December 16, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Watchmen”


Damon Lindelof is fascinated by the elements of storytelling, sometimes to the detriment of the story itself.  It was fitting that a motif of WATCHMEN, both in its Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons 1987 graphic novel version and in Lindelof’s HBO sequel/spin-off, was the construction of watches, because this new version could feel like a fantastically intricate set of gears that were painstakingly fitted together but didn’t necessarily tell the right time.

The 9-episode season was about a multitude of things, from American racism and imperialism to the nature of heroism both real and fake, the experience of time, the acquisition of superpowers, the temperature at which mini-squid become deadly weapons, and the ways in which pop culture erodes reality.  As the hours went on and Lindelof and his staff kept throwing their thematic nets ever wider, it became increasingly unlikely that the series could wind things up in a completely satisfying manner, even though Lindelof has declined to say whether he would return for additional seasons, and stated that he views this season as a self-contained entity.  (This isn’t the first time, famously, that Lindelof has had issues with reaching fully-functioning conclusions.)

Tonight’s season finale, written by Lindelof and Supervising Producer Nick Cuse (son of Lindelof’s Lost partner Carlton Cuse), and directed by Frederick E.O. Toye, tried awfully hard to do a whole lot.  The plot, or as it turned out plots, were finally revealed in full:  overlapping schemes by the white supremacist Cyclops group headed by Senator Joe Keene, Jr (James Wolk) and the trillionaire industrialist Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) to capture the super powers of Dr. Manhattan, who had spent the past decade living the unassuming life in Tulsa of Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), husband of Angela (Regina King), the quasi-vigilante Sister Night.  Both Keene and Lady Trieu ended up very dead, the latter by way of the frozen mini-squid sent by Lady Trieu’s biological father Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons), flown in by her from a moon of Jupiter for the occasion.  The episode ended with the strong implication that Angela had eaten an egg imbued with her deceased husband’s super powers and would now be a sort of god herself.

Watchmen as a series had largely made its narrative way with single-issue episodes that focused on one or two characters like Angela, Dr. Manhattan, former vigilante and current FBI agent Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), Angela’s grandfather (played at various ages by Louis Gossett, Jr and Jovan Adepo), and her colleague Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson).  Each of those, viewed individually, was a thing of beauty, but when it came time to combining all the characters into a fully-formed whole, the result was a lot of monologuing (which even Lindelof clearly realized because a gag late in the episode lampooned the trope) and a lack of cohesiveness.  The writers left themselves with too much to do too quickly, especially compared to the earlier episodes, and ended up giving equal emphasis to the profound and the relatively puny.

Even with its flaws, Watchmen was high-level television, thoughtful and gorgeously crafted.  The large cast was exceptional, especially King and Smart, and Jeremy Irons was a glorious ham.  The episodes that placed Angela into her grandfather’s memories of the racism underlying the original Watchmen and explored the temporal fluidity of Dr Manhattan were among the year’s best hours.  It’s worth remembering that it took Lindelof three seasons to constantly adjust The Leftovers to the place where it could reach its proper ending, and the attempt to pin down Watchmen in one may have been overly ambitious.  As the show’s characters ruefully understood, even those with the greatest of powers must eventually acknowledge their limitations.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."