I first watched the HBO series Watchmen this spring, when the pandemic and its quarantine recommendations were still fresh. Masks were still a matter of choice. The streets were quiet. It feels like a long time ago now.
I’m not usually a sci-fi sort of guy. I enjoy dystopian tales when read, but not so much watched in the evening. I watched Watchmen alone, except for a few episodes where my son Milo joined me, and one minute-long segment I shared with wife Fawn. I wasn’t sure it was a shareable experience, especially given the sort of fare we were gravitating towards at that time: British whodunnits, comedy films, Masterpiece Theatre versions of classic nineteenth-century novels.
The nine-part series was certainly impressive in its effects, music, cinematography and editing. I was taken by the complexity of the story lines, not usually being drawn to comic book “universes,” and the snazzy direction. Best of all were the ways in which the acting kept touching on deep human emotions that we were all wrestling with at that time: loss, nostalgia, empathy, fear, anger.
The series received 26 Emmy nominations this past week, and Fawn wanted to see it. I was game for a repeat viewing, sensing the show’s many layers would prove productive a second time around.
The Tulsa setting resonates even more now that the show’s unleashed a reprisal of that dark moment in our history. The battlescape between white supremacists and a woke nation stood out, as did the continuing fears of the depicted Robert Redford-led nation’s Black residents. The complications of everyone wearing masks, good and bad, felt like a direct commentary on what’s been going down in Portland.
The complexities involved in putting something like this together are thrilling. The imaginative extrapolation on current events is provocative, especially given that it was all being thought up two to three years back. The way it all plays out on so many levels is fun, and indicative of an ever-ascendant American art form.
In the end I was left with one question, beyond the personal rabbit holes Watchmen’s many themes ran me down. How on earth could our president’s campaign folks have thought staging a comeback in Tulsa on Juneteenth was not a disastrous idea?
From all I could see from this zeitgeist work, somebody got seriously trolled.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.