Now that HBO's pseudo-sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' celebrated comic book series Watchmen has been unveiled to the world – it seems the world's liking what they're seeing so far from Damon Lindelof's "remix". Even die-hard Watchmen purists appear to be slowly coming around – and they should.
Bleeding Cool didn't exactly pull any punches when praising just how powerful the Nicole Kassell (Castle Rock)-directed series premiere "It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice" was (check out our review here) – so how does Kassell-helmed, Lindelof/Nick Cuse-written "Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship" measure up?
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
My only regret about "Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship"? Not watching it back-to-back with the season opener – which isn't to say that Kassell's two episodes don't stand on their own as individual efforts. Just the opposite, in fact: it speaks to the different-yet-important approaches each episode takes in setting the stage for the season.
This week, we see the results of what we experienced last week play out in a "practical" way from the perspective of the season's narrative: truths are revealed as the seeds of a much larger conspiracy at play begin to bear fruit.
Though as you're about to see as we start the episode's highlights and takeaways, that doesn't mean Lindelof dialed back on some much-needed historical "tough love"…
● If you need further evidence of the symbolic importance "masks" play on a number of levels in this series, we have Angela (Regina King) taking a journey through several secure doors before she can even bring herself to be emotionally wrecked over Judd's (Don Johnson) death. How does she follow up that opening up of herself – even in a company of one? She dons a real mask to question Will (Louis Gossett, Jr.) – almost dismissing her "Angela" aspect so that "Sister Night" could take the wheel: no emotion, all police work. Except for that one guy at Nixonville…
● Another perfect example of Lindelof's attempt at a "shades of gray" approachalso resides in our opening "history lesson" – showing us a propaganda campaign aimed at getting American soldiers of color to get them to lay down their arms. Just put aside the source for a second – how many points being made could anyone really argue with? Not Will's father – though leave it to a white officer spitting in his face to drive home the leaflet's point: you're fighting for a country that hates you and would rather see you dead than a white solider.
● The bulding tension between Tim Blake Nelson's Looking Glass and Sister Night was almost too much ("You're a cold mother-fucker, Glass.") and yet I'm hoping for more. Speaks volumes on where Glass' mind is at when we see he wears his mask even at home.
● Impressed with the way flashbacks have been used so far, with the look back at how Angela and Judd bonded after the tragedy of "The White Night" – while also throwing out clues to the bigger problem at play. Considering what we learn about Judd (more on that in a moment), the possibilities that either he was behind that mask or made a last-minute call to spare her life now have to be in the mix.
● Lindelof told those who thought he was leaning too close to a "pro-police" stance in the opener to be patient: there wouldn't be too many clear-cut standpoints as the season rolled along – and the police assault on Nixonville proved that. Civil rights be damned as any resistance is met with violence, "due process" set aside – meanwhile? Someone is benfitting from the flames be fanned…
● The exchange between Angela and Topher (Christopher) as she tells him about Judd's death was a brutally painful one to watch in that we're seeing a "little Angela" in Topher: handles things very matter-of-fact and shows very little outward emotion – and when he does, it's rage and anger.
● Senator Keene (James Wolk) may be a "red herring" and not one of the "big bads" – but damn if he doesn't give off "smarmy white guy privilege" in the brief moments on screen. Oh, and don't think we didn't notice that passive-aggressive jab at Angela: he knows damn well what her "mask" status really is…
● Well, guess that explains why there were so many white people at his house mourning… following Will's advice, Angela literally checks out Judd's closets (points for the smooth Night Owl-looking goggles that got me thinking back to the old comic book ads for "x-ray specs) and discovers he was a Klansman.
While this didn't come as much of a surprise, when you combine it with Angela's efforts to discover Will's identity (a discovery that leads to Angela finally meeting his granfather) we see the moment when Angela will begin to learn the truth about herself and the world around her. Except this truth won't be hidden behind "masks" – but are they truths she'll be able to handle. – the hard truth, with all of the masks (exchange with Will at the end of the episode
● Since Lindelof's been all about the "there's no easy answers" theme for this series, I'm interested to see what Judd's backstory ends up being? Was he a Klansman but not Seventh Kavalry? Was he both but "saw the light"? Or has he been working with Sen. Keene? I'm hoping for a flashback to Judd's past – feels like there a ton of answers to be mined there.
● As for "The Lord" (Jeremy Irons)… we definitely got a lot more "Ozymandias" this week. Trapped in what appears to be his own form of Bill Murray's Groundhog Day, it feels like "The Lord" is staging his play as a way of calling out Dr. Manhattan – but for what? We know he has use for one of Mr. Phillips' (Tom Mison) charred bodies and that there's been an increase in worldwide "squidfalls" – but are they connected?
Oh, and let's smile and throw a "nod of appreciation" over how pissy "The Lord" got when Ms. Crookshanks (Sara Vickers) missed the line, "…as impenetrable as the Gordian Knot itself!" Nice touch there, Lindelof and Cuse: giving us a peek at how "a certain someone's" hubris doesn't appear to have lessened any.
Tough trick to pull off when you already don't have a high opinion of humanity as a whole – and you're surrounded by "people" who are literally disposable.
● Looks like Will wasn't joking: he really does have friends in high places… but who?
The Road to HBO's "Watchmen"
From Damon Lindelof and set in an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws, this drama series embraces the nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel of the same name while attempting to break new ground of its own. The cast includes Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Don Johnson, Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hong Chau, Andrew Howard, Tom Mison, Frances Fisher, Jacob Ming-Trent, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, and James Wolk.
In the following featurette, Lindelof explains how the original comic book series influenced him to take the core themes of the series and find a way to apply them to a modern society. King offers more details on both the terrorist group at play during the season as well as the personal conflicts that arise when one dons a mask in the name of the law:
In the following clip, King takes us behind the scenes on production with a set visit to show us anything and everything Watchmen – or at least what Lindelof will allow:
HBO's Watchmen stars Regina King as Angela Abar, Don Johnson as Chief Judd Crawford, Tim Blake Nelson as Det. Looking Glass, Louis Gossett Jr. as Will Reeves, Adelaide Clemens as Pirate Jenny, Andrew Howard as Red Scare, Jeremy Irons as Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias, Frances Fisher as Jane Crawford, Jacob Ming-Trent as Panda, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Cal Abar, Adelynn Spoon as Emma Abar, and Jean Smart as Agent Blake – as well as Tom Mison as Mr. Phillips, Sara Vickers as Ms. Crookshanks, Dylan Schombing, and Lily Rose Smith.
Joining the series in recurring roles are James Wolk as Senator Keene, Hong Chau as Lady Trieu, and Dustin Ingram as Agent Dale Petey.
Watchmen is produced for HBO by White Rabbit in association with Warner Bros. Television; executive producer-writer Lindelof; executive producer/director Kassell; executive producer Tom Spezialy; executive producer-director Stephen Williams; and executive producer Joseph Iberti.
Based on the iconic graphic novel co-created and illustrated by Gibbons and published by DC.
Nine Inch Nails duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are on board to compose music for the series.
In May 2018, Lindelof shared a series of Instagram posts to update fans on progress on the project (with a pilot directed by Kassell) and to emphasize that his vision was not a direct adaptation of the original graphic novel, but rather a "remix" that utilizes important elements from the original story while telling its own narrative. Here are some excerpts from those posts:
"We have no desire to 'adapt' the twelve issues Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons created thirty years ago. Those issues are sacred ground and will not be retread nor recreated nor reproduced nor rebooted.
They will however be remixed, Because the bass lines in those familiar tracks are just too good and we'd be fools not to sample them. Those original twelve issues are our Old Testament. When the New Testament came along it did not erase what came before it. Creation. The Garden of Eden. Abraham and Isaac. The Flood. It all happened. And so it will be with 'Watchmen.' The Comedian died. Dan and Laurie fell in love. Ozymandias saved the world and Dr. Manhattan left it just after blowing Rorschach to pieces in the bitter cold of Antarctica."
"This story will be set in the world its creators painstakingly built…but in the tradition of the work that inspired it, this new story must be original. It has to vibrate with the seismic unpredictability of its own tectonic plates. It must ask new questions and explore the world through a fresh lens. Most importantly, it must be contemporary. The Old Testament was specific to the Eighties of Reagan and Thatcher and Gorbachev. Ours needs to resonate with the frequency of Trump and May and Putin and the horse that he rides around on, shirtless. And speaking of Horsemen, The End of the World is off the table…which means the heroes and villains–as if the two are distinguishable–are playing for different stakes entirely."
"Some of the characters will be unknown. New faces. New masks to cover them. We also intend to revisit the past century of Costumed Adventuring through a surprising yet familiar set of eyes…and it is here we will be taking our greatest risks…"