It’s difficult to judge a series on one episode. Hell, it hard to judge a series based on one season. Take HBO’s Westworld, for example. Season One was spectacular. Season Two was a bit tedious. So I’m cautiously optimistic about Watchmen, a new take on the heralded comic series of the same name. For those who cannot stomach politics in comic book media, you may want to skip this. For at it’s very core, the series is both a bold statement on our current political climate and a dystopian glance at our future society if our better angels don’t prevail. Bearing little resemblance to Zach Snyder’s underrated take on Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’s seminal Watchmen comic book – while oddly familiar to those who’ve seen both versions – HBO’s take on the source material is set 30 years after the original. Superheroes, as fucked up as they were in times past, no longer exist. Instead, we’re left with an environment where people use masks to disguise their racist, bigoted identities. Like the Supergirl story line about Agent Liberty, this over-arching premise is a stark reminder of our era of white robes and masks. It’s also a potent jab at the politics of hate the current occupier of the White House expounds.
How did our alternate reality become the dark, dangerous, and hateful place director Damon Lindelof gives us? The story really begins with Rorschach, the 1980s crime-fighter from the first Watchmen incarnations. His mission was driven by right-wing extremism, fueled by the belief liberal public policies were the cause of all America’s ills. Rorschach’s manifesto has become the symbol for a white supremacist movement called the Seventh Calvary, whose members wear his inkblot mask as their new Klan hood.
Knowledge of the original source materials isn’t necessary to engross yourself in this new iteration but newbies may miss some of the clever shout-outs to the comics and film if they haven’t seen them. The new story-line works fine on it’s own. Without giving too much away, the premise is individuals who take up arms and cover their faces to channel their political frustrations, but they soon discover this only amplifies their prejudices, to often brutal ends. Watchmen, and the shocking portrait of politically and racially divided 21st-century life it paints, give both sides of the aisle red meat, but it’s the tiki torch marchers in Charlottesville and the ‘build the wall’ types every place else, that may find this beef a little rancid.