Watchmen S1E1: It’s Summer and We’re Running Out Of Ice
Context, in Damon Lindelof’s new version of Watchmen, is everything.
The series opens with a young boy watching a movie in which a black lawman brings a corrupt sheriff to justice; a noble, progressive notion for the 1920s Hollywood cinema it’s meant to represent. But Lindelof juxtaposes this idea against the ensuing Tulsa massacre, the single worst recorded piece of racial violence in American history, a grim reminder that the progressivism we see on screen is not always, or often, reflected in the real world.
And, in fact, if there’s anything that this premiere wants us to remember, it’s that. Described as a kind of remix of the comic books, set against a modern backdrop in a world post the events of the Watchmen’s original run, I think one of the best things that this premiere does is capturing the spirit of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons-es (the possessive of that name forever eludes me) story without being beholden to every detail that it laid out.
Oh, and speaking of context. One of my biggest problems with Zack Snyder’s movie version of this story was the way that he managed to produce so much of it almost to the letter of the comic book, and yet utterly miss so many of the fundamental points of the story: in his version, these characters really have powers, all the better for Snyder to indulge his over-fascination with slow-mo greyscale action scenes. There is no such reverence in Lindelof’s version, not least as he is basically writing fanfiction within the same universe. But he seems to understand that the original Watchmen series is, fundamentally, a highly-critical take on a proto-fascist American state. While that version had Nixon’s third term and a successful invasion of Vietnam to go by, this one draws on the modern and very in-context fear of white supremacist violence, drawing it up to the present day without losing what feels like the core of this story.
Beyond that, this is just a really strong first episode for the season: I had no intention of recapping it until I saw this hour-long opening, and damn, I can’t pass up the chance to write about something that actually feels good for a change, you know? Following Regina King and her character Angela Abar as she navigates life as a masked justice-keeper alongside her family, friends, and tenuous anonymity, it’s the kind of bold character piece that manages to balance a strong sense of our central lead (thanks in no small part to Regina King, who is, quantifiably, The Best) alongside dense worldbuilding without letting one get on top of the other. This is the kind of world I want to know more about, and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that about a show and mean it.
More than anything, though, I’ve been waiting for a show to come along and really get its teeth into the anti-superhero genre. We have some meta movies, even stuff like The Boys once in a while, but this is the first time I’ve felt like someone has tried to address major issues in a fully-realized world against the backdrop of the near-omnipresent superhero narrative. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this show goes next, and I’m looking forward to writing about it right here. I hope you’ll join me!
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(header image via The Spool)