The Watchmen Pilot Never Forgets Rorschach
The highly anticipated TV “adaptation” of DC’s iconic Watchmen gets off to an enigmatic start. The first episode titled “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” marks one of the best hours of television you will watch this year. Against considerable odds, Showrunner Damon Lindelof has delivered a series that should satisfy fanboys while engaging adventurous newcomers.
With so much information crammed into this opener, it’s easy for viewers to get lost, especially if you’ve never read the graphic novel. We’re here to pick up the pieces (including the leftovers) and breakdown each episode in a series of articles and podcasts, as best as we can.
The Rorschach Test
After months of build-up, Damon Lindelof’s show has finally arrived, and it’s definitely not what fans expected. Though the events of the original 1985 graphic novel are canon, the show follows a new set of characters and a new set of events. Described as a “remix” on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comic of the same name, the show takes place 34 years after the comic’s ending and is set in a funhouse mirror version of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The heroes of the comic series are long since dead (or retired), with the exception of Doctor Manhattan who we learn is still alive and living on Mars; meanwhile, Rorschach has become a symbol for the white-supremacist terrorist organization known as the Seventh Kavalry who have adopted Rorschach’s mask and wear it while carrying out random acts of violence.
Rorschach is arguably one of the most controversial “heroes” in comics and with Watchmen being one of the most influential comics ever, it’s safe to say he is one of the most popular antiheroes in the medium. Because of the themes that Watchmen explores, Rorschach is not only the most important character in the series but in some ways, he is also the most dangerous. He might not have superpowers like Doctor Manhattan and he might not have the brains of Ozymandias but Rorschach is a threat to society at large— and while Walter Joseph Kovacs is now dead, Rorschach lives on in the form of the Seventh Kavalry whose vicious attacks have forced police officers to don masks and adopt superhero personas in order to conceal their identities and protect their loved ones.
Whereas the comic was partly about the threat of nuclear Armageddon and Cold War paranoia, the show touches on several hot-button sociopolitical issues that have gained mainstream exposure in recent years, most notably, the resurgence of white supremacy, racism and police brutality. And at the center of all of this is Rorschach, the ruthless crime-fighter, whose beliefs in moral absolutism drove him mad, seeking to punish those who he deemed evil no matter what the costs. His mask displays a constantly morphing inkblot, with the mask’s black and white coloring consistent with his sense and view of morality. In the comic, Rorschach identifies more with his vigilante persona than his everyday self and eventually considers his mask his true “face,” going so far as refusing to answer to his given name. Alan Moore depicted Rorschach as a violent right-wing psychopath with a very nihilistic view of humanity, a viewpoint that alienated him from the rest of society. Rorschach took a single-minded approach to fight crime, and what made him so dangerous is how he was judge, jury, and executioner of his own moral code. And his black and white mask reflected his black and white morality with no room for compromise.
What makes Watchmen great is how it questions the idea of the hero. It’s a complex story about morality, fantasy and the repercussions of having too much power. Watchmen dives deep into the psychology of the masked avenger and while the heroes in Watchmen didn’t have powers, they did influence culture as a whole, and more importantly, changed the course of history. In the case of Rorschach, his journal somehow shaped the movement of the Seventh Kavalry while his
face mask came to represent their ideology, an explicitly racist worldview with a desire for ethnic cleansing. During the pilot, the members of the Seventh Kavalry share a video warning the police of their plans to wreak havoc. Their speech borrows heavily from the pages of Rorschach’s journal as seen in the opening panels of Watchmen’s first issue: “Soon all the whores and race traitors will shout save us. And we’ll whisper: No.” It’s a frightening scene that illustrates how Rorschach has come to represent something different and dangerous in modern society.
In the comic Rorschach wants to reveal the truth of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias’ crime in order to punish him even if revealing the truth about the alien invasion hoax would compromise world peace. Knowing this, Doctor Manhattan is left with no choice but to kill Rorschach— but not before Rorschach mails his journal to the right-wing conspiracy theorist tabloid the New Frontiersman, which threatens the entire foundation of Adrian Veidt’s masterplan. It’s unknown if his journal was ever published, but obviously someone got their hands on it and decided to use it as a manifesto for the white supremacists who wear masks inspired by the loathsome antihero.
As disturbing as he is, Rorschach is the most important character in the Watchmen story and in the HBO series his shadow looms large. The last line of the Watchmen comic reads, “ I leave it entirely in your hands,” implying that when you close the comic/journal, it’s up to you the reader to decide what it all means. In the end, Watchmen is a Rorschach test and his words hold power. Everyone has a different interpretation of the story and the actions and decisions of each character depending on what characters and ideas resonate with you. In the show, we can only speculate that during the intervening years, the journal was stolen, and an unknown individual took up the mantle of Rorschach, using his words to spread fear and hate. By the time the credits roll, we are left with many questions. Why is the Seventh Kavalry collecting watch batteries? Who is their leader? How did they get Rorschach’s mask? What is their master plan?
In 1986, Alan Moore’s revolutionary graphic novel redefined the superhero genre and pushed the boundaries of what is considered great literature. For many, it is considered the greatest comic book ever written leaving many fans questioning if a Watchmen TV show should even exist. While the jury is still out on the HBO series, one thing’s for sure, Watchmen channels the original spirit of Alan Moore’s words and Dave Gibbons’ illustrations in its own unique way. As it stands, the series shows great promise and more importantly, they found a clever way to include the series most important character, even if he isn’t technically alive.
As with all of Damon Lindelof’s shows, Watchmen is a puzzle-box asking tough questions and in no rush to answer them. And like the comic, the series reminds us that while superheroes can be human, humans can be superheroes and by extension, supervillains can be human and vice versa. Sound off in the comments below. Let me know what you think of the pilot and the series as a whole.
Watchmen Season One Episode 4 Review: “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own”
A thick metatextual layer coats an episode of enigmatic introductions and underwhelming mystery building.
Near the end of “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own,” trillionaire Lady Trieu accuses Will Reeves of employing “passive-aggressive exposition” and tells him he’s being “too cute by a half-measure” teasing out his identity to his granddaughter. It is one of many meta moments in a Watchmen episode where Damon Lindelof’s anxieties and fears constantly bleed through the text of dystopian superheroes; and while that certainly makes for fascinating television to dissect and theorize about, it doesn’t exactly make for a neat, satisfying hour of television. In fact, much of it feels like its explicitly doubling down on its most esoteric qualities, drowning out much of its interesting character work and world building, with an ungodly amount of narrative winking and hand gesturing in the place of a coherent, driven plot.
Watchmen‘s density appears to be coming into conflict with its narrative momentum more often than it should, which could prove troublesome in its climactic moments.
It’s not necessarily bad television; but many of the bread crumbs it drops throughout the hour make “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” feel both bloated and empty through most of the episode. Even Lady Trieu, whose introduction is unsurprisingly strange and intriguing, falls victim to this by the end of the hour, becoming the author’s overt mouthpiece in perhaps the most strained exchange of the young series. After a fascinating introduction, where she convinces a couple to sell their house and land by bringing them a test tube baby (one she had made from their DNA), Trieu’s later scenes are a bit more grating, the farther they move away from defining her character, and closer to becoming a sounding board for self-critique.
Lady Trieu’s arc through “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” is emblematic of the entire hour: rich subtext obfuscated by an unwieldy amount of foreshadowing and stalling. This is obviously by design – Will establishes we’re three days away from whatever event is coming, and Veidt’s timeline reveals his scenes are three years from the present – but instead of leaning on character and theme to pass the time, the fourth episode of Watchmen doubles down on objects nodding towards what’s to come. An object falling from the sky, a mention of a horseshow Veidt “doesn’t need yet,” the direct mention of nothing being able to take down the Milennium Clock, “save for a direct hit from a nuclear blast”; every object and line in “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” is a nod towards what’s to come – which, in retrospect, may make this the most important episode of the series.
But in the present, it just makes the whole affair feel a bit clumsy in its deliberate, straightforward delivery; to borrow from the episode’s symbolism, we never see any of the acorns grow into trees in this hour. We learn facts like Looking Glass is a conspiracy theorist, and Trieu’s daughter is probably some kind of lab creation who has her mother’s memories of Vietnam, and Veidt pull babies out of the water to make his clone servants in a steampunk machine; all enthralling imagery, all stepped in some of the show’s deeper thematic material about identity and purpose – but it feels laborious, and hollow, in the isolated context of “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own.”
At some point, all of this will mean something; even the vigilante who lubes himself up to slide through sewer grates will hold some significance in this world, even if it’s only a cheeky side note across this hour. I just wish I felt more emotional purpose to this episode: in those terms, most of “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” is just inert, a middle-chapter episode that makes no qualms about its position as the episode positioned between the series’ beginning, and the start of its climb to the season’s dramatic apex; but that honesty comes at the cost of everything feeling just a bit trite.
The most interesting parts of “If You Don’t Like My Story” end up being in the margins; details like Angela and Lady’s shared Vietnamese heritage (and language), Will’s fears about what’s to come, and Looking Glass’s questionable living quarters stand out among the episode’s always-lush aesthetics. Even more interesting are the metatextual connotations; Lindelof as “master and not the maker,” the cheeky episode titles and closing conversations, and the synchronicity between timelines, as the episode ends three days from whatever is about to happen on Earth, while Ozymandias’ escape is clearly nearing its own apex (and with each episode suggesting another year interned, suggests he’s three years away from his own release).
It all amounts to a collection of interesting moments, stranded in a forgettable episode unable to mark any important narrative shifts; it’s all intrigue and ominous language, muting the impact of Lady Trieu’s showy introduction. Piles of bloody clone bodies and Will’s pointed disappointment in “betraying” Angela makes for fascinating images and moments, but as a part of Watchmen‘s whole, feels a lot more weightless than what came before it, and what appears to be coming on the horizon.
It’s a small misstep, but an important one: Watchmen‘s density appears to be coming into conflict with its narrative momentum more often than it should, which could prove troublesome in its climactic moments. Tick tock, tick tock, I suppose – hopefully next week’s episode offers a bit more clarity and cohesion than what “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” has to offer.
Who would’ve thought Watchmen would challenge Mom for the title of “most engaging, mature female lead characters on the same show”?
Lot to pull from the meaning of the episode’s title: it could hint to characters taking control of their own narratives (Ozymandias reframing his imprisonment as a challenge, Angela learning about her family’s history and grandfather’s mission, Laurie’s legacy running around “yahoos”in her past), or it is a middle finger to Lindelof’s critics. Or it is what Lindelof probably told himself every day that Alan Moore would tell him if they ever got to speak to each other.
Few scenes on TV are more disturbing than watching Veidt casually discarding infants around in the open water. Or making them into very nude adults in his steampunk magic machine.
“So you’re building the eighth wonder of the world?” “No, we’re building the first wonder of the new world.” THAT’S NOT OMINOUS OR ANYTHING.
Senator Keane clearly knows he shouldn’t be naming Angela while she’s in her Sister Night uniform… and yet he keeps doing it. Almost like he’s making a point about it… it is most certainly too clever, by at least a half-measure.
So if Ances-Tree was able to trace the “unknown” Will to his parents, why would the program think the whole family died in the fire? If Will died, he wouldn’t be a grandfather – and since her family tree shows no siblings for him, it would seem natural that he, in fact, did not die in the fire. Not a big thing, but it’s a point of logic that stuck out in the moment.
So either Lady Trieu is trying to kill Dr. Manhattan or create time travel? Those are my best two guesses, as if I have any clue what the fuck is actually going on here.
Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “She Was Killed by Space Junk”
After two episodes of intrigue and setup, Watchmen delivers its strongest nod yet to the original comic. “She Was Killed by Space Junk” spends nearly its entire runtime reintroducing us to Laurie Blake a.k.a Silk Spectre while also confirming that Jeremy Irons is indeed Adrian Veidt a.k.a. Ozymandias. “She Was Killed by Space Junk” serves to deepen the mystery, confuse newcomers and raise the stakes. There’s a lot to discuss this week including the giant blue dildo, a plethora of Easter eggs and several fan theories as to what might come next.
Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this third episode, Simon Howell, Ricky D and Randy Dankievitch, take a deep dive into “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.
And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.
Watchmen Season 1 Episode Three Review: “She Was Killed by Space Junk”
The surprise return of an integral Watchmen character, ignites another engaging hour of mystery building.
The introduction of FBI agent Laurie Blake is an important demarcation of Watchmen‘s first season: most obviously, it pushes away from Angela as our sole point-of-view character, which offers an immediate change of scale and perspective. But “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is not only an episode of Watchmen following a different character – it almost feels like a different show, one that’s a much more direct sequel to the original graphic novel series. For fans of the book, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is a particularly fascinating hour of the young series – but for those who haven’t read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work, I wonder how effective this hour can be.
The indelible images of every consequential action in Watchmen continue to gather weight in “She Was Killed by Space Junk” – but without any semblance of release.
After all, Laurie Blake’s history is about as entwined in the original Watchmen as one can be: she’s the daughter of The Comedian and the original Silk Spectre, and former lovers with Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl II. Pushed into the family business of crime fighting by her parents, over time she was known as both The Comedienne and Silk Spectre. She became the latter after ending her long relationship with Dr. Manhattan, who then embarked on his permanent (wink wink) departure to Mars, the last semblances of his humanity gone.
The Laurie we meet in “She Was Killed by Space Junk,” is directly informed by all these life moments; we first see Laurie telling jokes to a Mars-based voicemail, and shooting a vigilante in the bank during a staged bank heist, immediately establishing her as a fulcrum of sorts between Moore’s Watchmen world and Lindelof’s.
In fact, understanding her position as said fulcrum almost requires some fundamental understanding of who her character is; she comes with such weight of history, and acts as such an integral connective point between so many original characters, every action she takes in “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is colored by information from the past. Her decision to join the FBI, her melancholic tone on Dr. Manhattan’s “voicemail”, the incendiary way she refers to thin line between vigilante and masked cop; all of these notes, which may seem strange in their introduction, are integral to truly capturing the gravitas Laurie has when she arrives in Tulsa, long before an SUV was dropped out of the sky next to her, like a brick hurtling down unsuspectingly onto God’s head.
It’s a rather genius integration of one of the book’s more interesting loose threads; but as an introduction to new audiences, Laurie’s past is so buried in the subtext of her actions, it may make for a confounding watch for newcomers. Her position – woman frustrated with the state of things, ponders a time when she shared her life with a quasi-god – is more intriguing to the uninitiated, which might make her a bit of a cipher to understand without the right context.
Thankfully, Smart’s dominating, sneering performance is more than capable of making up the emotional chasm new viewers might have in understanding her character. If it doesn’t, however, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” gives us an extra scene of her and Looking Glass trading barbs, which helps define her character’s (current) ethos and sensabilities in a rather fun way (though her dominating presence is a reminder of how Looking Glass isn’t much more than an idea and a cool mask to this point).
She also neatly ties whatever is happening with Sister Night directly to Laurie, and possibly, Dr. Manhattan: part of her investigation in Tulsa is decoding the clues around Judd’s death – and since she knows where everyone likes to hide their true identities and favorite costumes, she immediately establishes herself as someone of greater import than say, Panda or Red Scare. Her authority is federal; whatever strange experiment the state is running, with their mask-adorned police hedging the boundaries of society’s laws, she doesn’t really give a shit. She’s here to seek out the town’s true sources of power: which is why she spends so much time looking at Senator Kane (who clearly is a Kavalry member; after all, Judd’s wife ran his campaign, as telling a detail as any).
But while she’s looking for sources of power on the ground (other than the Kavalry’s suicide vests, that is), Dr. Manhattan remains the true unseen force of nature: where his presence was merely referenced in previous episodes, the weight of his influence on the world of Watchmen and its characters consumes much of “She Was Killed by Space Junk.” And again, it’s the kind of thing that might feel weighty to audiences, and amorphous to newcomers; regardless, however, his impending return can be felt throughout this hour, culminating in (what I assume is) him dropping a car near Laurie, as a reminder that he has a sense of humor, and she is as fallible as the god whose head was caved in, by a seemingly random throw of a brick.
If there’s a brick floating in the Watchmen air, however, it is not the man who likes flopping his blue dick around in space; by speaking his name and running an experiment to travel through space, Adrian Veidt makes his triumphant, if unhinged, return in “She Was Killed by Space Junk” – where it becomes pretty clear his current situation is one of imprisonment, rather than voluntary detachment from the world. After all, why would he shoot at the foot of the Lone Ranger (shout out to Petey) lurking on the edge of his property, and be experimenting with his “subjects” what very obviously appears to be space travel?
“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair” is not just a quote attributed to Lady Trieu at the groundbreaking of the Milennium Clock (which may or may not be a direct reference to the clock Jeff Bezo’s been building in our own world), or a reference to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s classic poem; it is a harbinger of things to come, as the powers that be in the world of Watchmen consider the passing of time and how it has affected their legacy. Has Angela spent years fighting – and loving – a Klan member? Has Veidt accomplished anything – and is his prison, actually a godsend of focusing (or unhinging) his intelligence? Or more specific to Laurie’s case: can the love of a human being, never fill the void left by the love of a god?
Whatever the people in the world of Watchmen think they’ve built for themselves with their structures, prisons, and identities, the world has a way of warping it: be it the body of Mr. Shadow, or the attempts to give police some sense of protection by giving them masks, the indelible images of every consequential action in Watchmen continue to gather weight in “She Was Killed by Space Junk” – but without any semblance of release. The arrival of Laurie suggests some of that weight is about to be relieved in the next couple hours – but it also suggests a further complexity being added to the narrative of the series, which is beginning to feel the pressures of its many plot lines, subtle mysteries, and growing collection of references to the revered source material.
Thanks to Smart, “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is able to hold onto the thread; but with characters like Lady Trieu and Dr. Manhattan still waiting to make their official entrances, it’s hard to imagine Watchmen adding anything to the pile, without losing something in translation. Admittedly, this series’ has swiftly defied – and exceeded – expectations, but the sudden integration of so much source material begs the question of whether Lindelof and company’s eyes are starting to get larger than their stomachs. Recent evidence suggests otherwise, but only time will tell whether this strange, winding road Watchmen is taking us down will pay off all these threads and ideas in the end.
Boy, that is a long and very straight blue dildo you have there, Laurie.
Fun fact: Kane’s father was the one who wrote the original anti-vigilante laws back in the 70’s. I’m sure that won’t have any importance later in the series.
Is Veidt making suits out of leathered human skin? Because that is definitely what it looks like.
Space Junk? SPACE JUNK.
There’s an interesting theory out there that Hooded Justice and Angela’s grandfather are the same person, which explains the intertwined noose symbolism.
Watchmen Season One Episode 4 Review: “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own”
What are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?
‘Sesame Street’ at 50: A one-of-a-Kind Tradition
History of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ – the Movie that Made me a Movie Buff
‘Death Stranding’: And Now for Something Completely Different
35 Years Later: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is an Important, Dark Dream
Sesame Street Celebrates 50 Years with an Underwhelming Special
Similar but not the same: ‘Ocarina of Time’ vs ‘Majora’s Mask’
Ranking The Legend of Zelda Series
‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Undoubtedly Ranks as the Best Horror Film of All Time
With ‘Scream 5’ Announced, Let’s Look Back at ‘Scream 4’
35 Best Gamecube Games
The Top 50 SNES Games
The 40 Best Nintendo 64 Games
- Film2 days ago
With ‘Scream 5’ Announced, Let’s Look Back at ‘Scream 4’
- Greatest Horror Films3 weeks ago
150 Greatest Horror Films of the 20th Century (Top 20)
- Greatest Horror Films3 weeks ago
150 Greatest Horror Movies of the 20th Century (Top 140)
- Greatest Horror Films3 weeks ago
150 Greatest Horror Films of the 20th Century (Top 80)