5 Burning Questions We Have After HBO's 'Watchmen' Premiere
HBO's superhero drama Watchmen, the sequel-like continuation of the classic comic from writer Alan Moore and artist David Gibbons, is not interested in telling a story you already know. In promotional interviews for the series, creator Damon Lindelof, one of the minds behind ABC's mind-bending sci-fi hit Lost and HBO's mystery-embracing literary adaptation The Leftovers, has compared his new series to a remix. Evidently, it will reward close-listening.
Each week we'll be checking in on the show's biggest mysteries and unanswered questions from episode to episode. That also means taking stock of some of the wilder speculative theories floating around online, whether they involve falling squids or ticking clocks. From the premiere, it's clear that Lindelof is grabbing some ingredients from the Watchmen recipe book, ditching other elements, and cracking some of his own eggs into the yellow-and-purple cake batter that is this ambitious show -- like that Panda guy! -- which stars Oscar-winner Regina King as a new masked crime-fighter known as Sister Night and Jeremy Irons as a possibly familiar face from the graphic novel. Let's grab a horseshoe (seriously, what was the deal with that?) and dig in.
Is Jeremy Irons playing Ozymandias and where is he?
Back in September, in an announcement for a New York Comic-Con panel, Jeremy Irons was labelled as "probably who you think he is," a playful acknowledgement of the rampant speculation that the actor would be playing an older, retired version of Adrian Veidt, also known as the caped crusader Ozymandias. In the premiere, he's shown arriving at his massive estate, where a yellow-and-black Tales of the Black Freighter flag flies. He's overseen by a butler and a maid, who (very oddly) dote over his every move and utterance.
But there's a problem: According to the front-page of The Tulsa Sun shown in the episode, Veidt is dead. So, assuming the headline is true, who is the guy we see at the manor played by Jeremy Irons? While the headline could be a head-fake -- it's entirely possible that Ozymandias, the mastermind behind the climatic "fake" alien attack at the end of the original comic, could also fake his own death -- it seems more likely that the version of Veidt we are seeing in the premiere is something else. Is he a robot programmed by Veidt to live on in the event of his death? A malfunctioning clone? Some sort of hologram?
The most likely answer involves Doctor Manhattan, the big blue naked guy we saw in a news chyron that announced he's spending time on Mars, one of his frequent haunts. Could the Veidt we see also be on Mars within one of Doctor Manhattan's constructions? Is he in another dimension? A different timeline, a la Westworld? Adding more fuel to the fire, Veidt was shown sitting in the nude, one of Doctor Manhattan's favorite styles of lounging around. Also, he told his staff he was working on a play titled "The Watchmaker's Son." Guess what character was actually a watchmaker's son? Jon Osterman, the curious scientist who became Doctor Manhattan.
Basically, the whole "probably who you think he is" wink-and-nudge act is probably an act of Lost-like misdirection. They want you, the obsessive Watchmen viewer, to think Irons is Ozymandias precisely because he's probably not Ozymandias. At the very least, something is amiss at the manor.
Who killed Don Johnson's Chief Judd Crawford?
For all its grand philosophizing and meta-fictional flourishes, Moore and Gibbons's Watchmen is structured like a whodunit, with the murder of the Comedian serving as the central mystery pulling the noir-like antihero Rorschach through the plot. The last image of the Watchmen premiere, which showed a police badge with a drop of blood on it, echoes one of the most famous panels from the Watchmen comic, which showed the Comedian's yellow smiley-face button with blood on it. In all likelihood, the murder of Don Johnson's Chief Judd Crawford will drive the action throughout the first season.
Though Louis Gossett Jr.'s Will Reeves, sitting beneath the tree and clutching the same piece of paper we saw in the Tulsa Massacre flashback, claims to be responsible the rules of TV suggest that the case won't be so simple. We know that Judd Crawford, who was shown casually snorting cocaine at dinner and allowed the torture of a suspect in his custody in the episode, doesn't exactly play by the rules. Was he killed by the 7th Kalvalry, the Rorschach-mask wearing white-supremacist organization, or is there a larger conspiracy afoot?
Here's one aspect to think about: Why did Lindelof and director Nicole Kassel show us that photo of Crawford as a child and another older man, presumably his father, on his desk? Was Crawford's father a sheriff during the 1921 riot showed at the beginning of the episode? The placement of the photo feels like a gesture towards a tangled history that will be unpacked in the coming weeks.
Who is the old man in the wheelchair?
The old man in the wheelchair, who first appeared outside Angela's bakery asking her if he could lift 200 pounds, is named Will Reeves and he's played by Louis Gossett Jr., the Oscar-winning actor known for his roles in Officer and a Gentleman and Roots. The slip of paper in his hands indicates that he's most likely the boy from the opening of the episode. Let's assume it's not yet another fake-out.
However, Reeves could have another secret identity. Already, there's speculationonline that Reeves could actually be Hooded Justice, the first masked vigilante crime fighter and an early member of the first superhero group The Minutemen. (Expect the parodic show-within-a-show American Hero Story, which we saw ads for in the premiere, to delve further into the history of this group.) The true identity of Hooded Justice, who wore a rope around his barrel-like mid-section, has never been revealed. Could it be Reeves?
What's going on with all the clocks?
Tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock. The unceasing rotations of a clock were central to the marketing materials for the show, which turned the logo into a moving clock, so it makes sense that the first episode gave us more time material to ponder. In addition to the reference to "The Watchmaker's Son," the section with Jeremy Irons was filled with timepiece allusions, and later, the 7th Kalvalry was shown disassembling watches in the cattle ranch during the raid sequence. The group also signed off their message to the police with an ominous "tick-tock."
You know what you don't see a lot of in the Watchmen premiere? Cell phones, which have been outlawed, along with the internet, in the universe of the show. It's one of the many "huh" aspects of the world that could be explained in later episodes -- perhaps Doctor Manhattan's technological innovations have something to do with it -- but could also be left unexplored. We do know that the Doomsday Clock was an essential part of the original comic, serving as the bloody cover for issue 12, and it inspired a recent sequel limited series from DC Comics, so get used to all the ticking.
Where is Doctor Manhattan?
Again, according to the in-universe TV news, Doctor Manhattan is dwelling on Mars, a great place to get some thinking done. But can you really trust the media in the fractured world of Watchmen? Even if Doctor Manhattan is on Mars somewhere at the moment, building sandcastles and pondering life's great mysteries, one thing feels certain: He'll be coming back to Earth soon enough. His blue hand, reaching to pick up a mask in the image above, has been glimpsed in the trailers for the show. Also, on a broader level, it's just really difficult to make Watchmen without Doctor Manhattan. Will he be on the show? Absolutely. When will he show up? Given his ability to manipulate the properties of space and time, that question is harder to answer.