Watchmen airs new episodes Sunday’s on HBO in North America and Monday’s on Sky Atlantic in the UK.
In an alternate America where police conceal their identities behind masks to protect themselves from a terrorist organization, Detective Angela Abar (Regina King) investigates the attempted murder of a fellow officer under the guidance of her friend and Chief, Judd Crawford (Don Johnson). Meanwhile, the Lord of a Country Estate (Jeremy Irons) receives an anniversary gift from his loyal servants. Written by Damon Lindelof; directed by Nicole Kassell.
NB: if this pilot is anything to go by then you may not want to watch it on a train like I did. I think I left several commuters in a state of tense shock.
Watchmen is much the show that any fan of the source material would expect. Even from it’s opening frames it challenges the very way in which we look at the world around us in which we can often feel uncomfortable.
Framing the pilot with the 1921 Tulsa massacre on Black Wall Street alone was enough to leave me feeling uneasy as the episode jumped forward to the present day. But it’s a huge sign that showrunner Damon Lindleof, Warner Bros. and HBO are not willing to compromise on storytelling.
Grounding the show in real life events also has a dramatic effect on the episode’s overall narrative. Though the present day storyline is set in an alternate America it feels very much based in the same world as our own and makes the show more impactful.
There’s very little about “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” which doesn’t challenge our perceptions. The opening scene in the present day plays out like a scene which feels very familiar: a guy driving along listening to hip-hop music is stopped by a cop who, for seemingly no reason, asks to see his papers and prepares to discharge his weapon.
But, of course, this is Watchmen and the driver is a white supremacist and the cop is black. It flips the whole scene on its head and immediately informs the viewer about the status quo of this alternate America.
In fact the racial inequalities of the real world are almost entirely missing in the Watchmen world. Instead of fighting for a level playing field almost everyone seems equal as the episode goes out of its way to ensure we see characters of colour living in affluent housing and working in positions of great respect in the community.
It’s the white supremacists, wearing Rorschach masks, who are the oppressed. This episode leaves me with no doubt that the series will trigger plenty of debate around politics and racial inequality.
Regina King carries the show like an absolute pro. Angela is an incredibly strong female lead with two great personas. We see a warm, loving mother with a thriving home life and a very separate vigilante, Sister Night.
Sister Night pulls no punches and takes no prisons from the outset, there’s no room for second guessing her commitment to her role with the police. Her costume remains entirely feminine without ever becoming sexualised making her an instantly iconic character. One that was also invented for the show but immediately needs to be translated back to the comics.
The supporting cast, including Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, are all stellar. Johnson takes the lions share of the screen time in “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” but there are brief moments for all of the cast to shine.
Unlike other shows, Watchmen doesn’t throw all of its core cast at the screen in the pilot. Jeremy Irons doesn’t show up until the third act and Jean Smart won’t show up until next week. Instead Watchmen allows time for the story to breath and to happen naturally.
Though the pacing is slow it’s never dull and instead takes the time that a complex story, like the original comic book, requires in order for the audience to keep up and understand proceedings.
Watchmen‘s pilot episode is as entertaining as it is subversive. It succeeds in setting up the world of the series whilst baiting the audience with more than enough hooks to bring us back for episode 2.
Watchmen stars Jeremy Irons, Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tom Mison, Adelaide Clemens, Andrew Howard, Frances Fisher, Jacob Ming-Trent, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Lily Rose Smith, and Adelynn Spoon. The series has been developed for TV by Damon Lindleof.