How ‘Watchmen’ Uses Time Travel to Explore America’s Greatest Sin

HBO watchmen opens with a harrowing re-enactment of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, setting the stage for a mystery that involves masked policemen, a militia of fringe white supremacists, and a reclusive billionaire genius.

Channeling the spirit of historical commentary that crackles through all 12 issues of the original graphic novel, Damon Lindelof’s 2019 miniseries dodges and weaves classification like a technical sequel despite being one anyway. One of the myriad ways to accomplish this is to refocus the novel’s shrewd political focus away from the specter of nuclear holocaust and onto the shadow of American racism.

From the moment Angela Abar, aka Sister Night (Regina King), discovers Tulsa Police Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) hanging from a tree, the show feels haunted by the looping cycles of America’s macabre dance. with racism throughout history. But the series’ cyclical paradoxes aren’t just metaphorical — they’re pretty literal, too.

watchmen the use of weather alteration serves a storyline that allows two generations affected by racism to reconcile and heal through each other. He draws parallels to kinship between generations of color in how their experiences travel through time to inform their descendants.

THE RULES OF TIME TRAVEL is a Reverse special issue exploring the evolution of science fiction‘s most imaginative subgenre. From Marty McFly to Avengers: Endgame.

A dose of nostalgia

Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Angela and Dr. Manhattan in watchmen.HBO

It is almost impossible to write an adaptation of watchmen without wrestling with the implications of Dr. Manhattan. When the show reveals that Cal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), Angela’s husband, has been in Manhattan the whole time unwittingly, she manages to both shock and satisfy the audience while waiting for the blue god. unhappy make his debut. But her role in the story isn’t just to provide an end goal for white supremacist Seventh Kavalry’s plans, or to add another tragic love story to her checkered past. Manhattan’s presence in the series serves as a quantum engine that kickstarts the narrative.

While the murder of Judd Crawford by Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.), Angela’s long-lost grandfather, is technically the series’ inciting incident, we don’t really understand why until episode 8. That’s when Angela uses Manhattan’s time consciousness to ask her grandfather a question ten years in the past: How did he know Crawford was an active member of the Seventh Cavalry?

His answer ? “Who is Judd Crawford?

Through Manhattan’s eyes, this time paradox caused by Will’s ignorance and Angela’s desperation has to happen because it’s still event. But on a deeper level than that, Angela and Will connect across time and space because they’re trapped in a generational curse due to the specter of American racism.

Jovan Adepo plays Will Reeves when he was Hooded Justice in watchmen.HBO

watchmen constantly returns to the images of the Tulsa massacre, told through the eyes of the young orphan who will become Will Reeves because they are ingrained in his psyche. They informed his decision to move to New York and join the NYPD because Bass Reeves’ teachings of “trusting the law” convinced him he could right the wrongs that destroyed his community using the same system that allowed these injustices.

But Will (played by Jovan Adepo) quickly discovers that the badge wasn’t designed to work in his favor. The NYPD are a cover for Cyclops, the elite forerunner of the Seventh Kavalry, and they use rudimentary mesmerism techniques to get black people to attack and brutalize each other.

“Will and Angela’s stories are an ouroboros that circles around itself.”

Angela and the audience discover this after overdosing on her grandfather’s prescription for Nostalgia – a pill that allows the consumer to experience locked memories. Through these pills, Angela discovers another shocking truth – her grandfather was Hooded Justice, the first costumed adventurer and the only one whose secret identity has never been discovered.

After nearly being lynched by his fellow police officers, Will donned the mask and noose to reclaim the instruments of his oppression and began waging a one-man war against the forces of white supremacy – a war that inevitably leads to his murder. by Judd Crawford.

Generational curses

Regina King plays Sister Night in watchmen.HBO

Lindelof said the show’s central themes are inherited inheritance and the scientific concept of genetic trauma. Nowhere are these more on display than Angela’s decision to become Sister Night. Much like her grandfather, Angela’s parents were murdered, an event that prompted her to join the police in a misguided attempt to seek justice for the past. And just like Will, Angela decides to become a masked vigilante following a violent attack by a white supremacist institution.

Although they never met and are two generations apart, Will and Angela’s tales are a looping ouroboros because Will’s anger and unresolved trauma were inflicted on his granddaughter.

Will and Angela are far from the only characters on the show trapped in generational curses. Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), the reclusive billionaire genius who serves as the series’ final antagonist, also designs her own narrative loop. Trieu’s mother, Bian My (Elyse Dinh), was a Vietnamese refugee who impregnated herself using the DNA of her employer, Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons), as revenge for Veidt’s treatment of her. .

Bian II (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport) and Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) in watchmen.HBO

Bian hoped his daughter would inherit Ozymandias’ legendary intellect. The show implies that she also tricked her daughter into using her wits to do something that would atone for the United States’ forced subjugation of Vietnam by watchmen alternate universe. However, Bian My died long before she could see what her daughter would grow up to do with her knowledge. So when she came of age, Trieu decided to clone her mother and raise her as her daughter.

In a disturbingly literal sense, Bian II (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport) is locked in a genetic loop, raised to believe she’s a child but quietly suffering from nightmares and daydreams of the Vietnam War and life under servitude. In her desperate attempts to live up to the legacy thrust upon her, Trieu forced her mother to relive her trauma. And at the end of the series, Trieu’s death almost ensured that the loop would repeat itself due to Bian II’s testimony of his mother’s traumatic death.

The unresolved wounds left by the United States forcibly winning the Vietnam War are another time loop, a real-world event born into endless sci-fi paradox.

“Wounds need air”

Dr. Manhattan and Angela Abar in watchmen.HBO

However, unresolved wounds don’t just intersect with individual characters. The whole world of watchmen lives in the shadow of the trauma created by the massive psychic squid that Adrian Veidt unleashed on New York City at the end of the original book. The Ozymandias hoax killed three million people in 1985, during the events known as 11/2.

As a result of the psychic shockwave felt by the survivors (as well as the intermittent squid rain that Veidt designed as a follow-up precaution), the world lives in constant fear of another dimensional incursion. It’s like a black cloud hanging over the world. People are perpetually trapped, having to relive that day in 1985 because, for many, it is pass again.

“Time, quite simply… has stopped. »

So it’s fitting that the white supremacists orchestrating the events behind the scenes are another reference to the Ozymandias-Cyclops hoax. Much like the one-eyed beast Veidt used to create world peace, Cyclops is a tool of revisionism and stagnation. It’s a cult that seeks to turn back time to satiate their traditionalism, to restore a time when white people held all the power and everyone else belonged at their heels. Their power comes from shaping the historical context to fit their sinister ends.

The world of watchmen avoids this by having the Redford administration acknowledge the atrocities of the Tulsa Massacre. But in the real world, Tulsa has been buried and the truth suppressed for nearly 70 years. For the survivors of Tulsa and their descendants, time…simply stood still.

Time and history are precious – our perception of them can shape empires and destroy lives. For many people in the United States, the real pain is locked away in their family’s genetics. These harrowing experiences transcend time to inflict anxiety and depression on generations who never even experienced these events, to begin with. However, watchmen shows us that these generational bonds can set us free.

Angela (Regina King) and Will (Louis Gossett Jr.) in watchmen.HBO

Angela lived in her grandfather’s cycle of anger. Influenced by his rage, she joined the same system that ruined his life and led him down a path that ultimately split his family in two. However, a time paradox brought them together and gave them what they needed to expose and decimate the evil that had been working against them for nearly nine decades. Although Dr. Manhattan does not exist in the real world, the power of inheritance and family ties does exist.

Will and Angela hid their trauma, fear, and rage behind masks, and if the two had never connected, Angela likely would have continued to do so. But through circumstances that defy time, Will was able to free his granddaughter with a few simple words: “You can’t heal under a mask, Angela. Wounds need air.

Until America breaks the quantum loop that keeps racism alive and haunts people of color, things will never change. We have a duty to our ancestors to recognize the past, bring it to light and expose it for what it is. Because until we do, history will continue to repeat itself and our doomsday clock will perpetually be balanced at five minutes to midnight.

To quote Maya Angelou, “History, despite its heartbreaking pain, it’s not possible not livedbut in the face of courage, does not need to be experienced again.

watchmen is streaming on HBO Max.

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