E04 -

Matthew Feeney & Julian Sanchez join the show to talk about how HBO took on the incredible comic book, Watchmen, and to our surprise, they excellently executed the story for a 2019 audience. 

Hosts
Landry Ayres
Senior Producer
Guests

Matthew Feeney is the director of Cato’s Project on Emerging Technologies, where he works on issues concerning the intersection of new technologies and civil liberties. . Before coming to Cato, Matthew worked at Reason magazine as assistant editor of Rea​son​.com. He has also worked at The American Conservative, the Liberal Democrats, and the Institute of Economic Affairs. Matthew is a dual British/​American citizen and received both his B.A and M.A in philosophy from the University of Reading in England.

Research fellow Julian Sanchez focuses primarily on issues at the busy intersection of technology, privacy, civil liberties, and new media — but also writes more broadly about political philosophy and social psychology. Before joining Cato, Sanchez served as the Washington Editor for the technology news site Ars Technica, where he covered surveillance, intellectual property, and telecom policy. Prior to that, he was an assistant editor for Reason magazine, where he remains a contributing editor. Sanchez’s writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Reason, The Guardian, Techdirt, The American Spectator, and Hispanic, among others, and he blogs regularly forThe Economist’s Democracy in America. Sanchez studied philosophy and political science at New York University.

Image Credit: Den of Geek

Alan Moore’s 1986 Watchmen was a condemnation of all forms of authority, mocking the concept of a benevolent superhuman, and portraying masked vigilantes as emotionally unstable. And Damien Lindelof took this story for HBO and refreshed it for a 2019 audience where the origin story is the Tulsa, Oklahoma Race Riots of 1921.

How is HBO’s Watchmen not a typical superhero story? Why is the classic superhero archetype an orphan?

Transcript

00:03 Natalie Dowzicky: Happy New Year and welcome back to Pop & Locke, I’m Natalie Dowzicky.

00:06 Landry Ayres: And I’m Landry Ayres.

00:08 Natalie Dowzicky: Honestly, every time I hear about a superhero movie being redone, I sigh. I mean, how many Spider‐​Man films do we really need? When I heard HBO with the help of Damon Lindelof was producing a show based on Alan Moore’s comic Watchmen I was not impressed. But boy, was I pleasantly surprised. Watchmen is not your typical superhero story. That is why we asked Cato’s Julian Sanchez…

00:29 Julian Sanchez: Hey.

00:30 Natalie Dowzicky: And Matthew Feeney…

00:31 Matthew Feeney: Hello.

00:31 Natalie Dowzicky: To join us today.

00:32 Landry Ayres: So let’s start with a softball question for you both. What sort of liberties do you think Lindelof took with the source material of Moore’s original story? What are the changes to the universe that someone who has read the graphic novel and the comics would immediately notice upon watching the series?

00:53 Julian Sanchez: I don’t know, so it’s of course an original story set 30 years later. But in ways, it’s more faithful than the film. So I mean, the Zack Snyder film, which I regard as unwatchably bad. I think I…

[chuckle]

01:12 Julian Sanchez: As a long‐​time fan of the comic, I kind of enjoyed it the first time in the theater, kinda for the novelty, but it is so suffocatingly faithful in many ways, and as I said, it doesn’t really breathe as its own work, except there are a series of changes, he makes the threat at the end that Ozymandias… And apologies to anyone listening who hasn’t…

01:36 Matthew Feeney: Spoiler alert. [chuckle]

01:37 Julian Sanchez: At this rate, it really can’t stop at anything, I think we have to just sort of plow ahead and accept that there’s gonna be spoilers. It’s hard to talk about a show set 30 years later, without spoiling the comic it’s based on. And the show itself really, I think, kind of takes for granted that you are familiar with the source material. So he changes the nature of the giant squid at the end, and turns that into something else. So in a sense, this sticks with the giant squid. This is in most… I could not think of a way that it explicitly contradicts the source material.

02:17 Matthew Feeney: Yeah, I was very worried about this show when I heard that it was announced ’cause… I mean, well, like Julian, I’ve just been a fan of the book for years and years. But then I took comfort that nothing that came out in it would dent my love of the book and what it’s meant. But I was very pleasantly surprised with how faithful the creators were to the universe actually, and it didn’t feel forced or contrived. I think that not only… I suppose aesthetically, but they also maintained a lot of what I think makes the book great, which is a lot of the moral qualms, the interesting politics of it all, the quandaries that these characters find themselves in, and not making it traditional, like Natalie was saying, a traditional superhero show, which you could do if you were just told… If you just threw this book at someone in a studio and said, “Hey, read this and then make some kind of sequel to it,” you can imagine them botching it really badly. And I was pleasantly surprised with how they approached it.

03:18 Julian Sanchez: I will say, I found a little bit grating… There are a lot of call‐​backs to the comic. But there are also a lot of these little Easter eggs or nods for the folks who are big fans of the…

03:30 Natalie Dowzicky: Or literal eggs.

[laughter]

03:32 Matthew Feeney: Yeah.

03:32 Landry Ayres: Also literal eggs.

03:35 Julian Sanchez: But there are metaphorical eggs, some of which sort of make sense in context, that this element from the original story would reappear here, but some of them seemed so forced, it began to feel a little like sort of Scary Movie, where this doesn’t necessarily make sense, it’s just, “You remember this. Right?” “Oh yeah, I got that reference. That was fun.” In the original, Adrian Veidt at one point says, “Well, do you think I’m some kind of Republic serial villain?” So in this one, Adrian Veidt again sort of denies being a Republic serial villain, but in a context that doesn’t really make sense or fit. There’s a motel that’s called the Black Freighter, which is in the original comic, a kind of comic within the comic, that is this sort of bloody pirate tale of cannibalism and murder, and you kind of think, “Well, it doesn’t seem likely you would name a motel that.” It’s… I mean, it’s so peppered with these little kind of nods. And in some cases you sort of wonder, “Is this just a nod or am I supposed to infer something about the character from it?” There’s a scene in which Laurie Juspeczyk, Laurie Blake as she’s renamed in this show, taking apparently her father’s name, is sort of talking to Doctor Manhattan, her kind of godlike ex‐​boyfriend on Mars. And so, she just tells a joke and then punctuates it with a verbatim quote from Rorschach’s journal in the comic, just you know, “Curtain down, everybody laugh.” Something like that.

05:14 Julian Sanchez: And so you go, “Okay well, am I supposed to understand this as the writers talking to me as a fan of the comic, dropping a little reference, or am I supposed to understand this as the character herself making this sort of odd choice to quote Rorschach?”, who is not a character she had any particular affinity with in the comic. So it’s just one of these weird, “Is this a nod from the writer, or is this a choice I’m supposed to understand as the character having chosen to make this quote?” And I just remember being, I don’t know, unsure how to read that.

05:46 Natalie Dowzicky: I think part of it too, as HBO was creating this show, they wanted it to not only appeal to people who are a fan of the comic, but also to people who either had only seen… So I’ve only seen the movie per previous, and I’m not a fan as well. [chuckle] But it had to… They wanted the show to also appeal to a new crowd that maybe is not as familiar with the comic. So stuff like that, I didn’t pick up on until afterwards when I was reading the plethora of articles that are about this show, that are talking about the differences and similarities between the strip and the show. But I think they did a nice job of appealing the show to a 2019 crowd, in a way that also kind of creates a little nostalgia for those who are fans of the comic strip as well. So things like that you picked up on.

06:35 Matthew Feeney: Yeah, although to Julian’s point, there’s kind of neat little nostalgic reminders or Easter eggs, and then there’s this kind of repetitive… There was a moment in the last episode, where Adrian, who’s on Europa, he’s shot by the Game Warden and he catches the bullet, which is an obvious call‐​back to something from the comic. And that was… [chuckle] And I realize, well, they’re never going to end this. Literally every… They’re just trying to throw this in. And the struggle that I had with the show is trying to imagine what it would be like for people like Natalie who haven’t read the book, because I think you’re right to say that they wanted to make it appealing to… ‘Cause most people haven’t read it. But I didn’t find what Julian’s discussing too distracting. It was noticeable but I don’t think it detracted ultimately from the…

07:25 Julian Sanchez: Yeah, I should say this was… I think I occasionally thought, “Okay, you’re overdoing it.”

07:30 Natalie Dowzicky: You’re trying too hard. [chuckle]

07:31 Julian Sanchez: Over‐​salting the pudding a little here. But on the whole I loved it. I don’t know whether it will sort of hold up as well on repeat. I’ve read the comic many, many times and you keep finding these little things, and it just remains to be seen whether the same will be true of the show. But yeah, I… Despite my kvetches I enjoyed it a lot.

07:51 Matthew Feeney: Can you… Because you mentioned “for a 2019 audience”, what do you think that that means? Because some of the commentary that I’ve been reading, there are some people who seem upset about the emphasis on race violence, the emphasis on the supposed political commentary. I can’t say that I found any of that remotely distracting or annoying, I thought that actually fit really well. But is that what you had in mind when you said, “For 2019”?

08:15 Natalie Dowzicky: So yeah. So that was kind of what I was alluding to a little bit, because I had read a quote from Lindelof saying that he tried to find the equivalent of what had been the nuclear power struggle of the Soviet Union and the US, and tried to find the equivalent in 2019, and he was quoted as saying that was undeniably race and policing in America. Which I think does… It comes across in the show that obviously racism… And we can talk about this more, it plays a very large role as well as what it means to be Black in America, or what it means to be Black in a superhero comic, which is also another thing that Lindelof talks a lot about. But I think part of it is that for me watching, I didn’t think it was jarring, though I have seen some critics say that they took a superhero comic and essentially just made it about race, and that’s all that you got from it. I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

09:11 Matthew Feeney: Well, what I… So I’m asking this because in the show, there’s a bunch of White supremacists and they’ve taken Rorschach as the inspiration. Right?

09:21 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

09:21 Matthew Feeney: And they wear the mask, and they’re White…

09:22 Natalie Dowzicky: The Seventh Kavalry.

09:22 Matthew Feeney: The Seventh Kavalry, and they’re White supremacists. And certainly in the book, the character is on the right. Yeah?

09:29 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.

09:30 Matthew Feeney: And has had strong views about morality, and about people’s personal debaucheries, and what they get up to. I think some people might say it’s not clear that he would have endorsed whatever… The cult that he seemingly inspired, right? I mean, that…

09:45 Julian Sanchez: I will say, in retrospect, kind of like one of the things the show made me realize, is that race is a weird sort of lacuna in… So right, Rorschach is painted as this… Not like a decent conservative, but as a crazy right‐​winger, with these sort of borderline fascist views, who sort of… I mean he sort of dismisses the idea that another character, The Comedian was essentially an attempted rapist, this as well, like the moral lapses of patriotic Americans. I mean this is not an attractive character in a lot of ways. But that’s almost… This oddly missing thing is that you don’t get this sense that that is part of the constellation.

10:36 Matthew Feeney: Yeah. I think that’s right. Race doesn’t play nearly as big a role, of course, in the book. And of course, the end of the book. Right? The journal is sent to some… Not the equivalent of National Review or anything, I mean some really nut‐​case magazine. But what’s interesting about Rorschach, of course, at the end of the book, I think, is he’s only destroyed for making what I would argue was actually the correct moral choice, which is you should tell the truth about something that big and atrocious. I don’t wanna give too much away [chuckle] to people, but…

11:07 Natalie Dowzicky: Right. [chuckle]

11:08 Matthew Feeney: That is a… That’s actually a moment, so why he had the… Which causes his death, where he makes the right choice.

11:13 Julian Sanchez: Well, I would just say in terms of the shift, I think one of the interesting choices where I think… I assume is this is a deliberate choice is, there is a… So in the universe of the show, this is… I gotta set this up for folks who have not seen it yet. This is the present day but in this sort of alternate timeline where, at least in Oklahoma, where there’s this, again, this sort of White supremacist group that have taken on the mask of this dead vigilante, cops wear masks after this event called the White Night where a lot of cops were slain by this White supremacist group.

11:49 Julian Sanchez: And so, there’s this sort of weird, almost incongruous combination of restrictions, where they have to sort of call in and justify to have their guns released in the car, something you see in one of the early scenes, but also to protect them, they are allowed to wear masks. So one of the police officers is named Red Scare, who is this kind of… He is there almost as comic relief, but he’s got this sort of thick Russian accent, and is kind of aggressively communist, and I think it’s their sort of nod to the… The Cold War milieu of the original was sort of absolutely central to it. The kind of looming threat of great power and nuclear conflict, is the sort of essential context for that. And so, that character crops up in that first episode, I think is their way of saying, “Yeah, this is not that… We recognize that this is not that world anymore.” That this idea of this threat of mutual nuclear annihilation with the Soviets is no longer, you know, something as this insidious threat. You’ve got a guy on the police force who’s a communist Russian, and everyone just sort of thinks it’s funny.

[music]

13:00 Natalie Dowzicky: So going back to the larger racism question that the show presents, I think it was obviously intentional that we started in the 1921 Oklahoma massacre. Typically… And at least in history textbooks today, it’s not typically given that much light. It’s often ignored, and I think it was very poignant, at least from my perspective, also to get me to keep watching the show, that they started on an event like that. Why do you think they did that?

13:27 Matthew Feeney: I seem to remember reading somewhere that Lindelof read a Ta‐​Nehisi Coates article about the massacre and that was an inspiration for it. And I mean, it’s a good pick, ’cause it’s an event that I wish more people knew a little more about. And it also was the genesis of one of the most fascinating plot lines of the entire series, right? Which is a story about… Against Hooded Justice and, like, how he got started, and some of his motivations and qualms. And there were concerns, I think, from a lot of people early on that this was going to dominate the entire series. I just didn’t feel that way at all. Watching it, I thought that was done really well, never felt too over‐​the‐​head about it. And frankly, the more people who know about that incident, the better.

14:15 Julian Sanchez: I don’t know. I would think they’re setting up a kind of classic origin story for… You don’t recognize it in that first episode, that that’s what it is. But they are setting up the kind of hero‐​origin story of one of the characters. So that’s a kind of classic comic opening. This is the… And it is obviously the classic superhero archetype, right, is an orphan for a bunch of reasons. So you know Kal‐​El, Batman. In a different way, Peter Parker, Spider‐​Man. So what you have here is the kind of Kal‐​El rocketing to Earth, except it’s… Or the Bruce Wayne watching his parents killed. But here it is a young Black child sort of left orphaned by this, essentially, White race riot, and that as the kind of defining moment. So I think that’s just an echo of this sort of classic superhero trope, where… How is the… What is this sort of scarring moment that sets the hero on his path. And it’s not kind of a random individual crime, as it would be with Bruce Wayne, but structural crime in a sense, right? And so, I think that’s probably a deliberate kind of reflection, of the iconic kind of pearls in the alleyway of the Wayne murder.

15:43 Landry Ayres: Right, there’s a lot of… And this goes back to a lot of Lindelof’s other works, as he specifically writes about, like the effects of trauma on people, whether it’s Lost, or The Leftovers is a really, really big example. And I think he ties that into the superhero archetype really, really well. But in ways that a lot of people have picked up on, but aren’t necessarily mentioned in other superhero stories. Where there’s this sort of, you mentioned echoes, it sort of comes to the surface in this, not towards epigenetics, and the passing down of trauma through generations, whether that’s with Lady Trieu, and her mother, and reliving the memories in Vietnam. Or whether it’s Angela Abar’s taking of the nostalgia and reliving the memories of Will Reeves, and something like that. So I was just kind of wondering if there was anything that stood out to you about, the sort of discussion of trauma? Specifically, because with superheroes, it sort of… It sets them on their path, and sort of determines where they go further. And I think specifically when you start getting to Doctor Manhattan’s story towards the end of this series, the sort of what causes you, and spurs you to move forward, is this interesting sort of wrinkle in the sort of archetype. That it… Because it seems like it’s almost deterministic at times.

17:13 Matthew Feeney: So something that surprised me about the show that exposes, somewhat related is, that it’s revealed that Adrian is on Europa, at least initially, consensually. Right? He asks to be sent there, and Doctor Manhattan sends him off. And that’s in part because Adrian seems tortured in some way, and sort of to be struggling. And that’s certainly something… You don’t… It’s been a while since I’ve read the book, but he doesn’t come across as that kind of character, in the way that a lot of the other characters have. You know, real violence in their background, or a serious personal conflict. He’s on the surface, not a particularly… Not someone you would intuitively feel very sorry for. He’s very wealthy, he’s successful, he’s famous. And then, in the TV show, he asked to be exiled, which probably doesn’t go as he planned. But that… Your question reminded me of at least that one.

18:06 Julian Sanchez: So I think, one interesting example here is, look at Wade aka Looking Glass, who is set up as the show’s sort of equivalent to Rorschach. And the original… In one of the very first scenes in which you see… It was on the first scene you see Looking Glass, he’s got this sort of reflective shiny mask pulled up, in a way that we see Rorschach, initially. It’s interesting, I think, this sort of… The translation of the 2D comic into the television medium. You have Rorschach, who still has got a Rorschach blot that’s constantly shifting. So he’s got a face that’s sort of symmetrical across its plane. A shift through a Looking Glass, which creates a symmetry. Right? Sort of perpendicular to its plane. So symmetry, kind of reflected against the surface rather than along it. And we even see in one… Again, one of the first Looking Glass scenes, he’s in this sort of racist‐​detector booth that sort of looks like…

[laughter]

19:06 Julian Sanchez: Right? It’s kind of a hyper‐​Orwellian version of one of those implicit bias tests, that’s sort of supposed to detect whether you have a hostility toward particular racial groups. And it’s sort of projecting all these images, and then we sort of get this almost excessive sort of freeze of a Rorschach blot projected over his sort of reflective Lycra mask. But so in the fifth episode, and this is interesting, ’cause in the fifth issue of the comics, which I think is called Fearful Symmetry, it’s sort of very much centered on Rorschach. And that issue is itself sort of perfectly symmetrical. Right? So in every page… So the first and the last pages, those are perfect reflections of each other. And have the same thematic content and so on. Into the center which is this sort of big splash page.

19:54 Julian Sanchez: The fifth episode, which I think is called Little Fear of Lightning, is really centered on Wade in the same way the issue is centered on Rorschach. And sort of begins with, in a sense, his origin story. So essentially, he’s a kind of young religious missionary. He’s in Hoboken, I think, when this… [chuckle] This telepathic squid is teleported into New York and kills millions of people, but so you sort of follow him, where he’s kind of dragged into a fun‐​house full of mirrors, a hall of mirrors, by this girl who is… Ultimately intends to sort of play this prank on him, and take his clothing, and leave him sort of sexually humiliated, and it’s at this moment that the disaster happens, and essentially everyone around him, or very nearly, is killed as a result. He’s protected by the reflective surfaces that he’s inside of. And that episode has not a sort of symmetrical structure, but a kind of repeat or echo structure, where the second half sort of echoes the first half. And so, you see this sort of initial trauma, that has led Wade to be this sort of intensely paranoid person.

21:13 Natalie Dowzicky: He’s just like a doomsday collector basically. [chuckle]

21:16 Julian Sanchez: Yeah, I mean, he’s a serious prepper, he’s… Yeah.

21:18 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. [chuckle]

21:18 Julian Sanchez: He’s… Right. Clearly lives in kinda constant fear of a repeat of this disaster. And then, at the mid‐​point of the episode, essentially, something similar happens. There’s a woman he’s sexually interested in, but then sort of sees something amiss, thinks that… Hints that she may be associated with the Seventh Kavalry, follows her back to their headquarters and sort of discovers, “Oh, yet again, I’ve been kind of humiliated, and duped, and used.” But then, essentially has the truth about the disaster exposed. This was not actually an alien invasion, this was a plot by Adrian Veidt to unite the world and prevent nuclear war by creating this sort of fictional, external enemy. So it’s this interesting point where you get… You finally get the origin story and then, in a sense, you get a kind of resolution of the trauma, in the sense that this thing he’s been dreading, essentially his entire adult life, and this… In this sort of reflected moment, recognizes as a fiction.

22:31 Matthew Feeney: But he doesn’t… But the final few minutes of that episode are him chucking a lot of these… The emergency gear, right? Out into the trash. But then he comes back for it, right? So even knowing the truth is, he’s so… This is such an ingrained part of his…

22:46 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s still lingering.

22:47 Matthew Feeney: Yeah, and of course the ultimate irony of him, I guess wearing the Rorschach mask at the end, the final episode is nicely done.

22:55 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Landry, when you asked that question originally, the first thing I thought of when you’re talking about trauma or stuff that’s in your past, I thought it was very interesting, not only like the whole existence of the nostalgia pill that Lady Trieu had derived. But also that there’s a center, and they kind of paint it like a museum of sorts that you can go and look up your history of your family. So we see a scene where, Angela Abar is trying to figure out if Will Reeves is… How Will Reeves is related to her, if he’s a crazy wack‐​job who just claims to be her grandfather, etcetera. And they go to this museum, where you can look up your whole family history, and then also it comes up with the tree or like a hologram of one of your ancestors…

23:39 Landry Ayres: Yeah, it renders in three dimensions this physical tree to represent your genetic tree.

23:45 Natalie Dowzicky: Right, and I just thought it was interesting that in a sense, Angela Abar was going to seek out her trauma almost, and that obviously manifests when she takes Will Reeves’ nostalgia pills because then she lives through his whole life, which obviously gives her insight to what is going on in the larger picture, but that’s just kind of… I thought the existence of a museum or whatever, a bank like that type of memories was interesting in how it contributes to the trauma of… In her life.

24:16 Matthew Feeney: It’s not outside the realm of possibility that in 10 years, we might have the 23andMe…

[chuckle]

24:20 Matthew Feeney: Building where you could go and have some sort of thing erupting out of it.

24:24 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.

24:25 Matthew Feeney: I found that whole episode just so well done, of great…

24:28 Julian Sanchez: The Flash, the one where she relives…

24:29 Matthew Feeney: Yeah.

24:30 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, that one was my favorite episode.

24:30 Matthew Feeney: Where she relives… Unbelievable.

24:31 Julian Sanchez: Yeah.

24:32 Landry Ayres: Agreed.

24:34 Matthew Feeney: It was also very creepy, like there was this kind of, like just [24:37] ____ persistent sense of unease throughout the entire thing. But I would… It’s probably my favorite episode. I don’t know, I…

24:45 Julian Sanchez: It was incidentally written by Cord Jefferson… Or co‐​written, at least, by Cord Jefferson who I used to… He was a journalist in DC, maybe 10 years ago.

24:54 Landry Ayres: Oh, wow.

24:55 Julian Sanchez: So I was sort of surprised to see that name pop up and go, “Oh God, Cord, is he… He’s writing for TV now, I guess.”

25:00 Matthew Feeney: Doing a good job at it.

25:01 Julian Sanchez: Yeah.

[laughter]

25:03 Matthew Feeney: Yeah.

25:03 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, that was definitely one of my favorite episodes, and I also… And after I watched all of them, it still stuck out to me more as like not like fill… There wasn’t any filler content there, it was all like… It all kept me excited. So the next question I was just thinking of, while we were talking about this, what do you think is the larger narrative about trust in the law throughout the Watchmen series? Specifically through the TV show, not necessarily the comic, because there’s a lot of conflicting messages going on, at least, I think in that it was a little bit more hazy. So what do you guys think? Any references to trust in the law? I know obviously, there’s a lot of vigilantes, so…

25:48 Matthew Feeney: I would say, I don’t know if you guys would agree, but to me, Watchmen… I think the book and the show is actually about how institutions, political and non, both can let you down.

26:00 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. [laughter]

26:00 Matthew Feeney: And that you can’t… So there’s the government, right? And it runs the police, and it’s these politicians, and they screw up the world, and there’s police brutality, and that’s certainly a part of the series, but it’s also that families can let you down, religious institutions. It’s not just… I don’t come away from Watchmen with an explicit, like, libertarian message, necessarily. I mean, there’s certainly… You can try to look at it all or read it through that lens, and that’s one way to do it, but I think Alan Moore, especially in… Is a skeptic of authority figures, political and non, and I think that comes through in the series quite well. So it’s not just a political authority problem in the series.

26:50 Julian Sanchez: I think that… Something that’s true of the original comic, which is that it works sort of blowing up your expectations about sort of who the heroes and the villains might be. So you sort of… You… You have a kind of… One of the heroes turns out to be the villain. But is he the villain? Because at least arguably, he’s maybe saved the world at the end, by doing this incredibly horrible thing, which maybe breaks down your sort of idea that it’s actually sort of neatly sortable. The world is sort of neatly categorizable that way. So the very first episode of the show starts with… This is something Moore did also, ran a kind of film within the film. It’s a film reel of an old western and there’s someone who is coded as the hero, a guy dressed in all white, with a white hat, on a white horse being chased by a hooded guy, all in black, on a black horse. So this is coded as, villain chasing the hero. That person is sort of lassoed and then as he’s on the ground, there’s a church nearby and the parishioners kind of pour out and go, “What’s going on? That’s the sheriff.” And then, the guy in black pulls off his hood, and it’s a Black US Marshal who has actually exposed the sheriff as himself, you know, a crook.

28:12 Julian Sanchez: And somewhat unrealistically, the White townspeople are all delighted and immediately accept this. Cut immediately right to the very next scene, is a White guy, this guy turns out to… We don’t know this at the time, but he turns out to be a member of the Seventh Kavalry, who is sort of ironically listening to hip hop, and seems to be very into it. So he gets pulled over by a masked, Black police officer, and that initial interaction very much has the masked officer as this sort of dominant, intimidating figure, and the White driver as kind of cowed and as potentially, maybe fearing abuse of some kind, or mistreatment. And then, it sort of flips in it trying… He ends up murdering the police officer in the mask. And that is a sort of theme that repeats. By the end of the episode, you have another sheriff killed, you think this is one of the good guys, and later events… By I think the second or third episode, you’re sort of starting to question that. So there’s a lot of points in the show where what they’re doing is sort of trying to keep you off balance, in terms of…

29:28 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. They’re trying to catch you.

29:29 Julian Sanchez: Yeah. Being super certain about who is admirable, or heroic, or who might be sort of frightening. There’s even a moment where, around the mid‐​point, where they… And they can’t… So the problem is they can’t really create this much ambiguity with a group that is just overtly a White supremacist group. No one, no viewer… Well, very few viewers are gonna look at that and think, “Well, there’s some ambiguity about whether they’re sympathetic or not.” But there is a point where there’s a suggestion that at least some of them may not… That that may not be the motive of all of them. That in fact, some of them are trying to expose this sort of fiction that’s been perpetrated over the world, that’s sort of been kept in fear by this fiction of an alien attack 30 years ago. And they wanna sort of bring this to light, or at least that’s implied that that may be the case. So yeah, there’s a lot of that kind of rug‐​pull happening, so I think part of it is… As with the comic, maybe, an attempt to kind of juggle out of feeling certain that they have identified heroes and villains.

30:45 Landry Ayres: And I think that really, it sort of comes about, and I think… I don’t know if it was an intentional nod, but I… A lot of people have sort of been bringing up this interview that Alan Moore did in like 2017 with some Brazilian media outlet, where he basically identified and stated pretty much outright that he sees very much this state of superhero media, especially in the context of the Avengers universe and all of that going on, becoming so big in the last handful of years, that it’s still… That type of media right now still very much represents White supremacist dreams of a master race. And in doing so, he sort of sees like, you could really imagine the first superhero movie, as he stated, DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. And that’s sort of his very Alan Moore outlook on what superheroes represent, in this cultural context. And I was curious what you guys thought of that, in particular, ’cause it’s a very bold statement.

31:47 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I think they’re also making a bold statement in the show that you have a largely African‐​American cast. Mind you, I thought they did awesome, and I think that is why they had so many “rug‐​pull” moments as you said, just the cast that they pulled together allowed us to have those unexpected moments where, like, the… How many superheroes are you used… Most or all superheroes I’m used to seeing are typically White males, and that just wasn’t the story that was told here. I mean, even if you look at Doctor Manhattan, he’s a blue… [chuckle] He’s a blue guy, or blue god, so to speak. So I think that definitely lended itself, but I don’t think Lindelof was thinking about Alan Moore’s quote when he was casting this, perhaps. But I mean it’s essential.

32:35 Matthew Feeney: Always hesitant to correct Alan Moore in anything to do with comics.

[laughter]

32:41 Matthew Feeney: And looking at his own work, I don’t know if he’s right about this. Look…

32:50 Julian Sanchez: Yeah, I know, I mean, I think it depends… If you look at the ‘40s for example, you can… If you look for sort of comics around World War II, a lot of that stuff is indeed incredibly racist, just on its face. I think… But White supremacist, I don’t know, I think there’s a slightly different thing going on in comics, which is, there’s a kind of inherent… You might even say an inherent neo‐​conservatism to them, or there is an inherent fascism of a kind to the… And I say this as a long‐​time fan of superhero comics, but sort of intrinsic to the idea of the… At least when it’s not a limited series, like Watchmen. When it’s something that’s gotta run for indefinitely and you gotta sort of not break the toys, and hand them off to another writer. The inherent idea has to be that a small number of very special people with incredible power, are…

33:48 Julian Sanchez: That is unaccountable, right? They usually are hidden. They’re not accountable to the public in any way. They’re not… No one elected them. No one is… They’re not subject to a civil suit if they violate someone’s civil rights. But these sort of special, incredibly powerful, unaccountable individuals are sort of necessary to keep everyone safe. That ultimately, the kind of ordinary mechanisms of peace‐​keeping are not enough in the face of extraordinary threats. You need these incredibly powerful people. And sometimes you have a problem, which is the bad people get too much power, that’s super villains. But ultimately, the solution to that is, good people with moral clarity having as much or more power, and you can trust those people. Well again, in the mainstream series, not in little critique books that sort of spin off, will use that power. So Batman will rough people up, and never get a search warrant. But he will ultimately never kill an innocent person, or very… It will be a one‐​off kind of thing. Superman will not, unless it’s a Zack Snyder movie, he’s not gonna kill innocent people.

[laughter]

35:00 Julian Sanchez: All of this devastation, these battles really did not… He never kind of goes crazy, or goes over the line. And so, there’s a… Just because the story needs to continue, and you can’t ultimately have Superman decide that he’s a god, and start wringing people’s necks, the inherent message has to be that at similar… As long as you find the right good people, incredible, unaccountable power is this sort of boon. So there is, I think, an inherent fascism to the superhero genre. Just sort of that… Often unintentional, the people writing these things are often liberal. But the kind of conventions of the genre, almost necessitate this idea that I do think has sort of fascist elements in a sense.

35:51 Matthew Feeney: Your comment reminded me that, in the Nostalgia episode, there actually is a moment where Hooded Justice is revealed in a comic, and it’s him beating up a Black guy. If I recall, there’s like… Just like Julian was… Of the time, that’s an explicitly racist [chuckle] photo, sorry, poster. I should say poster, that I guess, might be a hint to them trying to context where they’re coming from. But you’re right, Julian, I think, that the problem that a lot of comics have I think is, there’s a big problem and what’s the solution to it? Well, a powerful person, who has unique abilities and skill sets and they can solve it. So yeah, it is potentially problematic. I don’t know if… I mean, Alan Moore never exactly pulls his punches in these interviews. And he seems to like to stir… I think, at least in the context, if he was to… I didn’t read the interview, and so I don’t know that the broader context of it. But if he was talking explicitly about the Marvel Universe, was that… That seems like a…

36:50 Landry Ayres: It wasn’t that he was explicitly… I think that was an example that got brought up. But he was mostly speaking about that sort of… That movement, and that type of movie that was going on in recent years.

37:00 Natalie Dowzicky: What he referred to as like mainstream superheroes.

37:02 Landry Ayres: Right. And specifically, sort of outlined, he saw them as… Particularly superheroes, and those types of movies fulfill a certain purpose for younger viewers. But the recent movement of what he sees as adults sort of failing to engage with real world problems in a practical and adult way. He is what he sees these films as, as just like, not even just pure escapism, but a failure to negotiate with real world problems, practically.

[music]

37:41 Matthew Feeney: There’s a weird… Speaking of Julian’s comment on neo‐​conservatism, so something that the… Part of the alternate history I read is that Doctor Manhattan ends the war in Vietnam because Nixon sends him over and he… And they quickly surrender after being zapped and bombed. And then, in the rest of the series, you’re left with this question, with this omniscient being, that there’s still a lot of bad stuff that happens in the world, right? And he was totally willing to sort of say, “Yes sir,” to Mr. Nixon, and he went over to Vietnam, and ended the… Killing tons of people, and yet seems very absent from all the other horrors that are still going on in the world. The war in Vietnam’s over, but there’s still plenty of bad things happening. And something I thought was interesting about the show is that, they decided, I think not to resolve a lot of the moral ambiguities people are left with, with Doctor Manhattan. They don’t make a definitive answer, one way or the other, about why he makes some of the decisions. And that was something I was sort of afraid of going into it, that they were going to make Doctor Manhattan into a particular kind of hero. And I think, they remained pretty loyal to the original source material there.

38:47 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, kind of the impression that I got was that, almost that Doctor Manhattan let us down. He didn’t do enough, so to speak. So one of the, I think it was in the last episode, if not the episode before, they were talking about, I believe it was Adrian. And yeah, it was the last episode, Adrian’s talking, and he is… They’re talking about Doctor Manhattan, and he had just died, spoiler alert. [chuckle] And they were saying, “Oh, he didn’t do enough, considering his powers, he could have solved X, Y and Z.” And that kind of left me with the impression that he… Not that he was lazy, but that he either chose not to use his powers maybe, ’cause he was fearful of the abuse of them. Or that he thought, maybe… I don’t know, ’cause like you just alluded to, there are so many other things that supposedly happened in this time period that he just wasn’t engaged with.

39:45 Matthew Feeney: So it doesn’t have to be wars necessarily, but then… It’s good thing we have the book here, ’cause I might wanna flip. But there’s a scene in the book, where Doctor Manhattan is in Vietnam with The Comedian, and a pregnant Vietnamese lady walks in. And it’s revealed that The Comedian has impregnated this young woman. And he doesn’t care about her, or his unborn child. And he murders her in this bar, in Vietnam. And Doctor Manhattan’s right there, and The Comedian, I forget the… But it says that, “You could have turned the bullets into dust,” something to that effect. And it’s a very jarring part of the book, and… But it’s also something that’s never quite, at least to me, isn’t resolved in a satisfying way that Doctor Manhattan can stand in a bar while someone murders an innocent person and yet be morally certain in other contexts, so.

40:36 Julian Sanchez: The out they have is they establish at one point that… So Doctor Manhattan in the comic is this very strange, and in the show, this strange perception of time. He’s sort of a determinist. He perceives all moments of his time stream simultaneously almost as though reviewing them on a comics page. And so, there’s a piece of dialogue in the comic where it says, “So you knew Kennedy was gonna be killed but you didn’t do anything. Why didn’t you do anything?” He says, “Well, because I don’t do anything. Because I knew that in my future I don’t stop it because that’s the future I knew and I can’t. Essentially I’m a puppet too. I just see the strings.” He is in a sense a “Watchman” in the sense of being a clockwork being who is just aware of living in a deterministic universe. So that’s sort of their out for him. In this case, you have him literally well aware that he is gonna be captured and disintegrated and, but allowing it to happen because that’s what he knows occurs.

41:45 Matthew Feeney: It’s something you see with a lot of omniscient beings. So when people talk about God, there’s… Well, when good thing happens is because well, God’s great and loves us but when bad things happen is because God’s mysterious and they actually, they have a bird’s-eye view of all this and that never seems to quite work with Doctor Manhattan because he’s not an all… Sorry, go ahead.

42:08 Julian Sanchez: Actually one of the things that I thought was interesting about the comic is that he… Moore did say, “It all seems implausible that in comics you have these incredible beings and these Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four of [42:20] ____ super science and yet the rest of the world looks pretty much the same as the world that the reader is living in, it doesn’t really seem like all of these incredible… Your intellect and beings have altered things much. And deliberately in the comics, no, a lot of things did change because Doctor Manhattan has electric cars because he’s able to synthesize batteries for electric cars long before this is feasible in our world. And indeed at the very beginning of the pilot of the show, you see this trucker driving some lettuce but has a battery gauge in the truck, so this is like an old pickup but it is clearly electric powered.

43:06 Julian Sanchez: But one of the interesting things that comes out of that and the cop out, “Why doesn’t Superman solve all of these problems,” in comics is very often. Well, he’s gotta let us make our own way because we’ve become dependent on him and that always seems… But surely, there’s still stuff you could fix. But, and this is very subtle but in the show there’s this weird disconnect in the level of technology. So you see in some places, oh they’ve got these holograms but on the other hand everyone’s still using pagers. No one seems to have cell phones… There’s a bunch of ways in… You never see a smartphone. There are a bunch of ways in which technology is more advanced, presumably because of people like Adrian Veidt and Doctor Manhattan. But there are other ways in which it seems stuck in a kind of early ‘90s level. I think maybe the implication is supposed to be when Doctor Manhattan left, technology, it becomes so dependent on him being able to magic stuff into existence that a lot of developments that in our world we take for granted haven’t happened.

44:21 Landry Ayres: I think one thing that you were getting at previously, you were talking about understanding his powers as a god and Angela points this out in the second to last episode. She directly asks him, “So is this like a Zeus thing where you come down?” And so, you have to remember that he is not God, capital G, all powerful creator in this way, but he might be this sort of mythological Zeus like figure who has the powers of a deity but comes down and is viewed and told stories about in an imperfect way.

44:54 Julian Sanchez: I thought a great little bit of business in that episode is, so eventually, Doctor Manhattan takes the form of Cal Abar who is Angela’s husband. Before that he’s Jon Osterman. They never show his face as Osterman. You see him from behind and then you see he’s actually put on a Doctor Manhattan mask to go in and talk to her. So all these scenes where you essentially never see the original Doctor Manhattan face which I thought was a nod to the convention and old passion plays and then early films in which Jesus Christ is depicted where they thought it was sacrilegious to have a ordinary actor depict Jesus. So it was always, you always shot it in a way where the face wasn’t shown or there was a mask because it would be blasphemous to have a human acting as a God.

45:43 Matthew Feeney: I think the Ancient Greeks had similar protocols for wearing masks during plays. Well, and so, the Zeus thing I think is slightly a better analogy than more sort of monotheistic God because… And so that was an interesting pick‐​up because the ancient Roman and Greek gods had tons of human fallibilities and they got jealous and they got greedy. And, something that’s in the book that’s really fascinating I think is that Doctor Manhattan is persuadable in that Silk Spectre gets sent to Mars where he’s saying, “Look, the number of particles in a living body and a dead body are the same. Why do I care about any of this?” And she actually does manage to persuade him to care about humanity which is good because you have this character that is incredibly powerful and can teleport and be at all places and despite all that power, you could still persuade him through a good conversation. And so it’s not like a vindictive God that’s just made up their mind and it’s just acting, which makes him one of more fascinating characters.

46:51 Matthew Feeney: But I agree with you, I was surprised that we never saw the original face and I think a lot of people found the aesthetic of the appearance… ‘Cause I got, “Okay, he’s disguised himself as this person on earth.” But then there’s that physical form but blue. He doesn’t go back to the Osterman look but I think it worked. It was an interesting choice there. Yeah.

[music]

47:14 Natalie Dowzicky: So, I kind of wanted, we alluded to this earlier, but I kinda wanted to get to the egg reference. So, [laughter] which… So I was reading a lot this morning, we’re recording the day after the finale aired, so this will come out in the new year, but I was reading this morning that Lindelof wanted the egg reference to be like the smiley face of the comics. So, we get our first egg reference in I believe the first episode.

47:39 Landry Ayres: And we see eggs used to make a smiley face.

47:42 Natalie Dowzicky: Right. [chuckle] Right. [chuckle] And then and it was like a little less literal kind of just playing at it, like Will Reeves was eating a hard‐​boiled egg. But then towards the end of this season, we got a few more big hints. Obviously, they used the chicken and the egg reference, which everyone has heard a bunch of times at this point. And then we have the scene where Angela is confronting her husband who she knows is Doctor Manhattan and they’re getting in this fight. And she’s telling him about how the Kavalry knows his existence, and there are eggs coming out of the fridge, and then they just drop. And we see them all splat the floor. But then we fast forward to the last scene of the show of the season, and Angela is going to like… She’s like… We get the relief from the big climax of the last show. And she’s gathering her kids, bringing them back home, cleaning up the house. And she goes to clean up the eggs and finds that there’s one egg left. So I was kind of wondering how do you guys think that metaphor or that symbol played for the show?

48:49 Landry Ayres: A very, very light hand. Just not heavy‐​handed at all I thought towards the end there. I was like, “Oh, you’re just going right for it. Okay.”

[laughter]

48:57 Matthew Feeney: Well, the part of the show where, the penultimate episode, where there’s Doctor Manhattan you know standing on the pool and, as Julian was saying, he’s observing all time at once. So he’s simultaneously having the conversation with Angela’s grandfather and the conversation with her…

49:15 Natalie Dowzicky: When they first met, right?

49:16 Matthew Feeney: When Doctor Manhattan and Reed meet for the first time, he’s simultaneously having the conver… Well, he’s having all these at once. Anyways, but he’s…

[laughter]

49:25 Natalie Dowzicky: It was confusing. [laughter]

49:26 Matthew Feeney: So, to Angela’s perspective, like for Angela, she’s talking to Doctor Manhattan while he’s also talking to her grandfather meeting and…

49:33 Natalie Dowzicky: Twenty years earlier.

49:34 Matthew Feeney: Twenty years earlier. And there’s the resolution of the paradox. Doctor Manhattan says, “The resolution is they will happen at once.” Like what came first the chicken or the egg? And he says, “It happens all at once,” which I don’t know. It’s been a year since I studied logic, I don’t know if that quite passes, but…

[laughter]

49:53 Matthew Feeney: But I thought it was well done. Like other things, I think a lot of people could… I think re‐​watching it, I might come to the conclusion it was overdone and a little on the head. But watching it for the first time, and going through it, I thought it was fine.

50:05 Landry Ayres: I agree. Talking about it out loud, I say it was heavy‐​handed. In the moment, I did take my glasses off and almost threw them up the air and I was like, “They got me. They did.”

[laughter]

50:15 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I think, and too without giving too much away at the end when she had the whole egg again, I was like, “Oh darn, I missed that from earlier.” I was like, [chuckle] “I should’ve seen that and I should have been better.”

[music]

50:28 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright, was there any other things that people wanted to hit on or…

50:31 Matthew Feeney: Man, I could talk about Watchmen all day, I don’t know.

50:34 Landry Ayres: What happened to Grease Boy or whatever? The guy who greased himself up and slid into the sewer.

50:39 Matthew Feeney: Oh, down the drain?

50:40 Landry Ayres: What happened to that?

50:41 Julian Sanchez: So, the website for the show strongly intimates that it is the, it’s Laurie Blake’s assistant. The kind of nebbishy FBI agent who is a very interesting superhero.

50:53 Landry Ayres: That was my theory when I saw him, he has a similar build. I just was like, it seemed like they’re gonna drop him in for one scene like that and then just…

51:01 Julian Sanchez: It is weird, because he it just never paid off internal to the show. It’s just what is going on here? And that’s just sort of left hanging. But there’s actually, ’cause we were saying a lot of interesting things are kind of intimated and then left hanging. The set‐​up here suggests the second season is certainly possible. So, maybe these are things that come back. But so Laurie Blake, so in the show, she’s Laurie Juspeczyk, or in the comic rather. And it’s obviously her birth name here too. At the end of the comic, she is with Dan Dreiberg, Nite Owl. And they have taken the name Sam and Sandra Hollis, and are kind of retiring incognito. So, this starts, one, she’s taken the name of her father, Edward Blake, The Comedian, which is a little surprising. He’s not someone she seemed to have any particular affection for in the comics, certainly not someone you would expect her to take the name of. It’s intimated that in one scene, that Dan Dreiberg is in jail or in prison. The Senator Joe Keen Jr makes an allusion to maybe being able to free her caged owl or something like that.

52:23 Julian Sanchez: So, there’s just a lot of little stuff that seems, “Oh, yeah, where is Dreiberg? Where is Nite Owl?” A lot of little things are kind of nodded at here, but not particularly resolved both pointing back to what happens between the comics and here, and of course things like Lube Boy.

[laughter]

52:42 Julian Sanchez: So, a lot is sort of left to play with and puzzle over.

52:47 Matthew Feeney: I forgot about him. This was sort of towards the end, but I then figured when you realize that…

[overlapping conversation]

52:53 Landry Ayres: That he had slipped your mind?

52:56 Matthew Feeney: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[laughter]

52:56 Landry Ayres: Sorry.

52:57 Natalie Dowzicky: There it is.

[laughter]

52:57 Matthew Feeney: Well, when you consider they had to write it, they had to corner off a whole section for a street, and get the lighting, and the crew, and then the costume, and they had to do fittings and other little adjusts for this…

53:05 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s HBO.

53:05 Matthew Feeney: Yeah, for this like 30‐​second clip.

53:07 Landry Ayres: Throw money at it.

53:08 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, money just going.

53:08 Matthew Feeney: Must have done it for something.

53:10 Landry Ayres: And what about Cal and Angela’s son, the adopted son that apparently has powers also?

53:17 Matthew Feeney: Yeah, so there’s a scene in the first episode where he’s playing with some elevated toy. And I, maybe I just had a long day or something, I just thought that in the future they made cool toys.

[laughter]

53:28 Matthew Feeney: And then they were just a nice, cool magnetic neat little play on Lego, I don’t know.

53:34 Natalie Dowzicky: Could be.

53:35 Matthew Feeney: But you’re right, now that we know how the whole thing ends, maybe there is more to it than that, but I just thought it was a cool toy. I don’t know.

53:41 Landry Ayres: Right, and especially ’cause you start it with he and Angela and in the very, very… Their relationship at the beginning is sort of what starts the whole thing. He’s watching her give the sort of bring your parent to work day speech in class. He obviously has very strong feelings about race in particular. He sort of tries to defend his mom in front of this kid that asks if she had received money for her bakery via Refordations. So I thought their relationship was really, really interesting. And I just, I wanted some more of that. So, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want them to touch it for season two, because I don’t want it to ruin it. But I am curious about some things.

54:24 Natalie Dowzicky: I honestly I kind of hope they, as much as I love the show, I hope they don’t do a season two. And I know they very much left it open. We won’t say exactly what happened at the end, but they very much left it open, and obviously it’s gotten a lot of positive feedback. Well, it’s got a lot of positive feedback and people enjoyed the show, and they thought he, Lindelof, did an exceptionally well good job, just especially with the topics that he chose to cover as well. But I just feel like they’re… I don’t know, I’m one of those people that always think a show gets ruined when it goes to a next season. And I just kind of… I could see there are so many avenues that this show could get ruined.

55:03 Matthew Feeney: A lot of, well, I don’t wanna name names or so, but a lot of shows I think suffer from they’ve been going a while and then there are so many loose ends, they feel the need to put everything into a bow by the end.

55:15 Natalie Dowzicky: Game of Thrones.

55:15 Matthew Feeney: Thank you. Yeah.

55:17 Landry Ayres: I was gonna say, “Name them.”

[laughter]

55:18 Matthew Feeney: Right. So, but there are and…

55:18 Natalie Dowzicky: Call them out.

55:18 Matthew Feeney: There’s nothing wrong with… A good story doesn’t have to answer every question a reader or a viewer might have. And I think Watchmen season one is a good example of something that would be really fine left alone. If you wanna do season two, you totally could. But I’m satisfied with it as a cohesive one season of good television.

[music]

55:43 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. If for some reason you enjoyed the Snyder film version of Watchmen more than Lindelof’s spin on the world, be sure to let us know on Twitter. You can follow us @PopNLockePod. That’s Pop, the letter “N”, Locke with an “e”, Pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. We look forward to unraveling your favorite show or movie next time. Pop & Locke is produced by Tess Terrible and me, Landry Ayres, as a project of Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. To learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.