HBO's show Watchmen, offers a new take on an acclaimed 1986 comic book series. Set in an alternative version of today's America, it stars Regina King as the masked heroine dealing with murder, terrorism and our national past.
Set in an alternative 2019 America, the show centres on Tulsa, Okla., site of an actual 1921 racial massacre whose brutality echoes through the whole series. As the story begins, Tulsa has become a frontline in a guerrilla war between the white supremacist terror group the Seventh Kavalry and the police, who now wear masks. One of these is Detective Angela Abar, a terrific Regina King, a happily married mother who pretends to run a bakery but works undercover in the guise of a superhero.
Here, Angela talks to her daughter's class about what's known as the White Night, when Seventh Kavalry killers invaded policemen's homes.
Watchmen becomes a thrill for a certain kind of plot twist-seeking viewer—the ones who want the clues in the poster to match up to the twist in the finale. There’s something absolutely seductive about being shown how to see something that was invisible in plain sight—and I’ve found the show to be more rewarding on rewatch so that I can admire the clock-like construction of the story, the clues and inferences that become a part of the finale. Learning that William Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr. in the wheelchair; Jovan Adepo in his youth) was the legendary, mysterious Hooded Justice is a brilliant tweak to Watchmen, one that adds the full dimension of racial history to one of the original comic’s most secretive characters. It took time for Angela to lead the audience to this truth, because first Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) had to die under mysterious, provocative circumstances, and then she had to learn about connection to the Seventh Cavalry, and then we had to learn about Nostalgia, which required learning something about Trieu, Veidt, and Laurie Blake.
Watchmen, the show, does not have a hero. Each character has their failings and strengths, and each has to face a crisis that remakes or destroys them. But Watchmen, the TV show, has always had a hero in Angela (Regina King), who is a vaguely sketched character precisely because of how much the show wants the audience to like her energy and spirit, without looking too closely at the state-sanctioned beatings she deals out, or the secrets she keeps for most of the show. The cast comprising of Regina King, Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Don Johnson, Louis Gossett Jr., Hong Chau, Jeremy Irons, Tom Mison, Andrew Howard have all done a great job and have kept audiences glued to their small screens.
The show’s greatest shortcoming will be the limited exploration of the lives of the colonization and child survivors of war in modern America, particularly as it pertains to Asian Americans. Spending more time with Bian before the death marches, or showing how she experiences a day running the factory would have given us more insight into her perspective.
It is hard to ignore how convoluted the storytelling gets—and how exposition-dense the story becomes, as a result—when the show is structured to maximize the audience’s ignorance.
Did I Like It
HBO’s Watchmen is worthy of the original graphic novel, capturing our fractured political moment in the form of a twisted superhero saga. However, it lacks the comic’s visceral impact, but it surpasses it in several ways, including its eye towards black history and its emotional intimacy. This definitely features on my to-watch list.