It didn't take long for fans of the graphic novel to collectively raise a skeptical eyebrow at the HBO Watchmen series once plot details started leaking. The great majority of the criticism centered around race, which is only logical as Episode One began with the massacre of Black Wall Street in 1930s Tulsa. This tragic outrage occurred in real life as well as the alternate timeline we experience in Watchmen. Also within the first two episodes are the revelations that a white supremacist group has taken inspiration from the masked hero Rorschach (who was NOT a white supremacist, let it be noted) and that President Robert Redford enacted sweeping slavery reparations which forcibly extracted wealth from white Americans and gave it to Black Americans.
With all the early focus on race and the touchy politics surrounding it, there was very little attention paid to that other ubiquitous form of identity politics, third-wave feminism, and how the writers used it to conceal a massive plot twist. For those of you who have not watched the series and intend to, I recommend clicking away now, as there will be massive spoilers for the whole limited series.
The main character in the Watchmen series is Angela Abar, played by Regina King. Like all of the masked heroes in the legacy graphic novel, Angela has no super powers. She is a fit woman in her mid-40s who serves as a masked detective on Tulsa's police force.
Why are police masked, you ask? Because several years ago, the Seventh Cavalry, the aforementioned white supremacist group, tracked down every Tulsa police officer and either murdered or badly injured them, including Angela.
So publicly, she quit the force and opened a bakery. But she's still a cop and quite the tough one at that.
The show has all the normal physical feats we've come to expect, the ones that are, in real life, ridiculous, but are so overused in film and television that we don't even blink. The audience doesn't flinch when we see Angela chase down a thin young man in a foot race. Neither do we question when we see her triumph in fisticuffs over a burly older man, but still younger than she is.
The third-wave feminist obfuscation of plot points enters in the very first episode in the form of Angela's husband, Cal. We are introduced to Cal early on and it is immediately apparent that this younger, very fit man who embodies a certain masculine ideal... has somehow landed himself in the homemaker role. He stays home and cares for their three adopted children while Angela fights crime at all hours. This is unusual, of course, but not entirely unheard of. But then at the end of episode one, the phone rings at Angela's house, late at night, interrupting a vigorous marital performance by Cal. When Angela answers the late-night call, a male voice informs her that he has taken her police captain. If she wants him back, she must come to an isolated road... by herself.
Of course she tells her husband about the call. She tells him she's going to the rendezvous and that he needs to stay at the house to protect the children. And this vigorous, masculine man just nods and watches his mid-40s wife with no super powers, drive off to a certain ambush. He doesn't insist on coming as backup. He doesn't call any of her fellow officers after she pulls out. He just does as she says, something no man would ever do. Yet there is Cal. Doing it.
In watching these plot points and the show's treatment of Cal, it was hard not see the heavy hand of third-wave feminism. You could almost hear the lefties cheering about how stunning and brave it all was. But in that raging leftism was the core of the show's strength.
If the show's detractors had bothered to watch past episode 2, they might have been surprised by how good the show was and how the lefty show runners actually used their intended audience's liberal bias against them.
This bias was first used to conceal the plot point that Cal was, in fact, Dr. Manhattan all along. The reason for his ineffectual manner, his complacency, and his odd affect was because Dr. Manhattan had used a device to wipe his own memory, to live as a human, as a linear being. No one saw that one coming and even with the rough start to the show, it was one of many things that worked perfectly, not just within the series, but with the graphic novel as well.
Even with the racial axe to grind, the series just worked. It "felt" like Watchmen, albeit starting on Episode three. Though we've all been subjected to cringey woke TV like Batwoman, Watchmen avoids cringe by respecting its source material and the intelligence of its audience. Instead of recasting a traditionally white character as a person of color, as many films and series have chosen to do, Watchmen simply revealed that Hooded Justice, one of the original Watchmen from the graphic novel, was actually a black man. The character never took off his hood in the graphic novel, never revealed his true identity. And the costume... let's face it everyone, there has never been a more clear invocation of lynching with that imagery. The story of Hooded Justice is reasonable, heartbreaking, and perfectly in line with the existing lore.
The show also made an excellent point by showing how the American population violently resisted the intentions of the elite. Though Adrian Vight aka Ozymandeus took insane measures to "save humanity," he was disappointed to find that people just didn't fall in line with the idea of redistributing their wealth or with globalism. All those beautiful plans by rich and smart people and the common folk still insist on their paltry freedom. How annoying.