From May 31st-June 1st 1921, the town of Tulsa, Oklahoma faced one of the most horrific incidents of racial violence in U.S. History. White mobs poured into the predominately black neighborhood of Greenwood and attacked the residents, along with their homes and businesses, leaving hundreds dead and thousands more homeless. This historical attack is brought to life in the opening 10 minutes of HBO’S Watchmen and sets the stage for one of the craziest and most raw pilots I’ve seen to date.
After the explosive start, we are then brought back to Tulsa but in an alternate America after the events of Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel. An incident between a police officer and a man wearing a homemade Rorschach mask leads to the return of the right-wing white supremacist group known as the Seventh Cavalry. The terror group all wear homemade Rorschach masks while all of the cops in Tulsa wear bright yellow masks to protect their identities. This leads to the introduction of our main characters: Judd Crawford The Sheriff (Don Johnson), Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), and my personal favorite Angela Abar (Regina King). Also known as Sister Night, Abar is a detective who uses a bakery as a front to protect her identity.
She is no doubt the star of the episode with her love for her family and determination to end the bigotry of the Seventh Calvary. Sporting an almost all black hooded outfit with black eye paint, Sister Night is the anti-supremacist hero we have been waiting for. Her chemistry with Don Johnson’s Sheriff Crawford (who is fantastic in his own merit) is electric and a joy to see throughout the pilot. Nelson’s Looking Glass with not as much screen time still kills every second he appears in- especially a certain interrogation scene. His platinum mask is awesome and will surely inspire many cosplayers. There are other characters, such as Andrew Howard’s Red Scare and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Cal Abar, who don’t get a lot of screentime but are definitely capable of becoming fan favorites.
The technical aspects of this episode are specifically noteworthy. The lighting team executed a flawless job with the pilot. There are scenes with Regina King’s character running through a farm at night and the viewer can see her and her facial features vividly. Nicole Kassell’s direction is superb and deserves so much recognition. With previous directorial work on shows like The Killing, The Leftovers, and Westworld- it is no surprise how good of a start this show got. Her directing style blends style with ease seamlessly. She is very much the glue that beautifully brings everything together. This is impressive for any director tackling a pilot as heavy and action-packed as this one.
However, the episode is not without its minor faults. The pacing consistently juggles chaos and action, leaving very few moments for the audience to breathe and process what was just shown. This would only become a massive problem if the show continues the habit for the rest of the season. Another minor criticism is on the introduction of Jeremy Irons’ Ozymandias who briefly appears for a few scenes and is never seen again. While there is nothing wrong with his short screen time, which are some of the only moments where we get to take a break from the action, they do not really serve a purpose to the overall pilot. Perhaps his introduction could have been better saved for the second episode?
Besides those minor criticisms, HBO’s Watchmen is a breakout and unnerving tackle of white supremacy in America. The show is not afraid to hold back anti-American critiques, just like the graphic novel it follows. With an impressive cast, intriguing story, amazing direction, beautiful score, and a jaw-dropping cliffhanger- Watchmen looks to be the breakout show of the fall, maybe even the year.
Catch Watchmen at 9pm E.T every Sunday on HBO!
Follow Dakota Wheeler on Twitter @superduperkoter