HBO's "Watchmen" Episode 1: the beginning of a disturbing social commentary on our world today
“That's what fiction is for. It's for getting at the truth when the truth isn't sufficient for the truth.”― Tim O'Brien
When we search for the top ten must-read graphic novels on the internet, Watchmen by Alan Moore is always there topping the list or somewhere near the top. So when HBO announced the series adaptation and released the trailer soon after, fans around the world were preparing themselves for an unsettling story. Moore has always tried to separate his name from any form of cinematic translation of his work, yet again we find his universe being explored. and expanded on. The Watchmen pilot brings a story that echoes the horrors of our real world in an alternative 2019.
It begins with Tulsa's Black Wall Street Massacre of 1921, a little boy escapes the tragedy and consoles an infant he saved. Fast forward to 98 years later; this America has eliminated the dependency on fossil fuel and is finally practising gun control. Robert Redford has been serving as the President since 1992. The Keene Act is still active, but it’s the police that hides behind masks to protect themselves. The events of this series are happening 34 years later after the comic's events.
The first episode embarks on exploring this Tulsa, that takes pride in its African-American heritage and is thriving, but underneath the peace, there is always chaos. President Redford has been reforming the Victims of Racial Violence legislation to give aid to the people who have been affected by racial discrimination. But this doesn’t go well with members of the white community.
Our protagonist is Angela Abar, an African-American native of Vietnam (In this alternate reality Nixon won the Vietnam War and annexed it), a bakery owner for the world but an undercover police detective whose moniker is Sister Night. Angela and other police officers went into hiding after being ambushed by a terrorist group and call itself The Seventh Kavalry, a white-supremacist group.
Angela is fierce and has the support of her division chief, Judd Crawford. She is the example of the model African-American citizen in this story. The duo with a team embarks to hunt down this white-supremacist terrorist who has shot a police officer at the beginning of the series. The Seventh Kavalry is making a comeback after three years of hiatus. The most intriguing feature of these white-supremacist groups is their choice of disguise, the Rorschach mask. Walter Kovacs (Rorschach) was a deranged right-winger, and as a reader, I had never thought that his black-and-white world view would pan out as the base conflict of this series. The police interrogation method in the series looked like an extension of the Rorschach test. HBO’s Watchmen is not shying away from addressing the problems of racism and hate.
The only glimpse we get of a superhero so far is Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias, who is now old and most probably ailing. His butler and maid are a bit weird and awful at their primary tasks. They bake a cake and give Adrian a horseshoe to cut it with. I won’t be surprised if they turn out to be very high-end robots. Dr Manhattan is shown through a blurred screen blasting something on Mars. The Giant Squid attack of 1985 still has its effect, as squids continue to fall like rain.
The first episode takes a very clichéd story and makes it scary with the hyper-real colours, the grim tones and reversal of images. Even a culinary demonstration class on beating eggs becomes twisted symbolism of the twisted world. The story of the prodigy cop and their hunt for justice vs the system is at the core of the first episode. Angela belongs to this world, she is strong, intelligent, and daring. She can shift roles from being the baker mom to the hooded Night Sister who will go to any extent to solve a crime. There is a broken sense of aesthetics and extremely disturbing choices of masks; a bookkeeper in a dirty panda mask, another in red latex mask like she is fresh out of Wrestlemania, Judd Crawford using the shiny silver mask of another detective as his looking glass!
There are some emotional moments: the cosy family dinner, the little boy peeping at the destruction of Black Wall Street from the escaping carriage, Angela and her son discussing his behaviour in school. Every prop and action connect in the story like the dots on a colouring book.
The use of background music and cacophony heightens the scary. The constant sound of the tick-tock that made the trailer so sinfully good haunts this episode; the ticking time dominates the urgency of the story like the present-day in our universe. I can’t wait to see how this series builds on this complex word.
Watchmen #1-12 (1986)