WATCHMEN (S1) gets 8.5/10 Who watches the Watchmen

Season 1 Episodes 1-2

Created by Damon Lindelof
Starring Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson, Don Johnson, Jeremy Irons
Network: HBO/Foxtel


One of the most critically well-regarded comics of the 20th century, Watchmen opened the field for comic books to be regarded as serious works of literature. This HBO TV series seeks to expand that legacy with series creator Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) taking a respectful approach to a sequel tale set in the world created by writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons.

The world has moved on since The Comedian’s death, Dr Manhattan flight, and the incident in New York city. In the 34 years since, the Tulsa police have become a secret force, wearing masks and working alongside masked vigilantes. When one of their numbers is murdered by a member of the Seventh Kalvary, a white supremacist terrorist organisation inspired by the writings of Rorschach, Sister Night (Regina King) tries to find the perp responsible. What she finds threatens to snowball into a bigger mystery.

So far Watchmen (2019) is unlocking a delightful riddle. It’s an exercise in textured world-building sharing similarities to the initial DC graphic novel that launched the phenomenon, therefore is layered and enigmatic. That’s only fair as it is drawing direct inspiration from that comic to create the world, rather than Zac Snyder’s 2009 film version, or DC’s Before Watchmen or Doomsday arcs.

As such the world is still reeling from the attack of a giant inter-dimensional squid that devastated New York (a false flag operation launched by Jeremy Irons’ Adrian Veidt/ Ozymandias in an attempt to unite the world), and Dr Manhattan’s self-imposed exile to Mars, but that was three and a half decades ago. Since then the world has changed, and other events have impacted on the life of Sister Night, and the audience is slowly learning of these, as a mystery central to the plot is also unravelled. Structurally the series appears to partially mirror the graphic novel; with an unfamiliar world being built, a central murder investigation, and a seemingly unrelated conspiracy unfolding (as well as injections of unfamiliar pop culture that reflect the events unfolding or inform the later narrative). Yet it still serves the purpose of examining contemporary issues via the lens of superhero comics, and the issues being dealt with have shifted from the 80s threat of global nuclear war, and are instead looking at internal racial and political divides, and the exercise of control by the state.

Hence Watchmen (2019) is ambitiously aiming to be a dense meta-textual work of superhero literature. We are already seeing the reoccurring imagery of “black and white” thread itself through the narrative marking the issues to come – be it the ink blotch pattern of Rorschach’s mask adopted by the Seventh Kavalry, a reference to moral dichotomy, or one of racial divide (a terrifying recount of the horrific real life 1921 Tulsa race riot massacre launches the series). Similarly, we are seeing a superhero show within the show; American Hero Story may act in a similar fashion to Tales of the Black Freighter did in the original comic, both informing us of the pop culture of the society, and priming audiences for events with its parallel narrative. Add in the normal amount of Easter Eggs you would expect from a superhero TV show and the fact that within its two episodes it has already confounded audience’s expectations in terms of its direction, and Lindelof’s version of the Watchmen (2019) is already shaping up as something to require multiple viewings to unlock.

This is built on by great performances by Regina King, Don Johnson, Louis Gossett Jr and Jeremy Irons (at his eccentric best), as well as a haunting score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network). All of which offer amazing potential for the series to come, one which Lindelof hasn’t always delivered in his previous works, but has normally brought us some quality TV along the way. A must for fans of the comic book, but also intriguing in its own right.