“Watchmen – Episode One: It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” (2019)
Developed by: Damon Lindelof based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Directed by: Nicole Kassell
Featuring: Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Jacob Ming-Trent, Tom Mison, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Louis Gossett Jr. and Jeremy Irons
Rorschach’s Diary: “Soon they will shout, ‘Save us!’ And we will whisper, ‘No.’”
The Story so far…
The Watchmen series is based on the comic of the same name, taking place in an alternative, contemporary reality in the United States. Masked vigilantes became outlawed due to their violent methods. Despite this, some gather around in order to start a revolution while others are out to stop it before it is too late. In this reality, the Watergate scandal never happened, allowing President Richard Nixon to dismiss term limits and run for five terms and lead the United States to a decisive victory in the Vietnam War with help of some of the vigilantes that sided with the government. The comics events end in 1985 after Adrian Veidt, a former vigilante known as Ozymandias, created a fake alien attack in New York City with millions dead in the resulting psychic shockwave, leading to a new accord between the United States and the Soviet Union ending the Cold War and avoiding a potential nuclear holocaust. Veidt asserts his actions were for the greater good, but they disgust his former allies; Rorschach seeks to tell the world of Veidt’s misdeeds but is vaporized by Doctor Manhattan before he can do so, after which Dr. Manhattan decides to depart Earth, seeking a place less complicated than Earth. Unaware to them, Rorschach had sent his journal to be published before he accosted Veidt.
The first episode of the new HBO series “Watchmen” has aired, while acting as a sequel of sorts to the original graphic novel, but now set in 2019 the indications, albeit very early ones, seem to be positive as well as something to look forward to for the next two months or so. Of course the first time this property was adapted was with the Zack Snyder “Watchmen” (2009) which suffered from a myriad of issues most common to the director himself. It was with some trepidation that HBO announced this new series created and run by screenwriter Damon Lindelof who, in my opinion, is one of the most overrated talents going in Hollywood, he has never stuck a landing or added anything new to any property he has ever worked on and there have been more than a few.
However judging from the first episode, “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”, it seems that any issues with Lindelof may seem to be unfounded as this was not only a very good first episode, setting up just enough to keep audiences guessing but also framing this new alternative present enough that we know how thins world works, this is a fine balancing act that is executed in a subtle yet deliberate way by not only the writer but director Nicole Kassell.
Within this first episode there is much to unpack, I am not going to offer any spoilers but to be honest there is quite a bit of plot within this narrative so that will not be an issue this early on. Some of the themes that occur within this first episode are of course some of the same that we face today, politics, social commentary, past actions having real effects on the modern world, the reliability of news, forgiveness, racism, left versus right and one of the more important, that of decision making and the outcomes of those decisions. There are of course a multitude of others which will become apparent on repeat viewings and as the episodes unfold from week to week.
Some important aspects to consider in this alternate present:
- The series takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma;
- Vietnam is now a U.S. state;
- Fossil fuels have been eliminated by Dr. Manhattan;
- Robert Redford is the President and has been in office since 1992, he is now the longest-serving President.
- There is an Act named as the ‘Victims Of Racial Violence Legislation’ designed to give reparations for those affected from past racial injustice, which is seen as unfavorable by a large portion of the white population.
- The ‘Seventh Kavalry’, a white supremacy group in Tulsa has taken to the writings of Rorschach and use masks similar to his own.
- Laws are passed to allow the police to take extra precautions to protect themselves and their families, including wearing their own masks.
Whilst there have already been readings of this being about possible white power as well as a variety of what could be called anti-left stances this is far too simple. This new world is not just a place where we have back versus white, but there are serious political, economic and social realties that have come to the fore which like today is something that divides people along rigid lines. Unlike the world in which we live where there is a right wing President in office who seems at peace with disrupting the left as well as behave like some new millennium Nixon this new one is run by the left, so a figurehead like Robert Redford is apt to be able to embody this for all audiences who know his obvious allegiances. This is a world we can see what would happen to the right if the left were in charge, making laws that were not agreed with and where the price for disagreement can be ultimate. We live in an age where right wing politicians globally are making a comeback in many countries and hard liners are making their feelings grow. At the same time we are also seeing the lot flex their own muscles in social media where they are negating others opinions so that wokeness and SJW are able to influence where there should be none, these are juxtaposing narratives which exist in “Watchmen”. I am looking forward to how these dichotomies shake out in weeks to come and if they can be brought together somehow, unlike in real life.
This, and the the next episode has been directed by Nicole Kassell who was responsible for the excellent “Woodsman” (2009), that actually covered some similar themes around identity, responsibility as well as payback. Since her debut she has almost only worked on television which is a great loss, but with this episode she flexes her muscles creating a look, feel and style that I hope continues through to the rest of the season.
Episode One: It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice
During the Black Wall Street massacre at Tulsa in 1921, a black child loses his parents in the ensuing chaos and escorts an orphaned baby to safety. Flash forward to an alternate 2019 in which police officers wear masks to conceal their identities; Officer Charlie Sutton is hospitalized after being shot by a member of the Seventh Kavalry, a white supremacist group influenced by Rorschach. Chief Judd Crawford calls for retaliation to hunt down the shooter. Angela Abar, a policewoman who “retired” and “runs a bakery”, catches wind of the shooting and hunts down a suspect under her secret persona of Sister Night. Using help from another vigilante, Looking Glass, she elicits the shooter’s location at a cattle ranch with other Kavalry members. Angela, Judd and other officers hunt them down, instigating a shootout that results in all Kavalry members’ deaths, including the shooter. Some time after the shootout, Judd runs over a spike strip while driving to the hospital to visit Sutton. Angela receives a call from someone who instructs her to find something at a countryside tree. She heads to the location, where she sees an elderly black man in a wheelchair below a lynched Judd. Meanwhile, an old lord at an unspecified country estate celebrates an “anniversary” with his two servants.