HBO’s Watchmen is the best TV show of 2019. And it’s not close.
A smart and poignant superhero story for the modern era, it’s probably the best comic-book adaptation that’s ever been made. And that’s because, technically, it’s not an adaptation at all. It’s more like a sequel or a remix, a story which embraces the universe of the original Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s 12-issue comic and builds on its legacy in new, interesting and extremely necessary ways.
Watchmen is narratively fascinating and technically brilliant, telling a story that is both satisfying in its own right and one which confronts several of the most problematic and frustrating elements of the original comic run. Moore’s graphic novel was a groundbreaking story, to be sure, and it absolutely reinvented the way we think about what superhero stories could both be and do. But it also virtually ignored the existence of people of color and denied its women real agency, leaving them stuck serving as little more than emotional accessories to drive story for the male heroes.
The television extension of this universe does neither of those things. Instead, it very deliberately centers issues of race and gender from its very first frames by telling its story through the experience of two complex female characters—one a woman of color and the other a key part of original comic’s canvas. Through these women, Watchmen has directly and provocatively confronted issues of race and generational trauma in American history, explored the toxicity of cultural memory and deconstructed its own position in the world of pop culture.
It’s difficult to overstate how rich and rewarding this entire nine-week viewing experience has been. Satisfying, thoughtful television for both casual viewers and hardcore comics fans, Watchmen is the virtual definition of lightning in a bottle.
Which is precisely why we shouldn’t try to replicate it.
Watchmen has been an unexpected gift to all of us that love TV. (Most people thought there was no way this show could ever work.) Let it remain nine hours that is, as a complete package, satisfying, beautiful and fully self-contained.
In short: We should all just say no to Watchmen Season 2.
No matter how much we might want to wish it otherwise, it’s painfully obvious that Watchmen was always conceptualized and structured as a limited series, with a specific story to tell over a specific number of episodes. It accomplished that goal beautifully, and it’s deeply unclear what a second season could add to the story we’ve already seen.
In just nine episodes, we watched a god fall in love and spend a decade as a human with no memory, merely to feel something real. We learned that original vigilante, Hooded Justice, wasn’t as white as the world had always assumed, but a black man seeking to counter a broken system with the very symbols of his own oppression. We saw the former Laurie Juspeczyk step out of the shadows of other men’s stories to become a true leader in her own right. And we met Angela Abar, a hero just as complicated and compelling as any of Moore’s original creations, whose very existence as a black female vigilante from rural America flies in the face of every standard trope of the superhero genre.
These are stunning, important stories. How could any sort of prospective Season 2 top them? Or even try to do so in a way that doesn’t trivialize what came before?
And let’s be real: Brining the show back vastly up the odds that that any sort of Season 2 will somehow tarnish the greatness of what these initial installments have managed to do. We all saw True Detective’s second outing. We know what the worst-case scenario here looks like. It’s not pretty.
After all, the final episode of Watchmen doesn’t end on any massive cliffhangers, and for the most part its story feels complete. Sure, there are some outstanding questions. Did Angela ingest some amount of Doctor Manhattan’s powers? Will Adrian Veidt really face justice for the 1985 squid attack that killed millions and left humanity living in fear? Has Laurie found some measure of peace, now that she’s atoned for her past in Tulsa? What about Lady Trieu’s daughter, Bian? And who in the world was “Lube Man”?
These are all things that would be nice to know, and which would likely make for interesting onscreen stories. But they’re also not things that are particularly necessary for audiences to see. In fact, there’s actually something to be said for not knowing. For Angela to hover, forever, millimeters from knowing whether or not she’s a god or a woman. For Veidt’s trial to go unseen. To let us, as viewers, fill in the answers that make the most satisfying ends for us. (In my world, Laurie’s experiences in Tulsa give her the closure she’s been seeking for years, and she and one or both of her owls buy a farm in the country somewhere to retire and write their memoirs. Just saying.)
It’s possible, of course, that the story of Watchmen could continue in a slightly different form. It could live on in some other corner of this universe, in a different town with a different set of characters. But after this season, could we accept a version of this show in which we never saw Angela again? Or one that didn’t connect quite so explicitly with the original comic? And could it possibly be as good?
Regardless of the answers to those questions, it feels all but inevitable that we’ll see more Watchmen at some point. Whether it will involve current showrunner Damon Lindelof or any of the cast from this season is anyone’s guess. But this show has been enough of a critical darling and a ratings success that HBO is naturally going to be loath to walk away from it entirely. (Particularly in a world where Game of Thrones no longer exists. Franchises don’t grow on trees.)
But sometimes, less really is more. And part of what makes Watchmen special is its dedication to turning expected comic-book tropes on their heads. In a world where even mediocre superhero properties seem to manage to stay on-air for five seasons, what could be more unexpected than declaring this story finished, and going out on the highest of high notes?
It’s completely understandable that fans want to see another season, and that television executives probably (selfishly) want to give them one. But sometimes it’s not just okay to let things end—it’s the right choice. And such is the case with Watchmen, which has burned so brilliantly and brightly this television season, and deserves to be remembered for the perfect story it told, and not for anything that might come afterward.
Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.