SPOILER ALERT: This article includes details about tonight’s Watchmen Season 1 finale — a lot.
Thankfully, as tonight’s Watchmen finale makes radioactively clear, white supremacists are really dumb — at least when it comes to harnessing the power of a man-god.
“Absorbing atomic energy without filtering it first is going to pop you like a water balloon every time,” mocks Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) of the fatally amateur move by White House aspiring Senator Joe Keene Jr (James Wolk) and the masked Seventh Kavalry to steal the abilities of Dr. Manhattan (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) in the “See How They Fly” episode that concluded the Damon Lindelof created series first and possibly only season just now.
Of course, as the demise of Trieu from a cascade of squid brought down from the heavens by her new unveiled father and now two-time world saver Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons), newly back on Earth from Jupiter moon Europa, also makes clear, amateur moves were not just made by racists alone in the Lindelof and Nick Cuse penned show based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s iconic comic.
Jumping away from the end of the penultimate episode and its seeming capture of Manhattan by the Seventh Kavalry, the 67-minute long finale starts off with a new POV of Veidt’s prerecorded message from 1985 to newly inaugurated President Robert Redford in 1993. From the origin of Trieu’s linage via a sperm sample of Veidt’s and her enterprising Vietnamese refugee mother to the trillionaire Trieu Industries founder meeting up with the once Ozymandias in 2008 and the cliffhanger-ish final scene of Regina King’s Angela Abar stepping on to her swimming pool to see if the Sister Night disguised Tula detective had literally swallowed the vast powers of Dr. Manhattan herself, was a precisely constructed whirlwind incarnate.
Laced with closure and a full circle or two, several said cliffhangers, and nods to the 12-issue source material (we saw you New Frontiersman front page, Nite Owl’s original “Archie” airship and that POTUS cowboy actor reference), there is a high wire act at play here of some very traditional television tropes and the HBO series taking things way out in the blue, pun intended of you’ve been watching Watchmen these past two months (read my review here). Add in the arrest of Adrian by Looking Glass (Tim Blake) and Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), the possible unveiling of Redford’s great secret, a testament to the power of women, eggs everywhere, a black woman proving possibly the most powerful being in the solar system and the mystery of this Watchmen becomes thicker and surprisingly more Moore in its totality.
In a full circle of our own, I sat down with Lindelof, as we did before Watchmen previewed at New York Comic-Con in October, to unpeel the “I Am The Walrus” closed out finale, what could be next, appropriation of black culture by White America, connecting and why superheroes can ultimately fail.
DEADLINE: So, let’s dip our foot in the pool right away, are we going to see more Watchmen or is this the end of the series?
LINDELOF: Oh, wow, just dive right in, shall we? I don’t know. That’s the answer.
All I can say is I’ve consistently believed and still believe that these nine episodes are a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. I have to acknowledge that not everyone’s going to see it that way, and I definitely don’t dispute any opinion that’s sort of like there should be more. I just don’t feel compelled to continue the story without a reason to do so. That reason should be a creative reason, idea-driven, and I don’t have any ideas for subsequent seasons of Watchmen currently.
DEADLINE: You say that, but there is certainly a cliffhanger of sorts in whether Regina King’s Angela absorbed the vast powers of Dr. Manhattan from that egg she swallowed. And there’s Looking Glass and Agent Blake arresting Adrian Veidt for mass murder after he saved the world a second time. Sure, looks and reads like you are leaning forward for more, no?
LINDELOF: (LAUGHS) Well, any television show in the history of television shows that doesn’t end with the destruction of creation has that, don’t they?
I think you could make that argument about The Wire finale or any finale, the Silicon Valley finale that just aired. The story could continue if any of the characters are alive or if the world is continuing. That doesn’t mean that it should. I mean is it a compelling television show to see Adrian in prison after we just watched a season of Adrian Veidt in a much more interesting prison? I don’t know. I’m just saying I don’t disagree with your opinion that it certainly could continue. I just don’t know how to continue it at this moment in time.
DEADLINE: That’s not exactly a good business model argument for AT&T and HBO and the fanbase you’ve built up for this Watchmen, is it?
LINDELOF: I will also say that we’re living in this moment in storytelling where something like Fargo, for example, or True Detective, or Big Little Lies when we first experienced it before there was a second season, were presenting themselves as these things called limited series but it turns out that a limited series is actually, by definition, any series now.
DEADLINE: How so?
LINDELOF: I mean there’s no such thing as an unlimited series unless you’re like 60 Minutes or The Simpsons, I guess.
Even Big Little Lies, which presented as a limited series then went on to have a second season and is now considered just a straight up drama series. I feel like it relates to Watchmen. My reverence for the source material really drove a lot of the decision making on a storytelling level. But, it would also be completely and utterly lacking in self-awareness for me to say that nobody should continue this story because Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Alan more than Dave, certainly didn’t want that original story continued and I went along and did it anyway.
DEADLINE: So, more Watchmen perhaps, just not Damon Lindelof at the direct helm?
LINDELOF: Well, I do think that the world is much more expansive than anybody gives it credit for. I would not decry or be insulted by a further exploration. In fact, I’d be quite curious about future iterations of Watchmen moving forward. Like I said, and I’m not being precious about it, but for me, we put all the ideas that we had into this season.
DEADLINE: Well, with the likely arrest of Adrian Veidt for the masquerading alien invasion of 1985 that was really mass murder for world peace, it looks like long serving and basically unseen President Robert Redford will be hauled up on charges too for hiding the whole thing from the American people, so that sure seems like an idea tossed out there in the final minutes for a ripple effect…
LINDELOF: (LAUGHS) Oh, my God, that’s true. Maybe this is the reason that there needs to be a Season 2 of Watchmen is that the whole season will just be the articles of impeachment written for Redford covering up the squid massacre of 11-2. That would be riveting television. I’m going to call Craig Mazin immediately and kind of get the Chernobyl process cracking on that.
I will say, we did write him a long in involved letter to which he has not responded yet, but, I hope at some point we will cross paths and I can tell him he was an excellent president.
DEADLINE: Seriously, you do use Redford and his policies as this kind of ghost in the machine throughout to tell this story. There’s always been, through the season, a little bit of be careful what you wish for. America gets a very liberal progressive president and many of the issues, the politics and politicians don’t solve what is rotten in the soil of America, so to speak…
LINDELOF: You get it. That’s exactly right. It’s cynical but I think it’s 100% accurate. I could never write a season of Watchmen that would feel like it was written by Alan Moore. All of us knew that any version of trying to copy his style was going to end in complete and utter failure but we felt like we needed to capture the spirit of Alan Moore and what you just said I think is probably very close to what he believes.
DEADLINE: Whatever Alan Moore believes he can articulate much more creatively and dramatically that any old dribble I spout. Having said that now that the season or series finale has aired, what is the fallout from your perspective?
LINDELOF: I’ll just say to me the area for which I’m most proud is what the conversation around the show is.
We can just kind of tell this story and what we’re trying to do becomes evident as it goes on. So, the conversation around the show to me, on all sides of it, even for the people who are not huge fans of it but they’re still engaged in that conversation, that feels awesome.
As one of the show’s parents, I have to love the show because it’s my kid, but at the same time, I also have to acknowledge that the show was not everything that it could have been. I just can’t tell you at this moment of time how we could have done any better. We tried our best. Sometimes when you take big swings you’re going to miss the ball and that certainly happened on occasion, but I can’t quite diagnose it at this moment in time.
DEADLINE: You’ve talked a lot about being inspired by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writings on reparations as an inspiration for this Watchmen, which is clearly articulated in the series. You’ve talked about learning about things like the massacre that destroyed Black Wall Street in 1921, which was the opening of the series and in many ways part of tonight’s finale and what have you. What has the response been to you from people like Mr. Coates and others in the African American community as a white guy looking at this story? What has the response been now throughout the series for you in that vein?
LINDELOF: I’m not on Twitter anymore so my primary conduit for what you’re describing is reading pieces that were written by writers of color and also being interviewed by writers and journalists of color over the course of the last nine weeks. Again, what I would say is the level of engagement and being given some level of the benefit of the doubt is largely, if not entirely a byproduct of the fact that I acknowledge that it is not my story to tell. The lesson learned here isn’t I guess it was after all because people liked it. The lesson learned here is it never was my story to tell.
DEADLINE: What do you mean, a reverse appropriation of sorts?
LINDELOF: I surrounded myself with true creative partners who it was their story to tell and I got out of the way. I became a curator instead of an artist in those moments. We were partners as opposed to employer and employee, at least that’s the way that I process it.
There’s no way that I was ever going to be capable of creating an authentic moment as it related to what it felt like to be a person of color moving through the world. That authenticity is because it wasn’t coming from me. I was just smart enough to know who it should come from. So, on that level, I think one of the ongoing neurosis and anxieties making the show and even in the space of the show airing was always a feeling of I’m in over my head. I don’t know what I’m doing. This isn’t my story to tell. I didn’t internalize those things. I verbalized those things.
DEADLINE: Strongly verbalized was the revelation that the first superhero of this Watchmen world, drawing almost directly from Moore’s work, was an African-American, under that hood of Hooded Justice. A big swing indeed, in a cannon that treats masked men and women in a varied ideology, that this whole notion of such heroes might have been birthed came from the people who have seen some of the harshest, roughest injustices of America. Why did you decided to do that within utilizing Moore’s work as you weaved in and out of it in what over time became a clear sequel to the acclaimed comics?
LINDELOF: The fact that you mention Moore is the birth of that idea, is why I knew that one of the themes had to be appropriation.
LINDELOF: Because I was appropriating the original Watchmen against the will of its creator. I basically said if that’s what I’m doing then how can that idea of appropriation be built into the story so that at least there’s an acknowledgement that I know what I’m doing as it relates to appropriation?
The story of appropriation when it comes to the history of America is what has happened in terms of white culture appropriating black culture for the last several centuries. So maybe this Watchmen can be an illumination on that and what are the parts of history that have been hidden and / or ignored that we can shine a light on and then tell this sort of story?
DEADLINE: It also seems to tie into that notion that’s so much a part of many minority cultures, the idea of passing…
LINDELOF: Right. And also, the idea of the predominating culture, in this case white culture, enforcing that passing. So that’s articulated through the idea of Captain Metropolis, who is the only one who knows Will Reeves’ (AKA Hooded Justice) secret and says you are beautiful to me but you have to hide from everyone else because they’re not as progressively minded as I am. That’s the most insidious kind of racism there is, which is someone who’s presenting as an ally, but is just as bad as the people they condemn.
DEADLINE: OK, with that, having worked in network and cable, which both have their traditions and formats, do you feel like the story you told here found or held its place in that final fourth quarter that often is a finale, with all the expectations that come with that?
LINDELOF: I feel like we did the finale that we wanted to do and I like it a lot – that’s sort of all I can speak to.
I’ll have a greater sense of perspective a couple of months from now, but I will say that we said from the jump that if the big bad of the season is white supremacy we’re not going to be defeating white supremacy in episode nine of Watchmen. That said, you interpret the ending of Watchmen the way that I think most people will interpret it is that white supremacy is in big trouble moving forward, and I’m not necessarily sure we need to dramatize what it looks like moving forwards. But if indeed Angela Abar has got even a fraction of Dr. Manhattan’s powers, given the journey that she went on over the course of these nine episodes, I think that she is primed and ready to do something more impactful than Dr. Manhattan ever did.
DEADLINE: That so sounds like another season is coming, one way or another….
LINDELOF: (LAUGHS) I will just say one other thing, which is I get it but I wish our culture didn’t put such a tremendous disproportionality of focus around the final 40 seconds of the fourth quarter of the game.
DEADLINE: You mean the finale as the end all, be all?
LINDELOF: Yes. I’ve seen it happen to other shows where if the final episode or the final season or the final scene in the final episode is not this incredible masterpiece that it somehow takes points away from the series that led up to it. I get it. Endings are important, but I wish that there was just a little bit more focus on hold the finale. It is important how things end but it shouldn’t be in disproportionate weight to everything that preceded it.
DEADLINE: That sounds like a little Lost talking but to pull back from the finale just a bit, something that runs through this entire season, is this notion of both superheroes as fascist wish fulfillment and superheroes as unfulfilled dreams. I feel like that’s talking outside the parameters of Watchmen but are superheroes ultimately failures to you?
LINDELOF: Well, they’re much better at fighting Thanos than they are at fighting white supremacy…
DEADLINE: Ouch, snap…
LINDELOF: Exactly. I think the fundamental cultural problem on our planet is internal. Our inability to just get along with one another or to factionalize over pieces of land or the color of our skin or the religion that we choose, those things that are hardwired into our culture and into our being are things that superheroes cannot fight.
So, though superheroes are there to create inspiration and aspiration, I think, they are a bit inert when you look at them through sort of a real-world lens.
That’s why I think we all love going to the Marvel movies or a Superman movie or a Batman movie. It’s just the Joker can be stopped. The Joker’s plan to gas Gotham can be stopped. So those are myths that basically play out and make us feel a little bit better. But, when the lights go up and we walk out into the real world, these things completely and totally overwhelm us again. That’s real life.
Unfortunately, for superheroes, Alan Moore pulled the curtain back and basically said not so much. With this show, we tried to mash it all up, because obviously superhero culture has only magnified and grown in the three decades since Watchmen was first published. It required an even more biting critique, but also it wouldn’t be Watchmen if there wasn’t a lot of reverence along with the critique. So, this show is made by people who love those movies. If we’re critiquing them we know what we’re talking about, hopefully.