I wasn’t one of the many who were sad to see Game of Thrones leave our television screens earlier this year, and after seeing what has replaced the infamous time-slot held by the fantasy series for so long, it’s like Game of Thrones was only keeping the seat warm for Watchmen to crash onto the scene and deliver one of the best first seasons of TV to date.
Set 34 years after the events of the iconic graphic novel, Watchmen brings you to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city with a quite harrowing history, where masked vigilantes are outlaws and law enforcement are forced to hide their faces to protect their identity. Themes such as racism, government conspiracy, law enforcement corruption and many more are prevalent in this series, and they only add to the exceptional, intricate storytelling at play across every episode.
Helmed by Damon Lindelof, the mastermind behind Lost, this first season is an exceptional masterpiece from beginning to end. The writing of each and every episode is immensely thrilling and everything is so interconnected that it rewards you for paying attention and playing into all of the little hints and mysteries as you watch. Mystery is a major part of this first season, there are a number of great character arcs all occurring simultaneously and they’re all shrouded in mystery in one way or another. If something stays a mystery for too long it can be more frustrating then intriguing, thankfully, the story unravels and unfolds in ways you won’t see coming and almost every episode brings with it answers and revelations that thrust the story in new directions.
One thing that is evident from the get-go is that this season know exactly where it’s heading and how long it’s going to take to get there, resulting in a perfectly paced season where everything is leading to the final episode and it all comes full circle. There are some episodes that are more slower paced than others, and some that go by a little quicker, but regardless of how slow some episodes were, they all further the story an equal amount. This is even more surprising since there are a couple of backstory episodes where the entire focus is gaining an insight into the life of one specific character. Even in those episodes, despite going back in time, we learn valuable information about the present that plays into the story as a whole. This all emphasises the interconnectedness that I mentioned and how it makes every little moment worthwhile.
I need to highlight the touch of genius that is episode 8. This episode comes off a massive cliffhanger at the end of episode 7 and is also the penultimate episode (typically the biggest episode of any season). To say the biggest here would be an understatement, as episode 8 is a masterpiece beyond belief. I could not take my eyes off the screen for a single second throughout this entire episode as it’s a phenomenal work of art and perfect example of full-circle storytelling within a single episode. It’s undoubtedly one of the best episodes of TV ever… for me it goes Twin Peaks, Season 3, Part 8 as the greatest ever episode of TV, followed by Watchmen, Season 1, Episode 8. There must be something about the 8th episode that really works. Definitely keep an eye out for this one.
What makes this series shine is the ensemble of complex characters and how all these clashing personalities interact and co-exist in this damaged world. As more characters get introduced you think it’s going to become too much, but the balance between all of their stories is handled in a way that you get enough of each character to understand exactly who they are… especially those who are lucky enough to receive a backstory episode. Every main and supporting character has an angle and personality that makes them a unique part of the show and gives you something to grab onto when following that character. With no bad or underdeveloped characters in this entire season it means there’s no downtime where you’re just trying to get to the next scene.
The performances behind the characters are where this series is taken to the next level, as the all-star cast that has been assembled is beyond brilliant. Led by a captivating performance from Regina King (Angela Abar), everyone in here is committed to their roles and makes you really care about everyone, both good and bad (especially as the line between good and bad is very blurry in this show). Regina is thrilling in each episode as the world is, for the most part, seen through her eyes and her experiences. She puts in an emotional performance and one that gets you wholly invested in her journey as the protagonist. By her side, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Cal) plays her stay-at-home husband who has a number of great subtle moments in conversation with her and you really care for him despite somewhat limited screen time.
Beyond them, Jean Smart brings a nice touch of light comedy to the series and is a refreshing burst of fresh air in what is otherwise a quite gruelling series at times. Tim Blake Nelson is fantastic as the mysterious Wade Tillman aka Looking Glass who has his own emotionally demanding arc through the season. Louis Gossett Jr. and Hong Chau are stellar as Will Reeves and Lady Trieu respectively, they don’t have a tonne of screen time compared to some others, but when they are on screen they make a lasting impact. Speaking of a lasting impact, quite possibly the most intriguing arc that is shrouded in the most confusing mystery for the majority of the season is that of the character played by Jeremy Irons. He, who doesn’t have a name for a number of episodes, delivers a thrilling and effortlessly entertaining performance that just makes you want to know more and more about his predicament.
If you’re someone who has never read the Watchmen graphic novel, hasn’t seen the 2009 Zach Snyder film, and doesn’t know anything about them, there is still a lot in here to love as the story and history of this world is broken down in the season… at least the main information you need to know. But if you have read the source material or know the backstory of Watchmen there’s that added layer of being able to find enjoyment in noticing all of the easter eggs and callbacks that are quite awesome.
But in the end, this first season of Watchmen is phenomenal the whole way through. Mastermind of mystery, Damon Lindelof, has crafted a first season that will no doubt go down as one of the best and strongest first seasons of TV to date. The multiple story arcs are engaging, the backstory episodes are riveting and not just filler, the performances are stellar and the payoffs for all of the smaller arcs throughout the season are well worth the journey. Episode 8 alone is a miraculous work of art and worth the watch just for that experience. I cannot wait to see where this series goes from here and what thrilling stories Lindelof is able to put together.