HBO's Watchmen: Damon Lindelof Addresses Show's Controversial Politics
Watchmen spoilers ahead!
Spend any amount of time on the Watchmen subreddit or reading what people are saying about the show on Twitter, and you'll see a common criticism coming from disgruntled fans: that Watchmen is too political, or that it espouses the "wrong" politics. But in the final episode of HBO's official Watchmen podcast, which went up after the show's final episode aired, Lindelof says he believes the show's politics are true to the original comics. More importantly, he says those politics are crucial to what Watchmen is.
"For Watchmen to be culturally relevant in 2019, it has to be some sort of funhouse mirror reflection of the time that we're living in," Lindelof says. "This really fascinating sort of conversation erupted around the show as we were airing kind of the first three or four episodes, which was this idea of like, 'This show is too political,' and also, parallel to that, 'How can this show call itself Watchmen?'"
But the showrunner says Watchmen has always been political; in fact, the word "political" was on a list of adjectives that he and the other writers used to describe what Watchmen is while they were still figuring out what the show would be. "But my own personal politics--and I make no bones about the fact that I'm a liberal, I'm very progressively minded," he says. "But at the same time, I think that the original Watchmen is kind of anarchist in its blood, and it has to troll the extremes. So you have to troll extreme liberalism, and extreme progressiveism."
As a viewer, it's easy to see where those things manifested, when you look at elements that are on polar opposite ends of the spectrum, like the white supremacist terrorist group the 7th Kavalry, and the overly dramatic trigger warnings that air before the in-universe show American Hero Story.
Lindelof says the idea of reparations plays a big part in this duality. "I happen to think that reparations are a really good idea--whether they're reparations for slavery, or reparations for something like the Tulsa massacre--are a really good idea," he says. "I also have to accept that, were reparations actually enacted, that there would be a virulent pushback from a large sector of our society. And do I take sides? Well, again, my side is I think that we have a big white supremacy problem in the United States of America. I'm not here saying, 'There's good people on both sides.' That being said, I'm just presenting what I think would actually happen were reparations to be passed."
Specifically, that idea takes the shape of the 7th Kavalry, a terrorist group being supported by a clandestine cell that shares space with the highest levels of government, whose goal is "creating some kind of culture war" that will enable Senator Joe Keene to seize more power. Keene uses the overlap between police and white supremacists to play both sides, ultimately controlling everyone involved. You can argue with the logic of that plan if you want, but there's no denying its thematic relevance in 2019.
To Lindelof, the idea of police wearing masks--making them less distinguishable from the bad guys--ties in with the question of why people wear masks in the first place, dovetailing nicely into the themes he wanted this show to explore.
"What we were trying to get at--the big fundamental idea that is literally stated by Blake explicitly in the fourth episode--is that there's causation between trauma, particularly childhood trauma, and the wearing of a mask," the showrunner says, bringing up comparisons in other superhero origin stories, like Batman and Iron Man.
"Now let's take that idea and make that trauma about the trauma that was visited upon people of color in America, because that is the American story that's just not really being told enough," he continues, adding that he was terrified that he wasn't the right person to tell this story--something he still feels now. But "[despite] still feeling very much that way, I couldn't resist. I had to do it. I was compelled to do it, and thank god so many other people around me were there [in the writer's room] to prevent me from making catastrophic mistakes, and inform me with their wisdom."
Over its nine episodes, HBO's Watchmen presented a complex and multi-layered view of modern day politics, the idea of masked heroes, and the concept of legacy. And in doing so, it really did live up to the name Watchmen.
If like us, you can't get enough, check out our explanation of the show's ending, the major questions we still have after the finale, all the Easter eggs and references we spotted in Episode 9, and everything else we learned from the podcast.