Tuesday, October 29, 2019

WATCHMEN 1.02 - "MARTIAL FEATS OF COMANCHE HORSEMANSHIP"


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Let’s talk about Damon Lindelof, which is to say, let’s talk about mysteries.  Specifically, let’s talk about mysteries, versus twists versus questions.  Starting with the last one, a big capital-Q QUESTION is something that operates on a thematic level, a moral or philosophical conundrum that can drive an entire longform narrative.  Does the universe have a design or Creator?  If so, is there any reason it should care about human beings or what they do?  Is artificial intelligence less “real” than that of organic beings?  Can vigilante justice actually be justified?  Is it moral to commit murder, if you are (reasonably) certain that it would prevent a hundred more deaths?   Does free will actually exist, or is is just easier to tell ourselves so than to process the millions of different causal puppet strings yankking us around at any given moment?  These types of heady questions are what Damon Lindelof wants to explore through his distinctive brand of sci-fi mysticism, and they are the sort that not only do not require a definitive answer, but tend to diminish any work of fiction that does try to offer a conclusive “solution” to them. 

On the other hand, you have a mystery, which is a plot puzzle that does need to be solved or the narrative will feel incomplete on a basic level.   Concrete questions without a direct tether to the larger mysteries of creation, like why was that polar bear on a tropical island? Who killed the Comedian/Laura Palmer/Mr. Body/shot JR/Mr. Burns?  Where did my lunch go?  The difference, between this type of story mechanic leaving a trail of esoteric breadcrumbs to nowhere and a narrative arc that confronts the characters with the fundamentally unknowable, is one that Lindelof did not have the firmest grasp in the earlier, LOST era of his career.  But to his immense credit, he has developed by leaps and bounds since then, steering directly toward the more thematically challenging elements of his work and exploring them with greater levels of sophistication and intentionality. 

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You could tell that things had gotten sophisticated when he had
Justin Theroux put his dick in a scanner so he could assassinate the president

He has also, over time, developed a common structural blueprint for his shows.  Lindelof's dramas are built around a central traumatic event that clearly demarcates a Before and After timeline.  Generally, we begin following a present-tense mystery plot in the After, interspersed with flashbacks to the Before versions of the characters.  This is a conceit he no doubt learned from WATCHMEN itself.  With LOST, the trauma was a plane crash, and THE LEFTOVERS no doubt attracted him because it was already built around the Sudden Departure as this sort of dramatic fissure. With WATCHMEN it appears to be the White Night, when the 7th Kavalry murdered dozens of Tulsa police and drove the rest to hide their identities.  At least that’s what it is for our new, central characters; the events of the original books may end up serving a similar function for “legacy” characters like Laurie, Veidt, and Manhattan in whatever form they appear.  All of which is layered on top of the original text’s sophisticated web of these lines of demarcation; its brilliance arises in no small part from how it organically uncovers these various inflection points for a variety of characters as the present-day mystery unfolds.  The most explicit would be the especially grisly crime that Rorschach himself identifies as the true “birth” of his vigilante persona.  But the Comedian’s assault on the Silk Spectre functions similarly for his divorce from the “hero” community, marking the end of the golden age of the original Minutemen and beginning their various spirals into violent deaths, madness, or obsolescence.  For the later generation of heroes, it is the Keene Act and surrounding riots that forced Dan and Laurie to confront the public opposition to their trade and their own arrested development.  This leads us to initially presume that it was the same for Ozymandias, but it eventually becomes clear that it was actually the aborted attempt to create a Minutemen 2.0 that spun him away from small-scale “heroics” and toward larger efforts.  And underneath all that, you have the emergence of Dr. Manhattan acting as the tipping point for the larger world of story, between a settting that asks “what if people really put on costumes to fight crime?” to a full blown alternate history with radically different technology, pop culture and especially politics.

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Although to be honest, five terms of Nixon doesn't seem
nearly as frightening a prospect now as it did in 1985

Which is all well and good; it’s only an observation and not a criticism that Lindelof likes to work within this dramatic structure, which is broad enough to contain endless multitudes of characters, plots and genres.  If I have worries about where his WATCHMEN is headed, it is with it becoming a twist-based show.  The characters, the world, the difficult subject matter and impeccable production values would be plenty to keep me invested so far, but I am immediately wearied by having to play the guessing game of “who is Dr. Manhattan in disguise?” for the rest of the season.  There seeemed to be plenty of intrigue already, between sussing out the “vast and insidious conspiracy” in Tulsa, what exactly Jeremy Irons is playing at, fingering the inevitable Kavalry double agent on the police, and uncovering exactly what is up with Angela's granpa and what was up with Judd.  A lot of those things are probably inter-related, and I’m excited to dig into basically all of them except for the first one. 

This is because while Dr. Manhattan is one of the greatest creations not just in comic books, but all of popular fiction and I am totally on board with having him involved in this new iteration of the story in some fashion, I don’t want to spend the entire season waiting to find out who is a secretly an inhuman robotic intelligence masquerading as a real human.  I got bored with that in the first season of WESTWORLD, and by the way, this same network still has WESTWORLD going on.  Mentioning the possibility of him walking around in disguise twice (and that he could be multiple people to boot), is maybe/hopefully an ingenious red herring, but I fear that it is merely a seed for an end-of-season climactic reveal that the internet hivemind will have sorted out by next week.  Just like it did with WESTWORLD’s big twists.
 
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"Hey....I think this guy might be a robot!!"

This is gets to the difference between a mystery and “just” a twist.  A mystery is a plotline the audience is supposed to follow and try to guess the resolution of.  That resolution is most satisfying when it has a twist of sorts; that is to say, when you find that the real answer is something you could have deduced with the information available, if the manner in which the information was provided hadn’t manipulated you into thinking it was something else.  A mystery is like a game the audience is invited to play, and a great mystery makes them delight in being outplayed.  Whereas a "mere" twist is more like a trick that requires that the audience not understand the game being played for the impact to land.  

And really, it’s just less and less possible to pull that off in the internet age, at least for a show that still airs as a weekly event like HBO’s Sunday prestige bloc.  It surely fares better in a streaming episode dump, where obsessives will burn through the whole batch rather than spending a week sifting through each episode for clues before moving on to the next hour.  It literally only takes one viewer cottoning on early, and it can spread through Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and poorly named blogs faster than herpes through a retirement home.  And it sucks, because it makes it pretty much impossible for any fan engaged enough to read (much less write) about a show while it is airing to avoid being exposed to every possible iteration of the twist before the show has a chance to play it out on its own terms. 

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"What??  Stop looooking at me..."

Which is something I have mentioned before in the context of other shows, and which hopefully will become quickly moot if the next episode clarifies what exactly is going on with Dr. Manhattan.   It would be nice if I didn’t have to spend time every week going through every character and asking “but wut if dey blue tho?”  And while it might seem to be in a similar vein, I really don’t mind theorizing about who Jeremy Irons really is and what “The Watchmaker’s Son” is setting up for a few more weeks.  That is a mystery game we are actually invited to play, and the possibilities there are much more wide open than the elaborate game of GUESS WHO that is trying to figure out who is secretly blue tho. 

Of course, it’s possible that it is Irons himself that is secretly Manhattan, which would fit both the show’s playing coy about naming the character outright, and the basic principle that if there is to be a twist about a major character’s identity, it can’t be whatever the first two episodes are hinting at most heavily.   His mucking about with the butler/maid/actor/key grip clones could sort of line up with his stated interest in creating life in the comic, but it could fit even better with Adrian Veidt’s work in genetic engineering.  Because if DM was going to make life, would this really be the type of life he would make?  Is this how he would insert himself, as a bitchy amateur playwright?  It wouldn’t break any federal statute or anything if they were to say that in 34 years of tinkering away on his own, he has developed more human personality quirks, but his complete lack of affect was pretty much the entire point of the original character.  And if he is just feigning the pique and pride Irons displays, not to mention the pasty human complexion, for whose benefit is the deception exactly?  Why would he need to hide his real voice and big blue dong from the simpleminded pawns who are delighted to burn themselves to horrible death for his nightly amusement?   The deception would only be for our benefit as the audience, to throw us off the scent.  Which I’d love to say is obviously beneath Lindelof’s standards as a storyteller, but I can still recall with blood-boiling ease how the final season of LOST opened with a scene that displayed the Island sunk far beneath the ocean, something that no character could or ever would see, or be elaborated upon in any way that would justify it in any way except as a blatant lie directly to the audience about the nature of the “sidewaysverse”.  

Seriously, this just never comes up in any way
 again and it infuriates me like nothing else

Which brings us around to the question of the skeletons in Judd’s closet, which does function as a mystery, rather than a twist-in-waiting.  But it does have some of the same issues, where the conclusion being teased in episode 2 can’t be the real one, on top of which the characterization doesn’t line up with the obvious twist.   If the twist were “just” that the seemingly-kindly sheriff was secretly aligned with the KKK, then it’s a bit early to play that card, and also boy was he playing his part to the hilt.  I can see the benefit to the Kavalry of having the chief of police on as a double agent in theory, but I’m not sure why expending years of he and his wife’s time building a close personal (like, doing-cocaine-at-dinner-parties-with-their-kids close) relationship with the most capable black officer who secretly remained on the force while publicly retiring would be more effective than…not doing any of that.  Tulsa PD seems to have been teetering on the brink since the White Night anyhow, it seems like a chief who really wanted to could have broken its back entirely in a hundred less baroque ways, that didn’t involve so much blowing up his own dudes.  On top of which, neither he nor the wife seem to betray the slightest irritation at having to keep up this elaborate non-racist fa├žade 24/7, even when alone together. 

But squaring away Johnson and Frances Fisher’s overwhelmingly sincere performances with a secret, malevolent agenda is a more difficult issue than just processing the surface-level emotional dissonance.  It also raises a subtextual knot, of what exactly it would mean about the show’s depiction of racism.  While the idea of white supremacist organizationsactively infiltrating law enforcement is about the least fantastical concept the show is playing with, I have a strong feeling that it doesn’t look much like this in practice.  I doubt the active KKK members found in a Florida police department were hiding their bigotry as deeply and effectively as Judd, whose “cover” would seem to have gone so deep as to enter reverse MOTHER NIGHT territory; and beg the question of whether, if he was really able to avoid betraying the slightest racial animus for years of working closely with his secretly-hated enemies…is he even a “real” racist anymore?

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Questionable Racial Tangents are brought to you, as always, by Papa Johns

I don’t mean that to dismiss actual racism, and it’s entirely possible I’m going full clueless white guy and missing the point with this thought.  But it does seem to me that maaaybe we should be so lucky if the real bigots in positions of authority were just racist werewolves, who actually felt the need to hide their one day of cross-burning a month by spending the other 29 days warmly supporting co-workers of color as they administer vicious extrajudicial beatings to their fellow honkies and killing a few themselves with a flamethrower while stanning for black OKLAHOMA!   I’d hazard a guess that there are minority communities that would actually prefer that their police confined their prejudice to that occasional racist PURGE day, since it would give them something like 96% less overall racism to deal with.   

All that said, not many entirely innocent reasons jump to mind for having a full blown Klan outfit hidden in a secret shrine, so something was going on with him.  And while Angela’s grandfather is really indulging the cryptic “if I told you what I know now, the story would be over!” contrivance that one might have hoped Lindelof had grown out of since the 400 times it showed up on LOST, you still have to figure that most of his outlandish claims are basically true.  He probably did kill Judd, since it’s a weird thing to insist on if he didn’t and writers aren’t prone to repeating outright lies in dialogue unless there is some point to it (which usually takes the form of it being true, if only on “a certain point of view” technicality).   But I don’t want to get too far out ahead of the show before it has a chance to develop these plots and themes further, as difficult as that can be in the internet hot take economy.  So I’ll sign off for now, with a couple of random notes and observations.


RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS

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  • Angela warns her girls that they need to weigh down the ghost in their game so he doesn’t just float away when they make him walk the plank, which is exactly what Grandpa does at the end.
  • Speaking of Grandpa, I’m sticking with him being Hooded Justice despite some circumstantial evidence starting to cut against it.  He claims to have telekinetic powers that allowed him to string up Judd, which you’d think would have been a pretty big part of a masked crimefighter’s schtick, and also the opening with the German propaganda prominently names the typist as Fraulein Mueller, which is the same surname as the circus strongman who was the presumed alter-ego of HJ in the book and (the hilariously over-the-top) AMERICAN HERO STORY.
  • I am not going to try to exhaustively list every connection and echo of the comic book, but they are many, as big and obvious the discovery of the robe compartment mirroring the discovery of Blake’s Comedian closet and the reenactment of Dr. Manhattan’s origin, to as tangential as the paparazzi (presumably) coopting Mothman’s wingsuit to intrude on crime scenes.   That last bit demonstrates the sense of deadpan absurdity that Lindelof developed on THE LEFTOVERS continuing to serve this eerie/silly reality well.
  • One formal tic that the show has aped from comics is the extensive use of match cutting to connect scenes and timelines, which was a huge part of book’s “cinematic” feel and masterful blend of intimate characterization with epic scope.
  • Veidt/Irons has apparently been staging his play for a year, judging by the extra candle on the cake he waves off.  This confirms that his scenes are not operating in “real time” with the Tulsa stuff, and also suggests that the anniversary they were commemorating is not actually for the squid attack from the book, unless they are playing very fast and loose with Irons’ appearing to be at least 20 years older than the notably well-preserved middle-aged man he was in print.  So what exactly did he do a year prior?


Monday, October 21, 2019

WATCHMEN 1.01 - "IT'S SUMMER AND WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF ICE"


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Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel (which I guess is what we still have to call a comic series to indicate we are taking it seriously) WATCHMEN is brilliant for a hundred reasons.  But one of the biggest, and most pertinent to Damon Lindelof’s new television sequel/adaptation/reboot, is how it handles the answering and raising of questions. The series is built around an overarching mystery plot with a resolution that is both satisfying and surprising, but also only raises more difficult, unanswerable thematic questions while it pays off all the narrative threads dramatically.  That is (part of) what makes it a masterpiece, and it is what a younger Lindelof was presumably aiming for with the ending of LOST, while falling woefully short.  That show’s attempts to spin esoteric, plot-centric teases about where a particular bear came from, or how a fictional form of radiation affects women’s fertility, into stand-ins for the greater mysteries of creation ultimately felt like a sweaty cop out once years of kited narrative checks were coming due.  But to his credit, Lindelof learns from past mistakes. His next series, THE LEFTOVERS, was even more overt about denying the audience the answers it craved,but was also much more successful at baking the grander scale of those questions, and the characters’ terror and anger in the face of their essential unknowability, into the core of the narrative right from the start.  

So it is perhaps not surprising that the pilot episode of Lindelof’s WATCHMEN raises so many questions and provides little to no answers.  We can dig into various plot threads more as they develop in the weeks to come, but up front the questions I’m most interested in are the broadest and most basic, like what the hell is this thing anyway?  Is it a reboot of Zach Snyder’s misguided movie adaptation, which somehow managed to slavishly recreate exact lines and panels and scenes from the comic, while getting the aesthetics so completely wrong as to betray the entire essence of the book?  Is it a direct sequel to the comic itself, but in a different medium?  Or a prequel for that matter, since it opens over a decade before even the beginning of the backstory of the original Minutemen (which operated as a sort of self-contained prequel within the book itself)?  Is it a THE NEXT GENERATION continuation of the universe with a passing of the torch from the old characters to a new class, a la THE FORCE AWAKENS? 


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Is it a misguided effort by a rich white guy to address the legacy of slavery, with the
shine of HBO's prestige television factory providing a thin pateen of credibility?

So far it seems to be all these things, which is a fascinating mishmash on its own, but it also represents a continuation of an emerging trend of television shows beginning as adaptations of literary works, but extending beyond the original ending.  HBO kind of stumbled into this when the GAME OF THRONES series burned through its 5 book runway before GRR Martin could finish a 6th, much less 7th.  It has also provided screen-only sequels, with the authors’ cooperation, when it continued the aforementioned LEFTOVERS and BIG LITTLE LIES after first seasons that covered the entirety of the source material.  Meanwhile, Amazon has done something similar with THE HANDMAID’S TALE, Hulu has taken THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE’s plot well beyond what was in Philip K. Dick’s pages, while SyFy has blown out the scope of Lev Grossman’s MAGICIANS novels to an unrecognizable degree, and although it is not a direct continuation, AMC is attempting to spin their adaptation of Dan Simmon’s THE TERROR into a broader historical horror anthology.  This show seems to fit vaguely in that mold, although it will certainly have to do without the blessing or input of the famously cantakerous Alan Moore, who has publicly and preemptively disavowed any further adaptation of his work after seeing one too many of them butchered in the translation.

But whether this is a proper sequel or a reboot or fanfiction or whatever else you want to call it, it was a weird and scary and compelling hour of TV, and that will definitely do for my purposes.   In that categorical sense, I would say that the remaining issue that actually needs to be answered is “why is this a WATCHMEN property at all?”   I do expect this to become justified in the weeks to come, but there is nothing in the pilot that couldn’t be as well served as an original dystopic sci-fi story.  What there is, for fans of the book, is a lot of clever and intriguing inversions of familiar set ups, big and small.  The urban jungle of New York has been traded for trailer parks and suburbs of central Oklahoma.  Where the original story’s set up included a police strike inspiring an act of Congress forcibly retiring all masked vigilantes, now the cops themselves have taken to concealing their identities behind masks.  Whereas the book’s alternate history saw Nixon serving a 5th term in 1985, now he has been succeeded by president Robert Redford (the actor, who the book offhandedly mentions is mulling a run for office) who is entering his own third decade in office.  Angela passes a man on the street holding a sign that reads “The Future Is Bright” rather than the iconic “The End Is Nigh” from the comics.  Nuclear war as the backdrop threat has been replaced by boiling racial conflict, which presents its own set of more obvious inversions that even the uninitiated can process on their own. 

Starting with the silent film opening, which reveals the traditionally white garbed/skinned sheriff to be the real villain and the black clad/skinned pursuer to be the righteous lawman rather than the grim reaper figure he initially cuts, and ending with a black man sitting under a tree where a white lawman has been lynched, the racial scripts are consistently flipped.  In an episode with striking sequences to spare – the opening Greenwood massacre, the farm assault (why has no one staged a firefight within a herd of cows before?), and the trippy pod interrogation would all be standout enough to make this an impressive premiere on their own – the one that stands out above the rest is the traffic stop.  A contained masterclass in building up both tension and the world of the story, it presents us with enough familiarity to know that for certain that something bad is brewing, but with the details off and inverted enough to keep us unmoored and uncertain in our instinctual sympathies.  This guy appears to be a central casting redneck that Hollywood naturally paints as a villain, but he’s also blasting hip hop in his pickup, so maybe there is more going on?  And then he is friendly and compliant enough to appear to be the reasonable one when the officer adopts that immediate and familiar aggressive cop tone, but the confusion mounts when we see that the cop is black (and no story that opens with that horrifying race riot is going to immediately switch over to making rural whites the real persecuted victims in the very next scene), and then he is also wearing an unsettling yellow mask to conceal his face.  Then he gets back to his car, and we are introduced to the janky protocols for unlocking his gun, which escalates the certainty that something very bad is about to happen while giving just enough time for even the gooiest of liberals to wonder about how suddenly they got to be rooting against a mechanism to prevent a frightened cop from popping off shots at a traffic stop where he got a bad vibe.

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Queasy Racialized Moments are, as always, brought to you by Papa Johns

And then of course the bad thing happens, at the precise moment it feels like the danger may be passed.  The driver opens fire with a bigger gun and a Rorschach mask on his head, which presents another twist for those familiar with the book.  In the original, Rorschach’s vigilantism is depicted as an outlet for his emotionally stunted bigotry and not-subtle fascist leanings.  But he is nonetheless at least nominally on the side of the “heroes”, and by virtue of operating as the closest thing the kaleidoscopic narrative has to protagonist, he's also on “our" side as the audience. He’s a sort of Travis Bickle character, who has a real drive to do the right thing that is perverted by being an overt sexist, homophobe, nativist ideologue, and “incel” back in the glorious days before we had that term. So it is not a big leap at all conceptually that he would be adopted as a hero by an insurgent KKK faction in 2019; the character is a favorite of the real-life alt-right already, and the mask does have a Klan-ish sort of look that fits quite well in this context.   But it still does give me slight pause that what the iconography of a complex and nuanced, if not really sympathetic, portrait in a complex and nuanced story has now been assigned to the outright baddies on the show.  Or really, that the show has set up such capital-V Villains at all.

I will probably backtrack on this pretty quickly in the weeks to come, because taken on its own terms, the Seventh Kavalry make for effective antagonists in the pilot.  But it does circle back toward the question vis a vis adaptation, of “why is this even WATCHMEN?”  There were not really direct plot threads begging to be completed by a sequel, and as noted above this continuation sets itself apart so thoroughly in space, time, medium and subject matter that it would still seem to function equally well as a standalone work.  That will probably change as the older versions of Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, Dr. Manhattan and Hooded Justice become more central to the developing plot, but this touches on is a theory I have about adaptations in general.  Which is that with any given work, there is usually one or two things that are essential to translate properly to the new medium, and if they are gotten right then you can wander pretty far afield in altering the plot trajectory, changing up character designs or otherwise straying for strict, point-by-point fidelity to the source material.   With superheroes, it is usually the central character.  The MCU has free rein to adapt the INFINITY GAUNTLET or CIVIL WAR storylines in incredibly loose ways because the writing and casting nails the essence of Captain America and Iron Man so thoroughly, whereas actually killing Gwen Stacy can’t make up for how wrong the AMAZING SPIDERMAN series gets the core of Peter Parker’s character.  With fantasy, it is often a setting; HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS work their magic by making Hogwarts and Middle Earth feel like real and inviting environments.  With books, it is frequently a tone, which makes adherence to the specific plot of TRAINSPOTTING or FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS a non-issue. 

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Some day, modern science may even determine what the thing could be for a video game movie
  
But what WATCHMEN accomplishes as literature is something that is exceptionally rare, which is genuine polyphony.  It is difficult enough to create variety of characters with distinct, conflicting voices in your head, but to render those points of view simultaneously on the page/screen, with all their strengths and flaws authentically exposed but without exposing any thumb on the narrative scales to indicate one as the “correct” stance that all the others only exist to be vanquished by?  That requires an actual master, and it’s a hallmark of some of my very favorite works of fiction.  THE WIRE does it amazingly, as does DEADWOOD.  It is pretty much the thing that saves Jonathan Franzen books from being endless depressing slogs.  It elevated series like GAME OF THRONES and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK at their best.  It’s clear that Lindelof appreciates this quality as well, what with his characteristic aversion to definitive resolutions and LOST’s deliberately shifting character focus (though I’d argue that it still had a tendency to play favorites to a significant extent). He developed this skill further on THE LEFTOVERS,  which gives me hope that this show can still capture that element of the original, even as all this was a very long-winded way of saying that the introduction of such a clear, unambiguous villain force at the outset cuts against the more detached, all-shades-of-gray perspective of the novel, which notably lacked a clearly defined villain until the very end.  And even then, the villainy is complicated in ways I won’t fully disclose, since while I’m obviously not exactly going to avoid talking about the novel here, it would constitute the most major spoiler possible. Seriously, go read the book if you haven’t, it’s incredible.

Anyway, I roamed kind of far afield here, as I am wont to do with first episode reviews since I prefer to let a series develop itself a bit before rendering any firm judgments.  I could say more about the plot, or the fantastic turns from Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson and Don Johnson, but there will be eight more weeks to dig into that (give or take a Johnson, I guess).  For now, I’ll sign off with some bullet points and idle speculation.


BULLET POINTS AND IDLE SPECULATION


  • One other talent Lindelof has been honing for years is employing deadpan absurdity in a way that is both funny and ominous.  The rain of tiny squids is the perfect example of something completely bananas that somehow manages to actually ground the strange reality of this world.  At least for those who have read the book and have some context for squid-related shenanigans.  I imagine those who hadn’t read it thought they must be having a very strange stroke.
  • The Kavalry stockpiling old, recalled watch batteries, presumably to make a dirty bomb of some kind, is an interesting wrinkle.  Nostalgia is a running motif in the book, in ways both subtle and extremely explicit. And it is a good thematic thread for the show to pick up for the modern day, when so much of our society is choking in it, from the stranglehold that remakes/reboots have on entertainment (which the series itself represents, to some degree) to the entire political system being hijacked because the doddering ramblings of an aged racist vaguely comfort enough white voters in key counties by evoking a false memory of when people that looked like them were the end all and be all of American culture.
  • It can’t be overstated how much Trent Reznor and Atticus Roth’s pulsing, ominous score contributes to setting the doom-laden tone (or owes to John Carpenter).
  • The Greenwood massacre opening is obviously very well-executed, but I was surprised to find I have become somewhat inured to the “bravura one-shot tracking the hero weaving through some intense war zone for minutes on end” sequence.  It rocked my socks off in CHILDREN OF MEN, but I guess it’s a sign of how spoiled the golden age of television has made me that the beats of extras getting abruptly shot or blown up as soon as they entered the frame actually felt expected and almost rote instead of shocking.  It’s all done extremely well, but despite being a real historical atrocity, the filmmaking just felt familiar, from some of the best episodes of MR. ROBOT and TRUE DETECTIVE, and not one, not two or three, but four of the best GAME OF THRONES-es . In fact, it was the moments of stillness in the Greenwood sequence I found most effective and horrifying.  The white men leaning idly on a piano in the street, or the black boy standing silent with a dead baby in his arms. 
  • The idea of the Tulsa PD as its own gang of vigilantes, with their own distinctive masks to reflect 7K’s own “uniforms”, is going to be interesting to see develop.  Only our “hero” characters get their own personalized masks, with King’s Sister Night and Nelson’s Looking Glass getting the most attention, though I expect we’ll get to know the vaguely Russian Red Scare and Judd’s co-pilot Pirate Jenny better soon.  But I found most interesting how even Judd, as the chief and only unmasked member of the department, still treated his uniform like a costume that he has to don before performing the more difficult parts of his job.
  • So Veidt is making some kind of androids in his country castle?  Actual robots seem too close WESTWORLD’s lane, and since he pioneered genetic engineering in the book, I’m guess they are manufactured clones.  His “tragedy in five acts” that he wants to have them star in suggests a plot that somehow involves using them to fabricate some new fraud related to Dr. Manhattan who was a “Watchmaker’s Son” before becoming a blue dong-dangling god (look, the novel has a lot of weird comic book shit in it.  It's still great).
  • There should be a special award for the delivery of the lines "Were there any croutons?/None that I could ascertain." 
  • I’m also guessing that we will come to learn that Angela’s conspicuously white kids are the adopted orphans of a partner killed in the White Night attacks that drove the police to hide their identities.
  • So I reckon Louis Gosset Jr.’s character to be Hooded Justice, the first costumed vigilante in this world who is also the only one whose true identity is not confirmed in the book.  This still feels like a major departure from “canon”, as the Greenwood backstory is very different from the identity the comic suggests, of a circus strongman of German descent, while also mirroring Superman’s origin rather directly.  This was generally accepted by fans for a long time, on the basis of the book providing no other alternatives, but it was never set in stone, as it is presented as the speculation of Ozymandias, who suspected that he was murdered by the Comedian as revenge for a beating he took when Justice found him sexually assaulting a teammate.  This alternative is certainly an interesting avenue for the show to explore, though.  Being a black man, orphaned by a racist mob, gives a different context to the hangman’s noose that hung around the neck of his costume, which of course resonates further with the lynching tableau where Angela finds him at the episode’s end.   But the main, basically airtight evidence when it comes to superhero identities is how when he speaks to her outside the bakery, his civilian clothes match the purple and red color scheme of the Hooded Justice costume, which an AMERICAN HERO STORY ad on a bus has just helpfully reminded us of.  
  • What confuses me more is, are we supposed to believe he is responsible for lynching Judd?  That would seem to track from the episode opening on him as a child cheering on a masked black crimefighter lassoing a corrupt white sheriff around the neck, not to mention his cryptic comment to Angela about whether she thought he could lift 200 lbs, but I have a hard time squaring away Johnson’s performance with Judd being secretly villainous.  Not that white supremacists infiltrating local law enforcement is such a far-fetched prospect, and I suppose his escalating of the conflict by releasing the cops’ guns could be somehow be playing into some master plan.  But it just seems like if 7K did already have their own chief installed, there isn’t much need to go to open war with the department, much less for Judd and his wife to commit so fully to their roles as to be best friends with the family of a “straight” black cop, and not betray any inkling of it even when they are alone.  It just seems like there is more risk than potential reward in that, not to mention the whole thing where he killed multiple Kavalry members with an airship-mounted flamethrower.  No, right now my guess for the mole in the department (there has to be one, right?) is Red Scare.