It’s Summer Outside and We’re Running Out of Ice.
A Watchmen TV series, like any Watchmen project, is going to be surrounded in controversy and opinions on whether not it should exist. This all stems from the deal Moore and Gibbons made with DC about the rights to Watchmen reverting back to them if the book went out of print for a set period of time, something DC never allowed to happen. Since then, Watchmen has become a movie, action figures, a series of prequel mini-series, a high profile sequel comic crossing over into the DC universe, and now a HBO show. I’m not here to debate whether or not the TV show should exist; it does exist and I find myself here to recap it.
Watchmen opens with an old timey black and white silent film where the sheriff in white is taken down by the perceived villain in black! Except wait! He’s no villain. It’s the US Marshall, or as it explicitly stated by the child in the film, the Black Marshall. Race relations between blacks and white play an overarching role in this series, and this scene is letting us know it.
The silent movie was playing to an audience of one, a young black boy who has clearly seen this movie many times. His mom is playing the piano in the theater. They’re soon joined by the boy’s dad, who is armed. It’s Tulsa, 1921. The Klan storms through the city, killing every African American they see. The family manages to meet up with another couple fleeing town. Unfortunately, the other dad says “ain’t no room!” The boy’s dad convinces them to take his son, writes a note and stuffs it in his son’s pocket. The two parents send their son off with the other couple like Jor-El and Lara sending their infant baby Kal-El away from Krypton shortly before its doom.
I’m not sure how far they got out of Tulsa, but now it’s nighttime and everyone in the car is dead except for the boy and the other couple’s baby girl. The boy checks the note his dad stuck in his pocket, which reads, “Watch over this boy.” He carries the baby girl away from the wreckage and my heart is breaking. The baby girl is wrapped in a blanket that looks like the stars and stripes of the American flag.
Nearly 100 years later, a white man is pulled over by a black cop. It’s Tulsa in 2019, but it’s not our 2019. The white man’s pickup truck is an electric car, and looks both more advanced and more ubiquitous than the Teslas on the road on our Earth. The police wear yellow masks obscuring their faces. It’s a tense moment, this traffic stop, made more sense when the cop spots a Rorschach mask in the man’s glove compartment. Cops also need a remote firearms lock release to access their weapon. The cop is in his car trying to get his gun out of its locked holster when he’s gunned down by the man in the pick up truck. The man fires at least 20 rounds into the cop car, and chucks in a head of lettuce in for good measure. He’s wearing a homemade, spray painted Rorschach mask.
A cop interrupts a performance of Oklahoma that Don Johnson was watching. A dude is what appears to be a cellophane mask meets him at the hospital room of the fallen cop. Don Johnson, the sheriff of Tulsa, is concerned that nurses and orderlies saw the injured cop’s face. There’s a decent amount of humor in this show. Don Johnson uses his second in command’s mirror mask to check his reflection as he ties his tie.
Don meets with the cop’s wife. There are protocols and cover stories that have to be put into place. No one knows who is a cop in this Tulsa. It’s too dangerous a job for the cop and their family. This cop told everyone he was in night school on nights he was out on patrol.
In the background, a building made of red sand on Mars collapses in on itself. I assume this means we’ll be seeing Dr. Manhattan at some point this season.
Regina King teaches some elementary school kids how to make moon cakes. We learn a little more about what makes this world different from our own in this scene. Robert Redford is the current President, and has been for some time. Vietnam is now a US state. Some kid asks if “Redfordations” paid for Regina King’s bakery, which sends this little kid who looks like Jack White into a rage. Oh, Mini Jack White is Regina King’s son.
On their drive home, Mini Jack White is nursing a bloody nose from the fight he got in defending his mom’s honor. An air siren goes off and it starts raining gooey mini space squids. When Mini Jack White complains that the squids smell, Regina King jokes that at least his nose is working. Her husband hands her a pager when she gets home that says “Little Bighorn” on the screen. It’s ominous, and she runs off.
American Hero Story, a documentary, is being advertised on a blimp and a bus. It looks like it’s about the 1940s heroes of the Watchmen world, the Minutemen.
An old man in a wheelchair reads a headline that says “Veidt Officially Declared Dead.” He asks Regina King when her Vietnamese bakery is going to open. She says in a couple of months and he says, “I’ll wait” and asks her “Do you think I could lift 200 lbs?” Weird.
At the back of the bakery, Regina King goes through a keypad locked door and comes out dressed as a badass ninja nun in an all black car. I’m calling it right now. This is going to be the hot cosplay of 2020. She storms through a trailer park, grabs a redneck and throws him in her trunk.
Then she heads to the police precinct.
The cops are watching a Seventh Kavalry video. It’s like Anonymous meets the Klan. They’re all wearing Rorschach masks in the video. Among the cops are a couple of superhero types: Mirror Mask from earlier, a dude in a red jumpsuit and matching red ski mask, a guy in a very dingy Panda head. Looking Glass (“LG”) is Mirror Mask’s name. Red Jumpsuit Guy goes by Red. Dingy Times Square Panda Head goes by Panda.
Ninja Nun waits for Don Johnson in his office. These two have a history. She was supposed to be at Oklahoma with him and his wife, so they’re definitely social friends.
Best line of the episode: Don Johnson “How do you know he’s 7th K?” Ninja Nun: “I got a nose for white supremacy and he smells like bleach.”
LG interrogates the dude from the trunk in “the pod.” A bunch of images flash by during the interrogation, including Nixon’s face on Mount Rushmore, the Twin Towers still standing, a space squid with a single eye. LG thinks this guy knows who shot the cop.
Now it’s Ninja Nun’s turn. She apologizes to the guy as they’re walking him out and then throws him into another room, closes the door and beats on him. His blood pours like a river out from under the door. But she gets an answer. “Cattle ranch.” The blood rushing from under the door mirrors a scene in the original Watchmen, when Rorschach found himself delivering out his own brand of justice.
The masked vigilantes and the cops storm the cattle ranch. Don Johnson watches from a lookout vehicle. Inside the ranch house, a bunch of dudes in Rorschach masks are popping watch batteries out of watches and filling buckets with them. When the cops trigger a perimeter alarm, the Rorshachs pass out pills and make a run for it. One Rorshach covers them by shooting artillery from giant gun mounted to a truck. The rounds rip through cops and cattle alike.
While the gunner reloads, Ninja Nun rushes the truck and takes him down. But he swallows a poison pill before she can get him to talk.
The Rorschachs escape in a plane. Sheriff Don’s lookout vehicle isn’t a van, it’s the Owl Plane (Owl Craft? What do you call this thing?) Wait, is Don Johnson Nite Owl?! The Rorschachs don’t escape the burst of flame from the Owl Plane that takes out their plane. Unfortunately, the aerial dogfight also sends the Owl Plane crashing to the ground. Both Don Johnson and the mask assisting him make it out kay.
Stars light up the night sky, which turns to a pastoral field. A man rides up on a white horse to a castle overlooking that estate. Adrian Veidt, I presume? He’s looking healthier than that newspaper headline from earlier would have you believe. He nakedly types away on a typewriter while a maid massages his legs. For anyone not thinking this is Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias, IMDB confirms it as Jeremy Irons’ role. His maid and butler made him a cake, on account that “it’s his anniversary.” The butler gives him a horseshoe to cut his cake. Was this guy grown in a lab? The butler gives Veidt a pocket watch as an anniversary gift. He seems to have made it from scratch based on a drawing Veidt left lying around. He tells his staff he’s writing a play called “The Watchmaker’s Son” and they he wants them to perform it when he’s done. They are about the level of excited you’d expect from two people possibly grown in a lab.
Regina King’s family and Don Johnson’s family have dinner together. Is Don Johnson’s wife Silk Spectre? I’m basing this solely on her having bangs. Don Johnson snorts some blow in the kitchen while getting a new bottle of wine. Regina King subtly lets him know he still has some coke on his mustache. Don Johnson’s character’s name is Judd. Regina’s King’s face when Judd breaks into a song from Oklahoma might be my favorite moment of tonight’s episode. A clock loudly ticks behind him as he sings.
The watch batteries the Rorschachs were stockpiling were “the old synthetic kind, the ones that were making people sick.”
Cut to an animated movie. Hey, it’s the 1940s Watchmen heroes. Oh, Judd is watching American Hero Story. He’s fielding a call from the governor. After the call, Judd’s wife calls him out playfully on his casual coke use at dinner. He gets a page that Charlie Sutton, the cop who was shot, woke up. He changes into his uniform and heads over there. He tells his wife that he’ll get one of the boys out front to drive him but he drives himself. As he’s driving, he pops his tires on a string of nails laid out across the road. Get back in the truck and radio it in, Judd! Strobe lights stop him in his tracks.
Regina King and her husband are having some very athletic sex. The phone rings and they’re in that classic parent dilemma of do we keep having sex and let this phone wake up the kids or do we stop having sex and answer the phone? They choose to answer the phone. Angela gets a call from a guy who says, “I know who you are, so don’t wear no God damn mask” and tells her to come out to the old tree. She immediately pulls a shotgun from a hidden compartment in the headboard of the bed and a handgun from the fireplace. She tells her husband to shoot anyone who approaches the house. Damn, she is so bad ass it hurts. At the tree is Don Johnson strung up in a noose and the dude in the wheelchair from earlier. Judd’s left shoe and sock have been removed. There has to be some kind of symbolism there, right?
The first issue of the original Watchmen comic started off with the mystery of “Who killed the Comedian?” and now we’re starting off with possibly “Who killed Nite Owl?” There’s a chance Judd isn’t Nite Owl, maybe Nite Owl licensed his designs out to police departments around the country, but that doesn’t seem likely. So let’s go with this is Nite Owl, and he is dead, and the through-point of this season is going to be finding out who killed him. I really like the symmetry of the blood drop dripping down onto Judd’s badge the similar to the blood drop staining the Comedian’s smiley face button when he died.
I went into this first episode of Watchmen with my expectations tempered, but damn if Damon Lindelof didn’t knock this out of the park. You didn’t need to have read Watchmen (or have seen the movie) to understand what’s going on in the show, but it definitely helps. I like that while it’s set in a different America than ours, it’s an America dealing with their version of the same problems we’re dealing with today, namely the rise of white supremacists. I’m interested in seeing how Watchmen further explores race relations in America. After watching tonight’s opening episode, I’m as intrigued as I was after watching the opening episode of Lost, and I’m not sure if I can give it higher praise than that.