Director – Nicole Kassell
Writer – Damon Lindelof
Cast – Jeremy Irons, Don Johnson, Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson, Yayha Abdul-Mateen II, Frances Fisher, Louis Gossett Jr.
The wait, the anticipation is over, Watchmen is finally here! After months of cryptic teases and little nuggets of information being dropped to a feverish fan base, the season premiere has at last aired. The big question is, has it lived up to the hype and delivered a pilot episode that feels vibrant, daring and special? In my opinion, the answer to that is most definitely a resounding yes!
The tone of the show is very much that of a Damon Lindelof production, similar to his previous endeavours Lost and The Leftovers. Something feels slightly off-kilter here, throughout the episode there was a palpable sense of unease and tension, even through moments of levity. As the season progresses, I feel as though viewers are going to be in for a challenging and engrossing experience. Speaking of which, the opening to the series is shocking, unpleasant to watch and certainly pulls no punches. Depicting the real life events of the Black Wall Street massacre of 1921, as the black inhabitants of Tulsa, Oklahoma are attacked in a horrific onslaught of racial hatred.
This is an example of humanity as its absolute worst and is one of the most visceral scenes you are likely to see in a mainstream television show. Used as a framing device to bring the viewer up to present day, it is extremely effective. As the current world (in the reality of the show) is fractured, dangerous and close to violence at any given time, this effectively shows that nothing has changed and mankind is still a damaged species.
As the show is set 34 years after the events of the seminal comic book, the after effects of said book still weight heavy on the world. Random storms of falling squid (remnants of Veidt’s original plan?) fall from the sky, the police force have been forced to wear masks to cover their faces and protect themselves from violent retribution and a right wing, violent organisation has risen, calling themselves The Seventh Kavalry. Taking their influence from the legendary Rorschach, in terms of his black and white view of the world and his iconic white mask, tensions are running high. Veidt’s plan may have averted the imminent nuclear war of the 80’s, but it does feel as though the world is ready to catch fire once again.
The show is so full of Easter eggs that hearken back to the original book that any long time devotee is going to have a field day picking up on them. From a tantalising glimpse of Dr Manhattan on Mars, the copy of Under The Hood on an office table and the recurring refrain of the song Unforgettable, there are far too many to list here. Safe to say, this very much feels like a world that has followed on from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ creations.
It would be hard to mention plot specifics without jumping firmly into spoiler territory. The themes of masks and secret identities plays a huge part, as Don Johnson’s Chief of Police Judd Crawford struggles to quell the growing swell of discontent in retaliation to President Robert Redford’s reparations issued to victims of racial violence. The aforementioned Seventh Kavalry have started to spread their hatred through Tulsa, echoing the horrific events at the start of the episode. Working in league with covert police staff such as Regina King’s excellent Sister Night and Tim Blake Nelson’s eerie and sardonic Looking Glass, the situation is a powder keg, which judging by the shocking conclusion to the episode, has found the spark it needs to ignite.
As an establishing episode, this is one of the best pilots I have seen in recent memory. With the promise of beloved characters from the source material making their presence felt as the series goes on, it seems as though it’s going to be quite something. With the glimpse of Adrian Veidt’s existence showcased by Jeremy Irons’ brief turn, despite being dead in the eyes of the world, the way in which the two periods are linked is going to be interesting. As Dr Manhattan lives in a non-linear timestream, there is definitely scope to cover different time periods over the course of the season too.
Overall, this was a very solid start. I certainly look forward to the journey we are going to be taken on each week and episode two simply cannot come soon enough.