[Editor’s Note: Spoilers for the Watchmen finale follow below.]
When it was first announced that Lost and The Leftovers co-creator Damon Lindelof would be tackling an adaptation of Watchmen for HBO, most assumed this was his next big TV project. He spent six seasons running Lost and three seasons running the supremely underrated The Leftovers, so why would Watchmen be any different? As it turns out, however, Lindelof and his team of Watchmen writers approached the adaptation as a close-ended story. They left nothing in the tank as they crafted a compelling and extremely poignant story about race in America built on the foundational structure of the original Watchmen graphic novel. And as we headed towards the final episode, Lindelof shocked audiences by revealing he might not make a Watchmen Season 2.
Indeed, when we reached that Season 1 finale and Angela Abar (Regina King) ate an egg that may or may not contain Doctor Manhattan’s powers, the screen cut to black before we could see if she really did become a god. It’s a brilliant ending, but also a tantalizing setup for another story.
When I recently spoke to Lindelof about Watchmen and his career for an upcoming installment of Collider Connected, I asked if he was still “tapped out” on returning for Season 2. He explained by saying he’s not necessarily “tapped out” but feels like he’s had his shot at an iconic piece of material:
“It’s not even about being tapped out, it’s more about me wanting to honor what Watchmen was before I became a part of it. The legacy of Watchmen is Alan [Moore] and Dave [Gibbons] created it and it sat for 30 years, obviously Zack [Snyder] made his movie which was a pretty canonical adaptation of the 12 issues, and then we made our season of television. That was my turn. I got in the middle of the dance floor for a minute and got to do my move, but then you retreat to the edge of the circle and it’s someone else’s turn to dance.”
Lindelof reiterated that he would love to see a Watchmen Season 2 as written by someone else, while also noting that his work on the series made him think differently about working with the same cast members in different projects:
“Suffice it to say that I just feel like what’s best for Watchmen, this thing that I love, is for someone else to take their shot at it. I think that that’s just gonna be much more interesting than anything that I would do moving forwards. And it’s not that I take the opportunity for granted. I’ve learned that not working with actors again is stupid, so I would love to work with Carrie Coon again and I would love to work with Regina King again and Jean Smart and Tim Blake Nelson and Justin Theroux and Kevin Carroll and Jovan Adepo, who I’ve worked with twice now. These actors in the world of Watchmen. But at the same time, unless I have an idea that is as important to me as Tulsa ’21 was, then I shouldn’t do it. And I haven’t had that idea, and I want to create the space versus people waiting for me to change my mind. I want to create the space for people to come forward and say, ‘I have an idea.’”
The showrunner has previously said that he turned down the opportunity to make Watchmen multiple times in the past, and only said “yes” when he came up with the idea of using the show to talk about race – specifically with regards to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which opens the series in a horrifying and striking way. That set a tone for the entire season to thematically explore issues relating to race, policing, and systemic racism while also delivering on the sci-fi/superhuman aspects of the graphic novel. It was brilliant.
Lindelof says he doesn’t have an idea as inspiring as that for Season 2, but says he would love to see anyone out there pitch their own idea on Watchmen to HBO:
“I issue this invitation to anyone out there: If you have an idea, figure out a way to pitch it. But probably not to me. Watchmen is not mine. It’s ours. And I want to see how someone else interprets this incredible story.”
But just because Lindelof isn’t convinced he’s the right person to make Watchmen Season 2 doesn’t mean he thinks there won’t be a second season. In fact, he’s convinced there absolutely will be:
“I think you and I both know there’s going to be more Watchmen. That’s going to happen. And whether or not the individuals who decide that they want there to be more Watchmen pick this story up where it left off or they do an entirely different kind of Watchmen story, that’s up to them. But I am seeing a lot of people who respond to the show are catalyzed and interested in what the world would look like if it were being reshaped by Angela Abar. I don’t have a good answer to that question, but that’s why it cut to black when it did (laughs).”
I asked the showrunner if he felt his ending – in which Angela Abar might be inheriting Doctor Manhattan’s powers but also faces centuries of built-up systemic racism that’ll be tough to bring down – is hopeful. And while he declined to specifically say “yes” or “no” so as not to confirm whether Angela does become a god, he played out the “what if” scenario:
“What is clear is that she is willing to become a god, because why else would she eat an egg or step in the pool in the way that she does? So she is accepting the challenge. A challenge issued not from Jon Osterman or Cal Abar or Doctor Manhattan or whatever you wanna call him, but actually a challenge that is issued to her by her grandfather. The last thing he says to her, talking about Doctor Manhattan, is ‘He was a good man but he could have done more.’ So now we get the sense that Angela is at least signing up for doing more. So whether or not it works out, that’s basically the call to action to all of us right now… That’s what gives me optimism. That was the idea in Tomorrowland too. The future is not something that happens to you, it’s something that you make happen. So by showing Angela is willing to try to do more, that’s the clarion call for optimism. So if we’re basically saying, ‘I don’t think that this moment is going to lead to a better future,’ what I’m hearing is, ‘So you aren’t willing to do anything about it.’”
Lindelof went on to say he feels the ending is as hopeful as you believe it to be:
“I would say that this ending is just as hopeful as the ending of the Old Testament, the original Watchmen, which is there’s a single character who holds in his hands the ability to expose this plot of Veidt’s. He’s holding Rorschach’s journal in his hands, and he doesn’t know whether he should throw it in the kook pile or whether it should be published, and his editor says to him, ‘I leave it entirely in your hands’. So that’s the idea is it’s just as hopeful as it is in the eye of the beholder. If you see it as hopeful, then it’s an optimistic ending. If you think that she’s just gonna sink to the bottom of the pool and it was a prank that Cal played on her, then that holds true too. It’s a Rorschach test. It’s a comment more on the person who’s watching it or reading it than it is on what actually happens next.”
I, for one, choose to believe Angela Abar does become a god and kicks all kinds of ass. And I would very much like to see that, so here’s hoping Watchmen Season 2 happens.
All episodes of Watchmen are currently available on HBO On Demand and HBO Max.