Sunday night marked the start of HBO’s “Watchmen,” meaning “huhs?” are coming.
The new series, created by Damon Lindelof (“Lost,” “The Leftovers”), is set three decades after the events of the superhero/alt-history 1986 comic book series from Alan Moore. It’s very much a remix of the story as it mostly focuses on new characters in the same universe, such as cop colleagues Angela Abar (Regina King), aka Sister Night, and Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), who battle the white supremacist group the Seventh Kavalry in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Despite the emphasis on new characters and Lindelof’s recent interview with Rolling Stone — in which he said he even expected people with knowledge of the comics to be confused ― there are a number of anomalies in the “Watchmen” universe that could be explained with a little comic book background.
Here are some answers to those pressing questions:
So what did I just watch?
HBO’s “Watchmen.” Didn’t you read that intro? My editor went over it and everything.
OK, yes, but what’s going on?
In the world of “Watchmen,” there was a time when people ran around in masks fighting crime. Though this was later outlawed in the comic world, these “superhero” vigilantes — “superhero” in quotes because no one really has powers except for glowing-blue demigod Doctor Manhattan — had a profound effect on the world.
It’s also worth noting some of the alternate historical events that have taken place. The U.S. won the Vietnam War thanks to Doctor Manhattan, and that country became the 51st state. The Watergate scandal never happened, due to the mysterious murders of journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and Richard Nixon abolished presidential term limits. For the last 28 years in the show universe, Robert Redford has been president.
(You can see pictures of Redford and Nixon on a presidential poster in the background during the classroom scene in the premiere.)
In the show, there are no cellphones or internet, so stuff like Pokemon Go or ordering Taco Bell from your phone is not really an option. Also, there are no fossil fuels and cars run on electricity or fuel cells thanks to innovations from Doctor Manhattan.
Got it. Alt-reality. Robert Redford. So is the opening scene part of the made-up world too?
The timeline between our universe and the “Watchmen” universe diverges in 1938 when superheroes started running around. The opening scene actually depicts a version of a real-world event in 1921, the Tulsa Race Massacre, where mobs of white residents murdered Black residents. It’s often referred to as “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.”
Does that have something to do with “Redford-ations”?
For this, we turn to an interview Lindelof gave to Entertainment Weekly. In that chat, the series creator talked about the Victims Of Racial Violence legislation that Redford helped pass, granting victims and their families reparations, crudely referred to in the show as “Redford-ations.”
This is, according to Lindelof, “a lifetime tax exemption for victims of, and the direct descendants of, designated areas of racial injustice throughout America’s history.” With the show taking place in Tulsa, the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre would benefit from the legislation.
Why are the police wearing masks?
Lindelof also explained in that interview that the legislation had a “ripple effect” into another act, the Defense of Police Act. This allows officers to hide their faces behind masks, since they are protecting victims affected by the previous legislation who are being targeted by terrorists.
Police were prompted to conceal their identities as a result of an event called the White Night. This was an organized terrorist attack on police homes by the Seventh Kavalry.
Wait, who are the Seventh Kavalry?
This is a white supremacist group. Members wear inkblot masks and have appropriated the image of a former masked superhero, Rorschach, for their own purposes.
Why are they using the image of a former superhero?
If you really don’t know anything about the comic, stay with me here ...
In the comics in 1985, a character named Adrian Veidt, supposedly the smartest person on the planet and formerly the hero Ozymandias, faked an alien invasion on New York, making the city believe it had been attacked by a giant alien squid. (I said stay with me.)
This attack killed millions of people and was done in an effort to thwart a nuclear war, which was on the brink of happening. Now, the world would band together against this “alien threat.”
Most of the characters who found out about the plot in the comic, including Doctor Manhattan, who is now supposedly residing on Mars, agreed to keep it hush-hush. However, one hero, Rorschach, a moral absolutist with an inkblot mask, is killed to keep him quiet. Unfortunately for the others, Rorschach already sent his journal, which put the blame on Veidt, to a right-wing newspaper called The New Frontiersman.
The end of the comic is ambiguous about what came of Rorschach sending the journal to the paper. However, it seems that because of what his journal revealed, he’s being held up by the white supremacist group as a hero.
Why is the country so racist?
Is this question still about “Watchmen”? (It’s not explained in the premiere.)
OK, rapid-fire: Who was the blue guy they showed on the news?
That’s Doctor Manhattan (though we don’t really know who’s playing him yet).
Who was the naked guy?
That’s actor Jeremy Irons, but he may be playing an older version of Adrian Veidt.
What’s the deal with the in-show TV show, “American Hero Story”?
The show-within-a-show recounts some of the events from the 1940s heroes in the comic, the Minutemen. This features Hooded Justice, who wears a noose as part of his costume.
Lastly, what’s up with that squid rain shower?
Honestly, I don’t know.
The squid bombings could be Veidt’s way of trying to convince people that the 1980s squid attack was real, but at this point (and for many of the questions left off this list), who the heck really knows?
We’re just going to have to watch “Watchmen.”