it off. However, the intermediary sections do feel like they’re trying to be too smart for no reason, as Damon Lindelof is wont to do from time to time.
In the end it does not make any of this show bad. It is good by any conventional standards. It just loses a lot of steam, and holds stuff back from the audience for the sake of a reveal when knowing that information earlier would make more scenes interesting in the immediate.
Now here is the obligatory bashing on the name of the show. Watchmen is a terrible name because it’s not an adaption of the book (thank god). It’s a sequel. Doomsday Clock, for all its problems at least has the name of a sequel. Calling this just Watchmen feels off. To be fair if it had a subtitle people would think it was a sequel to the Zack Snyder film (possibly), but it’s immediately not that and having any kind of subtitle or colon would help distinguish this when searching online at least. At worst it’s needlessly confusing like Halloween (I mean which one did I just mention?).
This show looks at the comic so hard and wanted to honestly build off of such depressing dreck to find an honestly heart full story. That is impressive. It’s also sad that they chose not (or were not given the option) to make it 12 episodes to match the 12 issue run of the comic. The show loligags around already, adding three episodes would not be the worst. It could split the story better into episodes that can be focused just on the characters and not worry about the plot, and have episodes where it can do a whole lot of investigating and world building. This too is not a problem. It is just incredibly odd that they did 9 episodes considering the comic was 12.
I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!
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