Watchmen

3 out of 5

Created by: Damon Lindelof

This is, unfortunately, one of those rather divisive series that can trigger a fear of “not getting it” if it doesn’t appeal.  I open with that; perhaps I’m trying to bat away that fear.

Maybe.

I watched Watchmen.  I read the reactions to it each week and found myself siding with those who weren’t so impressed.  While I didn’t dive into the external lore (as a fitting homage to the source material: yes, there’s external lore), I would go over the detailed synopsis that would somehow get immediately posted post episodes, to see if I’d missed something.  And I did miss some somethings here and there, and I can appreciate how those connections were likely rewarding to those who made them on their own, but they did not improve my appreciation after the fact.

A few years ago now, when The Expanse premiered, I watched it weekly, keen to experience this hard sci-fi tale that had gotten a lot of build-up buzz and then a great amount of praise as it ran, and found myself in a similar position to the above.  Except: there came a point later in the season where it clicked, and I rewatched all of the episodes to date and it suddenly made so much more sense.  I got it.  I kept waiting / hoping for the same thing to happen with Watchmen, especially given that I enjoyed creator Damon Lindelof’s previous original series, Leftovers, but, alas, I never got there.

That said, my initial take on Leftovers does carry over here: that it often felt like a patchwork work lain on top of a loose beginning-middle-end structure; that is, Lindelof likes to use distractingly interesting bits and pieces to fill in “feelings” in the story, where more linear plotting would, in my opinion on his style, be seen as too straight forward.  And then and now, that (for me) creates a sense of conflicting goals with the narrative.  Watchmen has several things going on: a rather brilliant extrapolation of the source material up through the modern age, and viewed through a commentating lens on race and class; a twisty-turny timey-wimey sci-fi tale; a rather poor mystery that’s hanging on to the back of that; a piss take on media and violence; and then a lot of fan service.  These things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, of course, but they so, so are in Watchmen, especially when the series decides to shift gears for two episodes or so to be about one thing without much of the other.

Fitfully supporting this mismash is the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  While undeniably grooving and moving in the ways these guys’ scores have proven capable of being, the music – at least at first; a note on that in a moment – has a taint of “cool” to it that doesn’t sit well with the sludgy near-reality of the series.  Watchmen’s future takes place in rundown warehouses and grimy precincts.  Our “super heroes” wear tattered, stained costumes.  Bright colors there are not.  And then in comes the music during an action sequence to make it all sound kind of badass; it’s turned up during interrogation sequences as though shouting at us that this is some hardcore stuff, man, and it just took me right out of things.  Later on, when the show swings back around to focus on a conclusion in its packed last two episodes, the music does sync up; the wiki page actually makes mention of the artists starting out with a particular style, but “adapt(ing) to the series as it changed tone,” so kudos to them for adjusting as, in my mind, needed.

Watchmen is kinda / sorta about what our world looks like when superheroes actually exist, which is kinda / sorta what the comic was about.  It starts making broad strokes early on that are compelling – and act as a true successor to the comic, in that sense – but without the multi-season approach of Leftovers and needing to come to a conclusion, the show starts narrowing in on particulars, and particular references to the comic, as well, which makes me curious how this worked for viewers without that on their shelf.  It is undeniably an interesting show, and I’d watch another one, but it frankly never really clicked for me.   And sure, it’s highly possible I just didn’t get it, but unfortunately, I’m not made curious enough to give it another go to find out.