Watchmen on HBO is not a re-telling of the Hugo Awarding winning comic book or the film adaptation by Zack Snyder. Instead, the HBO series is a story taking place inside the world of Watchmen, set 30 years after the events of the original comic book story.
The premiere aired on HBO on Sunday night and made it clear from the start that this takes place in the world of the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comic book and not the Zack Snyder movie.
That was made clear in two instances.
The first was a raining of squids onto the city — something that clearly happens all the time and there are even sirens to warn residents of this event.
For those only familiar with the movie and not the comic book, it was not Doctor Manhattan that caused the devastating event that brought the world back from the brink of a nuclear war in the 80s. It was a giant squid attack that Ozymandias created.
The giant squid killed millions of people but kept the United States and Russia from a nuclear war that would destroy the entire planet.
The squids are a call-back to that moment and likely a reminder of what could happen if tensions grew too great again.
The second was Doctor Manhattan on Mars, which was shown in satellite footage.
The important thing to understand about this HBO series is that Watchmen on TV is not about the former superheroes, outside of references about a movie within the show about the Minutemen and the fact that Roarsarch became the face of the white supremacist movement in America.
The episode starts off in the past. The year was 1921 and the event was a real-life massacre known as the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots but which was more accurately the Tulsa Race Massacre.
This event saw a large white mob move into an area known as Black Wall Street, which is where wealthy and influential black citizens lived and then kill them and burn their homes and businesses to the ground.
Tulsa searches for graves from 1921 race massacre that left hundreds of black people deadhttps://t.co/A8WOkX6Y0r
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) October 8, 2019
The opening of Watchmen on HBO showed a father and mother trying to get their children to safety during the massacre. While the people they trusted their children with died, their young son saved a small baby and set out away from Tulsa and to safety.
This was a huge moment and set up the entire premise of the new Watchmen story.
Showrunner Damon Lindelof asked what in 2019 was “the equivalent of the nuclear standoff between the Americans and the Russians?” He then answered very accurately, “It is race and the police … There is no defeating white supremacy — it’s not going away. There are no easy answers and grandiose solution.”
In the original comic books, Ozymandias was the world’s smartest hero, but he was also the villain of the story, killing millions of people to save the world. However, was he really the villain if those sacrifices were for the greater good?
There is also a question about Ozymandias in Watchmen.
Jeremy Irons is cast in the series as Adrian Veidt — Ozymandias. However, he is only listed in early episodes as the Lord of a Country Estate. There was also a newspaper that the camera passed by in the episode that claimed Veidt was dead.
The scenes with the Lord of a Country Estate and his servants were curious, but the first episode only gave little glimpses into the character.
Instead, the premiere episode focused on the war between the white supremacists and the police. It is a curious story, since, in today’s society, people often compare white supremacy with police gunning down young black men.
In this case, it is the police that the white supremacists target. There is even a moment where a young racist child in police officer Angela Abar’s son’s class who asks if she got her money through reparations.
This is an interesting comment because, in the real world of Tulsa in 1921, not a single black person was able to get reparations because the predominant white Tulsa government classified the massacre and murders as a “riot” meaning both sides were to blame.
In the world of Watchmen on HBO, it was the police that this white supremacist militia attacked. It caused a law to be passed where police were allowed to wear masks and hide their identities to protect their loved ones.
There is also an interesting regulation in place that does not allow a police officer to gain access to their gun unless they are certain their lives are in danger. This delay caused a member of the militia wearing a Roarsarch mask to gun down a police officer early in the episode.
At this point, the entire storyline that the white supremacist militia has returned after three years of peace and has a major event planned to make their mark in the world.
— DC (@DCComics) October 19, 2019
There were moments that showed their tactics, which included an interesting interrogation pod where master interrogator Detective Looking Glass (Tim Black Nelson) flashes images around the pod while asking questions to determine if the person is telling the truth or lying.
There is also a moment where a nice call-back to the Watchmen comic books shows the police now using an aircraft that is clearly based on Owl-Man’s crafts from the past.
That scene was a highlight in how Watchmen on HBO will show their action. The police, led by Angela, is heading through a cattle field toward a small house where members of the militia responsible for the police shooting are located.
This results in a shootout where the police are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to gunpower. However, the entire scene was built to an intense level thanks to the music by composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
The music makes this scene, and based on the Watchmen premiere episode, Reznor and Ross appear to be just as integral to the feel of the story as the director himself.
— Watchmen (@watchmen) October 19, 2019
Without giving away too much of what happens in the Watchmen premiere episode, Don Johnson (Miami Vice) is here as Judd Crawford, Tulsa Chief of Police, and he is working to try to stop this militia before it gets out of control.
Crawford is also very close to Angela and her family, as her kids call him “Uncle” and this episode really hammers home how dangerous things are for Angela, her loved ones, and the police in general, as the white supremacists gather for their final coup — unless something can step in and stop the end of the world once again.
“I don’t think that that was by mistake that we start with an orphan,” Regina King said about Watchmen and its place in the real world. “So much of this country was built by black people, but yet in a lot of regards, we’re orphans because we don’t know where we’ve come from. There’s a metaphor in there for the history of the real America.”
— Regina King (@ReginaKing) October 18, 2019
Will Watchmen on HBO continue to build a story based on an Elseworlds version of the United States, yet one that holds a mirror up to the real world in ways that are uncomfortable yet brutally honest? If the premiere is any indication, it is off to a great start.
Watchmen airs on HBO on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. EST.