Watchmen: Season 1 – Episode 4 ‘If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own’ REVIEW

And if you do like their story, why not use the most memorable bits as the genesis of an adaptation thirty years later?

watchmen if you don't like my story write your own regina king

‘If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own’ comes out of the gate swinging. When you introduce a new character by having them echo the climactic 11th-hour shock moment of the original comics, it will draw my curiosity. But when that character also puts their finger on the central knot that starts tying all the themes together, then you will have my attention.

Yes, it’s been family all the way down, and you can blame that on me as a reviewer for not connecting the dots sooner. Why do superheroes have secret identities? To protect their loved ones. The original Minutemen group might have been a crew of half-deranged loners, but even they had a familial vibe, albeit a lot more dysfunctional than, say, the Superfriends, or even Batman’s habit of kidnapping orphans and training them as child soldiers. And the title itself – well, there’s any number of meta-interpretations you could make, but when they’ve chosen to go hard on the family angle, it can only mean that children need not necessarily follow in their parents’ footsteps.

The crowning glory for dysfunctional families has to be our old pal Ozymandias. Admittedly, we haven’t had a good look inside the group dynamics of the Seventh Cavalry yet (imagine breakfast at their house), but you may have noticed that Ozy’s a single person rather than a family, and that’s no coincidence. His metaphorical children, the beings he’s created, are universally ones he treats as throwaway. The poor old squids are one example of this – as for the others we see in ‘If You Don’t…’, shudder to think, but remember that the first squid was a gruesomely practical representation of his utilitarian worldview, that the deaths of millions were an acceptable means to an end.

The ultimate irony of killing millions to ensure that the Cold War didn’t go hot is that when that plotline was written, in the 1980s, there was genuine moral ambiguity to it. Can even an atrocity like that be justified if it’s to prevent a greater crime? It’s a thinker, isn’t it? Except that now, thirty years on, with the Berlin Wall down and Russia more-or-less happy to rub along with the rest of us, no it’s not. We know that we were able to avoid a nuclear holocaust even without resorting to a mocked-up alien attack. Killing millions in service of a cause can be evil to a greater or lesser degree, but killing millions for nothing really is moving into what a man who knew a thing or two about the subject once called ‘cartoonish supervillainy’.

So much for Ozy and his poor doomed adoptive children. But what about Angela’s? Despite having lost their birth parents in one night of terror, they seem remarkably well-adjusted, even the conspicuously angry older boy. Although I may have to eat those words, since we’ve already seen him building a replica of Penrhyn Castle – this is of course the locale we’ve seen Ozymandias knocking about in, but there was also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene of Dr. Manhattan, up on Mars, building his own replica of it. This is unlikely to be a coincidence, and neither man would be the healthiest influence on an eight-year-old.

You might say it’s unfair to assume any child who’s suffered that kind of bereavement would be ill-adjusted, and you’d be right. I only make this suggestion in the light of ‘If You Don’t…’ having Angela and Blake share a fairly pointed conversation about it being trauma of some sort – like losing one’s parents, for instance – that’s usually what inspires someone to dress up in a silly costume and fight crime. Obviously I must point, once again, to Batman’s example.

Blake, of course, has her own traumatic family history, which the comics covered in detail and which her flunky dutifully recounts, there’s no need to go back over it all here – or is there? His version covers what is, in the world of Watchmen, public knowledge thanks to a tell-all biography: that back in the Minutemen’s salad days, The Comedian sexually assaulted Silk Spectre. But what he leaves out, or doesn’t even know about, is their later, consensual encounter, which was the one that actually led to Blake’s conception.

And on this note we return to the evil and charismatic (come on, she is, it’s obvious) Lady Trieu – ‘If You Don’t…’s Ozymandias-inspired newcomer. She’s introduced arguing, quite fiercely, that the only kind of legacy that really matters is blood relatives. On the face of it, it seems like an unpleasant, Seventh Cavalary-style etho-nationalistic sentiment. But tangling the whole issue up further is that she’s clearly lying.

The most direct evidence of this is that there’s clearly some story behind the young woman she introduces as her daughter. Probably not a nice one. But what really gives the lie to it is everything else in the episode in which it takes place. It’s consistently people’s blood relatives who are the source of all the trouble – the source of Blake’s deep-seated family trauma, and the cause of pretty much all of Angela’s current problems other than the Seventh Cavalry. And who knows, maybe there’s even some very convoluted reason for that.

Trieu’s introduction in the cold open of ‘If You Don’t…’ is heavy on the eggs, the most unsubtle symbol of fertility other than an actual picture of a woman giving birth, but it also features some similarly unsubtle Superman references – Superman, of course, being a Moses-style adoptee. And it’s exactly the Superman origin story which it’s a perversion of, with Thieu’s presence being the wildcard that changes everything. If nothing else, to see Watchmen branch out from simply remixing the comic series on which it’s based, and have the confidence to put their own spin on bits of the wider comic-book canon, is very encouraging.

So call this subjective if you want to, but this sees Watchmen moving decisively away from the ersatz police procedural it’s been so far. There’s still elements of that in play, but the cop show it’s turning out most like is Dexter – and the superior early years of Dexter at that – with the constant dramatic irony of the protagonist being on their own trail, investigating themselves, having to clean up after themselves before they turn up to kick their own door down.

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watchmen if you don't like my story write your own regina king
Watchmen spins a deeper look into its own characters out of a winking parody of the Superman mythos. More like this, please.