I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the Watchmen tv series, which debuted on HBO this weekend, but it certainly wasn’t what we got. I will say, right off the bat, that this is well acted and exceptionally well filmed. There are loads of visual references to the comic story. But I cannot state that I really like the show. I also cannot state that I dislike it.
The show is set at some point after the events of Watchmen – though whether it is a sequel to the comic series or the movie is not yet clear. Curiously, the tale is centred in Tulsa, Oklahoma, not a location that appears in either version of the story.
There is a prologue set in 1921 that shows black families under siege by white supremacists in Tulsa, an event that I had never heard of, but which I suspected was real. Sure enough, a quick trip to Wikipedia filled in the details of the monstrosity. Two young children survive the massacre and fires, and I am sure they will be revealed as other characters in the “present day” storyline, though that has not yet occurred.
The main character in the series, Angela Abar (Regina King) is a police officer, but in the wake of something called the “white nights” the police now go about masked. Don Johnson does a delightful job as the singing head of the force, and flies about in Nite Owl’s old ship, or perhaps a knock off of it. They are engaged in a war against the 7th Cavalry, a group of white supremacists who wear Rorschach masks.
So one would think it would be pretty easy to root for the black woman against the white supremacists, right? Well, not so much. I hugely dislike the notion of a masked police force, unaccountable for their individual actions, and we see Angela ruthlessly torture a man for information. This police force is about as fascist as it gets, giving them little moral status over the other side.
But I think the discomfort I feel is intentional. Black Oklahoma makes me suspect that.
I need to explain that.
In the series, there is an all-black version of the musical Oklahoma being staged. Oklahoma (the state, not the show) was set aside at one point as “Indian Territory,” and tribes were forcibly moved there, but told this would be their land forever. In fact, the US government then changed it’s mind and drove them off, turning the land over to white settlers. The musical Oklahoma celebrates the white settlers on their “new” land, as they approach statehood, although it makes no mention of the tribes being callously shunted around. So it’s a subtly racist show in and of itself. Having black actors playing the white settlers who steal the land from the natives puts a bizarre spin on the entire thing.
Am I reading too much into this? I really have no idea. There are a lot of puzzle pieces in the show, but no real indication of what the final picture will be.
At the very least, I am intrigued, and will definitely continue to watch the Watchmen, so I guess it’s a success on those terms.