Hutch Watches the Watchmen Ep. 1: It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice
By Chase Hutchinson
From the opening scene of the new HBO series Watchmen, I could feel things were different. The story grounds itself in 1920s Tulsa and the violent race massacre that happened there. This is made explicit by the targets being the black members of the community and an armed KKK member walking along with a weapon ready to shoot anyone. While not flawless in the execution of the special effects, the scene is appropriately horrifying. There is an attempt to spirit away younger kids as the city burns. This mission was less than successful as the wagon is presumably attacked. The kids survive but are now left to fend for themselves. We then flash forward to modern-day but the tone has been set. This is to be a story about the underlying violence of a society that doesn't go away. It only changes form. The world that is built is an audacious one. Doctor Manhattan is gone. The Seventh Kavalry (spelled with a K in the subtitles hence my spelling) is back. They are a white supremacist terrorist group that society once thought were dormant and have now popped back up. This is an effective writing strategy and immediately drops us into a story that has stakes without having to overexplain what is going on.
Our protagonist is Tulsa Detective Angela Abar and Regina King brings her to life with an appropriate amount of menace mixed with down to earth compassion. She is more appropriately known as Sister Knight and transcends her role of being a member of law enforcement. There is an interesting power relationship that is being established. Sister Knight is not a member of the police force in the same way as the other cops. She feels more like a vigilante and her motivations are less about upholding order. She seems more motivated by a desire to weed out the white supremacists in her world. The sequence where she leads a raid on their compound is where this becomes most clear. There are detected and ambushed which only the core group survives. Not only is this sequence the most intense with the characters have to take cover behind cows that give them just enough protection but it also echoes the opening sequence. The difference is now that the world has changed and they aren't as vulnerable to violence.
For a show all about the underlying violence of the world it sure is a beautiful one
The entire feel and look of the show is quite incredible. The standout sequence was the pod interrogation. It stood out because of how it not only put a twist on an element from the lore of the show with the Rorschach test being conducted in an entire pod but because of the entire scene enveloping them. It takes advantage of what technology would exist and elevates the already trodden path. Even with the elements that feel more like a comic book, it fits into the world and doesn't distract from the story. I wish that there were moments that let certain shots linger more but understand that the story has to keep moving along. There is a matter of factness to all of the way things are constructed but it still makes it clear that the story isn't going to hold your hand. It is beautiful yet also cold and calculated. The world is a harsh one that they are inhabiting. As Abar tells us, the world is not sunshine and rainbows. It is one that we can't hide behind pretty colors. The character Jeremy Irons plays will certainly be the one that escalates this. For now, the moral worldview is a bleak one but an accurate one none the less. It is a show for our times and doesn't shy away from confronting that head on. The story is becoming one about controlling the violence. Whoever has this monopoly on violence is the one in power. It is Sister Knight who now has the monopoly in the scene where they take the fight to the white supremacists.
She isn't running as the characters did from the beginning and efficiently takes down those they have come to find. The only problem is that she isn't able to take any of them alive and thus the threat still remains. This isn't entirely surprising as the story wouldn't have wrapped up the central conflict within the first episode. The threat ends up taking one of those close to Abar making it clear that they have not ended this threat. The seeds are being planted but they are being done with a delicate hand. As a fan of writer Damon Lindelof's work (especially the underseen The Leftovers), I am intrigued and utterly invested in the journey that we are about to go on. He has certainly matured as a writer and has become more patient. This is perhaps one of the better pilots that I have seen in recent memory. The family dynamic is kept very light but I imagine will get flushed out later. There is a moment where Abar instructs her husband to protect the home in her absence that already gave depth to the characters. It was simple but effective. For now, it is doing a fantastic job standing on setting the stage for what is sure to be an interesting season. It seems like the story will grow a mystery and tell us more about the underground world. What that underground world tells us about ourselves and how we interact with violence is what I hope to find out.