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Watchmen: Decoding “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” Watchmen: Decoding “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”

Watchmen

How HBO’s Watchmen Brilliantly Includes Rorschach (Dead or Alive)

Breaking down Damon Lindelof’s stellar premiere.

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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.

Rorschachs-Journal-Watchmen

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?

watchmen comic

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.

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Before the Internet

Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own”

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Watchmen Podcast If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own

With its fourth episode, titled “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own,” HBO’s Watchmen examines questions of legacy and inheritance but also leaves the viewers scratching their heads trying to figure out what the series is all about. There are countless jaw-dropping scenes in the fourth episode, but there are also scenes that have didn’t quite work for us. Needless to say, the episode left us somewhat disappointed this week. Tune in and find out why.

Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this fourth episode, Simon Howell, Kate Rennebohm and Randy Dankievitch, take a deep dive into “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own” 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.

Listen here on iTunes or listen here on Stitcher. 

You can also catch our show on Pocketcast and on Spotify, or simply listen via the player embedded below.

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Watchmen Season 1 Episode Four 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.

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Watchmen If You Don't Like My Story, Write Your Own

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.

Watchmen If You Don't Like My Story, Write Your Own

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.”

Watchmen 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).

Watchmen If You Don't Like My Story, Write Your Own

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.

Other thoughts/observations:

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.

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Before the Internet

Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “She Was Killed by Space Junk”

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Watchmen Podcast

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.

Listen here on iTunes or listen here on Stitcher. 

You can also catch our show on Pocketcast and on Spotify, or simply listen via the player embedded below.

 

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