Watchmen (2019)

Written by msbreviews on March 29, 2020

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Original Review (based on the season's first six episodes handed to press):

When I discovered that a new show based on the world of Watchmen was in the works, I really didn't have any sort of reaction. But then it was announced that Damon Lindelof (responsible for co-creating my favorite TV series ever, Lost) was the mind behind all of it and that the show wouldn't follow either the graphic novel or Zack Snyder's film, I was genuinely excited. I really enjoy 2009's Watchmen, but I always felt that a single movie (even with an extended runtime) was not enough to showcase its complex rules and layered themes. With this series, Lindelof delivers one of the best new TV shows of the year!

Within the first six episodes, it's already remarkable what he's able to achieve. I've seen some people complaining about how political the season is... You do know we're discussing Watchmen, right? Both the comic and film are packed with politics and social messages relevant to this day and age. So, obviously, the TV series is also heavily centered around a political tone, and it's handled beautifully. Nowadays, it's challenging to produce anything that addresses sensitive issues because, well, people get offended pretty easily. Having in mind the opening sequence of the pilot (so brutal), it's undeniable that the show is incredibly brave in tackling historical moments in a fictional work.

While Snyder's style is occasionally present, the graphic novel has a tremendous impact on the series regarding its references and story. By now, the first episode has already aired, so you already have at least one hint of where the show might be placed in time and space. What I love the most about this season is undoubtedly its storytelling structure. Lindelof borrows his own tricks from Lost and uses the back-and-forward way of telling how the action is happening. This non-linear chronology of events generates tons of questions that are answered in innovative, intelligent, and twisty plot points.

I would say that the first two chapters ask more than explain, but from the third episode onwards, all have significant revelations (and a few more questions). Some are completely unexpected and shocking. Others may be predictable but are told through a unique perspective. Every time I finished an episode, I wanted the "Next Episode" button to click on (fortunately for me, I did have that button). This desire not only has to do with the captivating screenplay, but with the fully-developed, compelling characters. In the same way that the movie wasn't a generic superhero flick, this series deals with more profound thematics.

Regina King is a total badass as Sister Night, but it's Angela Abar who makes the viewer care about her. From her life principles to her strong personality, she has everything a protagonist needs. King shines in a few emotionally powerful scenes, but her action sequences are also impressive. Yes, let me get this out of the way: there's more than enough fights. If I'm not mistaken, every single episode has at least a couple of great action scenes. A few long takes, some excellent choreography, but just like the source material, Watchmen isn't about the (cool) fights.

Every character is really well-developed. From their backstory to their desires, everyone gets a good chunk of runtime, including the seemingly secondary characters. No one is "just there". Everyone has a role to play either in the intriguing plot or in the eventually important mysterious side stories. Jeremy Irons is phenomenal as Adrian Veidt, and I recommend patience and tons of attention to his story that seems isolated. It's probably the most puzzling subplot of the show. Jean Smart shares the lead torch with King from the third episode on, by portraying someone we all know and love. Once again, the casting is perfect, as well as her outstanding performance.

Tim Blake Nelson does a great job with the most fascinating secondary character, Looking Glass. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II doesn't have much to do as Angela's husband, Cal Abar, but he still offers a grounded display. Finally, Louis Gossett Jr gives the fitting mysterious vibe to "the wheelchair guy". Damon Lindelof doesn't hold back when it comes to reference other works. Easter Eggs to both the film and comic are spread across the entire season. He always hides a few critical elements to the plot in the background or even in plain sight (someone's secretary or office), so be sure to keep your eyes wide open.

Technically, I have to praise the costume design, which offers some awesome superhero outfits. I love how CGI-less the series is as well. There are tons of practical effects, the production design is astonishing, and the use of real sets delivers that realism that a green screen can never get quite right. The score is addictive and even helpful to understand where the story might be going (if you've seen the first episode, you should research where the title card came from).

Watchmen is one of the best TV shows to premiere this year. Its pilot resembles Lost's, where dozens of questions are asked, and barely any answer is given. So far, I only have one minor issue with one of the subplots that doesn't seem to be developing at the same pace or with the same concern as the rest. Everything else is pretty much seamless. From the phenomenal casting to the exceptionally well-developed, compelling characters, Damon Lindelof is able to deliver yet another fantastic TV series. The technical quality is impeccable as expected, but it's the original take on a post-Watchmen (comic/movie) through an incredibly captivating storytelling structure that impresses me the most. If you're a fan of Snyder's film or the comic, definitely don't miss this show! If you have no past experience with this world, then this series won't stop to explain to you what happened or how things got where they're at.

Final Thoughts (based on the remaining episodes and the entire season):

I never thought I would be re-reading my original review, and laugh so much at myself for thinking certain characters or particular subplots wouldn't have that much interest or impact in the narrative. My only issue concerning the first six episodes revolved around a subplot involving Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), which I found to be slowly developing, and it was the only story I wasn't able to fit with the others. So, my overall opinion on the season would heavily depend on how the last three episodes tie everything together...

Damon Lindelof is a genius. You know when something is so incredible that we start getting a bit angry because of how flawless it is? That's me on the penultimate chapter, A God Walks into Abar. It's one of the best episodes based on exposition in the history of television! Looking back, I can now affirm that every single shot matters. Every line of dialogue, every tiny little detail. If Game of Thrones ditched tons of narratives and prophecies in its last season, Watchmen does the exact opposite: it literally ties every thread, big or small, together in a seamless fashion.

If you are part of the group of people who gave up on the first episodes due to their ambiguousness, then you missed the answers to the questions that made you quit. You missed one of the best-written seasons ever. Patience is a virtue, and everyone should go back and watch the whole show before jumping to impulsive decisions. I promise: every single story makes sense, and all are blended together in the most perfect, mind-blowing, entertaining way possible. From the wheelchair old man to the whereabouts of Dr. Manhattan or Adrian Veidt, you won't be disappointed. The ending will generate discourse for years or at least until an inevitable (?) second season.

If, after six episodes, I couldn't wholly assert that Damon Lindelof delivered one of the best TV shows of the year, now I can. Watchmen is not only the best TV series of 2019, but it's one of the best debut seasons I've ever witnessed. From its jaw-dropping writing to the outstanding performances, it possesses more than just a couple of near-perfect episodes. It might scare some people off due to its initial vagueness, but the last episodes compensate the time spent thinking about the numerous questions. If you're a fan of the graphic novel or of Zack Snyder's film, you need to experience this TV adaptation. Just make sure you have previous knowledge of this world because Lindelof doesn't stop to introduce anyone to how things work...

Rating: A+