Lindelof’s storytelling and King’s acting prowess shine amongst a show astounding critics only four episodes in.
When HBO announced it would be following up Alan Moore’s seminal work with a series created by Dameon Lindelof of “Lost” and “The Leftovers” fame, viewers had mixed reactions. “Watchmen” is considered one of the most impactful graphic novels ever written, and the concept of anyone tackling the project worried many of Moore’s fans. However, what has resulted from the first four episodes of the series has been nothing short of phenomenal, presenting Lindelof and lead actress Regina King at their strongest.
The series is set in present day Tulsa, but like its source material, depicts a United States of America drastically divergent from our own. In the show’s version of Tulsa, the Race Massacre of 1921 and the progressive administration of President Robert Redford have resulted in a form of racial reparations meant to reckon with the racial terror perpetrated in America’s history.
Those reparations, called “Redfordations” by their critics, prompted a racist terrorist group called the Seventh Kalvary to launch an attack on Tulsa police officers. The show is set three years after that attack, and contrary to the rest of the country which has formally outlawed vigilantes, Tulsa allows all of its police officers to wear masks to protect their identities. The show’s premise makes it easily one of the most original projects on television, but for Lindelof that was always part of the allure and the fear surrounding the sequel series.
In a podcast with “Chernobyl” writer Craig Maizan, Lindelof spoke about the challenge of staying faithful to the source material while continuing the tradition that made “Watchmen” the graphic novel so groundbreaking. Lindelof said, “It’s an adaptation of this thing that already exists. How do you make it original?” and went on to say, “It only feels like ‘Watchmen’ if you’re taking huge risks.”
In the first four episodes, Lindelof and the entire writing team have posed two key questions: First, does anonymity remove legitimacy from law enforcement? And second, what effect would a reckoning with America’s racial history have on a country where denying the negatives of that past has been the foundation for understanding it? Though the first was an important aspect of the original “Watchmen,” that second question sets the HBO series apart from anything else in the expanding umbrella that is the superhero genre.
By his own barometer, Lindelof is succeeding with flying colors. The show feels unlike anything other than the original graphic novel, but the incongruities between the two reflect what we’ve experienced as a country since 1986. For many, the existential fear of thermonuclear war with a communist superpower has been replaced by acts of terrorism, and the last five years have taught us all that white supremacy is the most likely motive for that kind of violence in America. Lindelof writes that story onto the screen, but as this review ends it’s important to note the best weapon in Lindelof’s arsenal: Regina King.
Regina King has starred in “American Crime,” “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “The Leftovers” among many other successful and award winning projects, but it was in the latter that she first began working with Lindelof. Unlike “The Leftovers,” where her acting ability shone through as she played a supporting role to Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston, in “Watchmen,” King is undoubtedly the lead amongst a stellar and numerous cast.
She plays former TPD officer, Angela Abar, who officially retired after she and her husband were targeted during the White Night attack, only to reemerge under a mask and the name Sister Night thanks to a law allowing Tulsa officers to hide their faces despite the national ban on masks that sets up the original graphic novel. Like many of the black residents of Tulsa, Abar is a descendant of those living in Tulsa during the race massacre, but unlike many of them she spent her much of her life in South Vietnam, the 51st state in the union. Additionally, Abar gains a pseudo-antagonist in Laurie Jupiter, one of the original “Watchmen,” who, by 2019, hunts masked vigilantes.
By throwing King’s Abar/Sister Night into this web of confusion and conflicted loyalty, Lindelof puts King in the best possible situation to succeed, and succeed she does. King makes Abar not only a compelling character, but often conveys the conflict that the vigilante mother must navigate with both grace and an over the top level of badassery. Despite how the last five episodes play out, King should be an early favorite for the lead actress Emmy as she further defines herself as one of the best in her era.
I recommend that anyone curious about the show to watch the show (after reading the graphic novel) for its intricately designed world and the commentary it makes on current day America, but also for stellar performances from Regina King, Jeremy Irons and Tulsa natie Tim Blake Nelson.
Going forward, the show will have to answer dozens of questions that the first four episodes have posed. A few examples: other than the boy from the opening scene, who is the old man in the wheelchair? Where is Ozymandias and why can’t he leave that castle? And maybe most importantly, is Dr. Manhattan’s teased arrival going to upend any current arcs?
I have no doubt Lindelof will provide answers to these questions, the man has a knack for posing difficult questions and eventually answering them in his shows. However, if we consider “Lost” as a bad example of him answering questions and “The Leftovers” a good one, it looks like “Watchmen” will be the tie-breaker for one of the deades most prolific showrunners.