Well, I’ve come this far—may as well cover the finale. Thoughts to come after the spoiler space…
Damon Lindelof has been criticized in the past for not coming up with good (or even coherent) endings. Here, he ties up things fairly neatly, but the story is simply not a good one. The primary cause of this is that most of it is built on top of someone else’s story (Alan Moore’s) and it appears Lindelof didn’t grasp said story all that well. If he had only taken his ideas for Hooded Justice and Sister Night and launched something entirely new and original from that, he might have given us a truly great story. Instead he sinks his own boat by incorporating Moore’s work into his own, and this is where he missed the mark.
In order to be worthy of the work that inspired it (particularly if you’re going to be using some of the same characters), the TV show would have to feel like something Alan Moore himself may have written. Ask yourself, “would Alan Moore have written this?” The clear answer, if one is being honest with oneself, is no. In a series that strove so hard to feel “real,” as the original Watchmen comic aspired, Dr. Manhattan doesn’t transfer his near-omnipotence to someone else via the consumption of an egg, nor can such power be stolen by absorbing his “energy” and “transferring” it to someone else, because such ideas are just (ironically enough) too comic book-y. And stupid. Really stupid. Moore would never give us anything this bad.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of good stuff on this show. As I’ve been saying for the past month, the Hooded Justice twist was absolutely inspired. And the aged Hooded Justice has some great lines near the end here, particularly, “You can’t heal under a mask, Angela. Wounds need air.” The performances overall are generally great; Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Jean Smart may all be worthy of Emmy nominations. But in the final analysis, the story still fails hard.
In addition to misrepresenting and mishandling Moore’s characters, the show continued to mindlessly repeat scenes from the comic and remained overly obsessed with giving us Easter Eggs through the very end. Some of these Easter Eggs were painfully obvious and telegraphed, while others were so obscure and arcane they were ridiculous. One example from the obvious category was when the Game Warden shot Veidt—immediately, I said to myself aloud and with an air of resignation, “he caught the bullet,” and of course he did.
Veidt also repeats the same words taken from Merneptah Stele that he originally spoke in the final issue of the comic series: “Israel is desolate, and her seed is no more. And Palestine has become a widow for Egypt.” Then Laurie invokes “thermodynamic miracles” yet again. What is the point of all this? Is Lindelof trying to prove to us that he read the comic? Congrats, Damon—so did tens of millions of other people.
On the more arcane side, we get Veidt’s taped confession (ugh) near the opening of the episode: “The only way to stave off man’s extinction is with a weapon more powerful than any atomic weapon. That weapon is fear. And I, Mr. President, am its architect.” I’m guessing only a few dozen people on the planet got this reference, but it refers back to an old episode of The Outer Limits titled “The Architects of Fear.” What’s the relevance to Watchmen? The plot is quite similar, actually—it involves a scheme to scare humanity into working together after a staged alien incursion. The original editor of the Watchmen comic, the late, great Len Wein, criticized Moore’s plot with the squid because he thought it was too much a rip-off of this Outer Limits episode.
SIDEBAR: Not only did Veidt tape a confession—and do so before the squid even dropped—he used a film crew to record it?? And used CUE CARDS??? COME ON!!!
And then the mischaracterizations just keep on coming. Veidt wanting credit for saving humanity rings a false note—he never cared about such things in the comic. Laurie deciding to arrest him also doesn’t feel right. She made a gut-wrenching decision to keep it secret in the comic; to go back on that now, decades after the fact, doesn’t make sense to me. And then they capture him by Wade sneaking up behind him and conking him on the head? How did that strategy work out for Rorschach in the comic? Clearly, the world’s smartest man is not going to be caught off guard like that. We already saw that, despite the passage of so many years, he can still catch a bullet in his hand, right? So the guy’s skills obviously haven’t deteriorated very much, if at all.
Trieu’s mother stealing Veidt’s sperm sample and getting away without ever being noticed also smells of b.s. Veidt doesn’t make stupid mistakes like this and he doesn’t miss any details, big or small. The one thing they got right was that Veidt doesn’t indulge in sexual relations. But then they undermine this with the sperm bank—it just doesn’t add up. He doesn’t have sex and doesn’t want kids but he keeps this huge personal sperm bank? Once again, this was all necessary because PLOT, and that’s not good.
I mentioned at the beginning that Lindelof tied up things “fairly neatly”—notice I chose the word “fairly,” not “completely.” There are still loose ends, and though some might not consider them to be very important, they’re still there and have to be counted toward the show’s final grade.
The biggest one, for me, was Hooded Justice/Will Reeves. They never explain how he remains in such fine physical shape at such an advanced age. Let’s say Will Reeves was six years old when the Tulsa race riot took place in 1921. This would mean he was born in 1915, which would make him 94 when Dr. Manhattan meets him in 2009 and 104 when he meets his granddaughter Angela in 2019. (For the record, Louis Gossett Jr. was born in 1936 and thus is 83 years old, two decades younger than the character he’s portraying here.) Sometimes he seemed to need the wheelchair; other times not. Or was the wheelchair always a ruse? If so, you need to tell us this.
Overall, the series needed more of Will Reeves/HJ and Angela and a lot less of the other stuff. I think the worst aspect of bringing Dr. Manhattan into this was that his presence pushed Reeves and the racial themes to the margins. If they swapped out Manhattan for Nite Owl, I think the overall story would have been better served. Hindsight is 20/20, as the cliché goes.
Also, Dale Petey was apparently Lube Man. We get this from Peteypedia, but it’s never mentioned at all on the actual show.
Never got any explanation for Angela getting hooked up to an elephant for her memory treatments, either. Unless the whole point was a silly joke about elephants never forgetting.
I can’t judge how good (or bad) a writer Damon Lindelof might be because I haven’t seen enough of his work. But this piece from The Los Angeles Times makes the case that he’s more interested in manipulation than meaning. (Btw, I was pleased to see I’m not the only human being that sees flaws in the show. Thank you, Lorraine Ali and Robert Lloyd, for making me feel like I may not be completely insane.)
One thing I can say is that the writing on this particular television series was not very good. More deeply, the show is not a worthy successor to the work of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons; not even close.
Writing a character that resembles a human being is a big enough challenge by itself, but at least all writers have their own human experiences to draw upon when confronting the task. Then we have a situation like Watchmen where you have characters that exist well outside normal human experiences, or have transcended humanity entirely. As a writing challenge, this would be where we figuratively separate the men from the boys.
Not too many writers can write a character like Dr. Manhattan, let alone create him—it takes an Alan Moore to do this. Wanna know why Moore is so lauded and revered and why he was seen as such a trailblazer and had so much success? This is why. He did things not many other writers could do; maybe no other writer could do. He was exceptionally talented and had a unique voice. If you ask me who else might be gifted enough to write for a Dr. Manhattan, I’d say the late Steve Gerber, perhaps; maybe Neil Gaiman; possibly Grant Morrison. And that’s about it.
Again, I don’t mean to be that guy, the guy who gripes and moans about everything not being as good as it could be or should be (or used to be), but I need to have reasonably high standards here, otherwise what is my criticism worth? Plus, they’re building on a comic series that was one of the best comics of all time—this demands a lofty standard because you’re going to be measured against that now-legendary comic series. So if your writing skills aren’t near par with Alan Moore (spoiler alert: whoever you are, they’re not), you should probably pass on the assignment. If this means no more new Watchmen material, so be it. Haven’t we had enough revivals and sequels at this point anyway?
Which brings us to this: will there be a season two? With the buzz it’s generated, I can’t imagine HBO (or DC) not trying to move forward with more Watchmen in some form or other, but it looks like Lindfelof is done with it. Might it continue under some other show runner?
Then again, perhaps someone will realize how wrong it is to continue to exploit this property against the wishes of its original creator and rightful owner and put a stop to all this.
…Ah, just kidding folks. I’ll be here ranting against injustice and tearing apart season two whenever it should happen to drop. Enjoy the holiday season everybody (and sorry, Alan).