Watchmen- Don’t Watch the Watchmen

Rating: 1 out of 5

There is much to be said about the link between inherent biases and taste in art. Our preconceptions of certain media are often tied to other exterior elements, especially in the era of franchise culture, assemblage qualities can interfere with our enjoyment of a work.

I did not like Watchmen, and I suspect this is at least partially informed by my adoration and familiarity with the original source text, however, show-creator Damon Lindelof has proven once again that he is one of the most manipulative, lazy and cheap writers working on such a prominent scale. HBO allowed him to craft a singular alternate history that provokes and rubs against our current society while continuing the lore Alan Moore established in the original twelve-issues, which is actually the series strongest component for most of its run. The final hour, however, while containing a myriad of noteworthy and shocking twists feels radically disingenuous to the original series, which is admirable for attempting to chart its own course across roads that have already been tread upon, but fails at creating a satisfying ending, instead wallowing in unabashedly trite social commentary and flimsy science-fiction logic. The worst kind of art is the piece that leaves you flustered, angry and unsettled over absolutely nothing despite it’s lofty intentions. 

The first episode is arguably the series strongest. The world is immediately gripping and fascinating: cops in Tulsa, Oklahoma are obliged to wear masks while on duty to conceal their identities after a massacre of cops by The Seventh Kalvary (Watchmen’s KKK) known as “The White Night”. This is at first an extremely interesting wrinkle in this world’s political tension, however, by the end, in typical Lindelof fashion, this plot-point serves as just another device in a grander plan. The first episode is great until the end of the season. All the goodwill and potential of the first episode is unraveled across the seasons remaining eight episodes until it is dissolved completely in the final ten minutes. The beginning of the series is made more important than it should have been in an effort to surprise but it just comes across as tacky and lame. The final monologue about anger, fear and inherited pain, rather than resonating, feels forced to emphasize the catalyst of the story. 

Complaints about that last episode aside, this show is a mess. The set-design, controlled aesthetic and disconnected timelines are not enough to overcome hokey performances and genuinely grating writing. Whether or not you are familiar with the original comic, there are absolutely no redemptive qualities to Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), she is supposed to be a lady whose had to “be one of the boys” which amounts to her character being constantly skeptical and cracking lame one-liners about being assertive or her intuition about the mystery. Not only is it an egregious rewriting of her character’s core qualities, she just says dumb things and does even dumber things. She shoots a suicide bomber because she thinks he’s bluffing, there is not a chance this woman was ever a vigilante or spent years in the FBI, her problem solving only exists to prolong answers and deepen the mystery, she’s contrived and unbelievable.

She surprisingly, however, is not the worst of the bunch. Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), who I am typically enamored with as an actor, delivers a goofy, distant and subdued performance that results in an episode devoted to his background. Had I not been a fan of the franchise, I would have stopped here. The dialogue throughout is laughable and his motivations are forced, ultimately he doesn’t even end up being an important character, which is another knock against the show. 

There are too many uninteresting characters, and the aspects that hold the most intrigue, for example, the mysterious castle and the eccentric man (Jeremy Irons), have a wonderful arc that is undermined by its brevity, ultimately too, the reveal is predictable. Which, for all the debate that each episode inspires around the series’ outcome, the reveals are strangely detectable, the writing is telegraphed just enough that if you are smart and paying attention you can figure out the show. Which for all Lost’s shortcomings was never an issue, even if the last surprise was terrible, it was still exactly that, a surprise. That is not to say that all the twists are failures but those that hold the most value and singularity, Lady Trieu’s relationship with her mother, the man in the castle, become relegated to subplots in service of bigger twists. 

Watchmen for all its attempts at updating, expanding and enriching the established lore, is most interesting when it uses themes already present in the comic. Dr. Manhattan’s god-who-longs-to-be-man and Adrian Veidt’s man-who-longs-to-be-god are still an enthralling juxtaposition, however, that was already there, Lindelof merely piggybacked upon it. The most original ideas he brings to the table are in Watchmen’s alternate portrayal of American-history, which serve the direction of the plot rather than benefiting an engaging world.

Don’t watch Watchmen.