Writer and Executive Producer Damon Lindelof Delves into HBO’s WATCHMEN

— November 21, 2019

As HBO’s critically acclaimed drama series WATCHMEN hits the mid-season mark on Crave, executive producer and writer Damon Lindelof (THE LEFTOVERS, LOST) offers invaluable insight into this complex series, touching on psychological masks, the line between heroism and vigilantism, taking this story outside of a typical superhero setting, and how the 1921 Tulsa Massacre and race relations helped shape the show. Here’s what Lindelof had to say about: Approaching the series as an overall experience versus a typical television show: “I just always think of things in terms of stories and I think with good stories, what you remember from the story is not plot, but instead you remember what your emotional reaction to the plot was. So, you’ll say, ‘I was surprised.’ That’s in reaction to something exciting happening in the plot, but it’s creating an emotional reaction in you.” “When we’re doing our best work, we’re creating a symbiotic relationship between the audience and the characters, so they’re experiencing the things that the characters are. The characters don’t know that they’re in a made-up television show – those things are very, very real for them, and when people start to perceive the television show as real and actually happening and if a character is sad they start to feel sad, that’s when you’re firing on all cylinders.” “…I do want it to be experiential, but I’m not out to make some kind of artistic tone poem.  We are telling a story after all, we want it to make sense, but it should feel like something when all is said and done.” The psychological masks portrayed in the series: “Well, that’s back to the whole idea of the show in general, which is what do you hide, what do you reveal, what do you see? And I think that one of the ideas that is the most threatening to us and one of the things that we wrestle with culturally is can both things coexist?” “You take Chief Crawford, for example, and obviously I don’t want to spoil anything about the pilot, but here’s this guy who is heroic and one of his best friends is an African-American woman and her family and he’s completely and totally super-charming, but he is also something else and you wonder, was he pretending to be one thing but he’s actually the other? Or is he actually just codeswitching? Is he moving between both those worlds?  And I think the idea of what are the physical masks we wear is less concerning than what are the masks that we wear in terms of the way that we behave?” The line between heroism and vigilantism: “One of the things that I learned is that - and again, African-American culture is not a monolith - but there are a number of black writers on WATCHMEN whose official position was that the police were already legitimised vigilantes, because they are not following the law and the fact that they wear a uniform and have a badge, that legitimises behaviour that is unlawful, as we’ve seen. The fact that there just had to be a trial for what happened, is because this woman was a police officer; if she had not been a police officer I think it would have been a lot more cut and dry.” “I do have very strong feelings about what is right and what is wrong, but I do agree that someone who wants to be a police officer, that’s a very dangerous job, and the decisions that you make affect people. If I make a bad decision and write a shitty episode of television, people get mad at me – that’s it. If you’re a cop and make a bad decision, someone could end up dead. So, there’s an enormous responsibility and the way that kind of responsibility, pressure and anxiety affects people is huge. And I do believe that a lot of people who become police officers are incredibly well-intentioned – but I also believe that there are many who become jaded or cynical as the process goes on.” “This is why our story starts with a little boy in 1921 looking at a big projected version of a guy with a badge and he sees a face that looks like his own and he says, ‘Trust in the law. There will be no mob justice today. Trust in the law.’ That’s where he’s starting, that little boy, and by episode nine he’s ended up in a much different place.” Taking the series outside of a typical superhero setting: “I think that there were a number of different ideas that were starting to swirl around my head. The first was how come all the superhero stories and these genre stories are set in New York or a metropolis or Gotham City? What happens if there’s a crime in Wisconsin?” “…I Googled Tulsa Massacre…the more I learned, the more I felt embarrassed that not only did I know nothing about what happened during the Tulsa Massacre, but I had never even heard of it before then. And so, I kept wondering why this story hadn’t been told and with all my power and influence as a storyteller, can I tell this story as a white man? Is it appropriate for me to tell this story? And in the midst of those questions, I was being asked, ‘Hey, do you want to do WATCHMEN?’ Suddenly I was like, ‘Hey, maybe that’s a way to tell this story. Maybe that’s a way to do this in a way that it’s housed inside a piece of pop culture entertainment,’ but a very specific piece of pop culture entertainment that asks difficult questions about a provocative and political and cultural idea, in terms of what it is to be American. And can WATCHMEN basically retain a conversation about race?  And then how far do we want to go?”
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